ABNER (Heb. אַבְנֵר, אֲבִינֵר), cousin of King *Saul and "captain of his host" (i Sam. 14:50–51); from i Chronicles 8:33 it would appear that Abner was Saul's uncle. At court he occupied the seat of honor next to Jonathan, the crown prince (i Sam. 20:25). In his conflict with Saul, David seems to have suspected Abner of plotting against him (24:10; 26:19). Abner did in fact accompany Saul in his pursuit of David, who taunted him with not guarding his master properly (26:16). After the death of Saul and three of his sons on Mount Gilboa, Abner made Saul's son *Ish-Bosheth king over Israel with his capital at *Mahanaim in Transjordan, while Judah broke away and elected David as their king in Hebron (ii Sam. 2:8–11). During the subsequent warfare between Israel and Judah, Abner and his men were routed by David's captain, Joab, at the Pool of Gibeon; Abner killed Joab's younger brother Asahel, but reluctantly and in self-defense. He then made a moving appeal to Joab to stop the fratricidal combat (2:12–32). Abner was reproved by Ish-Bosheth for having lain with Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, a concubine of King Saul, thus possibly betraying his own aspirations to the kingship (3:7). In his anger Abner communicated with David and conspired with "the Elders of Israel" and Saul's own tribe of Benjamin to offer David the crown of a reunited Israel (3:12 ff.). At Hebron he and his son were well received and entertained, while his enemy Joab was away (3:20). Abner promised to rally the entire nation around David. On his return Joab reproached David and warned him against Abner's intrigue. Without the king's knowledge he lured Abner back to Hebron and murdered him at the city's gate (3:30). In this act he also avenged Asahel's death and rid himself of a potential rival, as David had probably promised the chief captaincy to Abner in return for making him king over all Israel. Shocked by this treacherous deed, David cursed Joab and his house. He had Abner buried with full honors; his beautiful dirge and tribute to Abner, "A prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel," became famous (3:31 ff.). On his deathbed David charged his son Solomon to avenge Abner's murder (i Kings 2:5, 32). According to one tradition Abner's tomb is in Hebron near the cave of *Machpelah.
[Gustav Yaacob Ormann]
In the Aggadah
Abner, a giant of extraordinary strength (Eccles. R. 9:11) was the son of the Witch of En-Dor (pdre 33). It was he who refuted Doeg's argument against the admission of Moabite women "in the assembly of the Lord" (see Deut. 23:4) and, supported by Samuel, he established the rule "a Moabite but not a Moabitess," thus enabling David to reign over Israel (Yev. 76b). Abner justified his slaying of Asahel as an action in self-defense, but since he could have merely wounded him, Abner deserved his violent death (Sanh. 49a). Although a pious man (Gen. R. 82:4) and a "lion in the law" (tj Pe'ah 1:1, 16a) Abner was guilty of many misdeeds which warranted his death. It was in his favor that he had refused to obey Saul's command to kill the priests at Nob; but he should have intervened actively and prevented Saul from executing his bloody design (Sanh. 20a). Even if Abner could not have influenced the king in this matter (ibid.), he was guilty of having frustrated a reconciliation between David and Saul and of thinking little of human life (tj Pe'ah 1:1, 16a). However he was right in espousing the cause of Saul's son Ish-Bosheth against David for he knew from tradition that God had promised two kings to the tribe of Benjamin, and it was therefore his duty to transmit the throne to the son of Saul the Benjaminite (Gen. R. 82:4).
Noth, Personennamen, 167; Bright, Hist, 169, 175–7; E. Auerbach, Wueste und gelobtes Land, 1 (1932), 221–4; Ginzberg, Legends, index, em, 1 (1965), 59–60.