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 the name of multiple Philistine kings mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.
Abimelech's name is thought to mean my father is king, and could be simply a generic title given to a crown prince. However, it appears it could also refer to a ruling king, as described in the Haggada when "Benmelech" ("son of the king"), son of Abimelech, changes his own name to Abimelech when he becomes king.
At the time of the Amarna tablets (mid-14th century BC), there was an Egyptian governor of Tyre similarly named Abimilki, who is sometimes speculated to be connected with one or more of the biblical Abimelechs.
Abimelech of Gerar
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, in connection with both Abraham (chap. 20) and Isaac (chap. 26). The Haggada identifies them as references to 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.
King Abimelech of Gerar also appears in an extra-biblical tradition recounted in texts such as the Kitab al-Magall, the Cave of Treasures and the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, as one of 12 regional kings in Abraham's time said to have built the city of Jerusalem for Melchizedek.
Other people with this name
Apart from the king (or kings) of Gerar, the Bible also records this name for:
- Abimelech, son of Gideon (Judges 8:31), proclaimed king after the death of his father (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.
Other literary references include:
- Abimélech, Satrap of Gaza is a character (baritone) in Saint-Saëns' opera Samson and Delilah (Weimar, 1877)
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