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Athaliah: Bible

by Athalya Brenner

Queen Athaliah is the only woman in the Hebrew Bible reported as having reigned as a monarch within Israel/Judah. She is the daughter of either Omri, king of Israel (2 Kgs 8:26; 2 Chr 22:2), or, more probably, of his son King Ahab (2 Kgs 8:18; 2 Chr 21:6; the Jewish historian Josephus cites this in Antiquities), who ruled from 873 to 852 b.c.e. There is no evidence that she was the daughter of Ahab’s chief wife, Jezebel. Athaliah married Jehoram (reigned 851–843 b.c.e.) of Judah (2 Kgs 8:18; 2 Chr 21:6). After Jehoram’s death, their son Ahaziah reigned for one year, and “his mother was his counselor in doing wickedly” (2 Chr 22:3).

After Ahaziah is killed in a dynastic struggle (2 Kings 9), Athaliah sets out to kill the rest of the royal dynasty and seizes the throne of Judah in Jerusalem (2 Kings 9; 2 Chr 22:10–23:21). She manages to remain sole monarch for six years (842–836 b.c.e.). In the seventh year a revolution led by Jehoiada the priest puts on the throne the seven-year-old Joash, Ahaziah’s child who was rescued by his paternal aunt (and Jehoiada’s wife) Jehosheba from the royal bloodbath six years earlier. The overthrow takes place in the Jerusalem temple. Athaliah is killed in what she terms “treason” (2 Kgs 11:14; 2 Chr 23:13) against her reign.

The biblical evaluation of her rule is negative. Both 2 Kings 11 and 1 Chronicles (especially chap. 24) connect Athaliah with Baal worship, even though her name contains the theophoric element yah[u] (yhwh), like the names of other figures in the story. The priestly objection to her could also be motivated by hatred for a non-Davidic ruler and, particularly, a woman ruler. However, that she managed to sustain her reign for six years can be attributed to her successful use of various sources of power: her royal origins and connections, involvement in her husband’s and son’s reigns, economic independence, personal ability, and political knowledge—all of which are not mentioned, apart from notes on her wicked influence on her husband and son.


Brenner, Athalya. “Athaliah.” In The Israelite Woman: Social Role and Literary Type in Biblical Narrative. Sheffield, England: 1985; 28–31.

Brewer-Boydston, Ginny. "Good queen mothers, bad queen mothers: the theological presentation of the queen mother in 1 and 2 Kings." PhD diss., 2011.

Katzenstein, Hanna J. “Who Were the Parents of Athaliah?” Israel Exploration Journal 5 (1955): 194–197.

Klein, Reuven Chaim. “Queen Athaliah: the daughter of Ahab or Omri?” Jewish Bible Quarterly 42, no.1 (2014): 11-20.

Macwilliam, Stuart. “Athaliah: A Case of Illicit Masculinity.” In Biblical Masculinities Foregrounded. Edited by Ovidiu Creanga and Peter-Ben Smit, 69-85. Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014.

Sergi, Omer. “Queenship in Judah revisted: Athaliah and the Davidic dynasty in historical persepective” Tabou et transgressions (2015): 99-112.

Women in Scripture. Edited by Carol Meyers. New York: 2000.


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The information provided is correct and reliable

I do remember admiring Queen Athaliah when I first read about her. I also enjoy Handel's oratorio of the same name, and will make sure to read Racine's play. I have to say, though I am not religious, that there were many interesting women characters in the Bible. My favourites are Deborah the Judge, Queen Athalia, Judith, Esther and Queen Jezebel.

Athalie is also the final tragedy of Jean Racine, and has been described as the masterpiece after Esther - of 'one of the greatest literary artists known and the 'ripest work' of Racine's genius. Voltaire considered the play the greatest triumph of the human mind, while Flaubert referred to it as the masterpiece of the French stage in Madame Bovary,[6] and Sainte-Beuve deemed it comparable to Oedipus Rex in beauty, with "the true God added. August Wilhelm Schlegel thought Athalie to be 'animated by divine breath' other critics have regarded the poetics of drama in the play to be superior to those of Aristotle

Do correct a typo: Brenner has 1 Chr 23:13 when she means 2 Chr 23:13.

All the best, TCE

In reply to by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi

TCE - thank you for catching this error. It has been corrected.

How to cite this page

Brenner, Athalya. "Athaliah: Bible." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 23, 2021) <>.


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