Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Resurrecting Jezebel

Shirley Jones playing a Jezebel
with Burt Lancaster in "Elmer Gantry." 
In the bible, Jezebel was a Phoenician princess who married King Ahab of Israel in the 9th century. Queen Jezebel and her followers were defeated by the prophet Elijah, and to this day “a Jezebel” is a term applied to a fallen woman not to be trusted.

Jezebel's parents were the high priestess and priest of Asthoreth and Baal in the Caananite city of Sidon. Throughout the Old Testament, prophet after prophet warns the children of Israel that God will bring misery upon them unless they cease to burn incense to worship the god Baal. Baal was depicted, in some regions, as a horned god, and his horns were adopted for the Christian concept of the Devil.

When Ahab erected a temple to Baal for Jezebel, he made an "Asherah" for it (1 Kings 16-33). That was a tree or pole to worship Baal's (and later Yahweh's) consort Ashtoreth/Asherah, "The Queen of Heaven." Some scholars think that the “burnt offerings” that were made to Asherah were cannabis, mistranslated as “calamus” from kaneh bosm ("aromatic cane") in scripture. If so, the first known prohibition of cannabis was a Judeo-Christian one.

Baal was also called Bel, a descendant of Belili, the Sumerian White Goddess. Jezebel, who's name means "where is Bel?" was a follower of Bel, and therefore probably an incense inhaler herself. Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel and Ahab, was the only woman to rule Israel solo, for about six years, during which time she re-instituted the worship of Bel. In Jeremiah 44, the women tell the prophet that they will continue to secretly burn incense to the Queen of Heaven.

Jezebel was the title of a 1938 Bette Davis movie wherein she betrays her fianc√© (Henry Fonda) by wearing a flamboyant red dress instead of a virginal white one to a ball. In the 1960 movie Elmer Gantry, in order to impress another minister/mark, Elmer (Burt Lancaster) throws a picture of a his ex-girlfriend, a scantily clad LuLu (Shirley Jones) into the fire, pronouncing "Burn, ye naked Jezebel!"

When defending himself against accusations of being a phony in the press, Gantry deflects that criticism in a speech much like Prof. Harold Hill's "Trouble" in The Music Man (1962), in which Jones also co-starred. Gantry rails against "Yaleism and Princetonism," appealing to a lower common denominator in the way that a certain politician of today does. His rant is complete with references to "insidious opium smokers" and booze, calling it "the way white slavers rob the virtue of 60,000 American girls every year." Claiming to know the addresses of cocaine peddlers and brothels, Gantry leads a crowd to clean up the town, happening onto the brothel where LuLu is working. She seeks her revenge in a scene where she reveals that her father's only communication with her was an instruction to read 1st Kings chapter 21 verse 23: "And the dogs in the street shall eat Jezebel."

Simmons inhales the scent of Black Narcissus in the 1947 film
of the same name. Narcissus is a psychoactive species of daffodil. 
Playing the virginal Madonna to LuLu's whore is British actress Jean Simmons as the evangelist Sharon Falconer. In the Sinclair Lewis novel on which the movie is based, Sister Falconer calls out in prayer: "Blessed Virgin, Mother Hera, Mother Frigga, Mother Ishtar, Mother Isis, dread Mother Astarte of the weaving arms, it is thy priestess, it is she who after the blind centuries and the groping years shall make it known to the world that ye are one, and that in me are ye all revealed...."

In Moby Dick, a character named Elijah serves as a prophet to issue an unheeded warning against the book’s fanatical Captain (not King) Ahab. When it is time to go after the great white whale Moby Dick, strange unknown Arabian sailors appear to do Ahab’s bidding. Ahab admits to a Persian past and in one of his rants calls out to “thou dark Hindoo half of nature.” [Cannabis was then used by Eastern religions, not Western ones.) The South Sea harpooner Queequeg is called “son of darkness” and told to “spurn the idol Bel.”

The 2000-year-old Temple of Bel in Palmya, Syria was called "one of the most culturally significant pieces of architecture in the world" by CNN when it was destroyed by ISIL in 2015. 

UPDATE 2023: In the Barbie movie, Will Farrell as the CEO of Mattel tries to bully Barbie back into her box by calling her a Jezebel. 

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