OMRI


OMRI (Heb. עָמְרִי), king of Israel (c. 882–871 B.C.E., I Kings 16:16–28), contemporary of King Asa of Judah. Omri's father's name is not mentioned in sources. According to II Kings 16:23, Omri reigned over the Kingdom of Israel for 12 years, six of them in Tirzah. But according to the synchronism with the king of Judah, it would seem that he reigned only eight years (I Kings 16:23, 29). The background of Omri's ascent to the throne at Tirzah was the extinction of *Baasha's dynasty and struggle for power among the high officers of the army, When the report was received that *Zimri had liquidated *Elah, son of Baasha, "all Israel" made Omri "the captain of the host," king of Israel. At that time Omri was on the field of battle, fighting the Philistines at the border town of Gibbethon (I Kings 16:15, 17; cf. 15:27). Omri and "all Israel" with him turned north to Tirzah, which they besieged and captured. After Zimri's death, the struggle for the throne continued between Omri and *Tibni son of Ginath (I Kings 16:21–22), each respectively having the support of "half of the people," and ended with the latter's death.

Of all Omri's deeds after he became king of Israel, only one item is mentioned in the Bible, which concerns his founding of the city of *Samaria. Omri left Tirzah, which had been the royal capital since the reign of *Jeroboam the son of Nebat (14:17), and built himself a new capital on land which he bought from Shemer, "the owner of the hill Samaria" (16:24). Samaria remained the capital of the Kingdom of Israel for the rest of its existence. The name Omri became an established term to indicate the Israelite kings (in the Assyrian documents Bît Ḥumri) even after the death of Omri and his descendants. According to archaeological evidence, the building of the Samarian acropolis and the royal palace within, begun in Omri's reign, was only completed in the time of his son *Ahab. The removal of the capital from Tirzah to Samaria marks a new chapter in the history of the Israelite kingdom. Omri achieved stability in internal affairs, after a prolonged period of riots and tumult in the court, and founded a dynasty which remained in power for nearly 50 years. The stabilization of the central government brought in its wake a general improvement in Israel's military and political standing. In the stele of *Mesha king of Moab, it is related that Omri gained possession of Madaba in the northern section of the plain north of the Arnon. Omri's successes in southern Transjordan were the result of a policy of mending quarrels and establishing peaceful relations with neighbors in the north and in the south. In Omri's time the prolonged war between Judah and Israel was discontinued. The Davidids accepted (at least temporarily) the existence of the northern kingdom, and the two royal houses made a pact (see: *Ahab, *Jehoshaphat). Israel enjoyed great economic prosperity in the time of Omri as a result of the treaty with Ethbaal king of Sidon, which was sealed by the marriage between Jezebel, Ethbaal's daughter, and Ahab, apparently while Omri was still alive (cf. Amos 1:9, "the brotherly covenant"). The triple alliance between Israel, Judah, and Phoenicia served at the same time as a counterweight to the threat of Aram-Damascus, whose aim was to gain possession of the northern part of Ereẓ Israel and to establish hegemony in Syria and Ereẓ Israel (see: *Ben-Hadad). The triple alliance countered the Aramean threat but could not reduce it entirely. From I Kings 20:34 it becomes apparent that Aram-Damascus had some advantage over the Samarian kingdom. There were "bazaars" in Samaria belonging to Damascus already in Omri's time, and Israel was forced to grant special privileges to Aramean merchants in Samaria. In spite of the relative stability which Omri achieved in internal affairs and his improvement of Israel's political status externally, the biblical historiographer finds fault with Omri (I Kings 16:25–26). This negative assessment stems from the religious and social viewpoint and is in accordance with the Deuteronomic school. Indeed Omri did not abolish the worship of the golden calves which Jeroboam the son of Nebat had introduced. Moreover, the politico-economic alliance with Phoenicia had far-reaching results in cultural, religious, and social spheres–the cult of the Tyrian Baal took root among the royal courtiers, royal officers, and the urban population. The economic prosperity was not felt equally by all groups of the population, and thus the economic rift in Israelite society was widened. The increasing sway of the foreign cults on the one hand, and the social oppression (cf. "the statutes of Omri" in Micah 6:16) on the other, caused the formation of a strong opposition movement to Omri and his house, at the head of which stood the prophets, such as *Elijah and *Elisha, and those who had remained faithful to the Lord.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bright, Hist, 219ff.; J. Gray, A History of Israel (1960), 220–3; A. Parrot, Samaria, the Capital of the Kingdom of Israel (1958); Morgenstern, in: HUCA, 15 (1940), 134–66; Whitley, in: VT, 2 (1952), 137–52; H.L. Ginsberg, in: Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies, 1 (1967), 91–93.

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