By Austin Cline
Ithobaal I (887-856) was the first Tyrian monarch to be referred to as "king of the Sidonians" and this title would continue to be used afterwards. Ithobaal is best known as the father of Jezebel whom he gave as a wife to king Ahab (874-853) in order to secure stronger trading ties with the Israelite kingdom based now in Samaria. As mother of Ahab's successor, Ahaziah, Jezebel would prove to be an important cultural influence in the Israelite court. Jezebel introduced Tyrian cultural and religious practices which infuriated traditionalists who did not accept any deviations from Hebrew monotheism.
Tyre's principle temples were dedicates to Melqart and Astarte. King Hiram instituted a yearly celebration every spring of the death and rebirth of Melqart. Hiram called this Melqart's "awakening" and it represented the death of nature during the winter and its rebirth in the spring. It's believed that Astarte played some role in Melqart's resurrection, perhaps through a ritual marriage.
Other Phoenician cities had their own deities, almost always a male and female deity ruling together, but Astarte appears often. In Tyre Astarte has an especially warlike aspect, not unlike Athena in Athens, and this may be connected to the rivalry between Tyre and Athens for trade. The introduction of a female consort along Phoenician lines for Yahweh in the Israelite court would have been infuriating for the monotheistic and patriarchal defenders of tradition.