There are two women named Abihail in the Old Testament. The first woman is Abihail, the wife of Abishur and the mother of Ahban and Molid.
The other woman is Abihail who was the wife or the mother-in-law of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon and the first king of Judah. The problem with Abihail’s relationship to Rehoboam is because the text in Chronicles is not clear.
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) reads 1 Chronicles 11:18 as follows:
“Rehoboam took as his wife Mahalath daughter of Jerimoth, son of David, and of Abihail daughter of Eliab son of Jesse” (2 Chronicles 11:18 NRSV).
The Jewish Publication Society (TNK ) reads 1 Chronicles 11:18 as follows:
“Rehoboam married Mahalath daughter of Jerimoth son of David, and Abihail daughter of Eliab son of Jesse” (2 Chronicles 11:18 TNK).
The problem with these two readings is that the words “and of” of the NRSV and the word “and” of the TNK are not in the Hebrew text. A literal translation of 1 Chronicles 11:18 would read as follow:
“Rehoboam took for himself a wife, Mahalath the daughter of Jerimoth son of David, Abihail daughter of Eliab son of Jesse.
The reading of the NRSV makes Abihail the mother-in-law of Rehoboam. The reading of the TNK makes Abihail the second wife of Rehoboam. The Septuagint considers Abihail to be Rehoboam’s second wife. Sarah Japhet wrote, “It has been suggested that ‘Abihail’ was another wife of Rehoboam rather than his mother-in-law; this seems unlikely” (Japhet 1993:670). The reason for not viewing Abihail as Rehoboam’s second wife is because 1 Chronicles 11:19–20 refers to Mahalath as the wife who was the mother of Rehoboam’s sons.
Abihail, whose name means “My Father Is Strength,” has a close relationship with David’s family. Abihail was the daughter of David’s oldest brother Eliab, and she was married to David’s son Jerimoth. Abihail was the mother-in-law of Rehoboam, the king of Judah, who married Mahalath, Abihail’s daughter (2 Chronicles 11:18).
Jerimoth is not mentioned in the genealogy of David. He probably was the son of one of the many women David took as wives when he conquered Jerusalem, “In Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, David took more concubines and wives; and more sons and daughters were born to David” (2 Samuel 5:13). Jerimoth could also be a son of David’s by one of his many concubines (1 Chronicles 3:9).
Although Abihail is mentioned only once in the Bible, she was related to important people in Judah. Her uncle David was one of the greatest kings of Israel. Abihail was a first cousin of Solomon. Rehoboam, her son-in-law, became the first king of Judah after Solomon’s empire was divided into two kingdoms.
In her article on Abihail, Alice Laffey says that Abihail was one of David’s wives. She writes, “This sexual partner, presumably a wife, of King David (reigned 1005–965 B.C.E.), is named only once in the Hebrew Bible, in connection with David’s grandson King Rehoboam. Rehoboam’s wife, Mahalath, is the granddaughter of Abihail and King David. The text identifies Abihail’s father as Eliab, who, like David, is a son of Jesse. This seems to make Abihail not only David’s wife, but also his niece” (Laffey 2001:44–45).
Although the view that Abihail was one of David’s wives is a possibility, the text is silent about who Abihail’s husband was. It is possible that Abihail was David’s wife. If Abihail was David’s wife, then she had an impressive and imposing presence in the lives of the kings of Israel and Judah.
Note: For another study of all the women in the Old Testament, read my post All the Women of the Old Testament.
Japhet, Sara. I & II Chronicles. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993.
Meyers, Carol, Toni Craven, Ross S. Kramer, eds. Women in Scripture. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2001.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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