Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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Review/ By Peter Enzminger ’08

Reimagining Jezebel

The Jezebel Letters
By Eleanor Ferris Beach ’68
Fortress Press, 2005 • 192 pages • $19.00
Reimagining Jezebel

If history is indeed written by the winners, then no single historical text can have a unilateral claim to truth. Such could be the jumping-off point for The Jezebel Letters. Author Eleanor Ferris Beach ’68, assistant adjunct professor of theology at St. Ambrose University, reexamines biblical history from the perspective of Jezebel, a much-maligned figure in the Old Testament. Beach removes Jezebel from our customary associations and presents her story as a politically-driven, historical narrative. The Jezebel in these narratives is no harlot but an astute leader telling her side of the familiar biblical story as a figure of significant influence in a transitional era.

Beach presents her well-researched take on biblical history through a mix of fictionalized memoirs and letters, asking the reader to imagine Jezebel writing these memoirs in exile as she watches the dynasties she helped to propagate spin out of control. The book begins with Jezebel’s betrothal to the prince of Samaria and traces her royal career through nearly six turbulent decades as she consolidates and protects her family’s claims to power throughout the region.

Despite Jezebel’s best efforts, assassinations and coup d’états unseat her lineage. The Bible details this process as a fated surge of monotheistic ascendancy in which the violent rebellion is justified by the righteousness of its cause. To Jezebel, these insurgents are a political threat, and Beach’s research unearths motives apart from religious teleology to explain their dissent. In her vision, objections to economic practices of a new king and the general instability of generational transitions coalesced around the roots of the Judeo-Christian tradition to give the movement critical mass.

Beach’s retelling of Jezebel’s history is rather like hearing about the American Revolution through the eyes of the British: it inverts the familiar by excavating a fresh perspective. Re-imagining the accepted version of history can be mildly unsettling, but to Beach’s credit, her vision of Jezebel as a self-possessed, rational leader convinces. In juxtaposing Jezebel’s side of the story with its biblical counterpart, Beach revives the figure of Jezebel as a strong female figure overwritten and misrepresented by history.
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