JOAB ( = "Yhwh is Father").

—1. Biblical Data:

Son of Zeruiah, David's sister (II Chron. ii. 16), and commander-in-chief of David's army. Joab first appears after David's accession to the throne on the occasion of the engagement at the pool of Gibeon between Joab and David's servants on one side and Abner with the servants of Ishbosheth on the other (II Sam. ii. 13 et seq.; see also Helkath Hazzurim). Abner, defeated, on the retreat kills Joab's youngest brother, Asahel. Voluntarily giving up the pursuit, Joab marches to Hebron (ib. ii. 17-32). Still minded to avenge his brother's death, Joab, upon learning of Abner's visit to and reception by David during his (Joab's) absence from Hebron, manages to lure his unsuspecting enemy to return to Hebron, where, meeting him in the gateway, he smites him under the fifth rib. David compels Joab to attend in penitent garb the obsequies of his victim.

Becomes "Prince of the Army."

The great opportunity for Joab to distinguish himself came with the siege of Jebus or Jerusalem. David had promised the office of chief to the one who should first smite the Jebusites. Joab, accomplishing this, obtained the position (I Chron. xi. 6). The vague designation of "chief" or "head" ("rosh") is supplemented by the more explicit title of "prince of the army" (II Sam. viii. 16). Joab's strategic skill was immediately shown in his fortification of the conquered city (I Chron. xi. 8). After that event, Joab is throughout represented as a most skilful general and as a model of fidelity. David himself was conscious of Joab's merits in these respects, though he somewhat feared him (comp. II Sam. iii. 39). Owing to his rank, Joab had an armor-bearer of his own (ib. xxiii. 37; I Chron. xi. 39) and ten servants to carry his equipment (II Sam. xviii. 15). His usual residence was at Jerusalem (ib. xiv. 30), but he had also a house in the wilderness (I Kings ii. 34). Joab was active in all the wars of David. The most important was first in Edom, where Joab remained six months till he had exterminated all the males (ib. xi. 15-16). So great was the terror of his name in Edom that Hadad ventured to return to his native country only after Joab's death (ib. xi. 21). The second important war in which Joab was engaged was that with the Ammonites in two campaigns. In one of these the Ammonites, allied with Syrians, compelled Joab to leave a part of the army with his brother Abishai, who made an attack on the Ammonites while Joab himself attacked and defeated the Syrians (II Sam. x. 7-14). In the other, in the following year, Joab devastated Ammon and besieged Rabbah (ib. xi. 1). So great was Joab's devotion to David that after he had conquered the royal city or "the city of waters," he sent messengers to David asking him to come and complete the conquest himself (ib. xii. 26-28). It was during this expedition that David had recourse to the services of Joab in his designs on Uriah (ib. xi. 6-25). Joab used his influence over David to effect the rehabilitation of Absalom in his father's favor. Knowing that David longed to see Absalom, Joab instructed a "wise woman from Tekoa" to induce David by a parable to recall his son, and finally brought about a reconciliation between them (II Sam. xiv.). At the time of Absalom's revolt, though Absalom's party was the stronger, Joab remained with David, accompanying him in his flight. David entrusted to Joab only one-third of his men, while the other two-thirds were led by Abishai and Ittai the Gittite (ib. xviii. 2). The battle terminated adversely for Absalom's party, and Joab took upon himself the responsibility of killing Absalom, despite David's repeated injunction to spare the young man's life. Afterward he had the courage to rouse David from his grief for his son's death (ib. xviii. 5-15, xix. 6-8).

His Devotion to David.

Joab's loyalty was still more striking when David, yielding to his resentment against him, imprudently transferred the office of commander-in-chief from Joab to Amasa. At the revolt of Sheba, Amasa proved himself incapable, and David appointed Abishai to take the lead in the attack, in which Joab of his own accord nevertheless took part (ib. xx. 1, 4-7). Joab treacherously killed his rival, but as Amasa had previously been commander-in-chief of the rebels (ib. xvii. 25), Joab in slaying him was inspired not by private but by political motives. Joab, having effected the defeat of Sheba, was reinstated in the office of commander-in-chief (ib. xx. 15-23). When, later, he was commissioned by David to number the people of Israel, he tried, but in vain, to dissuade the king from his design (ib. xxiv. 2-4; I Chron. xxi. 2-4). Even when the king insisted in his purpose Joab's scruples were such that he did not number the tribes of Levi and Benjamin (II Chron. xxi. 6)

Joab's last act, which proved his undoing, was his espousal of the cause of Adonijah (I Kings i. 7, 19), probably because Adonijah was the elder son after Absalom (ib. i. 6), and on the death of Adonijah the succession rightfully belonged to him. It seems that David understood that the affair ofAdonijah was not sufficient to convict Joab of treason; for he recommended Solomon to kill Joab out of revenge for Abner and Amasa (ib. ii. 5-6). Joab, unaware of David's special recommendation, thought Solomon would probably condemn him as a traitor, and, having heard of Adonijah's death, he fled to the Tabernacle and took hold of the altar. Solomon, however, had no scruples with regard to the defilement of the altar; and Benaiah slew him there, by the king's command. Joab was buried in his own house in the wilderness (ib. ii. 28-34).

E. G. H. M. Sel.—In Rabbinical Literature:

Joab appears in the Mishnah as the ideal general (Mak. 11b). He and David supplemented each other; he would not have succeeded in his wars without David's continuous study of the Torah, and David would not have been able to apply himself to his ideal pursuits without such a reliable general as Joab (Sanh. 49a). His generosity is indicated by the words "his house in the wilderness" (I Kings ii. 34), which are taken to mean that his house was as free as the wilderness; that it was open to everybody; that everybody could find there food of all kinds; that, like a wilderness, it was free from robbery (Sanh. 49a). R. Johanan even declared that Joab was not guilty of Abner's death, but that he brought him before the Sanhedrin, which, in the gate of the city (comp. Deut. xvi. 18 et al.), condemned Abner for killing Asahel (Sanh. 49a). When Joab had smitten the male children of Edom, David inquired why he had done so; Joab answered, "It is written, 'Thou shalt blot out the males ["zakar"] of Amalek'" (Deut. xxv. 19). David retorted, "But it is 'zeker' [remembrance], not 'zakar'!" Joab replied that his teacher had made him read "zakar" (B. B. 21a, b). Joab struggled hard but vainly to dissuade David from numbering the people. Joab made two numberings, a complete and an incomplete one. He intended to render the incomplete numbering; if David became angry, he would give him the complete one (Pesiḳ. R. 11 [ed. Friedmann, p. 43b]). After Joab had fled to the Tabernacle, he was brought before the judges for trial. Declared not guilty of the murder of Abner, as he had only avenged the blood of his brother Asahel, he was condemned for the murder of Amasa; to Joab's defense that Amasa was a traitor because he had failed to execute David's order (comp. II Sam. xx. 4-5), the judges objected that Amasa, being occupied with the study of the Law, was not bound to execute the king's order (Sanh. 49a). When Benaiah went to execute Joab the latter said: "Let not Solomon condemn me to a double punishment; let him either kill me and take on himself the curses which his father uttered against me [II Sam. iii. 29] or let me live and suffer from the curses only." Solomon took on himself the curses, all of which were fulfilled in his descendants (Sanh. 48b). The Talmudists do not agree as to whether Joab left a son or not, as some identify the Joab of Ezra viii. 9 (see Joab, No. 3) with the general of David (B. B. 116a).


In various midrashim Joab is the subject of a number of hero-tales. Once, hearing David repeat, "Like as a father pitieth his children" (Ps. ciii. 13), Joab objected that a mother had more pity for her children than a father. David suggested that he should more carefully observe the dispositions of parents toward their children, and to do this, Joab undertook a journey. He arrived at the house of a poor old laborer who had twelve sons and who worked very hard to support his family. In the evening the old man divided the bread which he had won by his day's labor into fourteen equal pieces, for his twelve sons, his wife, and himself.

On the following day Joab said to the old man: "You are old and feeble; why do you work for your young sons? Take my advice and sell one of them; and with the money you will be able to live with your family in comfort." The old man rebuked him for such advice and went on to his work; from the mother, however, he succeeded, after meeting many objections, in buying one son for one hundred pieces of gold. In the evening Joab, himself unseen, observed what passed between the father and the mother. The former, having noticed that one of the fourteen pieces of bread remained untouched, asked after his son. His wife at first gave various reasons for his absence, but her husband remained unsatisfied, and she was obliged to tell him the truth. The man took the money, and, having found Joab, demanded the return of his son. As Joab resisted, the man threatened to kill him unless he restored his son to him, which Joab gladly did, and acknowledged that David was right (Midr. Rabbotenu, in Jellinek, "B. H." v. 52-53).

Siege of Ḳinsali.

At the head of 12,000 warriors Joab besieged Kinsali, or Ḳinsari, the capital of the Amalekites. After a fruitless siege of six months Joab's men despaired and desired to return to their homes. But Joab, having supplied himself with money, and taking his sword, ordered them to hurl him over the wall from a sling and wait forty days; if at the end of that time they saw blood flowing under the gates they would know that he was alive. His order was executed, and he fell in the yard of a house where lived a widow and her married daughter. Joab was taken and revived by its inmates, meeting their questions by telling them "I am an Amalekite; the Israelites captured me and threw me over the wall; now let me stay with you and I will pay you." At the end of ten days Joab went into one of the 140 streets of the city, entered a smith's shop, and ordered the smith to make a sword like the one which he had, but which was broken. The first two which the smith made Joab shook and broke, but the third one stood the test. Joab asked the blacksmith who should be killed with such a sword, and the answer was "Joab." With the words "Suppose I am Joab" he slew the smith. Then Joab went into the principal street, killed 500 mercenaries whom he met, and returned to the house. In the city it was rumored that Asmodeus had killed the mercenaries; when Joab was asked whether he had heard of it he said he had not. Joab paid his hostess for ten more days, and at the end of that time went to the gate of the city, where he slew 1,500 men. This time his hand stuck to the sword, and he returned to the house and asked the young woman for warm water. But she said to him, "You eat and drink in our houseand go out to kill our people!" Joab thereupon ran her through with his sword, after which his hand was healed. He then went into the street, killed every one he met on his way to the gates, slew the guard and threw open the gates. The Israelites had seen the blood flowing under the gates and shouted for joy. After ordering them to send for David, Joab climbed on to a tower in order that all might see him, and then saw the twentieth Psalm written on his right foot. Joab slew all the people of the city except the king, whom he left for David himself to kill. Then Joab put the slain king's crown on David's head while his troops were engaged in carrying off the spoils of the city (Jellinek, "B. H." v. 146-148).

S. S. M. Sel.—Critical View:

In the Biblical account of Joab's life the endeavor is palpable to shield David and Solomon, and to paint Joab as a man moved by motives of private revenge, and unscrupulous in the methods of accomplishing his designs. It is he who, contrary to the intentions of the king, assassinates Abner, though David must have had an equally strong reason for the removal of this partizan of Saul's son and a possible rival to the throne. In the narrative of Absalom's death, the same tendency is clearly visible. It is Joab who, contrary to David's instructions, ends the crown prince's life. II Sam. xix. reveals the true situation. Amasa was probably under the suspicion of playing into the hands of Sheba (II Sam. xix. 14, xx. 18 et seq.), and as a loyal adherent of David, Joab may have deemed it justifiable to put the lukewarm commander effectually out of the way.

In the narrative as now extant private jealousy is suggested as the motive; and this is later consistently adduced to shield Solomon for having sacrilegiously ignored the right of asylum in the sanctuary (I Kings ii. 28). It was in execution of David's last will, to avenge the assassination of Abner and Amasa—that of Absalom, though logically it should also have been included, is of course omitted, for it would not do to represent Solomon as requiting the death of his rival's brother, who, had he lived, would have been the legitimate heir—that this outrage upon the right of asylum is represented as having been perpetrated. Joab was a loyal and willing tool in the hands of his master David; a sturdy, unscrupulous military chieftain, such as surround Asiatic despots and leaders of freebooters.

E. G. H.

2. Son of Seraiah, and descendant of Kenaz (I Chron. iv. 14); prince of Ge-Ḥarashim.

3. Head of an important family that returned with Zerubbabel from captivity, the number of whose descendants together with those of Jeshua is given as 2,812 (Ezra ii. 6; Neh. vii. 11). A Joab is also mentioned in Ezra viii. 9 whose descendants numbered 218; but this may be a different person from the preceding.

E. G. H. M. Sel.
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