views updated May 14 2018


ABSALOM (Heb. אַבְשָׁלוֹם, אַבְשָׁלֹם, אֲבִישָׁלוֹם), third son of *David, born during his reign in Hebron, probably about 1007/06 b.c.e.

In the Bible

Absalom was the son of Maacah, the daughter of King Talmai of Geshur. When his half brother Amnon dishonored his full sister Tamar (ii Sam. 13:1–20), he considered himself the avenger of her honor and ordered Amnon killed at a shearing feast on his estate, to which he had invited all the king's sons (ibid. 13:23–29). Fearing David's wrath, he took refuge at the court of his grandfather, probably a vassal-king of David by that time (c. 987 b.c.e.). Meanwhile, *Joab took up his cause with the king and obtained David's permission for Absalom to return to Jerusalem without fear of punishment; later a full reconciliation was effected between the two (ibid. 14:33; c. 983 b.c.e.).

Probably David's second son, Chileab (ii Sam. 3:3) or Daniel (i Chron. 3:1), either died young or was mentally or physically handicapped, because it was Absalom, the next oldest son of David, who was the most obvious candidate for the succession. He was a handsome man of prepossessing appearance, a glib tongue, and winning manners (ii Sam. 14:25; 15:2–6), and seems to have gained a great deal of popularity among the common people as well. Though strong headed and willful, he knew how to bide his time in order to achieve his desires (cf. ibid. 13:20) and how to work for that end (cf. ibid. 14:28–30).

Considering these qualities, it is difficult to understand what induced him to plot a revolt against his father (c. 979 b.c.e.); but since there was no strict law that David's successor must be his oldest living son, perhaps Absalom was worried by the influence of David's favorite wife Bath-Sheba and the possibility that David might, as he eventually did, proclaim his oldest son by her his successor.

Be that as it may, the plot was carefully planned at Hebron (cf. ii Sam. 15:7). The revolt seems to have enjoyed wide support in Judah, which was perhaps offended by the old king's refusal to show any palpable preference for his own tribesmen, as well as among other Israelite tribes, who were dissatisfied with the gradual bureaucratization of the kingdom and the curtailment of tribal rights.

David retreated with his immediate entourage – bodyguards (the gibborim), foreign mercenaries (the Cherethites and Pelethites), 600 Gittites, and some of the people who remained loyal to him – to Transjordan. At the same time, he took care to leave a "fifth columnist" in Jerusalem in the person of *Hushai the Archite, and with him two intelligence messengers, *Ahimaaz and Jonathan, the sons of the two high priests. Hushai succeeded in persuading Absalom to reject his adviser *Ahithophel's sensible proposal to pursue the old king and defeat him before he could find further support. In the subsequent battle in Transjordan (in the forest of Ephraim) Absalom's tribal levees proved no match for David's veteran mercenaries under Ittai the Gittite, who was supported by the loyal Israelites under Joab and Abishai. Absalom was caught by his head in a thick tree and killed on Joab's orders, which contravened the express command of David to spare his life (ii Sam. 18:9). The king's mourning for his son almost cost him the support of his loyal troops (ibid. 19:1–9).

Absalom had no son, which prompted him to erect a memorial monument for himself (ibid. 18:18; cf. however ibid. 14:27); he apparently had a daughter, Maacah, who was named for his mother and who later married her cousin *Rehoboam and became the latter's favorite queen and mother of the heir-apparent *Abijam.

[Encyclopaedia Hebraica]

In the Aggadah

Although the Bible stated that it was by his head and not specifically by his hair that Absalom was caught, the rabbis assume that it was by his hair and make of his death a homily on false ambition, unfilial conduct, and poetic justice. Of the perfect physical qualities ascribed to Adam, Absalom is regarded as having inherited his hair (Pirkei Rabbenu ha-Kadosh, in L. Grueenhut, Likkutim, 3 (1899), 72). It grew so luxuriantly that although he had taken the Nazirite vow prohibiting the cutting of the hair, he was permitted to trim it from time to time (Nazir 5a). It was his hair, in which he gloried, which brought about his death (Sotah 1:8). He was caught "in the heart of a tree" (ii Sam. 18:14). "But did one ever hear of a tree having a heart. This turn of phrase teaches that when a man becomes so heartless as to make war on his own father, nature takes on a heart to avenge the deed" (Mekh. Shirata 6). So unforgivable was his conduct that he is enumerated among those who have no share in the world to come (Sanh. 103b). In Exodus Rabbah 1:1 he is cited as one of the exemplars of "spare the rod and spoil the child." His abode is in hell where he is in charge of ten heathen nations (A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 2 (1938), 50) but David's lament saved him from the extreme penalties of hell (Sot. 10b).

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]

In Folklore

In Jewish folk sayings and in Palestinian legends clustered around the Pillar of Absalom (Yad Avshalom) in the Kidron Valley of Jerusalem, rebellious Absalom serves as an example of punishments inflicted upon sons transgressing the Fifth Commandment. According to the report from Jerusalem (1666) of a French Christian pilgrim (Bernardin Surius), the inhabitants of Jerusalem used to bring their children to the tomb of Absalom to shout and throw stones at it, stressing the end of wicked children who did not revere their parents.

[Dov Noy]

In the Arts

In Western literature Absalom has been regarded as a symbol of manly beauty. The subject inspired a medieval mystery play and several Elizabethan dramas. George Peele's The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe (1599) deals at length with Absalom's rebellion, which is blamed on David's illicit love affair with Bath-Sheba, and in tune with the bloodthirsty taste of the era shows the unfortunate prince, suspended by his hair from a tree, being done to death by Joab. John Dryden's Absalom and Achithophel (1681), a political satire in verse, presents Charles ii as David, Charles' illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth as Absalom, and Lord Shaftesbury as the false counselor Ahithophel. Some 20th-century works based on this theme are Absalom (1920), a translation of a Japanese play by Torahiko Kōri; Howard Spring's novel O Absalom (1938; later reissued in the U.S.A. as My Son, My Son); and William Faulkner's novel Absalom, Absalom (1936).

Some artists in the late Middle Ages interpreted Absalom's death as a prefiguration of the Crucifixion. Parts of the story occasionally appear in illuminated manuscripts, such as the Winchester Bible, a French Bible moralisée (1250) now in Toledo, and the 14th-century Anglo-Norman Queen Mary's Psalter (British Museum), which illustrates most of the biblical narrative. Absalom's end also appears in an Italian 15th-century pavement mosaic in Siena Cathedral. The Reconciliation of David and Absalom (1642) was painted by *Rembrandt. The Pillar of Absalom (Yad Avshalom), which stands on the traditional site of Absalom's burial place, is one of several sepulchral monuments in the Kidron Valley, Jerusalem, that date from the Second Temple and Roman periods. The monument is executed in the late Hellenistic style, however, and its link with Absalom does not predate the 16th century.

David's lament for Absalom has inspired a number of composers, notably Heinrich Schuetz, whose motet for bass solo and trombone quartet Fili mi Absalon (in Symphoniae Sacrae vol. 1 (1629), no. 13) is a masterly work. No less poignant is Lugebat David Absalon: Absalon fili mi, a four-voice motet by Josquin des Prés, written a century earlier. In the 16th century Jacob Hand (Gallus) arranged a notable setting of the lament. A number of oratorios, mainly of the 18th century, describe Absalom's rebellion and death. A recent composition is David Weeps for Absalom (1947), a work for voice and piano by David *Diamond. The Judeo-Spanish song "Triste estaba el Rey David" (arranged for choir by Joaquín Rodrigo, 1950), tells the story of Absalom's rebellion in romantic form.


bible: S. Yeivin, Meḥkarim be-Toledot Yisrael ve-Arẓo (1960), 196–7, 236–9; Tadmor, in: Journal of World History, 11 (1968), 49–57; Bright, Hist, 187–90; E.Auerbach, Wueste und gelobtes Land, 1 (1932), 201–2, 232–6, 273; Noth, Hist Isr, 199–200, 219–220; Alt, Essays on Old Testament History and Religion (1967), 318, 329; 297 ff. add. bibliography: A Rofé, in: E. Blum (ed), Mincha: Festgabe fuer Rolf Rendtdorff zum 75. Geburtstag (2000), 217–28. aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1947), 94–5, 104–7; 6 (1946), 266 ff. folklore: Z. Vilnay, Legends of Palestine (1932), 107–9. arts: L. Réau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien, 2, pt. 1 (1956), 125–38; T. Ehrenstein, Das Alte Testament im Bilde (1923), 577–601; The Bible in Art (1956), 173; em, 1 (1965), 68–69.


views updated May 23 2018


ABSALOM (1) Judah Maccabaeus' ambassador in 164 b.c.e. (ii Macc. 11:17). (2) The father of Mattathias and Jonathan, who both held high commands during the Maccabean wars (i Macc. 11:70 and 13:11; Jos., Ant., 13:161, 202). (3) The younger son of John Hyrcanus i. Upon the death of his father, Absalom was imprisoned by his brother Aristobulus i and released when Alexander Yannai ascended the throne. He played a prominent part in the defense of Jerusalem against Pompey, but was captured by him (Jos., Ant., 14:71; cf. Wars, 1:154). (4) Jewish partisan leader at the beginning of the Roman War. He was associated with the Sicarii leader *Menahem b. Judah, and called by Josephus "his most eminent supporter in his tyranny." When *Eleazar son of Ananias, the captain of the Temple, turned against Menahem and assassinated him, Absalom shared his fate (Jos., Wars, 2:448). Because of his views regarding the Zealots and Qumran, Cecil *Roth identified him with the Absalom mentioned in the Pesher ("Commentary") on Habakkuk found at Qumran (1 QpHab), but few scholars would accept this. (5) The name Absalom appears on an ossuary from Givat ha-Mivtar and in a tomb inscription from Silwan, both dated to before 70 c.e. The name "abshi," perhaps an abbreviation of Absalom, appears in a deed on papyrus of 131 c.e. from Wadi Muraba'at. (6) A Late Hellenistic tomb monument named after Absalom, David's rebellious son (ii Sam. 3:3), is situated in the Kidron Valley, west of the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem. The style of the tomb, which shows Orientalizing architectural influences, suggests a first century b.c.e. date for the time it was hewn. Recent work on this monument by J. Zias and E. Puech has brought to light a Byzantine inscription in Greek next to the entrance to the tomb which refers not to Absalom but to the father of John the Baptist. It reads: "This is the tomb of Zachariah, martyr, very pious priest, father of John."


C. Roth, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Historical Approach (19652), 13–14, 74 ff. add. bibliography: T. Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity. Part i: Palestine 330 b.c.e–200 c.e. (2002).

[Abraham Schalit and

Cecil Roth /

Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]


views updated Jun 08 2018


AMNON (Heb. אֲמְנֹן, אַמְנוֹן, אַמִינוֹן; from the root אמן (ʾmn); "to be firm or trustworthy"), eldest son of King David, born in Hebron of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess (ii Sam. 3:2). Becoming infatuated with his beautiful half-sister Tamar, he acted on a ruse devised by his friend Jonadab, "a very clever man," and son of David's brother Shimah, lured her to his bedside on the pretext of illness, raped her, and then cast her out. She then took refuge in the home of her full brother *Absalom. The king did not punish Amnon (ii Sam. 13:21). Two years later Absalom invited Amnon to his estate in Baal-Hazor, together with the other royal princes, for a sheep shearing celebration, and ordered his men to kill him while Amnon was merry with wine. (It appears from ii Sam. 13:32–33 that Jonadab had now cast his lot with Absalom.) Since David's second son evidently either died young or was incapacitated, Absalom, the third son, now had the strongest claim to the succession on the score of seniority. Recent work from the standpoint of the Bible as literature and feminist criticism has questioned whether Tamar was, in fact, raped. Another trend has been to compare Amnon's actions toward Tamar with David's actions toward Bathsheba.

According to rabbinic tradition (Sanh. 21a), Amnon could have married Tamar as she was conceived prior to her mother's conversion. This tragic incident prompted the rabbis to forbid an unmarried girl to remain alone with a man in a room (ibid. 21a–b). The affair of Amnon and Tamar is stigmatized in Avot 5:16 as the prototype of selfish love prompted by lust. For reasons of propriety, the Mishnah excludes the story from public reading in synagogue, whether in the original or in Aramaic translation (Meg. 4:10).


S. Yeivin, Meḥkarim be-Toledot Yisrael ve-Arẓo (1960), 196; Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1913), 118–9. add. bibliography: P. Trible, Texts of Terror (1984); T. Reis, in: janes, 25 (1997), 43–60.


views updated May 21 2018

Absalom the third and favourite son of David, who rebelled against his father and was killed; he is taken as the type of a rebellious son who is loved and mourned despite his rebellion.

According to the biblical account, Absalom was killed when he rode beneath an oak tree and the branches caught in his long hair, trapping him, so that he could be dispatched by David's commander Joab.
Absalom and Achitophel an allegorical poem (1681) by John Dryden, dealing with the succession crisis centring on the Exclusion Bill of 1680; in the poem, Absalom stands for the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II's illegitimate son, and his counsellor Achitophel is his supporter the Earl of Shaftesbury.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Absalom In the Old Testament, third and favourite son of King David. A youth of uncontrollable arrogance, he murdered his brother Amnon, and led a failed rebellion against David. Trapped in flight when his hair became entangled in the branches of an oak, he was killed by David's general Joab.


views updated May 23 2018

Absalom. Son of David. After the rape of his sister Tamar by their half-brother Amnon, Absalom murdered Amnon and fled the court. Having raised rebellion against his father David, he was killed in the subsequent battle, evoking David's lament (2 Samuel 13–18).