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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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Jezebel is referred to in the NT in Revelation 2:20 : ‘I have somewhat against thee, because thou dost tolerate the woman Jezebel who calleth herself a prophetess, and teacheth my servants to commit fornication and to eat of things offered to idols and leadeth them astray.’ [Some Manuscripts , א CP and about 10 minuscules, insert σου after γυναίκα, so as to give the sense ‘thy wife,’ but the σου is placed in the margin by Westcott-Hort’s Greek Testament and rejected by Nestle. It probably reflects some copyist’s view that the ‘angel’ of the Church was its bishop.] The passage goes on to say that her misdoing was of some standing, that the woman gave no sign of amending her ways, and that therefore she and her companions in sin would be cast into a bed, or triclinium, defined as great affliction, while her children would be smitten with death. One result of this punishment would be that all the Churches would recognize Jesus as the Searcher of the thoughts and wills. Further, this Jezebel taught what she and her followers called ‘the deep things,’ to which the author sardonically adds ‘of Satan.’

It is fairly clear from these hints what ‘Jezebel’ stands for. In the first place, the opprobrious term may mark an actual prophetess. For Thyatira possessed a temple of Artemis and a temple of a local hero Tyrimnus taken over by Apollo, while outside the city was the cell of an Eastern Sibyl known as Sambethe (CIG [Note: IG Corpus Inscrip. Graecarum.] 3509: Fabius Zosimus set up a burial-place for himself and his sweetest wife Aurelia Pontiana in a vacant place in front of the city in the neighbourhood or quarter where was a fane of the Chaldaean Sambethe [vol. ii. p. 840]. The date is probably about a.d. 120). Though it is not at all probable that by Jezebel this Sibyl could be aimed at, seeing that the obnoxious teacher was within the Thyatiran Church, yet it is not improbable that a Chaldaean prophetess outside might stimulate a Christian prophetess inside the Church. It is of course always possible that Jezebel is not a personal name at all, but a scornful designation of a Gnostic group inside the Christian community at Thyatira, whose action and doctrine the author regarded as being like those of the OT Jezebel-religion, in that it tended to seduce its followers from the ‘form of sound words.’

One characteristic of the civic life of Thyatira was to be found in the gilds into which the bakers, potters, weavers, and artificers in general were grouped. As one inscription (CIG [Note: IG Corpus Inscrip. Graecarum.] 349) speaks of ‘the priest of the Divine Father Tyrimnus,’ and as all heathen religions celebrated periodically religious banquets, there is little doubt that from time to time Christian members of these gilds were faced by the question whether it was lawful for them to partake of these banquets as coming under the head of things offered to idols. Rigorists would hold that to eat at such banquets was to communicate with idols and so to commit spiritual fornication. Jezebel, whether a prophetess or a group, taught apparently that Christians might lawfully partake of these religious banquets, and this the writer of the Apocalypse regarded as equivalent to Jezebel’s idolatry in the OT.

It is also plain that the followers of ‘Jezebel’ were Gnostics, for the latter were explicitly inquirers into the ‘deep things,’ the esoteric truths which the ordinary person was incompetent to understand. In 1 Corinthians 2:10 St. Paul claims for his disciples that the Spirit who searches all things (same verb as is used in Revelation 2:13), yea, the deep things of God, had revealed these hidden things to them. The apocalyptic writer, however, is more concerned here with the opposite depths-those of Satan. Thus in Revelation 2:9 he speaks of the false Jews in Smyrna who formed a synagogue of Satan. In Revelation 2:13 he says that Satan had his throne at Pergamum. In Revelation 3:9 Philadelphia is charged with harbouring a synagogue of Satan. These passages, taken in connexion with the references to the teaching of Balaam in Revelation 2:14 and of the Nicolaitans in Revelation 2:15, favour the interpretation of Jezebel which sees in the name a term of opprobrium applied dyslogistically to a heretical sect or form of doctrine. That the depths of Satan are Gnostic doctrines is clear from Iren. (ii. xxii. 1), who says that the Ptolemaeans said that they had found the mysteries of Bythus, a phrase repeated in ii. xxii. 3 (cf. Hippol. Haer. v. vi., and Tertullian, adv. Valent. i., de Res. Carnis, xix.). The name Jezebel does not occur anywhere in the Apostolic Fathers.

W. F. Cobb.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Jezebel'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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