AHAB (ā'hăb, Heb. ’ah’āv, father’s brother). 1. Son of Omri and seventh king of the northern kingdom of Israel. He reigned twenty-two years, 873-851 b.c. Politically, Ahab was one of the strongest kings of Israel. In his days Israel was at peace with Judah and maintained her dominion over Moab, which paid a considerable tribute (
Successful as he might have been politically, however, Ahab owes his prominence in the OT to the religious apostasy that occurred in Israel during his reign. Of him it is said, he “did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him” (
Ahab’s character is succinctly summarized by the historian: “There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife” (
2. A false prophet who deceived the Jews in Babylon. Joining with Zedekiah, another false prophet, Ahab predicted an early return to Jerusalem. For this sin and for their immoral conduct, Jeremiah prophesied that they would be burned to death by the king of Babylon and that their names would become a byword (
AHAB ā’ hăb (אַחְאָ֤ב, meaning brother of father; LXX, ̓Αχαὰβ; Josephus, ̓Αχαβος). There are two men of this name; the eighth king of Israel, who reigned c. 869-850 b.c. and whose story is told mainly in
Ahab, the son of Omri
Chronology of Ahab’s reign.
He is said to have reigned twenty-two years at Samaria. Some of the competing systems of chronology reduce this figure (in ways too technical to describe here) to twenty years or slightly less. The interested person should consult the articles of this encyclopedia on Biblical Chronology. The lit. is listed and rather fully summarized in J. Finegan’s Handbook of Biblical Chronology , pp. 194-198. The elements of uncertainty chiefly arise out of the fact that OT annalists made use of two systems of dating accessions of kings. In one system the first full calendar year of a king’s reign is counted as his first year. In the other system the fraction of a calendar year wherein a king reigned, immediately after the death of his predecessor, is counted as his first year. Also, some kings were co-regents with their predecessors in the last months or years of their reigns; yet the chronologies of Scripture seldom take note of this fact.
Events of Ahab’s reign.
Several historical vignettes rather than a continuous narrative constitute the Biblical narrative and therefore also this summary.
Three and one-half years of drought
The introduction of and destruction of Phoenician Baalism.
Ahab’s military campaigns.
The record of 1 Kings reports three major engagements between Ahab and Benhadad (the Second) of Syria who ruled from Damascus. In the first war the Syrians besieged Samaria. After a diplomatic exchange particularly insulting to the Israelites, Ahab reverted (as monarchs are wont to do in time of great peril) to the older democratic ways, calling a national council of tribal elders. Then came an unusual prophet who in Jehovah’s name advised Ahab to attack (
Ahab’s spiritual life.
It might seem that nothing but evil could be said of this man. Yet on occasion he furnishes important examples of sincere, if wavering, trust in the prophets of God. It was his wife’s fury that sought their destruction, not his (
Ahab’s place in secular history.
Sometime in the summer of 853 b.c. Shalmanezer III of Assyria met in battle at a place called Qarqar, on the Orontes River in northern Syria, a quite formidable coalition of twelve Syrian kings. On the “Monolith Inscription,” now in the British Museum, there is a description of the battle, placing it in the sixth year of Shalmanezer III. Since the reigns of Assyrian kings are accurately dated by independent data this battle becomes very important, for the inscr. mentions “Ahab, the Israelite” as one of the twelve kings who fought Shalmanezer III in it. Thus we know when Ahab reigned and there is created an important hinge (perhaps the most important one connecting secular and Biblical history,) making possible something close to an exact dating of the events of OT history (viz. FLAP, pp. 204, 205, esp. the valuable documentation and bibliography). This expedition of Ahab is not mentioned in the Bible, showing how little concern the Bible authors really had for history or chronology as such, perhaps also the mistake in our modern pre-occupation with it. The treachery of the king’s wife in destroying a God-fearing freeholder is of much more spiritual significance than either winning or losing a battle which the king really ought not to have been in anyway, for the alliance which took Ahab to Qarqar was contrary to Mosaic law. It is of interest to know that Ahab had a place of prominence among Levantine rulers of his time. Shalmanezer’s statistics report “Ahab as commanding 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers. In chariotry, Ahab’s forces were much larger than those of any other king” (FLAP, p. 205). Shalmanezer claims a big victory in the inscr. but he avoided Syria for a long time afterward, indicating that the “victory” was perhaps only paper propaganda for home consumption.
Ahab the builder.
Ahab the son of Koliah
This man was a false, i.e., self-appointed, prophet who spoke falsely in Jehovah’s name among the exiles of Babylon sometime after the transportation of Jeconiah (Jehoiachim, 598/7 b.c.) and the end of the Judaean kingdom some eleven years later. He is known in Scripture only from the words of Jeremiah (
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(’ach’abh, Assyrian a-cha-ab-bu; Septuagint Achaab, but
1. Ahab’s Reign:
Ahab, son of Omri, the seventh king of Israel, who reigned for twenty-two years, from 876 to 854 (
2. His Foreign Policy:
In the days of David and Solomon a beneficial commercial intercourse existed between the Hebrews and the Phoenicians. Ahab, recognizing the advantages that would accrue to his kingdom from an alliance with the foremost commercial nation of his time, renewed the old relations with the Phoenicians and cemented them by his marriage with Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre (the Ithobalos, priest of Astarte mentioned by Meander). He next turns his attention to the establishment of peaceful and friendly relations with the kindred and neighboring kingdom of Judah. For the first time since the division of the kingdoms the hereditary internecine quarrels are forgotten, "and Jehoshaphat," the good king of Judah, "made peace with the king of Israel." This alliance, too, was sealed by a marriage relationship, Jehoram, the crown-prince of Judah, being united in marriage with the princess Athaliah, daughter of Ahab.
Perhaps some additional light is thrown upon Ahab’s foreign policy by his treatment of Benhadad, king of Damascus. An opportunity was given to crush to dust the threatening power of Syria. But when Benhadad in the garb of a suppliant was compelled to sue for his life, Ahab received into kindly as his brother, and although denounced by the prophets for his leniency, spared his enemy and allowed him to depart on the condition that he would restore the cities captured from Omri, and concede certain "streets" in Damascus as a quarter for Israelite residents. No doubt Ahab thought that a king won as a friend by kindness might be of greater service to Israel than a hostile nation, made still more hostile, by having its king put to death. Whatever Ahab’s motives may have been, these hereditary foes really fought side by side against the common enemy, the king of Assyria, in the battle at Karkar on the Orontes in the year 854, as is proved by the inscription on the monolith of Shalmaneser II, king of Assyria.
3. His Religious Policy:
Ahab’s far-sighted foreign policy was the antithesis of his short-sighted religious policy. Through his alliance with Phoenicia he not only set in motion the currents of commerce with Tyre, but invited Phoenician religion as well. The worship of Yahweh by means of the golden calves of Jeroboam appeared antiquated to him. Baal, the god of Tyre, the proud mistress of the seas and the possessor of dazzling wealth, was to have an equal place with Yahweh, the God of Israel. Accordingly he built in Samara a temple to Baal and in it erected an altar to that god, and at the side of the altar a pole to Asherab (
4. The Murder of Naboth:
Wrong religious principles have their counterpart in false ethical ideals and immoral civil acts. Ahab, as a worshipper of Baal, not only introduced a false religion, but false social ideals as well. The royal residence was in Jezreel, which had probably risen in importance through his alliance with Phoenicia. Close to the royal palace was a vineyard (
5. Ahab and Elijah:
Neither religious rights nor civil liberties can be trampled under foot without Divine retribution. The attempt to do so calls forth an awakened and quickened conscience, imperatively demanding that the right be done. Like an accusing conscience, Elijah appeared before Ahab. His very name ("my God is Yah") inspired awe. "As Yahweh, the God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years," was the conscience- troubling message left on the mind of Ahab for more than three years. On Elijah’s reappearance, Ahab greets into as the troubler of Israel. Elijah calmly reforms him that the king’s religious policy has caused the trouble in Israel. The proof for it is to be furnished on Mount Carmel. Ahab does the bidding of Elijah. The people shall know whom to serve. Baal is silent. Yahweh answers with fire. A torrent of rain ends the drought. The victory belongs to Yahweh.
Once more Elijah’s indignation flashes against the house of Ahab. The judicial murder of Naboth calls it forth. The civil rights of the nation must be protected. Ahab has sold himself to do evil in the sight of Yahweh. Therefore Ahab’s house shall fall. Jezebel’s carcass shall be eaten by dogs; the king’s posterity shall be cut off; the dogs of the city or the fowls of the air shall eat their bodies (
6. Ahab’s Building Operations:
In common with oriental monarchs, Ahab displayed a taste for architecture, stimulated, no doubt, by Phoenician influence. Large building operations were undertaken in Samaria (
7. Ahab’s Military Career:
Ahab was not only a splendor-loving monarch, but a great military leader as well. He no doubt began his military policy by fortifying the cities of Israel (
In the following year, the Syrian army, in spite of its overwhelming superiority, meets another defeat at the hands of Ahab in the valley, near Aphek. On condition that Benhadad restore all Israelite territory and grant the Hebrews certain rights in Damascus, Ahab spares his life to the great indignation of the prophet (
Perhaps Benhadad blamed Ahab for the defeat. At any rate he fails to keep his promise to Ahab (
8. Ahab’s Death:
Possibly the warning of Micaiah gave Ahab a premonition that this would be has last fight. He enters the battle in disguise, but in vain. An arrow, shot at random, inflicts a mortal wound. With the fortitude of a hero, in order to avoid a panic, Ahab remains in his chariot all day and dies at sunset. His body is taken to Samaria for burial. A great king had died, and the kingdom declined rapidly after his death. He had failed to comprehend the greatness of Yahweh; he failed to stand for the highest justice, and his sins are visited upon has posterity (
9. Ahab and Archaeology:
The Moabite Stone) bears testimony (lines 7, 8) that Omri and his son (Ahab) ruled over the land of Mehdeba for forty years. When Ahab was occupied with the Syriac wars, Moab rose in insurrection. Mesha informs us in an exaggerated manner that "Israel perished with an everlasting destruction." Mesha recognizes Yahweh as the God of Israel.(see
(2) The Monolith of Shalmaneser II
The Monolith of Shalmaneser II (Brit Mus; see Assyria) informs us that in 854 Shalmaneser II came in conflict with the kingdom of Hamath, and that Benhadad II with Ahab of Israel and others formed a confederacy to resist the Assyrian advance. The forces of the coalition were defeated at Karkar.
(3) Recent Excavations.
Under the direction of Harvard University, excavations have been carried on in Samaria since 1908. In 1909 remains of a Hebrew palace were found. In this palace two grades of construction have been detected. The explorers suggest that they have found the palace of Omri, enlarged and improved by Ahab. This may be the "ivory house" built by Ahab. In August, 1910, about 75 potsherds were found in a building adjacent to Ahab’s palace containing writing. The script is the same as that of the Moabite Stone, the words being divided by ink spots. These ostraca seem to be labels attached to jars kept in a room adjoining Ahab’s palace. One of them reads, "In the ninth year. From Shaphtan. For Ba`al-zamar. A jar of old wine." Another reads, "Wine of the vineyard of the Tell." These readings remind one of Naboth’s vineyard. In another room not far from where the ostraca were found, "was found an alabaster vase inscribed with the name of Ahab’s contemporary, Osorkon II of Egypt." Many proper names are found on the ostraca, which have their equivalent in the Ostraca; Harvard Theological Review, January, 1909, April, 1910, January, 1911; Sunday School Times, January 7, 1911; The Jewish Chronicle, January 27, 1911.). It is claimed that the writing is far greater than all other ancient Hebrew writing yet known. Perhaps with the publication of all these writings we may expect much light upon Ahab’s reign. (See