In my last blog post, I promised to talk about how I came to write the Jezebel trilogy.
I began to think about Jezebel in 1977. The Oakland Women’s Press Collective, which I’d poured heart and soul into for three years, had crashed and burned, leaving former members not speaking to each other. During the summer that followed, Max Dashu and I went traveling around the country in a VW bug. I needed to recover psychologically, while Max wanted to visit museums and photograph Native American women’s art for her Suppressed Histories Archive.
Seeing those exhibits helped give me perspective. I was mourning the loss of a dream and important friendships, but weren’t these disappointments minor compared to the genocide inflicted on North American Natives, and on so many other peoples, including my own? After that trip, Max and I moved to Etna, a town of 500 people in Northern California. I spent 1976-77 in self-imposed exile, reading, writing, and hiking in the wilderness. That was when I first read the Biblical account of Jezebel.
In popular culture, her name has come to mean a sexually immoral woman. Even the online thesaurus uses “Jezebel” as a synonym for whore. She was trashed by generations of rabbis and priests. Trashed quite literally—her name in her own language means “there is a prince,” but in Hebrew they call her by a similar-sounding word that means “garbage.”
Calling her a whore is pure slander. A Middle Eastern queen—a woman married to the king of Israel—could not have taken lovers. She was her husband’s property, and her punishment would have been death. A man, of course, could have several wives or mistresses, as long as he didn’t touch another man’s wife. Even the Bible doesn’t accuse Jezebel of adultery. Instead, she is accused of suborning perjury to help her husband murder a neighbor and take the man’s land. That story seems dubious, given the plethora of politicians and other malefactors who, when caught, try to shift blame to their wives. See, most recently, Rep. Duncan Hunter and HUD Secretary Ben Carson. Or we can go back several millennia to Adam—“the woman made me eat the apple. It’s all her fault.”
I decided to write a truer story about Jezebel. Someone suggested Michener’s The Source as a model. In the first chapter the author posits that the Israelite city of Hazor survived for millennia because an aerial view of its walls shows it was shaped like a penis and testicles. The mythical hero of another early chapter decides to migrate, and his wife follows him, dutifully barefoot and pregnant. I tossed the book.
Knowing that my retelling of Jezebel’s life would contradict patriarchal mythology, and that people who swallowed Michener’s phallic city whole would pick apart any inaccuracies in my work, I realized that my research had to be impeccable. This meant hours, weeks, and years in the library and on the internet. Two trips to Israel and the West Bank, for a total of three months. Classes in modern and Biblical Hebrew.
I needed to know what the people ate so that their meals would not include, for example, later imports from the Americas, such as tomatoes and hot peppers. Since one of my characters is a physician, I found books with titles like Ancient Egyptian Medicine and Chemistry and Chemical Technology in Ancient Mesopotamia. I also had to know how houses were built, what the locals produced and what they imported, farming equipment and practices, fashions, weaponry, and techniques of warfare for the battle scenes. In addition, I read whatever I could find on the customs of the various contemporary societies, from the hypercivilized and sedentary Egyptians to the matriarchal nomads of ancient Arabia.
42 years later, all of that labor has been distilled and is available for your reading pleasure. You can order the trilogy at http://ebisupublications.com/books/.