Abishag: Bible

by Claudia V. Camp

When King David (reigned c. 1005–965 bce) ages and his health fails, a beautiful young woman is sought throughout Israel to lie in his bosom and keep him warm. The king does not have sexual relations with Abishag (I Kgs 1:4). This physical impotence mirrors his political impotence; the next verse reports the premature claim of his son Adonijah (son of his fourth wife, Haggith) to his throne. Bathsheba, David’s major wife at this point in his life story, responds to Adonijah’s preemption by convincing David to name her son Solomon as his successor, in a conversation at which Abishag is also present (1:15). After the death of David, the temporary reconciliation of Adonijah and Solomon ends when Adonijah uses Bathsheba as an intermediary to request from the new king Abishag’s hand in marriage. Solomon responds violently, ordering Adonijah’s assassination (2:13–25).

The unspeaking Abishag is more a tool to move the plot along than a developed character: she marks first the inability of David to continue his rule and, later, the inability of Adonijah to assume that power. The latter incident has perplexed commentators: why would Solomon react so strongly against Adonijah’s marriage proposal? Many assume Adonijah makes a move on David’s harem and, thus, a symbolic claim to his father’s throne, although this seems to be an unlikely maneuver for a politically weakened man. This and other texts in which a king’s sexual partner(s) are seized by other men (2 Sam 3:6–11; 16:20–22) may reflect broader cultural norms regarding male honor and “the traffic in women”—the roles women play as mediators between men—rather than specific political claims. Solomon thus asserts his claim on his mother’s loyalty, and his right to determine the sexual fate of the female members of what is now his household, against Adonijah’s insinuations of status.


Fewell, Danna Nolan, and David M. Gunn. Gender, Power, and Promise. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.

Meyers, Carol, General Editor. Women in Scripture. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Stone, Ken. “Sexual Power and Political Prestige: The Case of the Disputed Concubines.” Bible Review 10 (1994): 28–31, 52–53.


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could she be the one Solomon explicitly wrote about as his love?

Solomon was the new, and rightful, King of Judah. Adonijah, his older brother, had already attempted the abscond with the heritage he had desired in heart (with an agenda) for such a long time. When that had been aborted and came to a halt, Adonijah responded with treachery, by asking "innocently" that Bathsheba, the favorite of David, and Solomon's Mother, to speak in his behalf with Solomon, the Heir of King David, to marry the one person, Abishag, who had heard the discussion between David and Bathsheba concerning who was the chosen and rightful heir to David's throne. That was clearly Solomon, and had Adonijah been permitted to marry Abishag, he then could also demand her loyalty and her silence on any accord, thus creating reasonable doubt for Adonijah, as to Solomon's claim to the throne. In this time and age, the King had the authority of a Judge and Jury, thus when he asked one of the inner circle of 30 Men, very loyal men to King David, and now Solomon, to carrry out the sentence of death on Adonijah, Benaiah, he was just assigning the duty to Benaiah to execute Adonijah. Solomon was eliminating Adonijah's agenda by the best legal method available, The standard method of then.

How to cite this page

Camp, Claudia V.. "Abishag: Bible." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 8, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/abishag-bible>.


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