Abimelech (also spelled Abimelek or Avimelech; Hebrew: אֲבִימֶלֶךְ / אֲבִימָלֶךְ, Modern Avimélekh / Avimálekh Tiberian ʼĂḇîméleḵ / ʼĂḇîmāleḵ ; "father/leader of a king; my father/leader, a king") was a common name of the Philistine kings.
Abimelech was most prominently the name of a polytheistic king of Gerar who is mentioned in two of the three wife-sister narratives in Genesis. The Haggada identifies them as separate people, the second being the first Abimelech's son, and that his original name was Benmelech ("son of the King") but changed his name to his father's. At the time of the Amarna tablets (mid-14th century BC), there was an Egyptian governor of Tyre named Abimilki, who is sometimes speculated to be connected with one or more of the biblical Abimelechs.
Abimelech's name has three main translations, though none treats the name as being completely Hebrew, and all are slightly contorted. The first is my father is king, which could be considered simply as a generic title given to a crown prince. This is supported in the Haggada when "Benmelech" son of Abimelech changes his name to Abimelech when he becomes king. The other two are more interesting, both essentially being my father is MLK, with MLK being the reference found elsewhere in the Bible in prohibitions such as do not pass your children through the fire to MLK, in which case the following possibilities arise:
- MLK refers to a major Canaanite deity probably named Moloch, in which case Abimelech means my father is Moloch - a reference to belief in semi-divine kings; or
- MLK refers to a type of (probably human) sacrifice probably named Molk, so that Abimelech signifies my father is a sacrifice - a reference to Abimelech being pious.
Other people with this name
Apart from the kings of Gerar, the Bible also records this name for:
- Abimelech (Judges), proclaimed king after the death of his father Gideon (Judges 9:1-6).
- The son of Abiathar, and high priest in the time of David (1 Chronicles 18:16). In the parallel passage, 2 Samuel 8:17, the name is given as Ahimelech; most authorities consider this the more correct reading.
- The king of Gath better known as Achish, referred to as Abimelech or Achimelech in the title of Psalm 34.
- Abimélech, Satrap of Gaza is a character (baritone) in Saint-Saëns' opera Samson and Delilah (Weimar, 1877)
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