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.
Murder of Amnon
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).
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.
After four years he decided to declare himself king, raping his father's concubines, 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
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. 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 accustom 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!
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.
Georg Christian Lehms, Des israelitischen Printzens Absolons und seiner Prinzcessin Schwester Thamar Staats- Lebens- und Helden-Geschichte (The Heroic Life and History of the Israelite Prince Absolom and his Princess Sister Tamar), novel in German published in Nuremberg, 1710
Oh Absalom! was the original title of Howard Spring's novel My Son, My Son!, later adapted for the film of the latter name.
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. Absalom was the name of Stephen Kumalo's son in the novel. Like the historical Absalom, Absalom Kumalo was at odds with his father, the two fighting a moral and ethical battle of sorts over the course of some of the novel's most important events. Absalom kills and murders a man, and also meets an untimely death.
Ender's Shadow references the story of Absalom and King David's lament. Bean, as he sends his soldiers on a suicide mission to destroy the Buggers, says to them, "O my son Absalom. My son, my son Absalom. Would God I could die for thee, O Absalom, my son. My sons!"
Absalom is the name of a short science fiction story by Henry Kuttner about the conflict between a father and son over the son's education.
Throughout Robertson Davies's The Manticore a comparison is repeatedly made between the protagonist's problematic relations with his father and those of between the Biblical Absalom and King David. Paradoxically, in the modern version it is the rebellious son who has the first name "David". The book also introduces the term "Absalonism", as a generic term for a son's rebellion against his father.
Absalom is the name of a comedic character in "The Miller's Tale" in the Canterbury Tales.
The character of Absalom appears in Michael Cook's The Head Guts and Sound Bone Dance
Leonard Cohen's poem "Prayer for Sunset" compares the setting sun to the raving Absalom, and asks whether another Joab will arrive tomorrow night to kill Absalom again.
Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672) composed "Fili mi, Absalon" as part of his Sinfoniae Sacrae, op. 6.
The single verse, 2 Samuel 18:33, regarding David's grief at the loss of his son ("And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, 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!"), is the inspiration for the text of several pieces of choral music, usually entitled When David Heard (such as those by Renaissance composers Thomas Tomkins and Thomas Weelkes, or American composers Eric Whitacre, Joshua Shank, and Norman Dinerstein). This verse is also featured in William Billing's popular Sacred Harp song "David's Lamentation", first published in 1778. Also, "Absalom, Absalom Would I die for you my son, I would have it all undone, The way it all came down" is found on the 1998 album Largo in the song "Gimme A Stone".
"Absalom, Absalom" is the title of a song on the 1996 Compass CD Making Light of It by singer/songwriter Pierce Pettis, incorporating several elements of the biblical narrative.
2007 Ryland Angel released "Absalom" on Ryland Angel - Manhattan Records.
"Hanging By His Hair" from the 1998 WORMWOOD album by The Residents recounts Absalom's defiance and death. Also performed on Roadworms (The Berlin Sessions) and Wormwood Live.
"Absalom" is a song on Brand New Shadows's debut album, White flags. It is a mournful lament from King David's perspective.
"Absalom" is an album by the Experimental/Progressive band "Stick Men" featuring Tony Levin, Markus Reuter and Pat Mastelotto.
The American Rock band Little Feat reference Absalom in their song "Gimme a Stone" on the album entitled Chinese Work Songs. This song is written from the perspective of King David—mainly focusing on the task of fighting Goliath—but contains a lament to Absalom.
In Darksiders II, Absalom was the leader of an Old Race known as the Nephilim. When Mankind was given the prize of Eden, Absalom led his armies against Heaven and Hell in an attempt to steal it back. He is the main antagonist of Darksiders 2.
One of Willie Trombone's letters in The Neverhood reads, "Hang me from a tree by my hoop so I can play 'Absalom'".