Absalom

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This article is about the biblical figure. For other uses, see Absalom (disambiguation).
The Death of Absalom by Gustave Dore

According to the Bible, Absalom or Avshalom (Hebrew: אַבְשָלוֹם, Modern Avshalom Tiberian ʼAḇšālôm ; "Father of peace") was the third son of David, King of Israel with Maachah, daughter of Talmai, King of Geshur (1 Chronicles 3:2, 2 Samuel 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 Wood.[1]

Background[edit]

Absalom was David's third son born at Hebron (2 Samuel 3:2), and moved at an early age, 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 as well. His charming manners, his personal beauty, his insinuating ways, together with his 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. Such magnificence produced the desired effect upon the hearts of the young aristocrats of the royal city (2 Samuel 15:1).

Little is known of Absalom's family life, but we read in 2 Samuel 14:27 that he had three sons and one daughter, whose name was also Tamar. From the language of 2 Samuel 18:18, it is inferred that the sons died at an early age.[2][3]

Murder of Amnon[edit]

The Banquet of Absalom attributed to Niccolò de Simone around 1650

After his full sister Tamar was raped by Amnon, their half-brother and David's eldest son, Absalom waited two years and avenged her by sending his servants to murder Amnon at a feast after he was drunk, to which Absalom had invited all the king's sons (2 Samuel 13).

After this deed he fled to Talmai, the king of Geshur (2 Samuel 13:37; see also Joshua 12:5 or 13:2), his maternal grandfather, and it was not until three years later that he was fully reinstated in his father's favour and finally returned to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 13-14) (see Joab).

The revolt at Hebron[edit]

Valley of Jehoshaphat and Hinnom Jerusalem. Stairway in Absalom's Pillar; Another view inside Absalom's Pillar

While at Jerusalem, Absalom built support for himself by lying to those who came to King David for justice, saying, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.”. He went on to say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” He also deceived them by showing feigned humility by kissing those who approached him rather than accepting supplication.[4]

After four years he decided to declare himself king, raping his father's concubines,[5] then raised a revolt at Hebron, the former capital. All Israel and Judah flocked to his side, and David, attended only by the Cherethites and Pelethites and his former bodyguard that had followed him from Gath, found it expedient to flee. The priests Zadok and Abiathar remained behind in Jerusalem, and their sons Jonathan and Ahimaaz served as David's spies. Absalom reached the capital and took counsel 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 prepare his forces for a major attack. This gave David critical time to prepare his own troops for the coming battle.

The Battle of Ephraim's Wood[edit]

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.[6] Absalom himself was caught by his head in the boughs of an oak-tree as the mule he was riding ran beneath it—an irony given that he was previously renowned for his abundant hair and handsome head. He was discovered hanging there still alive by one of David's men, who reported the matter to Joab, The king’s commander Joab being accustomed to avenging himself took this opportunity to even the score with Absalom (2 Sam 14:30) Absalom having had Joab's field set on fire (2 Sam 17:25) and then Absalom made Amasa captain of the host instead of Joab. Killing Absalom was against David’s command saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom. Even so Joab took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak; and when David heard that Absalom was killed although not how he was killed he greatly sorrowed 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!

Memorial to Absalom[edit]

Absalom erected a monument near Jerusalem to perpetuate his name (2 Samuel 18:18):

Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a monument, 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 monument.

This is not the Tomb of Absalom, which is dated to the first century AD.

Absalom in art[edit]

Poetry[edit]

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