Kings Ahab’s Usurping In-Laws?

In Numbers 1 and 2, Moses begins a process of consolidation and coordination for managing Israel. In Numbers 1, God orders Moses to take a census of Israel. “These were the men counted by Moses and Aaron and the twelve leaders of Israel, each one representing his family. All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel’s army were counted according to their families. The total number was 603,550.” In Numbers 2, this collection of humanity was directed where to camp. To the east were the tribes of Judah, Issachar, Zevulun. West, Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin. To the north, Dan, Asher, Naphtali; south, Reuben, Simeon, Gad. The Levites were located in the center. This process of counting and organizing is important for a leader to understand his resources and provide direction.

Another important role for a leader is controlling foreign relations. In the Iron IIA period, this might have included marrying with neighboring rulers to establish an alliance. In 1 Kings 16, Omri’s son Ahab became king of Israel. One act that the Bible recounts is that Ahab “married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians,” an act which would be undertaken to manage his foreign affairs. Similarly, in 2 Kings 8, Jehoram the King of Judah, “married a daughter of Ahab,” presumably to ally with his northern neighbor Israel.

Josephus was a Jewish general during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome in 66-70 CE who was captured by the Romans and produced both a record of the conflict and a history of Israel and the Jews. In addition to these books, he wrote a defense of the Jews, ‘Against Apion.’

In ‘Against Apion’ he quotes a Menander the Ephesian, who “wrote the Acts that were done both by the Greeks and Barbarians, under every one of the Tyrian kings.” Menander notes an Ithobalus, the priest of Astarte, who killed the king Pheles and then reigned thirty-two years, and lived sixty-eight years. “Ithobalus” bears a close similarity to the Bible’s Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, who is said to have been the Israelite queen Jezebel’s father.

The Ahiram Sarcophagus is a stone coffin that dates to either the 10th or 9th century BCE. It is one of the more impressive archaeological finds of the Lebanese coastal region. Its inscription states that it was built by the king of Byblos for his father Ahiram. Ahiram himself is not titled a king, just as Ithobalus is described as an usurper and not descended from royalty in Josephus’ writings. The king’s name is partially cut off and the remaining part reads only as “sibaal.” Some have suggested that this coffin’s builder should be read as Itho[baal], possibly the same as the figure in the Bible, while others suggest a reading of [Pil]sibaal, different from the biblical character.

The image above is of the Ahiram Sarcophagus, on display at the National Museum of Beirut.