views updated May 17 2018


AHAB (Heb. בָאְחַא; "paternal uncle"), son of *Omri and king of Israel (i Kings 16:29–22:40). Ahab reigned over the Israelite kingdom in Samaria for 22 years (c. 874–852 b.c.e.).

Foreign Affairs

Ahab continued his father's policy in the cultivation of peaceful and friendly relations with the kingdom of Judah in the south and with that of Phoenicia in the north. The pact with Judah was sealed with the marriage of *Athaliah, who was either Ahab's sister or his daughter, and *Jehoram son of King Jehoshaphat of Judah (ii Kings 8:18; ii Chron. 18:1). The alliance between the Israelite kingdom and Tyre was also a continuation of the policy initiated by his father Omri. From the economic viewpoint the two states were complementary. The economy of Tyre and Sidon was based on trade and manufacture, whereas Israel owed her wealth to agricultural produce. Thus, Tyre supplied Israel with the products of her industries and with technical skills, chiefly in the spheres of building and skilled craftsmanship (see *Samaria). In return Israel supplied agricultural products (cf. i Kings 5:21–25; 9:10–11; Ezek. 27:17).

The triangular alliance among Judah, Israel, and Tyre had important economic implications, since these three states constituted a geographic unit extending from the Mediterranean in the northwest, to the desert and the Red Sea in the southeast. Tyre marketed her produce on the main trade routes, which passed through Israel and Judah, to the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. Israel and Judah benefited from the levying of customs tolls on the caravans that made their way from the Arabian Peninsula northward to Philistia and Phoenicia, and vice versa. This alliance did not have the power to alleviate the political and military pressure exerted on Israel by Damascus,

which had already been her most formidable enemy in the time of *Asa. The threat from Damascus had increased greatly in the period of the house of Omri. *Ben-Hadad, king of Damascus, was neither satisfied with the conquest of areas in north Transjordan nor prepared to make do with the bazaars of the Damascus merchants in Samaria, but aimed at imposing his rule on the whole kingdom, intending to make its king one of the several vassal rulers who owed him fealty (i Kings 20:1–6).

In the biblical account three wars are mentioned between Ahab and the Arameans, although it is not precisely clear when the first two took place. In the first confrontation (20:1–22), Ben-Hadad succeeded, together with 32 vassal kings, in penetrating into the heart of the Israelite kingdom, and even laid siege to Samaria. It is conceivable that the serious economic plight of the kingdom (17:1–16), which was the result of a period of severe drought and scarcity, facilitated Ben-Hadad's speedy penetration into the very heart of Israelite territory. However, he did not succeed in conquering Samaria. Ben-Hadad's insulting demand from the Israelite king (20:3–6) and his arrogant attitude to the people and their king (20:10) caused the unification of the people under Ahab's rule and a surge of national enthusiasm which was shared by the prophets (20:13–14, 28). The defeat inflicted on Ben-Hadad in this confrontation by Ahab warded off the immediate danger but did not remove the long-term threat to Samaria's security. Thus, one year later (20:22, 26), Ben-Hadad once again prepared his troops for battle, assembling them on this occasion at *Aphek. Ahab's second victory drastically altered the power equilibrium between the two states. Ben-Hadad not only restored the Israelite cities which had previously fallen into his possession but even granted Israelite merchants monopolistic trading rights in Damascus (20:34).

According to the biblical evidence, the third and final war was preceded by a three-year period during which there was no friction between Aram and Israel (22:1). Certain scholars connect this period of calm in the relations between the two states with what is related in the inscription of Shalmaneser iii, king of Assyria, concerning his battle at Karkar in Syria in the sixth year of his reign (853 b.c.e.) against an alliance of 12 kings of Syria and Israel. Hadadezer, king of Aram, Irḫuleni, king of Hamath, and Ahab, king of Israel (Akk. A-ḫa-ab-bu māt Sir-'i-la-a-ia) stood at the head of the alliance. The greater Assyrian threat forced the states of Syria and Israel to lay aside their internal feuds and unite in a political and military alliance capable of combating the danger of Assyrian aggression. Ahab's status among the allies and his part in the war was prominent. He was given third place in the list of allies, immediately after Hadadezer and Irḫuleni, and he himself is said to have provided 2,000 chariots, more than half the total number. In addition, Ahab contributed 10,000 infantry to the battle array. Shalmaneser iii claimed that he defeated these allies, but the evidence indicates that if the Assyrian king was not defeated, then, at the very least, the battle ended in a stalemate. With the removal of the Assyrian threat from Israel there was a considerable increase in the internal conflicts among the local powers. The Aramean-lsraelite conflict caused the revolt of Mesha, king of Moab (see *Mesha Stele), a vassal who paid an annual tribute to the king of Israel. However, it is not certain whether Mesha had already freed himself of Israelite rule in Ahab's lifetime, or whether he succeeded in doing so only after his death (Mesha Stele, 7–8; ii Kings 1:1; 3:4–5).

Damascus and Samaria did not reach an agreement concerning the disputed area in north Transjordan. Ahab, with the support of King *Jehoshaphat of Judah, set out for Ramoth-Gilead with the intention of restoring it to Israelite rule. Ahab, for some unknown reason, on this occasion chose to disguise himself as a soldier in the ranks. It is hard to believe that this action was prompted merely by fear, since Ahab's behavior, from the moment he was lethally wounded by an arrow to his death later in the evening of the same day, demonstrated his courage and his hope that the battle would not end in defeat for Israel (i Kings 22). The description of Ahab's death in battle in i Kings 22:34–38 is inconsistent with the notice in v. 40 (ibid.) that he "slept with his ancestors," which is otherwise used only of peaceful death, and points to originally separate accounts.

Internal Affairs

Ahab's foreign policy brought about vast changes in the economy of the Israelite kingdom, both in helping to strengthen the administration and in increasing the state's military potential. Ahab completed the building of the city Samaria, including the acropolis and the royal palace within it, and surrounded the city with a strong, high wall. In the same way, Ahab saw to the fortification of additional cities, such as Jericho (i Kings 16:34). Archaeological evidence shows that other cities, such as Hazor, Shechem, and Megiddo, expanded in the reign of Ahab and their outer, defensive walls were reinforced. It would seem that the "stables" excavated at Megiddo served Ahab's chariot troops. In the various regions ("provinces") he appointed army officers (20:14–15) who were responsible for the security of the province and for the farming of taxes. The widespread fortification of cities, beautiful palaces with ivory ornamentation (22:39), the "Samarian" pottery, easily distinguishable for its high quality craftsmanship and artistic level, and the imported luxury goods, all indicate a period of economic prosperity. Ahab's chariots, mentioned in the inscription of Shalmaneser iii, and also the stables which were excavated at Megiddo, suggest that the kingdom of Israel benefited not only from the Arabian trade conducted along the main arteries of the trade routes which crossed the territories of Judah and Israel but also from the chariot and horse trading between Egypt and Anatolia (cf. 10:28–29). However, the judgment of the author of the Books of Kings on Ahab is very harsh, because of the affair of *Naboth the Jezreelite (i Kings 21) and because of the establishment of the cult of the Tyrian Baal in Samaria. Ahab coveted the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite and offered to buy it or to exchange it for another (21:1–2), but Naboth was unwilling to give up his family inheritance (cf. Lev. 25:14–28). According to the biblical account Ahab accepted Naboth's refusal, but his wife *Jezebel arranged to have Naboth accused falsely of insulting God and Naboth was tried and executed and his property was confiscated by the king's treasury. The Naboth episode was symptomatic of the internal frictions under the rule of the house of Omri. It illustrates the ruthless conduct of the ruling class and the frequently cruel eviction of the small farmer from his land.

The wars with Aram and the years of drought which beset the country obviously caused great hardship to the small farmers, who were reduced to debt and were later compelled to give up their land or even to sell their children into slavery for want of funds to clear their obligations (cf. ii Kings 4:1). On the other hand, economic prosperity brought great wealth to the nobility and to the rich merchants who engaged in barter with the traders from Tyre. The introduction of a chariot force created a new military aristocracy, structurally opposed to the framework of a patriarchal tribal society. By entrusting authority to the army commanders in the "provinces," Ahab dealt a hard blow to the clan leaders ("the elders of Israel"). Sooner or later an effective opposition was bound to rise against the ruling class, an opposition which would be composed naturally of all those elements which had suffered from and had been embittered by Ahab's rule. This opposition movement was championed by the prophets, led by the prophet *Elijah from Gilead.

Just as the deception in the Naboth incident was contrived by Jezebel, who represents the Phoenician element in the house of Omri, so the cult of Baal from Tyre penetrated into Samaria as a result of Jezebel's efforts to implant Phoenician culture in Israel. From reading the biblical account one has the impression that the worship of Baal and Asherah constituted a grave danger to the Israelite cult (i Kings 16:31–33). A sanctuary was built to Baal in the center of Samaria. Some 450 priests of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah enjoyed royal protection and ate at Jezebel's table (i Kings 18:19; ii Kings 10:21). Mt. Carmel, lying on the border between Israel and Phoenicia, was the site of the impressive altar of Baal, whereas the altar of the Lord was destroyed (i Kings 18:30). The cult of Baal involved the persecution of the faithful followers of God and his prophets (18:4, 13), among whom was Elijah, who symbolized the uncompromising fighter against tyrannical rule and its crimes on the one hand, and the cult of Baal on the other (18:17–41; 19:10–14; 21:17–24). Ahab himself was not a zealous follower of Baal (his children bore Yahwistic names) and did not deny all the ancient Israelite traditions. On the one hand, he believed in what the Israelite prophets said, consulted with them before military campaigns, and even showed submission and repented after the prophet's rebuke concerning the murder of Naboth (18:46; 20:13–14, 28; 21:27–29; 22:16–18). But, on the other hand, Ahab granted freedom of action and unlimited authority to Jezebel in all administrative spheres. The biblical historiographer, who culled most of his information concerning Ahab's reign from the biographical literature on the prophets and the miracles they performed (cf. ii Kings 8:4), condemned Ahab for not showing any resistance to Jezebel's incitement (i Kings 21:25), and because, in his opinion, Ahab bore the responsibility for his wife's deeds. It also must be observed that then, as now, political opposition may be couched in religious terms, and vice versa.

[Bustanay Oded]

In the Aggadah

Ahab was one of the three or four kings who have no portion in the world to come (Sanh. 10:2). Over the gates of Samaria, he placed the inscription, "Ahab denies the God of Israel." Influenced by Jezebel, he became such an enthusiastic idolater that he left no hilltop in Israel without an idol before which he bowed, and he substituted the names of idols for the Divine Name in the Torah. Nevertheless, Ahab possessed some redeeming features. He was generous in support of scholars and revered the Torah (Sanh. 102b). As a reward for the honor he gave to the Torah, written in the 22 letters of the alphabet, Ahab was permitted to reign for 22 years (ibid.). According to R. Levi (tj Ta'an. 4:2, 68a; Gen. R. 98:8), a genealogical table of Jerusalem mentioned that Ben Kovesin (or Bet Koveshin) was one of the descendants of Ahab. Although it is difficult to determine the trustworthiness of this tradition, it does indicate that the attitude of the rabbis toward Ahab was not completely unfavorable.

Ahab was so wealthy that each of his 70 (or 140) children had both summer and winter palaces (Esth. R. 1:12). He is said to have ruled over the whole world and his dominion extended over 252 (or 232; ser 9) kingdoms (Esth. R. 1:5). His merits might have outweighed his sins, had it not been for the killing of Naboth. On his death, 36,000 mourning warriors marched before his bier (bk 17a).

[Harold Louis Ginsberg]


M.F. Unger, Israel and the Aramaeans of Damascus (1957), 62–69; A. Parrot, Samaria, Capital of Israel (1956); Morgenstern, in: huca, 15 (1940), 134–6; Anderson, in: jbl, 85 (1966), 46–57; Miller, ibid., 441–54; idem, in: vt, 17 (1967), 307–24; Whitley, ibid., 2 (1952), 137–52; Napier, ibid., 9 (1959), 366–78. add. bibliography: M.A. Cohen, in: ErIsr, 12 (1975), 87–94; M. Cogan, iKings (2000), 496.


views updated May 21 2018

Ahab a king of ancient Israel who persecuted the prophets, husband of Jezebel, who allowed her persecution and arranged killing of Naboth; Ahab was warned by the prophet Elijah that his sin would bring disaster on his dynasty.
Captain Ahab in Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick (1851), the whaling captain whose leg has been bitten off by the white whale, Moby Dick, and who is monomaniacally determined on revenge; his obsession leads, after a three-day pursuit, to the destruction of his ship, the Pequod, and the deaths of all but one (see Ishmael) of her crew.


views updated May 18 2018


AHAB (Heb. אַחְאָב), son of Kolaiah, a false prophet in Babylon. He was among the persons exiled from Judah to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar together with King Joiachin. He and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah purported to be prophets and stirred up unrest among the exiles (Jer. 29:21 ff.). Jeremiah asserts that they were also guilty of adultery, a phenomenon not unknown among fanatics in his (23:14) and other ages. Jeremiah predicted that their death by burning at Nebuchadnezzar's command would become a standard by which people would curse (29:22).

[Harold Louis Ginsberg]