Omri

OMRI (ŏm'rē, Heb. ‘omrî). 1. The sixth king of Israel, whose reign may be tentatively dated from 886 to 874 b.c. Omri, an able if unscrupulous soldier and founder of a dynasty, is the first Hebrew monarch to be mentioned in nonbiblical records, and the fact may be some measure of his contemporary importance. It was not until 847 that Mesha included Omri’s name in the inscription of the Moabite Stone, but it is a fact that Omri subdued Moab. It is of more significance that the Assyrian records after Omri’s day frequently refer to northern Palestine as “the land of Humri” (the Assyrians spelled the name with an initial aspirate).

The brief but vivid account of Omri’s military coup d'état and his extremely wicked reign is told in 1Kgs.16.15-1Kgs.16.28. Omri was the commander-in-chief under Elah, son of Baasha. When Elah was murdered by Zimri, Omri was proclaimed king by the army in the field, a pattern of events that was to become grimly familiar in the imperial history of Rome. The army was engaged at the time in siege of the stronghold of Gibbethon, a Levite town (Josh.21.23) in the tribal territory of Dan (Josh.19.44), which the Philistines appear to have held for a considerable period (1Kgs.15.27; 1Kgs.16.15). Omri immediately raised the siege, marched on the royal capital of Tirzah, which does not appear to have been vigorously defended against him. Zimri committed suicide by burning the palace over his head. There was some opposition to the dominance of the military, for four years of civil war ensued, with half the populace supporting Tibni, son of Ginath, as king. Omri prevailed, and after a six-year reign at Tirzah, transferred the capital to Samaria, an eminently sensible move from the point of view of military security. Here Omri reigned for at least another six years. Samaria was named after Shemer, from whom Omri bought the hill site (1Kgs.16.24).

Omri is dismissed by the Hebrew historian as an evil influence (1Kgs.16.25-1Kgs.16.26). Indeed, the marriage of his son Ahab to Jezebel, princess of Tyre, probably to cement a trade alliance, was fraught with most disastrous consequences, even though it was a continuation of Solomon and David’s Tyrian policy. The calf worship of Jeroboam (1Kgs.12.32) was continued at Bethel throughout Omri’s reign; and 140 years after Omri’s death, Micah is found denouncing “the statutes of Omri” (Mic.6.16). The palace of Omri has been excavated at Samaria, a series of open courts with rooms ranged round them. Omri died opportunely, one year before the first tentative thrust of the Assyrians toward the Mediterranean and Palestine. It was in 874 b.c. that Ashurnasirpal marched to “the Great Sea of the land of Amurru,” and received tribute from the peoples of the coast. The Assyrian action was the preface to much misery.

2. A Benjamite, family of Beker (1Chr.7.8).

3. A man of Judah, family of Perez (1Chr.9.4).

4. A prince of the tribe of Issachar in David’s reign (1Chr.27.18).


OMRI ŏm’ rī (עָמְרִי, LXX ̓Αμβρι, meaning unknown); the name has been thought to be Arabian (Noth, Israelitische Personennamen 63, 222 n. 7; J. Gray, 3331), but it is attested in families of the tribes of Benjamin (1 Chron 7:8) and Judah (9:4) and prob. Issachar (27:18). He was the first king of the Omride dynasty in Israel.

Chronology.

Omri’s reign began with some years of civil war, or at least civil dissension, ended by the death of the rival claimant to the throne, Tibni ben Ginath. Consequently, in 1 Kings 16:23 Omri’s accession is dated (following the note of Tibni’s death) in the thirty-first year of Asa, but his length of reign is given as twelve years. This runs from Zimri’s rebellion in the twenty-seventh of Asa (v. 15) to Ahab’s accession in the thirty-eighth (v. 29); for Tibni, being the loser in the contest, was never reckoned as king.

E. Thiele calculates the years as 885/4 (Zimri), 881/0 (Omri’s sole reign), and 874/3 (Ahab), Asa’s first year being 911/0 (not counting an accession year, as the synchronisms come from an Israelite source). This leads to placing Ahab’s death at Ramoth-gilead in 853/2, soon after the battle of Quarqar. V. Pavlovsky and E. Vogt agree. W. F. Albright argues that Ahab could not have picked a quarrel with Syria immediately after the alliance in 853; and he relies heavily on the MT of 2 Chronicles 16:1, dating Zimri’s rebellion after Asa’s thirty-sixth year (878 on his chronology). Adjusting Jehoram’s reign to seven years, and Ahab’s to twenty, he allows 876-869 b.c. for Omri (civil war included). For the crucial dates, see Asa, Jehu, Rehoboam.

Antecedents.

Since Omri’s father is not named, and his own name certainly is not Heb., it has been concluded that he was a foreigner; however, his immediate election as king by a citizen army implies that he was popular with them and already a commander of some standing—perhaps commander-in-chief. J. Gray (Kings, p. 330) suggests that he was an absorbed Canaanite, and that this helps to explain the trend toward a Phoen. style of kingship and a pro-Phoen. policy. Gray, and Aharoni (p. 294), noting the rise of Jezreel as a secondary capital, think Omri may have been from Issachar, like Baasha (cf. 1 Chron 27:18).

Accession.

Omri was made king by the army near Gibbethon, when news reached them that Zimri had assassinated Elah; the account in 1 Kings 16:16 reads: “the troops (ha’am, KJV ‘the people’) who were encamped heard...therefore all Israel made Omri...king.” Since Omri did not in fact command the immediate support even of a large majority in the nation, “all Israel” evidently reflects the authority for corporate action in the name of all the tribes, formerly possessed by the assembly of fighting men (Judg 20:7, 21:1; 1 Sam 11:12ff.); perhaps this was the last occasion on which it was exercised. It contrasts with the enthronement of Zimri, doubtless equally official, dependent on his possession of the capital and access to the apparatus of government.

After retaking Tirzah (see Zimri), Omri found his authority disputed by Tibni ben Ginath with equally strong popular support. It was four years before the opposition was overcome (deduced from the synchronism in 1 Kings 16:23); there must have been prolonged maneuvering and perhaps intrigue, for the nation was not greatly impoverished or weakened in a military sense, to judge by its rapid progress in the next few years.

The new capital.

Within two years of gaining control over the whole kingdom, Omri purchased from private ownership a site for a new capital. If, as seems probable, Tirzah was the site at Tell Farah now excavated by the École Biblique, the move may well be evoked by a large building which was begun on top of a layer of burnt debris (Zimri’s last act?) but never finished. Omri may have found Tirzah too small for his ambitions; but Samaria also offered him two more significant advantages: (1) it became wholly royal property, as (by conquest) Jerusalem had belonged to David (Gray, p. 331), so that he was fully master of his own capital, and (2) it had an outlook westward to the coastal plain and NW to Phoenicia, while controlling also the main W-E pass to Shechem; and it was a very defensible position. Israel would play a part again internationally. Crowfoot’s expedition considered that virtually no settlement had existed on the hill crest since Bronze times; Wright disagrees (BA 22, BASOR 155). “Shemer” may have been a community rather than an individual; Gray suggests this on the ground of the segholate name. In 1 Kings 16:24, “owner” is formally pl. (’dny), which BDB takes as pl. of rank, as commonly with ’dn; however, the word does not elsewhere mean “landowner” and the Lord Himself is called ’dn kol ha’areṩ (e.g., Josh 3:13). The name Shimron occurs in Issachar, and Shemer/Shomer in Asher (Gen 46:13; 1 Chron 7:1, 32, 34).

Omri’s original work seems to have been a kind of castle on the narrow crest at the W end, but soon a “royal quarter” (Kenyon, 263, 319) was developed and there is evidence of administrative headquarters as well as of a luxurious palace (Crowfoot, Vol. 3). The ivories (Crowfoot, Vol. 2) show Egyp. rather than Assyrian influence, and betray Phoen. technique; finds of unfinished objects and unworked ivory indicate that carvers were resident. It is also likely that Phoen. masons were brought in.

Achievement.

Omri set Israel on a new path politically, as a monarchical state like its northern neighbors and ready to be involved in their destiny. Later Assyrian records often refer to Israel as Bit Humri, or “land of Omri,” and Shalmaneser calls Jehu “son of Omri.” The effect was perhaps not immediately apparent; the author of Kings specifies only that Omri continued the religious policy of Jeroboam, though he adds that he went further than his predecessors in defying the law of God. Micah perhaps hints at innovation (6:16). Certainly Omri set the trend followed by Ahab: (1) internally, asserting the royal power as dynastic, not charismatic, and no longer to be dependent either on approval by the tribes or on the gift and favor of the Lord; (2) externally, in setting out to increase the power of the state of Israel. To this end, he made peace with Judah, cemented by marriage; subjugated the Moabites and annexed the Medeba district (as declared on the “nodetitle”); and promoted cultural relations with Phoen., sealed by the marriage of Ahab to Jezebel, daughter of Ittobaal of Tyre. Trade flowed through Israel rather than E of Hermon, and the wealth of the state rapidly increased. It appears from 1 Kings 20:34 that this provoked an attack by Syria, whereby Omri lost some territory and was forced to grant commercial concessions. The reference may be to territory lost by Baasha; nevertheless it is clear that at the beginning of his reign Ahab had to acknowledge Ben-hadad as at least nominally his overlord (1 Kings 20:4).

Bibliography

A. T. Olmstead, History of Palestine and Syria (1931), 369ff.; J. Crowfoot et al., Samaria I (1942), II (1948), III (1957); W. F. Albright, BASOR 100 (1945), 21; J. Montgomery, Kings ICC (1951); A. Alt, VetTest 1 (1951), 2-22; J. Pritchard, ANET2 (1955), 281, 320; G. Wright, Biblical Archaeology (1957), 151-156; W. F. Albright, BASOR 150 (1958), 21-23; G. E. Wright, BASOR 155 (1959), 17-26, BA 22 (1959), 67-78; A. Alt, Kl. Schriften III (1959), 258-302; K. M. Kenyon, Archaeology of the Holy Land (1960), 260-269, 318f.; B. Mazar, BA 25 (1962), 106; J. Gray, Kings (1964); V. Pavlovsky and E. Vogt, Biblica 45 (1964); E. Thiele, Mysterious Numbers2 (1965), 62-64; Y. Aharoni, Land of the Bible (1966), 294f.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(`omri; Septuagint Ambri; Assyrian "Chumri" and "Chumria"):

(1) The 6th king of Northern Israel, and founder of the IIIrd Dynasty which reigned for nearly 50 years. Omri reigned 12 years, circa 887-876 BC. The historical sources of his reign are contained in 1Ki 16:15-28; 20:34, the nodetitle, Assyrian inscriptions, and in the published accounts of recent excavations in Samaria. In spite of the brief passage given to Omri in the Old Testament, he was one of the most important of the military kings of Northern Israel.

1. His Accession:

Omri is first mentioned as an officer in the army of Elah, which was engaged in the siege of the Philistine town of Gibbethon. While Omri was thus engaged, Zimri, another officer of Elah’s army, conspired against the king, whom he assassinated in a drunken debauch, exterminating at the same time the remnant of the house of Baasha. The conspiracy evidently lacked the support of the people, for the report that Zimri had usurped the throne no sooner reached the army at Gibbethon, than the people proclaimed Omri, the more powerful military leader, king over Israel. Omri lost not a moment, but leaving Gibbethon in the hands of the Philistines, he marched to Tirzah, which he besieged and captured, while Zimri perished in the flames of the palace to which he had set fire with his own hands (1Ki 16:18). Omri, however, had still another opponent in Tibni the son of Ginath, who laid claim to the throne and who was supported in his claims by his brother Joram (1Ki 16:22 Septuagint) and by a large number of the people. Civil war-followed this rivalry for the throne, which seems to have lasted for a period of four years (compare 1Ki 16:15, with 16:23 and 29) before Omri gained full control.

Omri’s military ability is seen from his choice of Samaria as the royal residence and capital of the Northern Kingdom. This step may have been suggested to Omri by his own easy conquest of Tirzah, the former capital. Accordingly, he purchased the hill Shomeron of Shemer for two talents of silver, about $4,352.00 in American money. The conical hill, which rose from the surrounding plain to the height of 400 ft., and on the top of which there was room for a large city, was capable of easy defense.

2. The Founding of Samaria:

The superior strategic importance of Samaria is evidenced by the sieges it endured repeatedly by the Syrians and Assyrians. It was finally taken by Sargon in 722, after the siege had lasted for 3 years. That the Northern Kingdom endured as long as it did was due largely to the strength of its capital. With the fall of Samaria, the nation fell.

Recent excavations in Samaria under the direction of Harvard University throw new light upon the ancient capital of Israel. The first results were the uncovering of massive foundation walls of a large building, including a stairway 80 ft. wide. This building, which is Roman in architecture, is supposed to have been a temple, the work of Herod. Under this Roman building was recovered a part of a massive Hebrew structure, believed to be the palace of Omri and Ahab. During the year 1910 the explorations revealed a building covering 1 1/2 acres of ground. Four periods of construction were recognized, which, on archaeological grounds, were tentatively assigned to the reigns of Omri, Ahab, Jehu, and Jeroboam II. See Samaias and articles by David G. Lyon in Harvard Theological Review, IV, 1911; JBL, V, xxx, Part I, 1911; PEFS, 1911, 79-83.

3. His Foreign Policy:

Concerning Omri’s foreign policy the Old Testament is silent beyond a single hint contained in 1Ki 20:34. Here we learn that he had to bow before the stronger power of Syria. It is probable that Ben-hadad I besieged Samaria shortly after it was built, for he forced Omri to make "streets" in the city for the Syrians. It is probable, too, that at this time Ramoth-gilead was lost to the Syrians. Evidently Omri, was weakened in his foreign policy at the beginning of his reign by the civil conflict engendered by his accession. However, he showed strength of character in his dealings with foreign powers. At least he regained control over the northern part of Moab, as we learn from the Moabite Stone. Lines 4-8 tell us that "Omri was king of Israel and afflicted Moab many days because Chemosh was angry with his land. .... Omri obtained possession of the land of Medeba and dwelt therein during his days and half the days of his son, forty years. "

Omri was the first king of Israel to pay tribute to the Assyrians under their king Asurnacirpal III, in 876 BC. From the days of Shalmaneser II (860 BC) down to the time of Sargon (722 BC), Northern Israel was known to the Assyrians as "the land of the house of Omri." On Shalmaneser’s black obelisk, Jehu, who overthrew the dynasty of Omri, is called Ja’uaabal Chumri, "Jehu son of Omri."

Omri entered into an alliance with the Phoenicians by the marriage of his son Ahab to Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians. This may have been done as protection against the powers from the East, and as such would have seemed to be a wise political move, but it was one fraught with evil for Israel.

4. His Religious Influence and Death:

Although Omri laid the foundation of a strong kingdom, he failed to impart to it the vitalizing and rejuvenating force of a healthy spiritual religion. The testimony of 1Ki 16:25,26, that he "dealt wickedly above all that were before him," coupled with the reference to "the statutes of Omri" in Mic 6:16, indicates that he may have had a share in substituting foreign religions for the worship of Yahweh, and therefore the unfavorable light in which he is regarded is justified. Upon his death, Omri was succeeded upon the throne by his son Ahab, to whom was left the task of shaking off the Syrian yoke, and who went beyond his father in making the Phoenician influence along with Baalism of prime importance in Israel, thus leading the nation into the paths that hastened its downfall.

(2) A Benjamite, son of Becher (1Ch 7:8).

(3) A Judahite, descendant of Perez, who lived at Jerusalem (1Ch 9:4).

(4) A prince of Issachar in the time of David (1Ch 27:18).