ABIHU (Heb. אֲבִיהוּא), second son of Aaron and Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab (Ex. 6:23; Num. 3:2, et al.). He is always mentioned together with his elder brother Nadab. He was anointed and ordained for the priesthood (Num. 3:3; cf. Ex. 28:1; i Chron. 24:1) and participated with his father, brother, Moses, and the elders in the rites accompanying the making of the covenant at the theophany at Sinai, on which occasion they "saw God" and ate a festive meal (Ex. 24:1–10). Although the exact function of Abihu in these rites is not specified, it is clear that the story represents a very ancient tradition, and that Abihu once played a definite, prominent, and positive role in the now lost history of the Israelite priesthood.
The death of Abihu occurred under mysterious circumstances. He was incinerated (although his clothes and those of his brother remained intact) together with Nadab, as the brothers offered "alien fire before the Lord" (Lev. 10:1–3; Num. 3:4; 26:61; cf. i Chron. 24:2). Aaron's cousins, Mishael and Elẓaphan, were ordered to remove the bodies from the sacred precincts, and the customary mourning rites were suspended (Lev. 10:4–7). The precise nature of the incident is unclear, and neither the locale nor chronology is recorded. Some serious departure from the prescribed cultic ritual seems to be referred to. It has been suggested that they brought incense from outside the sacred area between the altar and the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. It was therefore impure. Abihu and his brother left no sons (Num. 3:4; i Chron. 24:2), and his priestly line was thus discontinued. Some scholars see behind the story of their deaths a forgotten tradition about interpriestly rivalries and the elimination of two priestly houses. The name Abihu may be variously explained as meaning "the Father [God] is" (i.e., exists), "He [God] is Father," and "Father is He" (a surrogate for God).
For Abihu in Aggadah, see *Nadab.
Noth, Personennamen, 18, 70, 143; Moehlenbrink, in: zaw, 52 (1934), 214–5; Y. Kaufmann, Toledot, 1 (1937), 542; de Vaux, Anc lsr, 397. add. bibliography: M. Haran, in: J. Liver (ed.), Sefer Segal (1964), 33–41.
[Nahum M. Sarna]