Ahitophel or Ahithophel was a counselor of King David and a man greatly renowned for his sagacity. During Absalom's revolt he deserted David (Psalm 41:9; 55:12–14) and supported Absalom (2 Samuel 15:12).
David sent his friend Hushai back to Absalom, in order to counteract the counsel of Ahitophel (2 Samuel 15:31–37). Ahitophel had recommended an immediate attack on David's camp at a point where he was weary and vulnerable (2 Samuel 17:1-2), whereas Hushai suggested that "the advice that Ahithophel has given is not good at this time" (2 Samuel 17:7) and recommended delay while a larger army was assembled to counter David's alleged strength (2 Samuel 17:11-13). Hushai's advice was accepted "for the LORD had ordained to defeat the good advice of Ahithophel, so that the lord might bring ruin on Absalom" (2 Samuel 17:14). Seeing that his good advice against David had not been followed due to Hushai's influence, Ahithophel apparently surmised that the revolt would fail. He then left the camp of Absalom at once. He returned to Giloh, his native place, and after arranging his worldly affairs, hanged himself, and was buried in the sepulcher of his fathers (2 Samuel 17:23).
A man named Ahitophel is also mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:34, and he is said to be the father of Eliam. Since 2 Samuel 11:3 notes that Eliam is the father of Bathsheba, some scholars suggest that the Ahitophel of 2 Samuel 15 may in fact be Bathsheba's grandfather. Levenson and Halpern, for example, note that "the narrator is sufficiently subtle (or guileless) to have Bathsheba's grandfather ... instigate the exaction of YHWH's pound of flesh," as Nathan's curse in 2 Samuel 12:11 comes to fruition.
In Rabbinical literature
The Talmud speaks of this counsellor of David as "a man, like Balaam, whose great wisdom was not received in humility as a gift from heaven, and so became a stumbling-block to him" (Num. R. xxii.). He was "one of those who, while casting longing eyes upon things not belonging to them, lose also the things they possess" (Tosef., Soṭah, iv. 19). Accordingly, Ahithophel was granted access by Almighty God into the Divine powers of the Holy Name (YHWH). And being thus familiar with Divine wisdom and knowledge as imparted through the Holy Spirit, he was consulted as an oracle like the Urim we-Tummim (2 Samuel 16:23, Yer. Sanh. x. 29a, Suk. 53a et seq.). But he withheld his mystic knowledge from King David in the hour of peril, and was therefore doomed to die from strangulation (Tanna debe Eliyahu R. xxxi., Mid. Teh. iii. 7; Ex. R. iv., Mak. 11a). "Ahitophel of the house of Israel and Balaam of the heathen nations were the two great sages of the world who, failing to show gratitude to God for their wisdom, perished in dishonor. To them the prophetic word finds application: 'Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,' Jer. ix. 23" (Num. R. xxii.).
It is also said that David, during his reign, had many disagreeable encounters with Ahithophel. Shortly after his accession the king seems to have overlooked Ahithophel in his appointments of judges and other officials. Consequently, when David was in despair concerning the visitation upon Uzzah during the attempted transport of the ark (2 Samuel 6:6; see Uzzah) and sought counsel of Ahithophel, the latter mockingly suggested to him that he had better apply to his own wise men. Only upon David's malediction, that whoever knew a remedy and concealed it should surely end by committing suicide, did Ahithophel offer him some rather vague advice, concealing the true solution, which was that the ark must be carried on the shoulders of men instead of upon a wagon (Num. R. iv. 20, Yer. Sanh. x. 29a).
Curse upon Ahithophel
Ahithophel rendered a service to David upon another occasion; not, however, until he had been again threatened with the curse. It appears that David excavated too deeply for the foundations of the Temple, with the result that earth's deepest floods broke forth, and nearly inundated the earth. None could help but Ahithophel, who withheld his counsel in the hope of seeing David borne away upon the flood. When David again warned him of the malediction, Ahithophel counseled the king to throw a tile, with the ineffable name of God written upon it, into the cavity; whereupon the waters began to sink. Ahithophel is said to have defended his use of the name of God in this emergency by reference to the practice enjoined by Scripture (Num. v. 23) to restore marital harmony; surely a matter of small importance, he argued, compared with the threatened destruction of the world (Suk. 53a, b). David's repeated malediction that Ahithophel would be hanged was finally realized when the latter hanged himself.
Ahithophel's death was a great loss to David; for his wisdom was so great that Scripture itself (II Sam. xvi. 23) avoids calling him a man alikening him to an angel (Midrash Shocker Tov, 3); in the passage quoted the Hebrew word for man is omitted in the text, being supplied only by the Masorah. (The preceding statement is incorrect because the word for "man" in 2 Sam 16:23 refers to one who asks at the word of God and not to Ahithophel. Thus its absence does not imply anything about Ahithophel.) Indeed, his wisdom bordered on that of the angels (Yer. Sanh. x. 2; YalḲ. II Sam. § 142). His learning in the Law was also extensive, so that David did not scruple to call him "master" (Abot, vi. 2); the two things which David is there said to have learned from Ahithophel are more closely described in "Kallah," 16a (ed. N. Coronel). Ahithophel's disposition, however, was a jealous one; and he always sought to wound David by mocking remarks (PesiḲ. ii. 10b; Midr. Teh. iii. 3, and parallel passages in Buber, note 68). His devotion to the study of the Law was not founded on worthy motives (Sanh. 106b). Ahithophel was thirty-three years old when he died (l.c.). In his will he left warning to his children never to side against the royal Davidic family, and to take no part in their dissensions (Yer. l.c.). Ahithophel is counted among those that have no share in the world to come (Sanh. xi. 1; B. B. 147a). L. G.
In Christian interpretation
Christian interpreters often see Judas Iscariot as an antitype to Ahithophel. Alexander Kirkpatrick, in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, calls his suicide "the first deliberate suicide on record".
Ahithophel's betrayal of David, and subsequent suicide are seen as anticipating Judas' betrayal of Jesus, and the gospels' account of Judas hanging himself (Matthew 27:5). Psalm 41:9, which seems to refer to Ahithophel, is quoted in John 13:18 as being fulfilled in Judas.
- Jon D. Levenson and Baruch Halpern, "The Political Import of David's Marriages," JBL 99  514.
- Price, Ira; Kohler, Kaufmann; Ginzberg, Louis. "AHITHOPHEL". jewishencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 13 March 2020.
- Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on 2 Samuel 17; Pulpit Commentary on 2 Samuel 17, both accessed 5 August 2017
- Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on 2 Samuel 17
- Pulpit Commentary on 2 Samuel 17: "Here Ahithophel is almost certainly intended"
- Eugen J. Pentiuc, Judas’ Profile in the Psalms: Meditation on the Holy Wednesday, accessed 5 August 2017
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Easton, Matthew George (1897). . Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Achitopel". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.