Athaliah, also spelled Athalia or Atalia (Hebrew: עֲתַלְיָה, ʻĂṯalyâ, "God is exalted"; Greek: Γοθολια; Latin: Athalia) was the queen of Judah during the reign of King Jehoram, and later became sole ruler of Judah for six years. William F. Albright has dated her reign to 842 – 837 BC, while Edwin R. Thiele's dates, as taken from the third edition of his magnum opus, were 842/841 to 836/835 BC. However, a starting date of 842/841 for Athaliah is one year before the date of 841/840 that Thiele gave for death of her son Ahaziah, a conflict that Thiele never resolved. The present article accepts the one-year adjustment to Thiele's dates for Ahaziah given by later scholars that is explained in the Rehoboam and Ahaziah articles, thereby reconciling Thiele's dates for Athaliah with those of her predecessor. These dates are also compatible with cross-synchronisms between Ahaziah and Athaliah and the northern kingdom. Athaliah is usually considered the daughter of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel (see discussion below); her marriage to Jehoram sealed a treaty between Israel and Judah.
Jehoram, a descendant of King David, actively promoted the worship of YHWH in his country, but he tolerated Athaliah's worship of Baal. After Jehoram's death, their son Ahaziah became Judah's king with Athaliah acting as queen mother. She used her power in that role to establish the worship of Baal in Judah after Ahaziah was killed in a state visit to Israel along with the then-king of Israel, also named Jehoram, who was Athaliah's brother (or possibly nephew). Jehu assassinated them both in Yahweh's name and had Athaliah's entire extended family in Israel murdered.
Athaliah, as queen of Judah, tried to have all possible successors to Ahaziah executed; one, however,a grandson of hers named Joash was rescued from the purge by Jehosheba, Ahaziah's sister, and was raised in secret by the priest Jehoiada. Six years later, Athaliah was surprised when Jehoiada revealed Joash and proclaimed him king of Judah. She rushed to stop this rebellion, but was captured and executed.
Athaliah: daughter of Ahab, or his sister?
The text above regards Athaliah as the daughter of Ahab and his wife Jezebel. This is consistent with most Bible commentaries. However there are several Scriptures that, when combined with chronological considerations, have led some scholars to hold that she was Ahab's sister, not his daughter. The relevant Scriptural texts that can be cited to support the brother-sister relationship are the following.
* Second Kings 8:26, and its parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 22:2, say that Jehoram of Judah married a "daughter" of Omri, Ahab's father. The Hebrew word "daughter" (bath) can mean daughter, granddaughter, or any female descendant, in the same way that ben can mean son, grandson, or any male descendant. Consequently, some modern versions translate that Athaliah was a "granddaughter" of Omri. But the books of Kings and Chronicles give far more attention to Ahab that to Omri, and so it is notable that in these verses it is not Athaliah's relationship to Ahab that is stressed, but her relationship to Omri. This would be reasonable if Omri were her father. The immediately following verses also discuss Ahab, again raising the question of why her relationship to Omri is mentioned, instead of to Ahab.
* Second Kings 8:29 says that Jehoram, Athaliah's husband, was related by marriage (hatan) to the house of Ahab. The word hatan commonly is used to specify a father-in-law or son-in-law relationship. If Jehoram was Ahaz's son-in-law, the expression that would be expected here would be "son-in-law" (or relative by marriage) to Ahab, not to "the house of Ahab." If Athaliah was Ahab's sister, not his daughter, then there is an explanation for the additional phrase "house of."
The support for Athaliah being Ahab's daughter comes from two verses, 2 Kings 8:18 and its parallel in 2 Chronicles 21:6. These verses say that Jehoram of Judah did wickedly "because he married a daughter of Ahab." This would seem to settle the question in favor of the daughter relationship, with one precaution: the Syriac version of the 2 Chronicles 21:6 says "sister of Ahab" instead of daughter. This textual support for Athaliah being the sister of Ahab is usually regarded as weak enough to justify translating bath in 2 Kings 8:26 and 2 Chronicles 22:2 as "granddaughter," thus bringing the various passages about Athaliah into harmony: she is presented as Omri's granddaughter and Ahab's daughter.
The chronological considerations brought forth by scholars who advocate the sister-theory have to do with determining the earliest age at which Athaliah could have been born, and then showing that this is too late for Athaliah to be Ahab's daughter, but not too late if she was his sister. This brings up the question of who her mother was. It is often assumed that her mother was the famous Jezebel, the only wife mentioned for Ahab in Scripture, but an argument from silence about other wives cannot be conclusive. Athaliah might have been the daughter of another of Ahab's wives. But, assuming for now that Jezebel was her mother, some upper limits can be placed on when Ahab and Jezebel were married, and hence the upper limit on when Athaliah could have been born. Here the argument is made that the Ahab/Jezebel marriage was obviously an affair of state that would only have occurred after Omri, Ahab's father, was firmly in control of his kingdom, and Ithobaal, Jezebel's father, was firmly in control of Tyre and Sidon. Omri and Ithobaal were both usurpers; neither was the member of a royal family before they took the throne, and so it is not reasonable that, before they became kings, an Israelite general would seek out a priest of Astarte in the kingdom of Tyre and Sidon to get a wife for his young son Ahab.
Omri, father of Ahab, became sole ruler of the northern kingdom after killing Tibni in 881 BC. According to F. M. Cross's chronology of Tyrian kings, as calculated from the records of Menander of Ephesus, Ithobaal killed Phelles and became king of Tyre in 878 BC, two years after Omri became undisputed king of Israel. It would only be in 878 BC or later, then, that these two kings would be open to discussing a marriage alliance of Omri's son Ahab with Ithobaal's daughter Jezebel. If the marriage had taken place in the first year of Ithobaal's reign, then, assuming their first-born was Athaliah and that she was born in the following year, Athaliah would have been born in 877 BC at the earliest. She would have been 36 years old in 841 BC when her son Ahaziah came to the throne. Ahaziah was 22 years old at this time, according to 2 Kings 8:26, so his mother would have been only 14 when he was born, under this scenario that placed the birth of Athaliah as early as possible. Scholars have used these chronological considerations to say that Athaliah could not have been Ahab's daughter, but she could have been his sister.
A weakness in the foregoing argument is that it assumes that Athaliah was the daughter of Ahab by his wife Jezebel. There is no statement in Scripture that names her mother, and if Ahab fathered Athaliah by an otherwise unknown wife several years before he married Jezebel, the chronological argument would not hold.
Further chronological notes
The calendars for reckoning the years of kings in Judah and Israel were offset by six months, that of Judah starting in Tishri (in the fall) and that of Israel in Nisan (in the spring). Cross-synchronizations between the two kingdoms therefore often allow narrowing of the beginning and/or ending dates of a king to within a six-month range. For Athaliah, the Scriptural data allow the narrowing of her accession to some time between Nisan 1 of 841 BC and the day before Tishri 1 of the same BC year. For calculation purposes, this should be taken as the Judean year beginning in Tishri of 842/841 BC, or more simply 842 BC. Her death occurred at some time between Nisan 1 and Tishri 1 of 835 BC, i.e. in 836/835 BC by the Judean calendar. At this time of rapprochement between the two kingdoms, Judah was using Israel's "non-accession" method of reckoning the years, so that she was deposed in her "seventh year" (2 Kings 11:4), after being monarch for six actual years (2 Kings 11:3).
Names in modern Israel
Though she is not presented favorably in the Bible, "Athaliah" or "Atalia" is attested, though infrequently, as a female first name in contemporary Israel.
This is derived partially from a search for Hebrew parallels with such (etymologically unconnected) European names as Ottilie, Odile and Ophelia, as well as with some Yiddish names. Also, some Israeli Feminists advocate "reading the Bible backwards" and favoring the names of women characters whom the male compilers of the Bible regarded negatively.
A woman with this name is the main protagonist of the 1984 film Atalia.
Athaliah in literature and music
In 1691, French tragedian Jean Racine wrote a play about this Biblical queen, entitled Athalie. The German composer Felix Mendelssohn, among others, wrote an incidental music (his op. 74) to Racine's play, first performed in Berlin in 1845.
In 1733, the musician and composer Handel composed an oratorio based on her life, called Athalia, calling her a "Baalite Queen of Judah Daughter of Jezebel." Baal was the fertility god of the Canaanites, whom the ancient Israelites often fell into worshipping in the Old Testament.