In her article, “Female Names and Gender Perspectives in Chronicles,” Sara Japhet wrote, “The book of Chronicles abounds with women. It mentions by name over sixty women—more than any other single biblical book.”
Many of the women listed in Chronicles are nameless women. Most of them are only identified as wives, mothers, or daughters. The issue of women’s names and gender in Chronicles is complex because many names of women are also the names of men.
Take for instance, the name Abihail.
In Numbers 3:35 Abihail is the name of a man: “The head of the ancestral house of the clans of Merari was Zuriel son of Abihail” (Numbers 3:35). Abihail was the father of Muriel, a leader of the Levitical family of Merari (Exodus 6:16).
In 1 Chronicle 5:14, Abihail is the son of Huri. Abihail was the father of seven sons: Michael, Meshullam, Sheba, Jorai, Jacan, Zia, and Eber (1 Chronicles 5:13). The sons of Abihail were clan leaders from the tribe of Gad.
In Esther 2:15, Abihail was the father of Esther and the uncle of Mordecai.
However, in 2 Chronicles 11:18, Abihail was the wife of Rehoboam, king of Judah. Abihail was a descendant of Eliab, the elder brother of David. Abihail was the second wife of Rehoboam. Rehoboam was also married to Mahalath. Mahalath was the daughter of Jerimoth, the son of David.
In 1 Chronicles 2:29, Abihail was the wife of Abishur, “The name of Abishur’s wife was Abihail, and she bore him Ahban and Molid” (1 Chronicles 2:29).
Little is known about Abihail. Her name means “My Father is Mighty.” Her husband was Abishur, and her sons were Ahban and Molid. Abishur was the son of Shammai and a fifth-generation descendant of Hezron, an ancestor of David.
Abihail is one of those women in the Old Testament whose contribution to Israelite society and to the life of her clan is never mentioned. Abihail is only remembered by the role most women in Israel were remembered: as wives and mothers.
Abihail was the wife of Abishur.
Abihail was the mother of Ahban and Molid.
Notwithstanding these stereotypes of women in early Israelite society, the role of women in Israelite society was crucial for the growth of the nation. In her article, “Women and the Domestic Economy of Early Israel,” Carol Meyers said that “Women were undoubtedly involved in all aspects of economic live, in producing, transforming, and allocating resources.”
Meyers wrote, “Female participation in societal roles, of course, was not limited to the crucial economic tasks. Parenting—the socialization and the education of the young—was inextricably linked to maternity and was interwoven with the technological specialty of the females. Transmission of many aspects of culture was thus part of the female’s role; children of both genders absorbed modes of behavior, cultural forms, and social values from the direct or indirect instructions of the mother. One particular aspect of this culture transmission function, . . . is the place of women in the formal or informal religious or ritual activities that took place within the household and in local village settings. Clearly women played active, diverse, and vital roles in the complex household of early Israel” (Meyers 1998:39).
Although Abihail and her contribution to Israelite society has been marginalized by her identification only as a wife and as a mother, there is no doubt that Abihail made an impact on the lives of her children and probably exerted some form of control over the persons who lived in her household.
For a study of all the women in the Old Testament, visit my post, All the Women of the Old Testament.
Japhet, Sara. “Female Names and Gender Perspectives in Chronicles. In The Writings and Later Wisdom Books. Edited by Maier, Christl M. and Nuria Calduch-Benages. Pages 33–53. Atlanta, SBL Press, 2014.
Meyers Carol. “Women and the Domestic Economy of Early Israel.” In Women in the Hebrew Bible: A Reader. Edited by Bach, Alice. Pages 33–43. New York: Routledge, 1998.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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