King of northern Israel, 875-853
Ahab was the first king of Israel who came into conflict with Assyria, and he is also the first whose name is recorded on the Assyrian monuments (see Schrader, "K. A. T."). It was in 854
Besides the above-mentioned wars, certain events of great importance marked the reign of Ahab. One of these was the establishment of close relations between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, a policy which put an end to the rivalry that had existed between them since the days of the great schism. Another was the encouragement afforded by Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, to the worship of the Phenician Baal. Jezebel was a daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre, and the family alliance thus cemented, while it was of political and commercial advantage to Israel, resulted in great moral and religious injury through this idolatrous and sensual cult. A third noteworthy event was Ahab's cruel and oppressive dealing with Naboth of Jezreel whose property the king wished to secure, and who, upon his refusal to sell it, was put to death by false accusation at the instigation of Jezebel. For this outrage upon the rights of a freeholder, the prophet Elijah predicted a violent death for Ahab and Jezebel and the destruction of their dynasty. Noticeable also is the increase of luxury in Israel, in consequence of foreign trade and the ambition of the king and nobles. Ahab's palace of ivory (I Kings, xxii. 39) is an indication of the fashions of the time. Finally there was inaugurated in the reign of Ahab the régime of the preaching prophets, of whom Elijah was the first and greatest example (see I Kings, xvii.-xxii.).
One of the three or four wicked kings of Israel singled out by tradition as being excluded from the future world of bliss (Sanh. x. 2; Tosef., Sanh. xii. 11). Midrash Konen places him in the fifth department of Gehenna, as having the heathen under his charge. Though held up as a warning to sinners, Ahab is also described as displaying noble traits of character (Sanh. 102b; Yer. Sanh. xi. 29b). Talmudic literature represents him as an enthusiastic idolater who left no hilltop in Palestine without an idol before which he bowed, and to which he or his wife, Jezebel, brought his weight in gold as a daily offering. So defiant in his apostasy was he that he had inscribed on all the doors of the city of Samaria the words, "Ahab hath abjured the living God of Israel." Nevertheless, he paid great respect to the representatives of learning, "to the Torah given in twenty-two letters," for which reason he was permitted to reign for twenty-two successive years. He generously supported the students of the Law out of his royal treasury, in consequence of which half his sins were forgiven him. A type of worldliness (Ber. 61b), the Crœsus of his time, he was, according to ancient tradition (Meg. 11a), ruler over the whole world. Two hundred and thirty subject kings had initiated a rebellion; but he brought their sons as hostages to Samaria and Jerusalem. All the latter turned from idolaters into worshipers of the God of Israel (Tanna debe Eliyahu, i. 9). Each of his seventy sons had an ivory palace built for him. Since, however, it was Ahab's idolatrous wife who was the chief instigator of his crimes (B. M. 59a), some of the ancient teachers gave him the same position in the world to come as a sinner who had repented (Sanh. 104b, Num. R. xiv). Like Manasseh, he was made a type of repentance (I Kings, xxi. 29). Accordingly, he is described as undergoing fasts and penances for a long time; praying thrice a day to God for forgiveness, until his prayer was heard (PirḲe R. El. xliii). Hence, the name of Ahab in the list of wicked kings was changed to Ahaz (Yer. Sanh. x. 28b; Tanna debe Eliyahu Rabba ix, Zuṭṭa xxiv.).