In the Book of Judges
in the Hebrew Bible
was a son of the great judge Gideon
(); thus his name אֲבִימֶלֶךְ
can best be interpreted "my father, the king". "Abimelech", a name claiming the inherited right to rule, was also a common name of the Philistine kings
. He was, however, merely the son of Gideon's concubine, and to make good his claim to rule over Ephraim
, he resorted to force. Aided by his mother's relatives, he put to death all of his half-brothers, seventy in number, "on one stone," at Ophrah
, only the youngest, Jotham
, escaping. Abimelech ruled just three years in Shechem
after the death of his father ().
He was an unprincipled, ambitious ruler, often engaged in war with his own subjects. When engaged in reducing the town of Thebez, which had revolted, he was struck on the head by a mill-stone, thrown by the hand of a woman from the wall above. Realising that the wound was mortal, he ordered his armor-bearer to thrust him through with his sword, so that it might not be said he had perished by the hand of a woman ().
Some scholars have pointed with interest to the similarities between Abimelech's story and that of Labaya in the Amarna letters.