Two Assassinations, Two Massacres, and a Desecration
It was the late 9th century BCE, the beginning of the Iron Age.
Jehu had been proclaimed king of
the Northern Kingdom of Israel in an unusual fashion.
He first solidified his position by killing his predecessor
and the King of Judah.
Then he killed Jezebel, the most notorious woman of the age.
He had all the royal princes of Samaria killed
and their heads piled outside the city gate.
Next, he invited the worshipers of Ba'al to a supposed ceremony,
and trapped and killed all of them.
Finally, he destroyed the temple of Ba'al and
converted it into a latrine.
That's right — a fatal defenestration,
and, uh, whatever the term is for temple latrine conversion.
Dumping on the deity.
A century later and one small kingdom to the south,
Hezekiah did a similar latrine conversion of a Ba'al shrine
during his sweeping religious changes throughout Judah.
Let's see how Jehu did it first.
Palestine under the later Kings (953-722 BCE).
Ahab and Jehu were kings of Israel.
Ahab's wife Jezebel was from Tyre, on the Phoenician coast.
The name "Israel" first appeared on the Merneptah Stele
in Egypt around 1209 BCE
This was immediately before the late Bronze Age collapse
of about 1200 to 1150.
Iron Age I began at the end of that collapse,
as a population identifying itself as "Israel" emerged from the villages
of the Canaanite highlands.
was the king of Israel roughly 871–852 BCE.
He married Jezebel, the daughter of the King of Tyre.
Ba'al, who was known as בעל
to the Israelites,
and Βάαλ to the later Greeks.
Stele of Ba'al found at Ugarit, now at the Louvre in Paris.
Ba'al was a prominent deity of the ancient Levant.
And, at the same time, Ba'al was also a name or title
commonly used to refer to the local deities.
It's sort of like "God" in English being the name or form of address
of the sole deity of Judeo-Christian-Islamic belief,
and (in lower case) the general category of supernatural being.
It can mean a god or the name of the God.
The name Ba'al was used to refer to the primary god in the local religions.
He was associated with the storm and rain god Hadad
in the northwest Semitic and ancient Mesopotamian religions.
The earliest Israelites sometimes used Ba'al to refer
to their god Yahweh.
In Canaan, Ba'al in the specific sense eventually replaced El
as the leader of the gods and the patron of the kingship.
Ba'al, like Hadad, was a weather god, attributed with power over
lightning, wind, rain, and thus with fertility.
Scholars propose that the actual name Hadad or Yahweh
became too holy to be spoken aloud by anyone other than the high priests.
An alias, basically "Lord", was used instead.
This was Ba'al or Bel in place of Marduk.
Or, for the Hebrews,
Both were alternative ways to refer to Yahweh,
the Lord of Israel, without saying the holy name.
Temple of Bel at Palmyra, in east-central Syria.
A triad of three gods was worshiped at this temple in Palmyra —
their primary Mesopotamian deity, referred to as Bel,
plus the lunar god Aglibol and the solar god Yarhibol.
People lived at Palmyra in the
and documents mention a city here in the early second millennium BCE.
The city grew wealthy from the many trade caravans that passed through.
The Hebrew Bible describes Ahab as a wicked king.
Our most detailed description of this sequence of events comes from
the Book of Kings, the 9th book of the Hebrew Bible,
which is split into the 11th and 12th books of the Christian
It concludes what's called the Deuteronomistic history,
written some time after the events it describes.
It's not history in the modern sense,
more like theological literature in the form of history.
It doesn't read as a linear chronology, jumping back and forth in time.
Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the King of Tyre,
the king of the Phoenicians.
She persuaded Ahab to abandon Yahweh and establish
Ba'al worship in Israel.
She may have even been a priestess in Tyre.
Ticket to visit the Temple of Bel at Palmyra.
Ahab lived in Samaria, the royal capital established by his father, Omri.
Ahab built a temple to Ba'al in Samaria.
Near its altar he erected a sacred pole for the worship of
Ba'al's consort, Astarte, a fertility goddess called Asherah in the Bible.
Jezebel began fanatical religious persecution of the prophets of Yahweh.
This led to a showdown, the prophets of Ba'al and Asherah
against Elijah, a lone prophet of Yahweh.
Each side set up an altar on Mount Carmel,
each altar holding a sacrificial bull.
The 450 prophets of Ba'al and 400 prophets of Asherah
danced and shouted all day, but Ba'al didn't show up.
Then the Jewish prophet Elijah called to Yahweh, and at once,
"fire from the Lord descended and consumed the burnt offering,
the wood, the stones, and the earth."
Elijah immediately had the 450 prophets of Ba'al seized,
taken to the Wadi Kishon, and slaughtered.
But then Jezebel threatened Elijah, and he fled all the way south
to Mount Horeb, another name for Mount Sinai.
The Deuteronomist, the supposed author or team of authors of
the Hebrew Book of Kings, blamed the actions of Ahab and Jezebel
for Israel's misfortune, including a multi-year severe drought.
Ahab died in battle and was succeeded by his sons,
first Ahaziah and then Jehoram.
Column-lined street from the Temple of Bel at Palmyra.
was a military commander under Hehoram, King of Israel.
Jehu's father was Jehoshaphat,
whose forces Ahab had joined when he was killed in battle.
His story begins in
II Kings 9.
II Kings 9
Elijah had been replaced by his protégé Elisha,
who gave directions to a young prophet looking to break into the trade.
Go to Ramoth-gilead, find the commander Jehu,
and take him off to a private room.
When you get him alone, dump this jug of oil over his head and shout
"This is what the Lord has said: I anoint you King of Israel!"
Then run out the door and flee the scene.
The young prophet did just that, with some embellishments.
He added, or so Jehu always said, that Jehu would take revenge for
Jezebel's actions, killing Ahab's entire family, eliminating "from Ahab
everyone who urinates on a wall, whether slave or free, in Israel."
As for Jezebel, she wouldn't be buried because she would be eaten by dogs.
Imagine someone suddenly bursts in, drags you off to another room,
dumps a jug of oil on your head, shouts that lurid prediction,
and then runs away at top speed.
You would explain it as Jehu did, it was some crazy guy.
But when he told the details to the other officers, they threw down
a cloak for Jehu to stand on, blew a trumpet, and proclaimed him
to be the true King of Israel.
Apparently they had become very tired of the ruling king Jehoram.
Column-lined street from the Temple of Bel at Palmyra.
Jehoram is spelled Joram in English translations of the Bible.
Jehu led his forces to Jezreel, a short distance north of Samaria,
where King Jehoram of Israel was recovering from battle wounds.
Israel was the Northern Kingdom, Judah was the Southern Kingdom,
from Jerusalem south past the Dead Sea.
King Ahaziah of Judah was in Jezreel with Jehoram.
The defenders sent chariot drivers out to meet Jehu's large group,
but Jehu talked them out of returning to the defensive walls.
Guards in the defensive towers observed that the leader drove
his chariot like a madman, as Jehu did.
Curiosity eventually killed the cat.
Or, in this case, the two kings.
Jehoram had chariots prepared for him and Ahaziah,
and the two kings rode out.
Jehoram asked Jehu if he came in peace.
"What peace, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel
and her witchcrafts are so many?"
Jezebel's notoriety as a witch and harlot are based entirely on
this one sentence in the Bible.
Other sources say only that she was a follower of Ba'al and Asherah,
as were many other people in Israel and Phoenicia.
At least at the moment.
Jehoram shouted "It's a trap!", and turned his chariot and fled.
Jehu shot him in the back, the arrow passing through his heart.
Jehu told one of his officers to throw Jehoram's body on a plot of
land that his parents, Ahab and Jezebel, had stolen.
Meanwhile, Ahaziah was fleeing toward Beth-haggan in his chariot.
Jehu and his men pursued and shot him without killing him immediately.
Ahaziah made it as far as Meggido before dying.
Or, in a different version elsewhere in the Deuteronomistic history,
he fled unwounded to Samaria,
where Jehu's henchmen later found him and killed him.
Temple of Baalshamin at Palmyra.
Baalshamin or Ba'al Šāmēn
was both a specific Northwest Semitic god
and a title applied to different gods at various times and places
in ancient inscriptions in Canaan, Phoenicia, and Syria.
Along with Bel, Baalshamin was one of the two supreme gods,
the sky god of Palmyra.
Jehu Defenestrates Jezebel
Jehu continued into the royal city of Jezreel.
Jezebel had heard that Jehu was coming for her,
and knew of his angry accusations of "whoredoms and witchcrafts".
This was not going to go well.
She put kohl around her eyes and arranged her hair,
and watched from her upstairs window as Jehu and his forces approached.
The traditional interpretation is that she was ready to switch sides
and join Jehu's harem.
The reality seems to have been one last snark before death.
When Jehu arrived, she also asked if he came in peace.
Anticipating the answer, she also addressed him as "you master murderer".
Jehu looked up at Jezebel's window and called out,
"Who's on my side? Anyone?"
Two or three palace officials, sensing the power shift now well underway,
grabbed Jezebel and threw her out the window.
Gustave Doré's "The Death of Jezebel".
Jezebel's blood splattered on the wall and Jehu's men's horses.
Jehu then had his men trample her body.
Later, Jehu sent men to retrieve her body and dispose of it.
However, all they could find was her skull and parts of her hands and feet.
Just as Elijah had predicted, the dogs had eaten her body.
And he said, This is the word of the Lord, which he spake by his servant
Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the portion of Jezreel shall dogs eat
the flesh of Jezebel:
And the carcass of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the face of the field
in the portion of Jezreel; so that they shall not say, This is Jezebel.
This was Jehu's second assassination in one day,
or the third if you count Ahaziah as an assassination
and not just a target of opportunity.
This is like the
Defenestrations of Prague,
where everyone agrees that there were at least two, in 1419 and 1618.
But there was one in 1483 (involving windows in two separate buildings),
and another in 1948.
People were thrown out windows to their deaths in all cases,
but historians disagree over which ones were significant enough
to deserve the title.
Andrea Celesti's "Queen Jezebel Being Punished by Jehu".
Jehu Massacres the House of Ahab
II Kings 10
Ahab had several surviving descendants,
the Bible describes them as seventy princes.
Jehu sent messages to the city leaders and elders in Jezreel and Samaria,
commanding them to kill those seventy princes, cut off their heads,
and bring the heads to Jehu in Jezreel.
They did exactly that, bringing seventy heads in baskets to Jehu.
He had the heads stacked in two piles at the main city gate.
The next morning, Jehu went to the gate to address all the city's
people with this gruesome backdrop.
In a modern translation he said:
You are innocent. I'm the one who plotted against my master and killed him,
but who killed all these people?
Know this: Nothing that the Lord has said against Ahab's dynasty
will fail to come true.
Then Jehu tracked down and killed Ahab's remaining relatives, close
acquaintances, and associated priests, first in Jezreel and then in Samaria.
This was bloodthirsty Bronze Age leadership,
lingering into the early Iron Age.
But Jehu was just getting started.
Funerary towers and hilltop fortress Qala'at ibn Maan at Palmyra.
Jehu Kills the Ba'al Worshipers
Jehu had all the people in Samaria come out to see him speak.
He told them that he was going to be the greatest Ba'al worshiper
they had ever seen.
"Ahab served Ba'al a little, but Jehu will serve him a great deal!"
He promised that he planned a great sacrifice for Ba'al,
which was true in some sense.
All the Ba'al worshipers throughout Israel were summoned.
Not invited, they were told that they must attend.
The Ba'al temple was packed.
Jehu told the person in charge of vestments to bring out the special
robes and get all the worshipers properly dressed.
They told the Ba'al worshipers to make sure that no Yahweh worshipers
were mixed into the crowd.
Jehu got the Ba'al worship and sacrifices underway, then left the
temple and told his soldiers to kill everyone inside.
Any guard allowing someone to survive would be killed.
They disposed of the bodies, burned the sacred Asherah pole,
tore down the sacred pillar for Ba'al, and destroyed the
Then, to really drive the point home,
the former site of the Temple of Ba'al in Samaria
was converted into a public latrine.
The authors of the Book of Kings report that it was still a public
toilet at the time of writing, two centuries after these events.
Jehu now fully controlled the northern Kingdom of Israel.
He reigned as its king roughly 841–814 BCE.
Fecal Fountains and Pathogen Plumes