For an entire day, Jezebel's 450 prophets "performed a hopping dance about the altar," at times mutilating themselves with lances and swords. Nothing happens. Then it is Elijah's turn to pray, and the response is immediate. "Fire from the Lord descended and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the earth. When they saw this, all the people flung themselves on their faces and cried out: 'The Lord alone is God.'"
Victorious but far from magnanimous, Elijah then slaughters the pagan prophets—revenge for Jezebel's murder of Yahweh's followers—and the Hebrew God rewards him by ending Israel's drought. The die is now cast between the triumphant prophet and the humiliated queen. After her followers are killed, she sends a venomous message to Elijah threatening his destruction, prompting him to flee to safety.
The drama switches to the royal palace, where Jezebel's husband covets a vineyard owned by Naboth that he wants for a garden. Naboth's refusal to sell his family inheritance sends Ahab into a funk. Jezebel asserts her dominance. "Now is the time to show yourself king over Israel," she says scornfully. "I will get the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite for you."
How she succeeds reinforces the eternal image of Jezebel as a scheming, murderous vixen. Forging the king's signature, she sends letters to townspeople falsely accusing Naboth of blaspheming God. When Naboth is publicly confronted, Jezebel urges the crowd: "Then take him out, and stone him to death." Naboth dies, and his property reverts to the royal family.
Jezebel's nefarious plot succeeds, but the inexorable denouement swiftly follows. Yahweh summons his prophet Elijah and instructs him to tell King Ahab that he will be punished. "Say to him: 'Would you murder and take possession? In the very place where the dogs lapped up Naboth's blood, the dogs will lap up your blood, too.' " Elijah dutifully relates Yahweh's prophecy to the king but predicts that Jezebel—not her husband—will be torn apart and eaten by dogs.
And so she was, at the hand of Jehu, a military commander anointed by another prophet, Elisha, to become the new king of Israel. Ahab and one of his sons have now died, and Jehu is ordered by Elisha to destroy the rest of the royal family. On a battlefield, he confronts the couple's son Joram. "Is all well, Jehu?" asks Joram. "How can all be well as long as your mother, Jezebel, carries on her countless harlot-ries and sorceries?" Jehu replies. With that, he shoots an arrow through Joram's heart.
Aware no doubt that her fate is sealed, Jezebel calmly and courageously prepares herself for the inevitable. As a blood-soaked Jehu gallops to Jezreel, she paints her eyes with kohl, dresses her hair, and awaits his arrival in an upper window of the palace. When he arrives, Jehu orders her eunuchs to toss her out, and in graphic detail, the Old Testament authors describe the end:
"They threw her down, and her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, and they trampled her. Then [Jehu] went inside and ate and drank." Sated, he orders: "Attend to that cursed woman and bury her, for she was a king's daughter." It's too late. "And they went to bury her, but they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands." Elijah's prophecy was fulfilled. "The dogs shall devour the flesh of Jezebel...and the carcass of Jezebel shall be like dung on the ground...so that none will be able to say: 'This was Jezebel.'"
There are other biblical bad girls, such as Potiphar's temptress wife and Samson's treacherous Delilah. Jezebel's reputation, however, elevates her notoriety beyond that of other women in the Scriptures. But how much is true? Old Testament stories originating in the mists of time may be rooted in reality, but they evolved into metaphor and parable with each retelling.