Biblical Studies Athaliah
Hye Kyung Park
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0244


Three Athaliahs appear in the biblical texts: the son of Jeroham (1 Chronicles 8:26), a descendent of Elam (Ezra 8:7) and the queen of Judah (2 Kings 8:18, 26, 11:1–20; 2 Chronicles 21:6, 22:2–3, 22:10–23:21, 24:7). This article focuses mainly on the third character. Athaliah was the only queen of the Southern Kingdom of Judah between approximately 841and 835 BCE. She ordered the execution of the whole Davidic royal family after seeing her sons killed by Jehu. The studies of Athaliah have explored two aspects: her double paternity as a daughter of the Omride dynasty, and her leadership as a queen of the Davidic dynasty. There are inconsistent narratives regarding the paternity of Athaliah. The fact that Jehoram married the daughter of Ahab in 2 Kings 8:18 implies that Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab, was his wife. However, the regnal formula of Ahaziah, the son of Jehoram, in 2 Kings 8:26 (along with 2 Chronicles 22:2) informs us that his mother was the Athaliah who was the daughter of Omri. Was Athaliah the daughter of Ahab or Omri? Rabbinical tradition preferred to explain Athaliah as the daughter of Ahab since she was raised at the court of Ahab, although he was in fact her older brother. Modern scholars insist she was the daughter of Omri. The question of Athaliah’s parents’ identity in the literal reading of the biblical texts involves the complicated marriage relationship between the Omride household and Davidic family because her son Ahaziah has been referred to as the son-in-law of Ahab (2 Kings 8:37). Academic interpretations of Athaliah’s leadership also vary, with uncertainty on questions such as whether she served as a regent to her grandson or reigned as queen of the kingdom in her own right. Studies on her leadership role as queen include interpretations such as feminist biblical studies since the end of the 20th century. Critical scholars doubt she ruled as queen, and consider that she is more likely to have acted as a regent. Traditional commentaries ascribe her extermination of the house of Judah to her unbridled ambition to become a queen, which implies she wasn’t one. In addition, her lineage as the daughter of Jezebel legitimates Jehoiada’s revolt against her. Early-21st-century feminist reinterpretation of her story suggests her actions were an understandable response to Jehu’s killing of her son. There are two reports of her death, in 2 Kings 11: 16 and 20.

General Overviews

It is not easy to find books titled “Athaliah,” which demonstrates the status of general studies on Athaliah. However, Levin 1982 provides a general analysis of Athaliah’s reign and fall. A modern literary and sociological analysis of Athaliah is in Dutcher-Walls 1996, and the paternity issue of Athaliah’s uncertain lineage is highlighted in Craughwell 2008. In Higgs 2007, Athaliah is discussed as a nefarious biblical woman with modern relevance. Solvang 2003 gives a scholarly analysis of the role of women leaders in the Davidic house, while Frymer-Kensky 2002 thematically divides biblical female characters into victors, victims, virgins, and voices of God. Wiseman 2008 analyzes the use of particular nouns in 2 Kings 11, Jones 1984 gives an exegetical interpretation of 2 Kings 11:1–20 verse by verse, along with scholarly references, and Brenner-Idan 2015 looks at Athaliah from feminist perspective. There are few book-length accounts of Athaliah’s entire corpus.

  • Brenner-Idan, Athalya. The Israelite Woman: Social Role and Literary Type in Biblical Narrative. 2d ed. T&T Cornerstones. London: Bloomsbury, 2015.

    Brenner-Idan points out that despite her illegitimate position to the Davidic dynasty, Athaliah, a foreigner and Baal worshipper, was able to control the royal house for several years as a queen of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

  • Craughwell, Thomas J. Bad Kids of the Bible: And What They Can Teach Us. Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds, 2008.

    The discussion about Ahaziah and his mother, Athaliah, occurs in chapter 18, on the basis of the lineage of Jezebel’s family.

  • Dutcher-Walls, Patricia. Narrative Art, Political Rhetoric: The Case of Athaliah and Joash. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 1996.

    Dutcher-Walls applies rhetorical, ideological, and social-world methodologies to the Deuteronomistic history. Her focus is on 2 Kings 11–12, and she represents Athaliah and Joash as opposite models of leadership, with Joash considered as an ideal king.

  • Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories. New York: Schocken, 2002.

    Frymer-Kensky divides women in the Bible into victors, victims, virgins, and voices of God. Athaliah has been grouped as one of the villains along with Potiphar’s wife and Delilah. Frymer-Kensky suggests three possible reasons for why Athaliah tried to eradicate the offspring of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

  • Higgs, Liz Curtis. Really Bad Girls of the Bible: More Lessons from Less-Than-Perfect Women. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook, 2007.

    Higgs interprets God’s grace through the bloody story of Athaliah in chapter 4, “Blood Will Tell: Athaliah; Bad and Proud of It” (pp. 94–122).

  • Jones, Gwilym H. 1 and 2 Kings: Based on the Revised Standard Version. 2 vols. New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1984.

    The commentary section on 2 Kings 11:1–20 provides an overview of scholarly research on the two accounts of Athaliah’s death and more (Vol. 1, pp. 475–487).

  • Levin, Christoph. Der Sturz der Königin Atalja: Ein Kapitel zur Geschichte Judas im 9. Jahrhundert v. Chr. Stuttgarter Bibelstudien 105. Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1982.

    Levin provides the reign of Athaliah as a part of the Southern Kingdoms’ history in the 9th century BCE.

  • Solvang, Elna K. A Woman’s Place Is in the House: Royal Women of Judah and Their Involvement in the House of David. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 2003.

    The discussion of cross-cultural studies on the royal women such as Michal, Bathsheba, and Athaliah exemplifies the roles and functions of women in the biblical texts.

  • Wiseman, Donald J. 1 and 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries 9. Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity, 2008.

    Historical-critical resources and interpretations of names, places, and vocabulary are provided, with the corresponding biblical references. Originally published in 1993 (Leicester, UK: InterVarsity).

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