Biblical People
Ahab. [Heb. Achab, "father's brother." The name occurs also on a Hebrew seal. In cuneiform records it is spelled Ahabbu and Ahi-abi].

1. The 8th king (if Tibni is included in the count) of the northern kingdom of Israel, son and successor of Omri. He reigned 22 years, from 874 to 853 b.c. He was married to Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, "king of the Zidonians" (1 Ki 16:31). He was a strong military leader, keeping the Moabites in subjection (2 Ki 3:4, 5; Moabite Stone, line 8). He lived on friendly terms with the Phoenicians and kept peace with Judah, whose crown prince married Ahab's daughter Athaliah (2 Ki 8:18, 26). He defeated the Syrians twice in battle, and possessed the largest army of any nation lying between Assyria and Egypt. When Benhadad II of Damascus with 32 allies besieged Samaria, Ahab drove him back (1 Ki 20:1-21) and a year later inflicted an even more severe defeat on him in the battle of Aphek (vs. 22-30), and captured him. Ahab, however, showed himself foolishly magnanimous and spared Benhadad's life, even released him. Benhadad promised to return certain cities which his father had conquered from Ahab's father, Omri, or possibly, as some think, Baasha (see ch 15:18-22), and also made economic concessions by allowing Israelite merchants to open shops in the bazaars of Damascus (ch 20:31-34, RSV).

When the Assyrians under Shalmaneser III threatened to end the independence of the small states in Syria and Palestine, a coalition of 12 nations was formed under the leadership of Damascus to meet the common enemy. Shalmaneser's inscriptions show that of the allied armies Ahab (called Ahabbu mat Sirila, "Ahab the Israelite") had the largest chariot force, 2,000 out of a total of 3,940, and a formidable infantry of 10,000 foot soldiers out of a total of about 60,000. The battle (which is not mentioned in the Bible) took place at Qarqar on the Orontes in central Syria in Shalmaneser's 6th year, which can be dated, with a great degree of certainty, in 853 b.c. The record of Ahab's participation in this battle helps to provide the earliest synchronism between Biblical and secular history. While the allies won no decisive victory, the Assyrians were forced to retreat and leave Syria temporarily unconquered. As soon as the common threat was averted, the alliance broke up, and the old feuds between the various small nations in Syria and Palestine were continued. Ahab also set out at once to take the city of Ramothgilead from the Aramaeans of Syria, who had occupied it for some time. In a battle for this city Ahab was mortally wounded (1 Ki 22:2-36). His body was taken to Samaria for burial, and, as the Lord had predicted through Elijah (ch 21:19), the dogs licked Ahab's blood, which had stained the chariot (ch 22:38).

The prosperous reign of Ahab and his friendly connections with Phoenicia brought much wealth into the country, enabling the king to engage in extensive building activities, attested in the Bible by only a brief word (1 Ki 22:39), but corroborated by the excavation of Samaria. Ruins of the city indicate that Ahab built his palace next to and partly on that of Omri, and that he had his residence decorated with beautifully carved ivory plaques, from which it evidently became known as Ahab's ivory palace. According to ch 21:1 there was also a royal palace at the city of Jezreel.

Though enjoying great military and political success, Ahab was weak in religious matters. He "did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him" (1 Ki 16:30). He permitted his pagan wife to introduce the worship of Baal and Asherah, and to persecute the worshipers of Israel's God. Personally Ahab seems to have considered himself a worshiper of Yahweh, for he consulted Yahweh's prophets repeatedly (chs 20:13, 14, 22, 28; 22:8, 16), and gave to at least three of his children names incorporating the divine name Yahweh: Ahaziah, Joram (Jehoram), and Athaliah. He also co-operated in making possible the contest between Elijah and the Baal priests, and did not interfere when Elijah ordered these priests slain (ch 18:16-45). He tolerated a prophet's rebuke for his foolish magnanimity toward Benhadad (ch 20:35-43) and showed sorrow for the murder of Naboth, which was instigated by Jezebel (ch 21:27-29), and for which the prophet held him accountable.

Lit.: J. W. Jack, Samaria in Ahab's Time (Edinburgh, 1929).