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.
the Deuteronomist antipathy to foreigners, and particularly to foreign queens, has been associated with a deep-seated fear of idolatry through contamination15. The elevation of foreigners to Rome’s throne, by contrast, reflects Rome’s greatness and her openness to strangers, while Tullia’s urging of her husband to seize the throne on the ground of his ‘nativeness’ is clearly misplaced.
The scroll depicts the decree of Ahasuerus-Haman ordering the elimination of the Jews as a writ of national emergency. The clash between Ahab and Naboth appears, at first, as carrying little import beyond the king’s petty desire to expand to plant vegetables. Yet behind the issue of the vineyard versus royal garden lurks the larger question of the legitimate scope of monarchical actions vis-à-vis the king’s subjects16. In the Esther scroll the queen reacts to a patriarchal call to action and only exercises her potential royal power to save her people, as Tanaquil does to save Rome from revolution. Jezebel, like Tullia, acts on her own initiative, subverting male standards of royal behavior.
Just how perilously close to each other are, nevertheless, constructs of royal women like Tanaquil and Tullia on the one hand, and Jezebel and Esther on the other, can be further gauged from the attitude of all the texts to the public appearance of queens. Roman and Jewish authors are unanimous in banning women from the public eye. Jezebel and Esther never appear in public. Tanaquil makes a single public appearance when there is no one else who can save the dynasty. Even then she remains standing at a window in the palace, shielded by its walls. Tullia’s venturing into the forum invokes censure by her husband, and by the historian Livy. But Tanaquil’s position near a top window, although emphasizing Tullia’s boldness in venturing outdoors, also signifies the female usurpation of male authority at home. Ultimately, both women embark on a course of action that contradicts male expectations of female royalty. Nevertheless Tanaquil garners praise while Tullia is condemned.
Jezebel’s sole ‘public’ appearance is made as a spectator standing at the window of the palace that another king is about to possess. Observing the approach of Jehu, she stands at the window as a visual