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This series focuses on the region from where the roots of Western Judaic and Christian civilization of today are traced: the northeastern, eastern, and southeastern region surrounding the Mediterranean  from Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine,  Jordan, Iraq, (western) Iran, and Egypt).  A similar evolution and change happened in the (farther) East that became dominated by Islam and Hinduism.

To read all of the series posted to date, and other Zeitgeist Change Commentaries, as well as about the novels written by Janet Wise, go to http://www.janetwise.net/...

Note: The term androcracy is used to describe a social system ruled through force, or threat of force by men. This term derives from Greek root words Andros or “man,” and kratos (as in democratic), or “ruled.”

PART XII: PUNISHING EVE

Smashing idolatry
Smashing idolatry (the Goddess Asherah
At this point, it is necessary to back up in history. As has already been discussed: beginning in about 3900 B.C.E. and for the next three thousand years, the androcratic cultures stamped out the animistic Goddess-worshipping Neolithic; however, many cultural practices and beliefs were retained from the Neolithic matriarchate within those of the conquering patriarchal/androcratic invaders. Belief in the power the goddesses and gods held over human affairs, and beliefs in the manner in which communication between gods and humans took place was the very foundation of the cultures of the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews. And while the Hebrew Old Testament (and Hebrew culture) that worshipped a monotheistic male God, spawned Christianity – a religion also based on, and steeped in, supernatural ‘miracles’, once Rome became Christianized (at the point of a sword) it became necessary for Christian thinkers to differentiate between ‘good magic’ and ‘bad magic.’ For though millennium had passed since the first invasions of the nomadic Steppes androcratic invaders into the stable agricultural lowlands of Neolithic societies had taken place, scientific knowledge of the forces of nature were still in a primitive state, thus the basis of the monotheistic-god worshipers was also based on legends of magic to explain, rationalize, and give supernatural power to the stories of their religion. In order to totally unseat the Goddess, and legitimatize the monotheistic male God (the enslaving of women, stealing all property and wealth from matriarch-based societies, and putting men and their male god in charge) He had to have bigger ‘magic’ than She (had).

We’ve already talked about how Genesis ‘recreated creation’; changing the Sumerian legend to create man in the image of his god, replacing woman in the image of her goddess, and putting a man in charge and enslaving woman; and how the Old Testament (Leviticus) made sex with a woman and her act of giving birth ‘unclean’—both acts that were revered by the goddess worshipping Neolithic. But perhaps nowhere in the Old Testament was there a tale more dramatic and the wresting of power from the old religion more final, violent, and lasting, than the prophet Elijah challenging the gods and goddesses of Jezebel, the foreign princess bride of King Ahab, of Israel, and finally gruesomely murdering the foreign queen.

Jezebel
Jezebel, the foreign Queen of Israel
“There is magic in names—a power sometimes of enchantment, sometimes of curse. They can be cooed, whispered, murmured between lovers. Chanted and intoned in worship; invoked in oaths. Hurled and spat in anger. Jezebel’s name is always hurled, always spat. In fact it has been distorted to invite just such a reaction. Her real name was Itha-Baal, which meant “woman of the Lord” in her native language, Phoenician. But in a pun worthy of the craftiest modern spinmeister—the kind of wordplay common in the Hebrew bible—this was changed in Hebrew to I-zevel, or “woman of dung,” which was later written as Jezebel in Greek and so also in English.  The change kept the same three-consonant Semitic root, but gave it the opposite meaning. What it lacked in subtlety, it gained in effectiveness. The Hebrew meaning that persevered conjures the most vile of women in the imagination. She is the prototype of the evil woman, the original femme fatale, “a creature both forceful and bold.”  First-century historian Josephus, described her as going to “great lengths of licentiousness and madness.” An aura of treachery and perfidiousness enshrouds her. She’s the harlot queen, the shameless fornicator, the painted hussy, the scheming seductress enticing the innocent into the depths of wickedness. Her name is so potent that nearly three thousand years after she lived—and died one of the goriest deaths in a book not known for eschewing gore—the very mention of it calls up a kind of forbidden allure. In the United States, it is still used to condemn women seen as sexually promiscuous. “That little Jezebel,” someone will murmur spitefully. And it has an especially pernicious history as the stereotype used to stigmatize and exploit black women in the era of slavery, when it acted as a rationale for sexual abuse by white slave owners.”[1]
Elijah cursing Queen Jezebel and King Ahab
Elijah cursing Queen Jezebel and King Ahab
“This vast accumulation of condemnatory baggage is solidly rooted in the Bible, where Jezebel gets more ink than any other woman, Eve and Mary included. In the two books of Kings, this foreign princess who became the queen of Israel is called a harlot, a sorceress, a liar, and a murderer. She seems eminently worthy of Elijah’s terrible fatwa—“Jezebel shall be eaten by dogs by the walls of Jezreel”—and was indeed eventually thrown down from her palace walls, torn limb from limb by dogs, devoured by them, and finally, for good measure, excreted by them. She becomes literally a woman of dung. And even then, the Bible was not done with her. Nine hundred years later, the level of biblical vitriol was further ratcheted up when she was held up as the epitome of evil, the partner-in-crime to the Whore of Babylon in the terrifying vision of Saint John of Patmos known today as the last book of the New Testament, Revelation.”[2]

But who was this woman upon whom the biblical writers heaped so much scorn? Certainly she was no sexually promiscuous femme fatale or harlot as the Bible makes her out to be. Instead, it turns out, she was the royal princess of one of the most sophisticated civilization of the time; she was of the Phoenician city-state Tyre, on the coast of what is now Lebanon—a civilization that operated one of the most powerful trading enterprises in the whole of the Mediterranean, and whose architecture and social structure was the most advanced of its time in the Levant. Indeed, in marrying Ahab of Israel, she married beneath her station and went to live in a much more backward civilization. For Ahab, King of Israel, it was a marriage of alliance to strengthen his kingdom through trade with Phoenician power and wealth. And strengthen it he did. He built the first powerful Hebrew nation, his military might, the architecture, and bureaucratic administration required to manage his nation of Israel written about with respect, by his enemies, the Assyrians, the Arameans, and the Moabites. And to show honor to this woman of royal birth from a wealthy nation, Ahab built her a fine palace, and, of course allowed her to bring not only her ladies with her but all her priests dedicated to Baal and Asherah. But the biblical authors who would write about Ahab and Jezebel two hundred years later would distort his story as well.

“Violence, idolatry, and greed were the hallmarks of the northern kingdom of Israel as it is depicted in gory detail in the first and second books of Kings (Old Testament).  Northern Israel was founded by a former Israelite general named Omri of which his son Ahab became the most powerful. The Bible accuses the most famous Omride couple—King Ahab and his notorious wife Jezebel, the Phoenician princess—of repeatedly committing some of the greatest biblical sins: introducing the cult of foreign gods into the land of Israel, murdering faithful priests and prophets of YHWH, unjustly confiscating the property of their subjects, and violating Israel’s sacred traditions with arrogant impunity. The Omrides are remembered as among the most despised characters of biblical history. Yet the new archaeological vision of the kingdom of Israel offers an entirely different perspective on their reigns. Indeed, had the biblical authors and editors been historians in the modern sense, they might have said that Ahab was a mighty king who first brought the kingdom of Israel to prominence on the world stage and that his marriage to the daughter of the Phoenician king Ethbaal was a brilliant stroke of international diplomacy. They might have said that the Omrides built magnificent cities to serve as administrative centers of their expanding kingdom. They might have said that Ahab and Omri, his father before him, succeeded in building one of the most powerful armies in the region—with which they conquered extensive territories in the far north and in the east in Transjordan. Of course, they might also have noted that Omri and Ahab were not particularly pious and that they were sometimes capricious and acted brutally. But the same could be said of virtually every other monarch of the ancient Near East.”[3]

 “Indeed Israel, as a state, enjoyed natural wealth and extensive trade connections that made it largely indistinguishable from other prosperous kingdoms of the region. Israel had the necessary organization to undertake monumental building projects, to establish a professional army and bureaucracy, and to develop a complex settlement hierarchy of cities, towns, and villages—which made it the first full-fledged Israelite kingdom. Its character, goals, and achievements were dramatically different from those of the kingdom of Judah. Therefore, they have been almost totally obscured by the Bible’s condemnation, which supports the later claims of the southern Davidic dynasty for predominance by demeaning and misrepresenting nearly everything that the northern Omride dynasty did.”[4]

The biblical rendition of Ahab emphasizes his foreign liaisons and idolatry, with an emphasis on his famous foreign wife who led her husband to apostasy. “Jezebel is reported to have supported the pagan priesthood in Samaria, hosting at her spacious royal table ‘four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah. The bible narrative then goes on to devote most of its description of the Omrides to their crimes and sins—and to their ongoing battle of wits with Elijah and his protégé, Elisha, two famous prophets of YHWH who roamed throughout the north.”

Elijah on Mount Carmel
Elijah on Mount Carmel
Elijah famously challenges all of Jezebel’s priests of Baal and of Asherah, “who had eaten at Jezebel’s table” to a dual: they were to gather at Mount Carmel and there, in front of “all the people,” each of the two sides constructed an altar to their god and sacrificed a bull upon it, crying to the chosen deity to consume the offering by fire. “While Baal did not respond to the cries of his prophets, YHWH immediately sent a great fire from the heavens to consume Elijah’s offering. Seeing this, the assembled witnesses fell on their faces. “The Lord he is God,” they cried and seized the prophets of Baal (remember there were eight hundred fifty of them—I Kings 18: 19), whom they slaughtered by the brook Kishon. Queen Jezebel reacted in fury and Elijah quickly escaped into the desert,”[5] and the story goes on from there ending with the downfall of the dynasty of Omride and murder of Jezebel.

“The tragedy of the house of Omri is a literary classic, filled with vivid characters and theatrical scenes, in which a royal family’s crimes against their own people are paid back with a bloody demise. Nonetheless, the biblical narrative is so thoroughly filled with inconsistencies and anachronisms, and so obviously influenced by the theology of the seventh century B.C.E. writers, (the Omride dynasty they are writing about dates in the ninth century B.C.E., and we have already learned that the Old Testament was written in the seventh century B.C.E. ) that it must be considered more of a historical novel than an accurate historical chronicle. Among other inconsistencies, the reported invasion of Samaria by Ben-hadad of Damascus did not take place during the reign of Ahab but later in the history of the northern kingdom. The mention of an alliance of Israel with an unnamed king of Edom is also an anachronism, for there was no monarchy in Edom until more than a century after the time of the Omrides. In fact, when one takes out the anachronisms—all of the events misplaced into a period in which they do not belong—and the stories of threats issued and prophecies fulfilled, there is little verifiable historical material left in the biblical account, except for the sequence of Israelite kings, some of their famous building projects, and the general areas of military activity.”[6] But there are some important external sources of historical information (from the written accounts of the Assyrians, Arameans, and Moabites) that allow us to see the Omrides from a different perspective: as the militarily powerful rulers of one of the strongest states in the Near East. This is an important point since the seventh century biblical authors always turned this on its head, making Judah in the south the powerful nation, and David and Solomon whose kingdoms were to have been so great a few centuries earlier (than the Omrides of the ninth century).

Archaeologists Finkelstein and Silberman also point out: “Archaeologically and historically, the re-dating of the north’s great cities, including Megiddo, Hazor, and Gezer from Solomon’s era to the time of the Omrides has enormous implications.[7] It removes the only archaeological evidence that there ever was a united monarchy based in Jerusalem and suggests that David and Solomon were, in political terms, little more than hill country chieftains, whose administrative reach remained on a fairly local level, restricted to the hill country. More important, it shows that despite the biblical emphasis on the uniqueness of Israel, a highland kingdom of a thoroughly conventional Near Eastern type arose in the north in the early ninth century B.C.E. The writer of the book of Kings was concerned to show only that the Omrides were evil and that they received the divine punishment that their sinful, arrogant behavior had so richly deserved. The true character of Israel under the Omrides involves an extraordinary story of military might, architectural achievement, and (as far as can be determined) administrative sophistication. Omri and his successors earned the hatred of the Bible precisely because they were so strong, precisely because they succeeded in transforming the northern kingdom into an important regional power that completely overshadowed the poor, marginal, rural-pastoral kingdom of Judah to the south. The possibility that the Israelite kings who consorted with non-Hebrew nations, married foreign women, and built Canaanite-type shrines and palaces would prosper was both unbearable and unthinkable.[8]

Jezebel being thrown to the dogs
Jezebel being thrown to the dogs
Of Jezebel, historians point out, “When your story is written by those in passionate opposition to everything you believe in, it will be, to put it mildly, warped. Everything becomes twisted; every action, every gesture, becomes not only suspect but turned on its head. The wildest rumors are passed off as fact. Inconvenient facts are ignored or edited out, relegated to oblivion, until all we are left with is not a real person but an image, a morality-tale character, which is how Jezebel would become a kind of wicked witch of the east.”[9]

Her story was first written a couple of centuries after she reigned and met her gruesome death, and it was written by her enemies. Given the reverence in which Western civilization holds the Bible, it is easy to forget that it was written by specific men in a specific time and place, for specific reasons. Nowhere is this more evident than in the aptly named Kings, which is the saga of the rise and fall of the Israelite monarchy from its inception under David and Solomon in a golden age (that never was) through its split into two kingdoms—Israel in the north and Judea in the south—to its disappearance in exile.[10]

And just as with the leaders who’ve designed and controlled today’s post 9/11 (U.S./Western) world of never-ending war and needed an enemy to fear (Al Qaeda) in order to perpetuate (and exploit and prosper from) their never-ending war, the writers of the ancient Books needed an enemy to fear, and the constant reminder of an evil force (to fear) to manipulate the people in order to have power and control over them. The Hebrews mention him early on in the Old Testament. His name is Satan, and he reveals himself as the Serpent in Genesis. Eve embodied original sin by listening to the ‘bad’ magical force, the Serpent who was the embodiment of Satan. Indeed, early artwork depicts the Serpent with the body of a snake but the torso and head of Lilith, Adam’s first wife who rejected him, thus came to represent woman consorting with the Devil. She was the killer and devourer of babies, and the seductress who came in the night causing those sinful male ‘issues’ for which man had to be cleansed (Leviticus 15.)

The early Christians had inherited an eclectic, unorganized body of theory about the power of evil in the world.[11] Satan had appeared infrequently in Hebrew scripture, where he was depicted as a tempter of mankind. In Jewish apocrypha—a story of doubtful authenticity though widely circulated as being true—the Devil was often presented as the causal agent of all that is evil, a spirit in active rebellion against God. This concept emerged as dominant in Christian scripture—coupled, to be sure, with the unswerving promise of Christ’s ultimate triumph over him. The book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse—the last book of the Christian bible (written nine centuries later than the Hebrew Bible)—referred to “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world,” thus revealing Eve’s tempter and Satan to be one and the same.[12]

“In this role Satan tempted both Judas and Jesus of Nazareth, and later theorists of witchcraft repeatedly pointed to Satan’s power to move witches from one place to another. St. Paul logically warned the Christian congregations against the power and wiles of the archfiend, and the Epistle to the Ephesians became the fundamental scriptural proof of both diabolical character and intentions.”[13]

Enter Latin Christian theologian Saint Augustine bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa (354-430 A.D.)  to firmly enshrine the notion of the Devil (and his bad magic) as the enemy of God’s (good magic).

*

[1] Lesley Hazleton, Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible’s Harlot Queen, (Doubleday, Random House, New York, NY, 2007) p 2-4

[2] Ibid., p 4-5

[3] Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, (Touchstone, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 2001) pp 169-179

[4] Ibid. p 170

[5] Ibid. p 173

[6] Ibid. p 174-195

[7] Ibid., p. 123-124: “For centuries, Bible readers all over the world have looked back to the era of David and Solomon as a golden age in Israel’s history. Until recently many scholars have agreed that the united monarchy was the first biblical period that could truly be considered historical. Unlike the hazy memories of the patriarchs’ wanderings, or the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, or the bloody visions of the books of Joshua and Judges, the story of David was a highly realistic saga of political maneuvering and dynastic intrigue. Even though many details of David’s early exploits are certainly legendary elaborations, scholars long believed that the story of his rise to power meshed well with archaeological reality. Yet many of the archaeological props that once bolstered the historical basis of the David and Solomon narratives have recently been called into question. Digging in Jerusalem has failed to produce evidence that it was a great city in David and Solomon’s time. And the monuments ascribed to Solomon are now re-dated to the dynasty of the Omrides. Thus a reconsideration of the evidence has enormous implications. For if there were no patriarchs, no Exodus, no conquest of Canaan—and no prosperous united monarchy under David and Solomon—can we say that early biblical Israel, as described in the Five Books of Moses and the book of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel, ever existed at all?”

[8]  Ibid., pp 194-195

[9] Hazelton, Jezebel,  p 6

[10] Ibid., p 6

[11] Edward Peters, Witchcraft in Europe, (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA, 2001) p 6, quoting from: Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages, pp 19-42; Peters, “The Medieval Church and State on Superstition, Magic, and Witchcraft”; Elaine Pagels, The Origin of  Satan (New York 1995), and Valerie Irene Jane Flint, The Rise of Magic (1994).

[12] Ibid., p 6-7

[13] Ibid., p 7

 

Originally posted to Janet Wise on Thu Aug 15, 2013 at 10:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by Sexism and Patriarchy.

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