MEPHIBOSHETH (Heb. מְפִיבֹשֶׁת), a son of Jonathan and a grandson of Saul; called Merib-Baal (מְרִיב־בַּעַל) or Meribaal (מְרִיבַעַל) in the genealogy of the house of Saul (i Chron. 8:34; 9:40) where the name is parallel to Eshbaal (see *Ish-Bosheth). The original form in i Chronicles is obviously, boshet, "shame" having deliberately been substituted for baʿal, "lord," which later generations objected to because it was the name of the pagan god Baal. Mephibosheth, the sole heir of the house of Saul (cf. ii Sam. 9:1ff.), became lame at the age of five as the result of a fall from the hands of his nurse when she hurriedly picked him up in order to flee after receiving the news of the death of Saul and Jonathan (ii Sam. 4:4). David treated Mephibosheth compassionately, refusing to deliver him over to the Gibeonites to be hanged with the other descendants of Saul (21:7), inviting him to eat at the royal table, and restoring him to the fields of Saul (9:1ff.). These kindnesses toward Mephibosheth can be explained as the fulfillment of David's oath to Jonathan (i Sam. 20:15, 42; ii Sam. 21:7) and perhaps even of his oath to Saul (i Sam. 24:22). The story telling of David's generosity, however, makes no mention of the oaths, perhaps thereby implying that David's magnanimity was motivated not only by his oath but also by a plan to keep the descendants of the preceding dynasty under observation and to impress upon his own monarchy the stamp of continuity and legitimacy. Reasons of state become particularly evident in David's attempts to draw closer to the Benjamites and those who had been allied with Saul (ii Sam. 3:19; 9:4–5; 17:27; 19:17, 18, 21; i Chron. 12:1–9). During Absalom's revolt Mephibosheth did not take any action and apparently remained loyal to David (ii Sam. 19:25–32). *Ziba failed in his attempt to impute to Mephibosheth the ambition of receiving the monarchy from the people (ii Sam. 16:1–4; 19:25–30).
In the Aggadah
Mephibosheth was an outstanding scholar. David called him "My teacher," and consulted him on all matters (Ber. 4a), and in the Talmud his name, used metaphorically to denote a noted scholar (Erub. 53b; "out of my mouth, humiliation"), indicated that he humiliated even David by his learning (ibid.). Nevertheless, David saved his life (cf. ii Sam. 21:7) by praying that Mephibosheth should not be made to pass before the Ark and thus risk being condemned to death as were the rest of Saul's sons (Yev. 79a). Because David gave ear to Ziba's slander against Mephibosheth, the Temple was destroyed tj, Yev. 4a). The later division of the kingdom was a punishment for David's decision that Mephibosheth and Ziba were to divide the land (ii Sam. 19:29; Shab. 56b).
H.P. Smith, The Books of Samuel (icc, 1912), 310–3, 374–6; W. Caspari, Die Samuelbuecher (1926), 579–80; Noth, Personennamen, 119, 143; M.Z. Segal, Sifrei Shemuel (1956), 255, 293, 332, 352–3; J. Lewy, in: huca, 32 (1961), 36–37; H.W. Hertzberg, Samuel (Ger., 19602), 298–301. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1954), 76; I. Ḥasida, Ishei ha-Tanakh (1964), 265.