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ABIMELECH (Heb. אֲבִימֶלֶך; "the [Divine] Father is King" or "the [Divine] King is Father"), king of *Gerar , who appears in several incidents in connection with Abraham and Isaac. Each of these patriarchs, fearing for his personal safety, represents his wife as his sister. Sarah's honor is saved through a dream theophany in which Abimelech's life is threatened; timely detection of the subterfuge preserves Rebekah's virtue. In both instances the king's integrity is manifest and he is righteously indignant at the deceit (Gen. 20; 26:1–11). Abimelech is also involved with both patriarchs in quarrels over wells (21:25; 26:15–16, 18–21). In both events he is accompanied by Phicol, chief of his troops (21:22, 32; 26:26), and concludes treaties (21:27–32; 26:28–31). Also, Beer-Sheba figures on each occasion (21:31; 26:33). The detailed similarities between the two stories and the resemblances of both to that of Genesis 12:10–20 have generally led critical scholars to assign Genesis 20–21 to the e source and Genesis 12 and 26 to J, regarding all three narratives as variants of a single tradition.

The name is ancient, and attested in the form Abi-milki as the name of the King of Tyre in the 14th century B.C.E., but because the Philistine migrations to Canaan do not antedate 1100 B.C.E., the title "King of the Philistines" (26:1, 8; cf. 18 – not in E) must be viewed as an anachronism.

[Nahum M. Sarna]

In the Aggadah

Abimelech was referred to as a righteous Gentile (Mid. Ps. 34). His attempted seizure of Sarah is explained by the fact that he was childless, and that he hoped to be blessed with offspring by marrying such a pious woman (PdRE 26). Among his punishments for his sin were that ruffians entered his house, that boils erupted on his body (Gen. R. 64:9), and that his household became barren (BK 92a). Abimelech, however, clearly did not consider himself to be the only one at fault. According to the aggadic commentary on his words "Behold it is for thee a covering of the eyes" (Gen. 20:16), he said to Abraham "You covered my eyes (i.e., by saying that Sarah was your sister), therefore the son which you will beget will be of covered eyes (i.e., blind)." This prophecy was fulfilled in Isaac's old age (Gen. R. 52:12). The aggadic treatment of Isaac's relations with Abimelech is briefer. It records that, although he had heard of Rebekah's great beauty, Abimelech remembered his previous punishment, and therefore left her alone (Ag. Ber. 20). However, once Isaac had become so wealthy that people kept saying: "Rather the dung of Isaac's mules, than Abimelech's gold and silver," he became jealous, and claimed that Isaac's wealth was derived from his favors (Gen. R. 64:7).


J. Skinner, Genesis (ICC, 19302), S.V.; E.A. Speiser, Genesis (1964), S.V. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: C.S. Ehrlich, The Philistines in Transition: A History from ca. 1000–730 BCE (1996); S.D. Sperling, The Original Torah (1998), 21–22, 86–90.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.