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.
early Roman queens. Cross-cultural parallels of this sort have the potential of contributing to fuller understanding of Jewish (and Roman) reconstructions of the monarchic past as a tissue of familial narratives focusing on the reputation or notoriety of female protagonists.
I. The Royal Wife: Queens as Protagonists
Jezebel is remembered, above all, for her role in the famed episode of the vineyard of Naboth (1 Kgs 21)3. The story begins with direct negotiations between two men, a king and his subject, Ahab and Naboth, over the legal acquisition of a plot of land adjacent to a royal residence. The exchange is terminated with Naboth’s insistence on the inalienable character of his property. His refusal to comply with the king’s desire leaves Ahab with two options: he can abandon his rosy visions of a palatial garden (21,2) or he can exert his authority to prevail, by hook and by crook, over the scruples and the objections of Naboth. The king chooses neither. Returning home from his unprofitable dialogue with Naboth he retires to his bedchamber in a foul mood and plunges into a fast4.
As the scene shifts from the outside with its vineyards and hypothetical gardens to the royal bedroom the queen enters the picture. Her ‘credentials’ had already been established. Readers had been familiarized with this Sidonian princess as the moving spirit behind her husband’s devotion to the Baal (16,31), and as the mortal enemy of YHWH’s prophets (18,4.13)5. The fact that Ahab’s marriage with her