Abimelech (Judges)

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Abimelech
King of Shechem
Abimelech.png
PredecessorGideon, only as a Judge
SuccessorTola, only as a Judge
BornShechem, Israel
DiedThebaz, Israel
Hebrewאֲבִימֶלֶךְ
FatherGideon

Abimelech (/əˈbɪməˌlɛk/; אֲבִימֶלֶךְ ’Ǎḇîmeleḵ) was the King of Shechem[1] and a son of Biblical judge Gideon. His name can best be interpreted "my father is king",[2][3] claiming the inherited right to rule. 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 of the Book of Judges. According to the Bible, he was an unprincipled, ambitious ruler, often engaged in war with his own subjects.

Ascension to nobility[edit]

The killing of seventy brothers[edit]

According to the Book of Judges, Abimelech went to Shechem to meet with his mother's brethren and grandfather and claimed that he should be the only ruler over his mother's brethren and the men of Shechem and not his brothers. He asked them whether they would prefer to be ruled by seventy rulers or just one, and he claimed them as equal brothers. Because Abimelech claimed them his brethren, the men inclined to follow him, and gave him seventy silver shekels from the Temple of Baal Berith. He and the men went to the house of Gideon which is in Ophrah to kill the seventy sons of Gideon, Abimelech's brothers. They were killed on the same stone, but only one had escaped, Jotham.[4]

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 later declared king by the citizens of Beth-millo and Shechem. When Jotham was informed of this news, he went on top of Mount Gerizim and cursed the people of Shechem and Beth-millo for their declaration, then fled to Beer to hide from Abimelech.[5]

Battle of Shechem[edit]

First Battle of Shechem[edit]

Gaal and his brothers arrive at Shechem only to plot a coup against 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 then sent messengers to inform Abimelech of Gaal's plot. Abimelech planned to ambush Gaal and his followers in front of the city gates through the night towards the morning. He divides his followers by four companies to hide and wait near Shechem. The ambush begins as soon as Gaal stands in front of the gates and fails to respond because of the uncertainty of an actual ambush approaching. Zebul taunts Gaal into fighting Abimelech. Gaal soon fights Abimelech during the battle but fails and is forced to flee with his forces. Zebul chases Gaal out of Shechem while Abimelech proceeded to Arumah.[6]

Second Battle of Shechem[edit]

Gustave Doré, The Death of Abimelech.

After Gaal was driven away by Zebul, Abimelech gathered three companies by dividing his followers to attack the city. They waited in 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 pass through them. Besieging the city lasted a day, and Abimelech slaughtered the inhabitants. 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 ax to cut down the bough of a tree and wanted everyone to follow his example. The bough was placed and set ablaze around the tower killing the remaining resistance along with a thousand civilians.[6][7]

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 a tower while he fights his way through. Abimelech successfully fights most of the way towards the tower, however, a woman struck his head with a stone above. Realizing the wound was mortal, he ordered his armor-bearer to thrust him through with his sword, so nobody would know he was killed by a woman.[8]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Sasson 2014, p. 373.
  2. ^ Schneider 2000, p. 134.
  3. ^ Auld 1984, p. 180.
  4. ^ Auld 1984, pp. 180–183.
  5. ^ Sasson 2014, pp. 373 & 374.
  6. ^ a b Berlin & Brettler 2014, pp. 1127 & 1128.
  7. ^ Hancock 2013, p. 134.
  8. ^ Schneider 2000, pp. 147 & 148.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Auld, A. Graeme (1984). Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 9780664245764.
  • Berlin, Adele; Brettler, Marc Zvi (2014). The Jewish Study Bible (Second ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199393879.
  • Hancock, Rebecca S. (2013). Esther and the Politics of Negotiation: Public and Private Spaces and the Figure of the Female Royal Counselor. Fortress Press. ISBN 9781451469868.
  • Sasson, Jack M. (2014). Judges 1-12: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300190335.
  • Schneider, Tammi J. (2000). Berit Olam: Studies In Hebrew Narrative And Poetry: Judges. Liturgical Press. ISBN 9780814650509.

External links[edit]

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