Helena Zlotnick, «From Jezebel to Esther: Fashioning Images of Queenship in the Hebrew Bible», Vol. 82 (2001) 477-495
Only three royal couples in the HB are seen in direct communication. Of these, two, namely Ahab and Jezebel, Ahasuerus and Esther, contribute unique insights into the interpretative and redactional processes that cast later narratives around themes of earlier stories, and both around the figure of a queen. In this article I explore the hypothesis that the scroll of Esther was shaped as a reversible version of the Jezebel cycle. With the aid of narratives of the early Roman monarchy, a sensitive and sensible reading of the biblical texts relating to Jezebel and Esther demonstrates the constructive process of an ideology of queenship. Underlying both constructs is a condemnation of monarchy in general.
Whatever else had inspired the recording of the translation of a chaste and beautiful Jewish woman from her cousin’s home to the harem of a gentile king, the fact remains that there were few biblical antecedents to chart Esther’s progress through a palatial phase. Much has been written about the stereotype of the Jewish courtier in a foreign court but the image of Joseph constitutes a poor source of inspiration for that of a Jewish queen attempting to exert power from a royal bedchamber. There are, in fact, few narratives in the HB that focus on the critical activities generated in the intimacy of royal marriage. Of these, the episodes centering on Jezebel and Ahab provide comprehensive glimpses at a royal bedroom and at its intricacies1.
At the heart of this study stands the hypothesis that the story of Esther and Ahasuerus must be read as a rehabilitative narrative of the tale of Jezebel and Ahab. To be exact, the narrative of Esther, if read sensibly and sensitively, bears unmistakable allusions to that of Jezebel. Both share an ideological kinship that aspires to define the desired characteristics and behavior of Israelite/Jewish queens.
An investigation into the use of Jezebel as a shadowy foil to Esther highlights biblical (redactional) ideas regarding queenly images, queenly spheres of influence and the molding of ‘Israelite’/Jewish queens2. Underlying both narratives, ultimately, is a condemnation of Israelite/Jewish monarchy. Such a theory can also account, in part, for some of the striking omissions of the ‘exilic’ Esther narrative, not the least the absence of prophets and the failure to refer explicitly to God. To illustrate these points in full I will also institute comparisons with