Our weekly Women's Wednesday returns today with a chilling personality: Queen Athaliah of Judah, the only female monarch to sit on the throne of David in biblical history.

Former princess of Israel, Athaliah married Jehoram, prince of Judah, to secure the relationship between the two kingdoms. Jehoram eventually became king and reigned until his death in 841 BC; his son Ahaziah then ascended to the throne but died soon after, as he was killed during a state visit to Israel. Upon hearing of her son's death, Athaliah instantly saw the opportunity to seize power for herself: she murdered all of her grandsons, thus securing her ascension to the throne. Unbeknownst to her, however, a single child escaped the massacre: baby Joash was in fact saved by his aunt, the wife of the High Priest, who hid him in her rooms and later smuggled him into the temple where he lived in secret for six years.

As queen, Athaliah proved to be an extremely forceful ruler. A faithful worshipper of the Phoenician god Baal, the queen used her influence to establish this cult - going as far as violating the temples of the Jews to build altars to Baal inside them. The people, mostly Jewish, was obviously very offended: after six years, the High Priest exploited this discontent to publicly reveal that young Joash had actually survived and crowned him as the rightful king. As the people celebrated, Athaliah realized what was happening and ran into the temple shouting "Treason!"; she was quickly seized by the guards, who took her outside the temple and killed her. Joash went on to destroy the temple and altars of Baal.

“Atalia”, illumination from the manuscript “Cas des nobles hommes et femmes”, ms. Français 12420, f. 78r, 15h century, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Paris.

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