Abimelech (Judges)

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For other uses, see Abimelech (disambiguation).
King of Shechem[1][2]
Predecessor Gideon, only as a Judge
Successor Tola, only as a Judge
Born 12th century BCE
Shechem, Israel
Died 11th century BCE
Thebaz, Israel
Hebrew אֲבִימָלֶךְ
Father Gideon

Abimelech (/əˈbɪməˌlɛk/; אֲבִימָלֶךְ ’Ǎḇîmeleḵ) was a biblical judge who, according to the Hebrew Bible, ruled "wickedly" [3] over the ancient Israelites. His name can best be interpreted as "my father is king",[4][5] claiming the inherited right to rule; "Abimelech" was also a common name of the Philistine kings. He is introduced in Judges 8:31 as the son of Gideon and his Shechemite concubine, and the biblical account of his reign is described in chapter nine in the Book of Judges. According to the Hebrew Bible, he was an unprincipled, ambitious ruler, often engaged in war with his own subjects.[citation needed]

Biblical account[edit]

Gustave Doré, The Death of Abimelech.


Abimelech's mother was Gideon's Shechemite concubine, who was probably a Canaanite.[6] He is likely to have been brought up with his 70 half-brothers,[7] who lived in Gideon's household at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.[8]

The killing of his seventy brothers[edit]

According to the Book of Judges, Abimelech went to Shechem to meet his mother's clan, and claimed that he should be the only ruler over his mother's clan and over the rulers of Shechem.[9] He asked them whether they would rather be ruled by seventy rulers or just one. His mother's relatives accepted his proposal, and gave him seventy shekels of silver from the house of Baal Berith.

Abimelech and a hired group of "worthless and reckless men"[10] went to the house of Gideon in Ophrah to kill the seventy sons of Gideon, Abimelech's brothers. They were killed systematically ("on the same stone"),[11] but only one brother escaped, Jotham.[1][5] Methodist writer Joseph Benson notes that "as a stone was sometimes used for an altar,[12] some have conjectured from this, that Abimelech intended to make his brothers a great victim to Baal, in revenge of the sacrifice of the bullock prepared for Baal,[13] and to expiate the crime of Gideon, as these idolaters accounted it, by the sacrifice of all his sons".[14]

Abimelech declared king[edit]

Since Abimelech was merely a son of Gideon's concubine, he made good of his claim to rule over Manasseh by killing his half-brothers. Jotham was the youngest brother, and he was the only one to have escaped Abimelech's wrath.

Abimelech was declared "king" or "prince" [15] by the people of Shechem and by the house of Millo,[16] at the oaks next to a pillar within Shechem (Judges 9:6). Judges 9:22 suggests that he ruled over all of "Israel", but the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes that strictly speaking he only ruled "over Shechem and its neighbourhood (Ophrah and Thebez)".[17]

When Jotham was told of the news of his king-making, he went on top of Mount Gerizim and cursed the people of Shechem and the house of Millo for their declaration, then fled to Beer to hide in fear of Abimelech.[2] His fable of the trees (Judges 9:7-15) compared Abimelech to a bramble bush.

First Battle of Shechem[edit]

  • (Judges 9:26–29) Gaal and his brothers arrive at Shechem only to plot and overthrow Abimelech with the help of the men of Shechem.

Before Gaal could begin his plot, Zebul who is the governor of Shechem and an officer of Abimelech heard Gaal's plan and was deeply angered. Zebul sent messengers to inform Abimelech of Gaal's plot against him.

  • (Judges 9:32–33) Abimelech plans to ambush Gaal and his followers in front of the city gates through the night towards the morning.
  • (Judges 9:34) Abimelech divides his followers by four companies to hide and wait against Shechem.
  • (Judges 9:35–37) The ambush begins as soon as Gaal stands in front of the gates, and he fails to respond because of the uncertainty of an actual ambush approaching his position.
  • (Judges 9:38) Zebul taunts Gaal into fighting Abimelech because of Gaal's mouth.
  • (Judges 9:39–40) Gaal fights Abimelech during the battle but fails and is forced to flee with his forces.
  • (Judges 9:41) Zebul chases Gaal out of Shechem, and Abimelech dwelt at Arumah.[18]

Second Battle of Shechem[edit]

After Gaal was driven away by Zebul, Abimelech gathered three companies by dividing his followers to attack the city. They waited on a field to ambush the people who were moving in and out of the city gates. He attacked as soon as the gates were open for the city dwellers, and two companies were sent from the field to attack the gates. They aggressively rushed towards the gate and devastated them. The seizing of the city lasted a day, and Abimelech slaughtered the people within the city. The remaining resistance went to the tower of El-Berith to hold their ground. Abimelech hastily gathered his followers to Mount Zalmon to explain his plan. He grabbed an axe and cut down the bough of a tree, and wanted everyone to follow his example. The bough was placed and burned around the tower killing the remaining resistance along with a thousand civilians.[18][19]

Battle of Thebaz and the death of King Abimelech[edit]

The biblical account of the Battle of Thebaz begins in the middle of the siege. Already, Abimelech has taken most of the city and comes upon a heavily fortified tower. The civilians head towards the top of the tower while he fights his way through. Abimelech successfully fights most of the way towards the tower, however he was struck on the head by a mill-stone thrown by a woman from the wall above. Realizing that the wound was mortal, he ordered his armor-bearer to thrust him through with his sword, so that it might not be said he had perished by the hand of a woman.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c National Geographic Essential Visual History of the Bible. National Geographic Books. 2008. pp. 176 & 177. ISBN 9781426202179. 
  2. ^ a b Sasson 2014, pp. 373 & 374.
  3. ^ Judges 9:56
  4. ^ Schneider 2000, p. 134.
  5. ^ a b Auld 1984, pp. 180–183.
  6. ^ Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Judges 8, accessed 28 October 2016
  7. ^ Judges 8:30
  8. ^ In Judges 9:1, Abimelech went to Shechem, presumably from Ophrah
  9. ^ Judges 9:1-5
  10. ^ Judges 9:4
  11. ^ Judges 9:5
  12. ^ 1 Samuel 6:14
  13. ^ Judges 6:25
  14. ^ Benson Commentary on Judges 9, accessed 31 October 2016
  15. ^ "King" is used consistently in English translations of Judges 9:6, but "prince" is used by the American Standard Version and Young's Literal Translation of Judges 9:22
  16. ^ Not the Millo in Jerusalem, but possibly some strongly fortified post in the neighbourhood of Shechem, see Pulpit Commentary on Judges 9, accessed 1 November 2016
  17. ^ Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Judges 9, accessed 1 November 2016
  18. ^ a b Berlin & Brettler 2014, pp. 1127 & 1128.
  19. ^ Hancock 2013, p. 134.


External links[edit]

Abimelech of Manasseh
Cadet branch of the Tribe of Manasseh
Preceded by
King of Shechem Succeeded by