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Title: Absalom  
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Subject: David, Books of Samuel, Psalm 4, Tamar (daughter of David), Amasa
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The death of Absalom, hanging from a tree by his hair (14th-century German miniature).

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

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.[2]


Absalom, David's third son, by Maacah, was 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. His charming manners, personal beauty, and 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. This 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.[3][4]

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).

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

Two views of the burial chamber inside the so-called Tomb of Absalom in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, Jerusalem, which has no connection to biblical Absalom.

While at Jerusalem, Absalom built support for himself by speaking to those who came to King David for justice, saying, “See, your claims are good and right; but there is no one deputed by the king to hear you," perhaps reflecting flaws in the judicial system of the United Monarchy. “If only I were judge in the land! Then all who had a suit or cause might come to me, and I would give them justice.” He made gestures of humility by kissing those who bowed before him instead of accepting supplication. He "stole the hearts of the people of Israel."[5]

After four years he declared himself king, raised a revolt at Hebron, the former capital, and slept with his father's concubines,.[6] All Israel and Judah flocked to him, and David, attended only by the Cherethites and Pelethites and his former bodyguard, which had followed him from Gath, found it expedient to flee. The priests Zadok and Abiathar remained in Jerusalem, and their sons Jonathan and Ahimaaz served as David's spies. Absalom reached the capital and consulted 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.[7] Absalom himself was caught by the head in the boughs of an oak tree as the mule he was riding ran beneath it—ironic, given he was previously renowned for his abundant hair and handsome head. He was discovered there still alive by one of David's men, who reported this to Joab, The king’s commander. Joab, accustomed to avenging himself, took this opportunity to even the score with Absalom (2 Sam 14:30). Absalom once had Joab's field set on fire (2 Sam 17:25) and then made Amasa Captain of the Host instead of Joab. Killing Absalom was against David’s command, "Beware that none touch the young man Absalom." Joab killed Absalom with three darts through the heart. When David heard that Absalom was killed although not how he was killed, he greatly sorrowed. "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

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 monument known as the Pillar or Tomb of Absalom, which is dated to the first century AD.

Absalom in art


  • Absalom and Achitophel (1681) is a landmark poetic political satire by John Dryden, using the Biblical story as a metaphor for the politics of the poet's own time.
  • "Absaloms Abfall" by Rainer Maria Rilke ("The Fall of Absalom", trans. Stephen Cohn).[8]
  • "Absalom" is a section in Muriel Rukeyser's long poem The Book of the Dead (1938), spoken by a mother who lost three sons to silicosis
  • "Avshalom" by Yona Wallach, published in her first poetry collection Devarim (1966).
  • Jon Silkin refers to "My sons, my Absoloms"—presumably a misspelling of Absalom—in "The Poem", from his 2002 (posthumous) collection Making a Republic.


  • Absalom is Stephen Kumalo's son in Lost in the Stars, Kurt Weill's play based on the novel Cry, the Beloved Country.
  • German published in Nuremberg, 1710
  • Absalom, Absalom! is a novel by William Faulkner, and refers to the return of Thomas Sutpen's son.
  • 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 a short science fiction story by Henry Kuttner about the conflict between a father and son over the son's education.
  • Absalom is a character in Eiichiro Oda's manga One Piece during the Thriller Bark arc.
  • The character of Absalom appears in Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
  • 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 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
  • Absalom is a character in Michael Crummey's Newfoundland-set Galore.
  • Absalom is the name given to the caterpillar by screenwriter Linda Woolverton in Disney's Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton.
  • Absalom's attempted coup against his father David is explored in the novel Zoheleth by J Francis Hudson (Lion Publishing 1994).
  • Absalom Greer is a character in Jan Karon's Mitford series. He lives in the country with his sister Lottie Greer.
  • In Väinö Linna's novel trilogy Under the North Star (Finnish: Täällä Pohjantähden alla), the main character is named Akseli, the Finnish translation of Absalom.
  • In Death of a Hero by Richard Aldington, The narrator adapts the famous quote "O my son Absalom. My son, my son Absalom." During a discussion on the nature of war as the protagonist rides the train towards the WWI front lines.
  • A scene in the Swedish writer Frans G. Bengtsson's historical novel "The Long Ships" depicts a 10th Century Christian missionary recounting the story of Absalom's rebellion to the assembled Danish court, including the aging King Harald Bluetooth and his son Sweyn Forkbeard; thereupon, King Harald exclaims "Some people can learn a lesson from this story!", casting a meaningful glance at his son Sweyn - whom the King (rightly) suspects of plotting a rebellion.


  • Juan Borgia.
  • 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 a song on the 1996 Compass CD Making Light of It by singer/songwriter Pierce Pettis, incorporating several elements of the biblical narrative.
  • The Australian composer Nigel Butterley set the verse in his 2008 choral work "Beni Avshalom", commissioned by the Sydney Chamber Choir
  • During the finale of the song "Distant Early Warning" by Canadian band Rush, Geddy Lee sings, "Absalom Absalom Absalom"; lyrics written by drummer Neil Peart.
  • David Olney's 2000 CD Omar's Blues includes the song "Absalom." The song depicts David grieving over the death of his son.
  • The story of Absalom is referred to several places in folk singer Adam Arcuragi's song "Always Almost Crying".
  • The San Francisco-based band Om mentions Absalom in their song "Kapila's Theme" from their debut album Variations on a Theme.
  • The garage folk band David's Doldrums[9] references Absalom in their song, "My Name Is Absalom". The song alludes to Absalom's feelings of solemnity and abandonment of love and hope.
  • In "Every Kind Word" by Lackthereof, Danny Seim's project parallel to Menomena, Seim sings "...and your hair is long like Absalom."
  • "Barach Hamelech" an Israeli song by Amos Etinger and Yosef Hadar.
  • The grindcore band Discordance Axis references Absalom at the end of the track entitled "Castration Rite".
  • The Progressive Metal band from Barranquilla, Colombia, Absalom has his name.[10]
  • 2007 Ryland Angel released "Absalom" on Ryland Angel - Manhattan Records.[11]
  • "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.[12]
  • "Absalom" is a song on Brand New Shadows's debut album, White flags. It is a mournful lament from King David's perspective.[13]
  • "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.[14] This song is written from the perspective of King David—mainly focusing on the task of fighting Goliath—but contains a lament to Absalom.

Video games

  • 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'".

As a name

"Avshalom" (אבשלום), the original Hebrew form, is commonly used as a male first name in contemporary Israel. Other variants, used either as a first name or a surname, include "Absalom", "Absolon", "Avessalom", "Avesalom", "Absalon", and "Absolom".


  1. ^ 1 Chronicles 3:2, 2 Samuel 3:3.
  2. ^ 2 Samuel 14:25
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^
  7. ^ 2 Samuel 16-18
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Brand New Shadows
  14. ^ "Gimme a Stone"

External links

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