Free Online Bible Library | Athaliah

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ATHALIAH (ăth'a-lī'a)

The only woman who ever reigned over Judah (see 2Kgs.8.18, 2Kgs.8.25-2Kgs.8.28; 2Kgs.11.1-2Kgs.11.20; 2Chr.22.1-2Chr.23.21; 2Chr.24.7). She was the daughter of Ahab (king of Israel) and Jezebel (a devotee of Baal). Omri (king of Israel) was her grandfather, and Jehoram (king of Judah) was her husband. After the death of their son Ahaziah, Athaliah reigned six years. She put to death all Ahaziah’s sons except Joash, who was hidden by Jehosheba, sister of Ahaziah and wife of Jehoiada the priest. Then, in the seventh year, Jehoiada conspired to put Joash on the throne. Coming into the temple to see what the excitement meant, Athaliah found that the coronation had already taken place. She was allowed to leave the temple, that it might not be defiled with her blood, but was killed as she went out the door.A son of Jeroham, a Benjamite (1Chr.8.26).The father of Jeshiah, a returned exile (Ezra.8.7).

ATHALIAH ăth’ əlī’ ə (עֲתַלְיָה, The Lord Yahweh is great). 1. The wife of Jehoram, king of Judah, and daughter of Ahab, king of Israel, and granddaughter of Omri (2 Kings 8:18, 26; 2 Chron 22:2). She reigned from 841-835 b.c. Because peace prevailed in her time between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, she married Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat of Judah (2 Kings 8:16, 17). It was a marriage of political convenience with disastrous spiritual results. She inherited the unscrupulous nature of her mother Jezebel. Her influence over her husband and her son Ahaziah was for evil. She introduced into Judah the worship of the Phoen. Baal. When Jehoram ascended the throne, she showed her zeal for the cult of the Sidonian Baal.

She was widowed after eight years on the throne, and her son Ahaziah succeeded his father (2 Kings 8:26; 2 Chron 22:2). Within a year Ahaziah with Joram of Israel was murdered by Jehu, at which time Athaliah destroyed all her grandchildren except Jehoash, who was stolen away and hidden by his aunt, Jehosheba (2 Kings 11:2; 2 Chron 22:11). Athaliah usurped the Davidic throne for six years, the only woman in history to do so. Under her sponsorship Baal worship was vigorously promoted (24:7).

Jehoiada, high priest and husband of Jehosheba (22:11), led the revolt against Athaliah in her seventh regnal year (23:1ff.). Using as the occasion the changing of the palace guards on the Sabbath, and aided by the guards, Jehoiada had Joash proclaimed king. When Athaliah tried to thwart the uprising, she was evicted from the Temple courts and killed at the horses’ entrance to the palace (2 Kings 11:1-16; 2 Chron 22; 23). She died at the hands of the guards. Scripture characterizes her as a wicked woman (24:7).

“The sons of Athaliah” (24:7) create no discrepancy when they are understood as Ahaziah and his brothers before they were removed (21:17; see ASVmg.).

2. Another who bore the name Athaliah was a Benjamite of the house of Jeroham who lived in Jerusalem (1 Chron 8:26).

3. A third who was so named was the father of Jeshaiah who returned with Ezra from Babylon (Ezra 8:7). He was a member of the house of Elam.


BDB, 800, 801; HDB, I, 195, 196; IDB, I, 306; JewEnc, II, 260, 261.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(`athalyah; meaning uncertain, perhaps, "whom Yahweh has afflicted"; 2Ki 8:26; 11; 2Ch 22, 23):

1. Relationship:

(1) Daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, grand-daughter of Omri, 6th king of Israel. In her childhood the political relations of the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel had, after many years of strife, become friendly, and she was married to Jehoram, eldest son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah (2Ki 8:18). The marriage was one of political expediency, and is a blot on the memory of Jehoshaphat.

2. Athaliah as Queen:

When Jehoram was 32 years of age, he succeeded to the throne, and Athaliah became queen of Judah. She inherited her mother’s strength of will, and like her developed a fanatical devotion to the cult of the Zidonian Baal. Elijah’s blow at the worship of Baal in Samaria shortly before her accession to power did nothing to mitigate her zeal. It probably intensified it. The first recorded act of Jehoram’s reign is the murder of his six younger brothers; some princes of the realm, who were known to be favorable to the ancient faith of the nation, were also destroyed (2Ch 21:4). There can be little doubt that these deeds of blood were supported, and perhaps instigated, by Athaliah, who was a much stronger character than her husband.

3. Murder of Her Grandchildren:

After eight years of royal life, Athaliah became a widow, and her son, Ahaziah, then 22 years of age (2Ki 8:26; not 42 as in 2Ch 22:2), ascended his father’s throne. As queen-mother, Athaliah was now supreme in the councils of the nation, as well as in the royal palace. Within a single year, the young king fell (see Jehu), and the only persons who stood between Athaliah and the throne were her grandchildren. It is in such moments that ambition, fired by fanaticism, sees its opportunity, and the massacre of the royal seed was determined on. This was carried out: but one of them, Jehoash, a babe, escaped by the intervention of his aunt, Jehosheba (1Ki 11:2; 2Ch 22:11).

4. Her Usurpation:

The palace being cleared of its royal occupants, Athaliah had herself proclaimed sovereign. No other woman, before or since, sat upon the throne of David, and it is a proof of her energy and ability that, in spite of her sex, she was able to keep it for six years. From 2Ch 24:7 we gather that a portion of the temple of Yahweh was pulled down, and the material used in the structure of a temple of Baal.

5. The Counter-Revolution:

The high priest at this time was Jehoiada, who had married the daughter of Athaliah, Jehosheba (2Ch 22:11). His promotion to the primacy led to the undoing of the usurper, as Jehoiada proved staunchly, if secretly, true to the religion of Yahweh. For six years he and his wife concealed in their apartments, near the temple, the young child of Ahaziah. In the seventh year a counter-revolution was planned. The details are given with unusual fullness in Ki and Chronicles, the writings of which supplement one another. Thus, when the Chronicler wrote, it had become safe to give the names of five captains who led the military rising (2Ch 23:1). With the Book of Ki before him, it was not necessary to do more than extract from the ancient records such particulars as had not hitherto appeared. This it is which has chiefly given rise to the charge of variations in the two narratives. See Jehoash.

6. Her Death:

At the time of her deposition, Athaliah was resident in the royal palace. When roused to a sense of danger by the acclamations which greeted the coronation ceremony, she made an attempt to stay the revolt by rushing into the temple court, alone; her guards, according to Josephus, having been prevented from following her (Ant., IX, vii, 3). A glance sufficed. It showed her the lad standing on a raised platform before the temple, holding the Book of the Law in his hand, and with the crown upon his brow. Rending her robe and shouting, "Treason! Treason!" she fled. Some were for cutting her down as she did so, but this was objected to as defiling the temple with human blood. She was, therefore, allowed to reach the door of the palace in flight. Here she fell, smitten by the avenging guards.

Athaliah’s usurpation lasted for six years (2Ki 11:3; 12:1; 2Ch 22:12). Her 1st year synchronizes with the 1st of Jehu in Israel, and may be placed 846 BC (some put later). See Chronology of the Old Testament. The statement of 2Ki 12:1 is here understood in the sense that Jehoash began his public reign in the 7th year of Jehu, and that he reigned 40 years counting from the time of his father’s death. A modern parallel is the dating of all official records and legal documents of the time of Charles II of England from the death of Charles I.

The only other reference to Athaliah is that above alluded to in 2Ch 24:7, where she is spoken of as "that wicked woman."

(2) A Benjamite who dwelt in Jerusalem (1Ch 8:26,28).

(3) Father of Jeshaiah, who returned with Ezra (8:7); called Gotholias in Apocrypha (1 Esdras 8:33).

W. Shaw Caldecott

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