Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Queen Athaliah: The Daughter of Ahab or Omri?

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Queen Athaliah: The Daughter of Ahab or Omri?

Article excerpt

In the Books of Kings, Athaliah emerges as the most notable female character not only because she is the only queen who ruled alone, but also because she serves as a bridge between the royal families of Judah (the Davidic dynasty) and Israel (the Omride dynasty). That is, her lineage links her to the Omride dynasty and she reigned as the sovereign regent of Judah by virtue of her marriage to Jehoram, a scion of the Davidic line. However, due to an inconsistency in the Bible, there is a controversy over the exact placement of Athaliah in the genealogy of the Omride family: some passages in the Bible seem to imply that her father was Omri, yet in other passages it seems that Ahab was her father. The problem is compounded by her marriage into the Davidic family--a halakhic issue because of other marriages between members of the Davidic and Omride dynasties.

THE PROBLEMATIC MARRIAGES

After the death of Zimri, king of Israel, the people of Israel split into two factions; one supported Tibni son of Ginath as the new king, while the other supported Omri. The Bible (I Kgs. 16:21-22) reports that the supporters of Omri prevailed and, upon Tibni's death, Omri became the undisputed king of Israel. (1) Rashi and Kimhi explain in the name of Seder Olam Rabbah (ch. 17) that when Asa, king of Judah, married his son Jehoshaphat to Omri's daughter (in what was probably a politically motivated move), Omri was seen as the more powerful of the two, and Tibni was then assassinated to eliminate the pretender. Accordingly, the royal families of Judah and Israel were related by virtue of Jehoshaphat's marriage to the daughter of Omri. This was the first instance of marriage between the two royal houses. It is not mentioned explicitly in the Bible.

Additionally, the Bible relates that King Jehoshaphat of Judah was connected to Ahab through marriage (II Chron. 18:1). While Rashi (to II Chron. 22:2) explains that this refers to the above-mentioned marriage between Jehoshaphat and the daughter of Omri, (2) Kimhi (II Chron. 18:1) says this means that Jehoshaphat took Ahab's daughter as a wife for his son Jehoram. Indeed, the Bible later mentions that Jehoram strayed from the path of his righteous forefathers and explains: He walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab; for he had the daughter of Ahab to wife; and he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord (II Kgs. 8:18, II Chron. 21:6).

This implies that the wife of Jehoram was the daughter of Ahab--the son and successor of Omri. However, when introducing the reign of Jehoram's son Ahaziah, king of Judah, the Bible writes:

   In the twelfth year of Joram the son of Ahab king of Israel did
   Ahaziah the son of Jehoram king of Judah begin to reign. Two and
   twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned
   one year in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Athaliah the
   daughter of Omri king of Israel. And he walked in the way of the
   house of Ahab, and did that which was evil in the sight of the
   Lord, as did the house of Ahab; for he was the son-in-law of the
   house of Ahab (II Kgs. 8:25-27).

This implies that Athaliah (the wife of Jehoram and mother of Ahaziah) was actually the daughter of Omri, not Ahab. The same is implied in II Chronicles 22:2. This is the above-mentioned contradiction as to whether Athaliah was the daughter of Omri or of Ahab. (3) As explained below, the various commentators seek to reconcile this discrepancy by clarifying that one passage is literal while the other is not. Some affirm that Athaliah was indeed the daughter of Omri, while others state that she was really the daughter of Ahab. Either way, Athaliah, a scion of the Omride family, was married to Jehoram, king of Judah, creating a second union between the two families.

A third marriage between the two families is found in the above-mentioned passage which notes that Ahaziah was the son-in-law of the house of Ahab. …

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