ATHALIAH (Heb. עֲתַלְיָה, עֲתַלְיָהוּ; perhaps: "Yahweh-is-lord"; cf. Akkadian etellu, "lord"), sole reigning queen of Judah (842–836 B.C.E.), daughter of *Ahab and *Jezebel (or perhaps a daughter of Omri) of Israel. Athaliah's marriage to *Jehoram (Joram), crown prince of Judah, sealed the alliance between Israel and Judah. It also led to the introduction of Baal (probably = Melqart) worship in Jerusalem alongside the worship of Yahweh, both during the period of her husband's rule and her son *Ahaziah's one-year reign (II Kings 8:16–18, 25–27; II Chron. 21:5 ff.; 22:2–4). When Ahaziah was murdered by Jehu in the course of the anti-Omride revolt, Athaliah the queen-mother seized power, murdering all possible rivals in the royal family, just as her husband had done on his accession, possibly on her prompting. Only one infant son of Ahaziah, *Joash, escaped, saved by his aunt Jehosheba, the sister of the dead king and the wife of High Priest *Jehoiada (II Kings 9:27–28; 11:1–3; II Chron. 22:8–12). Six years later, Jehoiada carefully conspired to have Joash crowned in the Temple as the legitimate king, and Athaliah, who had hurried to the scene crying "treason," was led to the "horse entrance" ("The Horse Gate?"), where she was killed (II Kings 11:4–16; II Chron. 23:1–15). The Temple of Baal was destroyed and its priest Mattan, apparently a supporter of Athaliah, put to death (II Kings 11:18; II Chron. 23:17).
Athaliah's violent end was inevitable, as her reign must have been odious not only to the priesthood of the Yahweh Temple but also to the royal guard, who saw in her a foreign usurper and the murderer of the royal Davidic line. However, there is some reason to doubt that young Joash was really in danger, as he, a minor, would have given legitimacy to Athaliah's reign; there is also the suggestion that she herself placed him in the guardianship of the high priest.
In the aggadah, Athaliah is grouped with Jezebel, *Vashti, and Semiramis as one of the four women who achieved power in the world (Esth. R. 1:9).
In the Arts
Athaliah's violent career appealed to the taste of the late 17th-century theatergoer for grand and austerely moral themes. The outstanding treatment of her story was by the French dramatist Jean *Racine, whose Athalie (1691) became a classic tragedy. The part of the villainous queen was one of Sarah *Bernhardt's great roles. One of the play's many adaptations was Gemul Atalyah ("Athaliah's Revenge," 1770), a Hebrew version by the Dutch author David *Franco-Mendes.
Incidental music for the first performance of Athalie was written by J.B. Moreau and for later productions by F.A. Boieldieu (1809), Felix *Mendelssohn (1845), and Frank Martin (1946). Handel's oratorio Athalia (1733) was also based on Racine's play. Operas on the Athaliah theme were written by J.S. Mayr (1822) and Hugo *Weisgall (1964). Weisgall's work used some Jewish liturgical motifs to create a biblical atmosphere.
In Christian art, Athaliah's murder of the children of the House of David was treated as a prefiguration of Herod's "Massacre of the Innocents." There are interesting representations of Athaliah's story in the 14th-century Wenceslas Bible, the 15th-century Chaise-Dieu tapestry, Renaissance stained glass windows in Cologne and King's College Chapel, Cambridge, and some 15th-century French miniatures.
BIBLE: Bright, Hist, 222, 233–4, 236; Katzenstein, in: IEJ, 5 (1955), 194 ff.; J.A. Montgomery, The Book of Kings (ICC, 1951), 410–1; J. Gray, I and II Kings (1964), 510–1; Ginsberg, in: Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies, 1 (1967), 91–93. ARTS: T. Ehrenstein, Das Alte Testament im Bilde (1923), 688, 696. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, II Kings (AB), 124–34.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.