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 , 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
Omri is dismissed by the Hebrew historian as an evil influence (
2. A Benjamite, family of Beker (
3. A man of Judah, family of Perez (
4. A prince of the tribe of Issachar in David’s reign (
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 (
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
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
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.
Omri was made king by the army near Gibbethon, when news reached them that Zimri had assassinated Elah; the account in
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
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
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.
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 (
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
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 (
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 Samaias and articles by David G. Lyon in Harvard Theological Review, IV, 1911; JBL, V, xxx, Part I, 1911; PEFS, 1911, 79-83.. See
3. His Foreign Policy:
Concerning Omri’s foreign policy the Old Testament is silent beyond a single hint contained in
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
(2) A Benjamite, son of Becher (
(3) A Judahite, descendant of Perez, who lived at Jerusalem (
(4) A prince of Issachar in the time of David (