Absalom

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Absalom
Prince of Israel
Weltchronik Fulda Aa88 286r detail.jpg
The death of Absalom, hanging from a tree by his hair (14th-century German miniature).
BornHebron, Judah, Israel
DiedEphraim's Wood, Israel
Burial
Ephraim's Wood, Israel
Issue
HouseHouse of David
FatherKing David
MotherMaacah bat Talmai

Absalom (Hebrew: אַבְשָׁלוֹםAḇšālōm, "father of peace"), according to the Hebrew Bible, was the third son of David, King of Israel with Maacah, daughter of Talmai, King of Geshur.[1 Chron 3:2][2 Sam 3:3]

2 Samuel 14:25 describes him as the most handsome man in the kingdom. Absalom eventually rebelled against his father and was killed during the Battle of Ephraim's Wood.[2 Sam 18:1–17]

Biblical account[edit]

Background[edit]

The Banquet of Absalom attributed to Niccolò de Simone around 1650

Absalom, David's third son, by Maacah, was born in Hebron.[2 Sam 3:3] He moved at an early age along with the transfer of the capital to Jerusalem, where he spent most of his life. He was a great favorite of his father, and of the people. His charming manners, personal beauty, insinuating ways, love of pomp, and royal pretensions, captivated the hearts of the people from the beginning. He lived in great style, drove in a magnificent chariot, and had fifty men run before him.

Little is known of Absalom's family life, but the biblical narrative states that he had three sons and one daughter, whose name was Tamar and is described as a beautiful woman.[2 Sam 14:27] From the language of 2 Samuel 18:18, "I have no son to keep my name in remembrance", it is implied that his sons died at an early age.[1]

Although he had no sons 2 Chronicles 11:20 says that Absalom had another daughter or granddaughter named Maacah, who later became the favorite wife of Rehoboam.[a] Maacah was the mother of Abijah of Judah, and grandmother of Asa of Judah. She served as queen mother for Asa, until he deposed her for idolatry.[1 Kings 15:1-14][2 Chron 11:20-22][2 Chron 15:16]

Murder of Amnon[edit]

Leaf from the Morgan Picture Bible, "Scenes from the Life of Absalom", c. 1250

Absalom's sister, who was also called Tamar, was raped by Amnon, who was their half-brother. Amnon was also David's eldest son. After the rape, Absalom waited two years, and then avenged Tamar by sending his servants to murder a drunken Amnon at a feast, to which Absalom had invited all the king's sons.[NIV]

After this murder Absalom fled to Talmai, who was the king of Geshur and Absalom's maternal grandfather.[2 Sam 13:37][Joshua 12:5][Joshua 13:2] It was not until three years later that Absalom was fully reinstated in his father's favour and finally returned to Jerusalem.[2 Sam 13–14] (see Joab).

The revolt at Hebron[edit]

While at Jerusalem, Absalom built support for himself by speaking to those who came to King David for justice, saying, "See, your claims are good and right; but there is no one deputed by the king to hear you", perhaps reflecting flaws in the judicial system of the united monarchy. "If only I were the judge of the land! Then all who had a suit or cause might come to me, and I would give them justice." He made gestures of flattery by kissing those who bowed before him instead of accepting supplication. He "stole the hearts of the people of Israel".[2 Sam 15]

After four years he declared himself king, raised a revolt at Hebron, the former capital, and slept with his father's concubines.[2] All Israel and Judah flocked to him, and David, attended only by the Cherethites and Pelethites and his former bodyguard, which had followed him from Gath, found it expedient to flee. The priests Zadok and Abiathar remained in Jerusalem, and their sons Jonathan and Ahimaaz served as David's spies. Absalom reached the capital and consulted with the renowned Ahithophel (sometimes spelled Achitophel).

David took refuge from Absalom's forces beyond the Jordan River. However, he took the precaution of instructing a servant, Hushai, to infiltrate Absalom's court and subvert it. Hushai convinced Absalom to ignore Ahithophel's advice to attack his father while he was on the run, and instead to prepare his forces for a major attack. This gave David critical time to prepare his own troops for the battle.

Battle of Ephraim's Wood[edit]

18th-century tapestry of the death of Absalom

A fateful battle was fought in the Wood of Ephraim (the name suggests a locality west of the Jordan) and Absalom's army was completely routed.[2 Sam 16:18] Absalom's head was caught in the boughs of an oak tree as the mule he was riding ran beneath it. He was discovered there still alive by one of David's men, who reported this to Joab, the king's commander. Joab, accustomed to avenging himself, took this opportunity to even the score with Absalom.[2 Sam 14:30] Absalom had once set Joab's field on fire[2 Sam 17:25] and then made Amasa Captain of the Host instead of Joab. Killing Absalom was against David's explicit command, "Beware that none touch the young man Absalom". Joab killed Absalom with three darts through the heart.

When David heard that Absalom was killed, although not how he was killed, he greatly sorrowed.

O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

David withdrew to the city (Mahanaim)[2 Sam 19:32] in mourning, until Joab roused him from "the extravagance of his grief" [3] and called on him to fulfill his duty to his people.[2 Sam 19:1–8]

Memorial[edit]

Two views of the burial chamber inside the so-called Tomb of Absalom in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, Jerusalem, which has no connection to biblical Absalom.

Absalom had erected a monument near Jerusalem to perpetuate his name:

Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom's place.

An ancient monument in the Kidron Valley near the Old City of Jerusalem, known as the Tomb of Absalom or Absalom's Pillar and traditionally identified as the monument of the biblical narrative, is now dated by modern archeologists to the first century AD.[4] The Jewish Encyclopedia reports: "A tomb twenty feet high and twenty-four feet square, which late tradition points out as the resting-place of Absalom. It is situated in the eastern part of the valley of Kidron, to the east of Jerusalem. In all probability it is the tomb of Alexander Jannæus (Conder, in Hastings' Dict. Bible, article "Jerusalem", p. 597). It existed in the days of Josephus ("Antiquities" vii. 10, § 3).[5] However, archaeologists have now dated the tomb to the 1st century AD.[6] In a 2013 conference, Professor Gabriel Barkay suggested that it could be the tomb of Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, based in part on the similarity to Herod's newly discovered tomb at Herodium. For centuries, it was the custom among passers-by—Jews, Christians and Muslims—to throw stones at the monument. Residents of Jerusalem would bring their unruly children to the site to teach them what became of a rebellious son.[7]

Rabbinic literature[edit]

The life and death of Absalom offered to the rabbis a welcome theme wherewith to warn the people against false ambition, vainglory, and unfilial conduct. The vanity with which he displayed his beautiful hair, the rabbis say, became his snare and his stumbling-block. "By his long hair the Nazirite entangled the people to rebel against his father, and by it he himself became entangled, to fall a victim to his pursuers" (Mishnah Soṭah, i. 8). And again, elsewhere: "By his vile stratagem he deceived and stole three hearts, that of his father, of the elders, and finally of the whole nation of Israel, and for this reason three darts were thrust into his heart to end his treacherous life" (Tosef., Soṭah, iii. 17). More striking is the following: "Did one ever hear of an oak-tree having a heart? And yet in the oak-tree in whose branches Absalom was caught, we read that upon its heart he was held up still alive while the darts were thrust through him [Mek., Shirah, § 6]. This is to show that when a man becomes so heartless as to make war against his own father, nature itself takes on a heart to avenge the deed."

Popular legend states that the eye of Absalom was of immense size, signifying his insatiable greed (Niddah, 24b). Indeed, "hell itself opened beneath him, and David, his father, cried seven times: 'My son! my son!' while bewailing his death, praying at the same time for his redemption from the seventh section of Gehenna, to which he was consigned" (Soṭah, 10b). According to R. Meir (Sanh. 103b), "he has no share in the life to come". And according to the description of Gehenna by Joshua ben Levi, who, like Dante, wandered through hell under the guidance of the angel Duma, Absalom still dwells there, having the rebellious heathen in charge; and when the angels with their fiery rods run also against Absalom to smite him like the rest, a heavenly voice says: "Spare Absalom, the son of David, My servant."[8]

Art and literature[edit]

The Feast of Absalom, Niccolò Tornioli, 17th century

Poetry[edit]

Fiction[edit]

  • In the 1946 short story "Absalom" by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, the character Absalom is a child prodigy, who does non-consensual brain surgery on his father (a former child prodigy, though not as intelligent as his son) to make the father totally focused on Absalom's success. This relates to the Biblical story of the son usurping his father.[15][16]
  • Georg Christian Lehms, Des israelitischen Printzens Absolons und seiner Prinzcessin Schwester Thamar Staats- Lebens- und Helden-Geschichte (The Heroic Life and History of the Israelite Prince Absolom and his Princess Sister Tamar), novel in German published in Nuremberg, 1710.[17]
  • Absalom, Absalom! is a novel by William Faulkner, and refers to the return of the main character Thomas Sutpen's son.[18]
  • Oh Absalom! was the original title of Howard Spring's novel My Son, My Son!, later adapted for the film of the latter name.[19]
  • Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. Absalom was the name of Stephen Kumalo's son in the novel. Like the Biblical Absalom, Absalom Kumalo was at odds with his father, the two fighting a moral and ethical battle of sorts over the course of some of the novel's most important events. Absalom kills and murders a man, and also meets an untimely death.[20]
  • Throughout Robertson Davies's The Manticore a comparison is repeatedly made between the protagonist's problematic relations with his father and those of the Biblical Absalom and King David. Paradoxically, in the modern version, it is the rebellious son who has the first name "David". The book also introduces the term "Absalonism", as a generic term for a son's rebellion against his father.[19]
  • Absalom appears as a prominent character in Peter Shaffer's play Yonadab, which portrays Amnon's rape of Tamar and his murder at Absalom's hands.[21]
  • A scene in the Swedish writer Frans G. Bengtsson's historical novel "The Long Ships" depicts a 10th Century Christian missionary recounting the story of Absalom's rebellion to the assembled Danish court, including the aging King Harald Bluetooth and his son Sweyn Forkbeard; thereupon, King Harald exclaims "Some people can learn a lesson from this story!", casting a meaningful glance at his son Sweyn—whom the King (rightly) suspects of plotting a rebellion.[22]
  • In the novel The Book of Tamar by Nel Havas, the story of Absalom is presented from the viewpoint of his sister. While closely following the main events as related in the Bible, Havas concentrates on the motives behind Absalom's actions, which are more complex than depicted in the scriptures.

Music[edit]

  • Josquin des Prez composed the motet "Absalon, fili mi" on the occasion of the death of Juan Borgia (Absalon being a further alternative spelling).
  • Nicholas Gombert composed the two-part, eight-voice motet "Lugebat David Absalon".
  • Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672) composed "Fili mi, Absalon" as part of his Sinfoniae Sacrae, op. 6.
  • The single verse, 2 Samuel 18:33, regarding David's grief at the loss of his son ("And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"), is the inspiration for the text of several pieces of choral music, usually entitled When David Heard (such as those by Renaissance composers Thomas Tomkins and Thomas Weelkes, or modern composers Eric Whitacre, Joshua Shank, and Norman Dinerstein). This verse is also used in "David's Lamentation" by William Billings, first published in 1778.
  • Leonard Cohen's poem "Prayer for Sunset" compares the setting sun to the raving Absalom, and asks whether another Joab will arrive tomorrow night to kill Absalom again.
  • "Absalom, Absalom" is a song on the 1996 Compass CD Making Light of It by singer/songwriter Pierce Pettis, incorporating several elements of the biblical narrative.
  • The Australian composer Nigel Butterley set the verse in his 2008 choral work "Beni Avshalom", commissioned by the Sydney Chamber Choir.
  • During the finale of the song "Distant Early Warning" by Canadian band Rush, Geddy Lee sings, "Absalom, Absalom, Absalom"; lyrics written by drummer Neil Peart.
  • David Olney's 2000 CD Omar's Blues includes the song "Absalom". The song depicts David grieving over the death of his son.
  • The story of Absalom is referred to several places in folk singer Adam Arcuragi's song "Always Almost Crying".
  • The San Francisco-based band Om mentions Absalom in their song "Kapila's Theme" from their debut album Variations on a Theme.
  • The garage folk band David's Doldrums references Absalom in their song, "My Name Is Absalom". The song alludes to Absalom's feelings of solemnity and abandonment of love and hope.
  • In "Every Kind Word" by Lackthereof, Danny Seim's project parallel to Menomena, Seim sings "... and your hair is long like Absalom."
  • "Barach Hamelech", an Israeli song by Amos Etinger and Yosef Hadar.
  • The grindcore band Discordance Axis references Absalom at the end of the track entitled "Castration Rite".
  • In 2007 Ryland Angel released "Absalom" on Ryland Angel-Manhattan Records.
  • "Hanging By His Hair" from the 1998 Wormwood album by The Residents recounts Absalom's defiance and death. Also performed on Roadworms (The Berlin Sessions) and Wormwood Live.[23]
  • "Absalom" is a song on Brand New Shadows's debut album, White Flags. It is a mournful lament from King David's perspective.[24]
  • "Absalom" is an album by the experimental/progressive band Stick Men featuring Tony Levin, Markus Reuter and Pat Mastelotto.
  • The American Rock band Little Feat reference Absalom in their song "Gimme a Stone" on the album entitled Chinese Work Songs.[25] This song is written from the perspective of King David—mainly focusing on the task of fighting Goliath—but contains a lament to Absalom. This was a cover of the song, the original being on the 1998 Americana concept album Largo, by David Forman and Levon Helm.

As a name[edit]

  • "Avshalom" (אבשלום) is commonly used as a male first name in contemporary Israel. Other variants, used either as a first name or a surname, include "Absalom", "Absolon", "Avessalom", "Avesalom", "Absalon", and "Absolom".
  • "Axel", "Aksel" and "Akseli" are common Germanic variants of "Absalom", which are used as male first names primarily in Germany and the Scandinavian region.

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ A footnote in the New King James Version reads "Literally daughter, but in the broader sense of granddaughter"[2 Chron 11:20]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Kirkpatrick 1905, p. 173.
  2. ^ Kirk-Duggan 2004, p. 59.
  3. ^ Kirkpatrick 1905, p. 177.
  4. ^ Price & House 2017, p. 334.
  5. ^ Singer 1901, p. 134.
  6. ^ Barkat 2003.
  7. ^ Vilnay 1999, p. 113.
  8. ^ Singer 1901, p. 133.
  9. ^ Thomas 2006.
  10. ^ Willis 1845.
  11. ^ Rilke 1998, p. 161.
  12. ^ Freedman 1998, p. 283.
  13. ^ Dayton 2003, p. 48.
  14. ^ Giora 2003, p. 36.
  15. ^ Webster n.d.
  16. ^ Moore & Kuttner 2012, p. 10.
  17. ^ Goosen 1999, p. 26.
  18. ^ Urgo & Polk 2010, p. xi.
  19. ^ a b Lennox 2010, p. 62.
  20. ^ Jeffrey 1992, p. 14.
  21. ^ MacMurraugh-Kavanagh 1998, p. 74.
  22. ^ Anon 1988, p. 30.
  23. ^ "Residents". Archived from the original on 2009-05-19. Retrieved 2009-07-07.
  24. ^ "Brand New Shadows" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 July 2011.
  25. ^ Kenny Gradney. "Gimme a Stone". BubbleUp. Retrieved 13 November 2016.

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]