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Athaliah: Midrash and Aggadah

by Tamar Kadari

The Rabbis state that Athaliah was one of the four women who wielded the scepter, two of whom ruled over Israel (Jezebel and Athaliah) and two over other peoples (the heathen Semiramis and Vashti) (Esther Rabbah 3:2). During the six years of her reign, Athaliah, who was wicked, wielded great influence over the Temple rite and the spiritual state of the people. Her sons introduced licentiousness and idolatry into the Lord’s House and the midrash relates that they removed the gold nails of the Temple (Ex. Rabbah 40:3). Because of their malicious actions, Jehoash was compelled to repair the Temple as soon as he ascended the throne (Seder Olam Rabbah 24). During the reign of Athaliah, the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, left people’s mouths, and they ceased greeting one another in the name of the Lord—“The Lord be with you”—as had been customary since the time of Boaz (Ruth Rabbah 4:4:5). Athaliah almost totally eliminated the Davidic line, except for Joash, who was saved from her sword, thanks to the blessing of the women to Naomi: “Blessed be the Lord, who has not withheld a redeemer from you today!” (Ruth 4:14). The Rabbis understood this blessing to mean that, just as Naomi has a redeemer today, so, too, there will always be a monarch in Israel from among the descendants of King David. Athaliah’s plot to extirpate the Davidic dynasty failed, by merit of the blessing given it by other women (Ruth Rabbah 4:14:15).

1 Comment

I never understood Athaliah's desire to wipe out all of the descendants of David, she let Jehu go when he was the one who killed her son and brother and even took her families throne in Israel. But attempted (and mostly succeeded) in killing off what must have predominantly been her own descendants as her son's children

How to cite this page

Kadari, Tamar. "Athaliah: Midrash and Aggadah." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 23, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/athaliah-midrash-and-aggadah>.


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