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Title: Ish-boseth  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Kingdom of Israel (united monarchy)
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


King of Israel
Predecessor Saul
Successor David
Father Saul

According to the Hebrew Bible, Ish-bosheth (אִֽישְׁבֹּ֫שֶׁת; Standard: Ishbóshet; Tiberian: ʼΚbṓšeṯ) also called Eshbaal (אֶשְׁבַּ֫עַל; Standard: Eshbáʻal; Tiberian: ʼEšbáʻal), Ashbaal or Ishbaal, was one of the four sons of King Saul, born c. 1047 BC. Ish-bosheth was chosen as the second king over the Kingdom of Israel, which then consisted of all the twelve tribes of the Israelites, after the death of his father and three brothers at the Battle of Mount Gilboa.

Reign and death

In the Biblical story, Ish-bosheth was proclaimed king over Israel in 1007 B.C. by 2 Samuel 2:10)

However, after the death of King Saul, the 2 Samuel 4:1)

Ish-bosheth was assassinated in c 1005 B.C. by two of his own army-captains, 2 Samuel 4:12)

There is a void in the Biblical account as to what happened to the kingship of the non-Judah tribes of the Israelites during the five years following the murder of Ish-bosheth, as the united kingship of David is dated as 1000 B.C.

The names

The names Ish-bosheth and Ashba'al are unusual in some ways, as they have ambiguous meanings in the original Hebrew that are puzzling. In Hebrew, for Ish-bosheth, "ish" means "[great] man" and "boshet" means "[given to] bashfulness [or humility]" or "[sensitive to] shame", but it could also mean "shameful (or shamed) person". He is also called Ashba'al, in Hebrew meaning "[person of] master[y]" (and the "esh" may be connected to the Hebrew word for "fire"). "Ba'al" may also allude to the name of the ancient deity Baal mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.

Critical scholarship suggests that Bosheth was a substitute for Ba'al, beginning when Ba'al became an unspeakable word; as (in the opposite direction) Adonai became substituted for the ineffable Tetragrammaton (see taboo deformation).

The name Ish-bosheth

He is almost exclusively called Ish-bosheth in the Books of Samuel in the Hebrew Bible:

"...Now Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul's host, had taken Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim; and he made him king over Gilead, and over the 2 Samuel 2:8-10)

When he was prematurely assassinated and King David punished the killers:

"...2 Samuel 4:5-12)

The other name: Ashba'al

Ish-bosheth's name is changed to Ashba'al or Eshba'al in the Book of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 8:33; 9:39). The rabbinic commentator, Meir Loeb ben Jehiel Michael (1809–1879) known as the Malbim, basing himself on the commentary of Rabbi David ben Joseph Kimhi (the Radak, 13th century) says:

"Ashba'al is Ish-bosheth, as bosheth and ba'al is one, as in the [3] (Jeremiah 11:13). Thus, "the shameful idol" ("la-bosheth") and the "Baal" are one and the same in terms of the words in this verse from Jeremiah.

The Radak emphasizes that what the correlation was between the names of bosheth and ba'al is unclear, while it may have been clear to the people of that time it is not really known or understood at the present time. The Malbim asserts that the name Ish-bosheth is utilized as a "cover" for Ashba'al to deliberately differentiate itself from the Baal, so that the Baal not be mentioned explicitly, and that even the name Ashba'al not to be directly associated with the actual idol of the similar sounding Baal name, even though linguistically they all have shared meanings. Hence the continuing mystery about why the name was given to him (Ish-bosheth) in the first place.

One possible explanation to that would be that Ash-ba`al or Esh-ba`al (≈ "man of the Lord") was his "real" given name, and that the righteous Hebrews, especially Jews (i.e. from the South kingdom) couldn't find it in themselves to pronounce the name of a "heathen" divinity, and so called him Ish-boshet ("man of shame") instead. Similarly e.g. Mephiboshet for Merib-ba`al son of Jonathan and Merib-ba`al son of Saul. — Note that the Bible unashamedly uses ba`al as a common name meaning "master", as in e.g. "the master of this dog".

External links

  • Ish-bosheth (Article by: Emil G. Hirsch and M. Seligsohn in Jewish Encyclopedia)
  • King Ishbosheth - Biography (Christian view)
  • Easton's Bible Dictionary (Ish-bosheth)
Cadet branch of the Tribe of Benjamin
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Israel
1007 BC – 1005 BC
Succeeded by


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