ISH-BOSHETH (Heb. אִישׁ־בֹּשֶׁת), son of *Saul; reigned over Israel for two years (ii Sam. 2:10), at the same time that David reigned over Judah in Hebron. The name Ish-Bosheth is a dysphemism (Baal = Boshet; see *Euphemism and Dysphemism) for his true name, Eshbaal (Heb. אֶשְׁבַּעַל, i Chron. 8:33; 9:39). The meaning of the syllable ʾesh is unclear. It is possibly derived from the root אישW, whose meaning (as in Ugaritic) is "to give [a present]"; the name would then mean "given by Baal" (cf. the Phoenician name Matanbaal and the Hebrew names Mattaniah, Nethanel, et al.). Others explain the name as meaning "man of Baal" or see in the radical אש a form corresponding to יש.
After Saul and his three sons (including his firstborn) died in the battle against the Philistines at Mount Gilboa (i Sam. 31), *Abner son of Ner, the uncle and general of Saul, took Eshbaal (Ish-Bosheth), the son of Saul, and proclaimed him king "over Gilead, and over the Ashurites [= Asherites], and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel" (ii Sam. 2:8–9). The capital was fixed in Mahanaim on the eastern bank of the Jordan, at a distance from the Philistine garrisons, who controlled western Israel (i Sam. 31:7), and from the borders of Judah, where David reigned. By enthroning Ish-Bosheth, Abner intended, on the one hand, to prevent David from reigning over the whole of Israel and, on the other, to govern, in fact, the northern tribes; Ish-Bosheth, the legal successor of Saul, would be king in title but dependent on the will and mercy of Abner, the general of the army. Indeed, Abner concentrated the full authority of the government in his hands and led the war against David (ii Sam. 2:12–17; 3:6). It is a measure of Abner's power and Ish-Bosheth's impotence that Abner dared to cohabit with *Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul. It is not surprising that Ish-Bosheth reproached him for it; for he might well regard it as not only an affront to the memory of Saul, but also reason for suspecting Abner of ambitions to the throne (cf. 16:21–22; i Kings 2:17–22). Abner for his part regarded Ish-Bosheth's rebuke as an act of ingratitude for his efforts in preventing David from reigning over all Israel (ii Sam. 3:8). It is also possible that Abner, realizing that the military situation was in favor of David (3:1), welcomed Ish-Bosheth's rebuke as a pretext for coming to terms with David and thus assured his continuing in the position of army commander in Israel (3:12–21). The dispute sealed Ish-Bosheth's fate. He had lost his main supporter (4:1) and the hope of remaining in power. According to ii Samuel 4, Ish-Bosheth was murdered by two officers, Rechab and Baanah. It can be assumed that the conspirators, who came from the town of Beeroth, one of the four Hivite towns (Josh. 9:17), murdered Ish-Bosheth in order to avenge the execution of the Gibeonites by Saul (ii Sam. 21:1).
Bright, Hist, 175–7; Tsevat, in: jss, 3 (1958), 237ff.; de Vaux, Anc Isr, 45, 94–95, 116, 220; em, 1 (1965), 749–50, includes bibliography. add. bibliography: D. Edelman, in: abd, 3, 509–10; S. Bar-Efrat, ii Samuel (1996), 17.