A character from the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament. Athaliah was the granddaughter of Omri, the wife of Jehoram, and the mother of Ahaziah, and is credited for encouraging them in their evil ways. On the death of her son Ahaziah she killed all the royal family save Joash, who was hidden away by Jehosheba, the haft-sister of Ahaziah and proclaimed herself queen. Joash grew up to reclaim the throne.

(ath uh lai' yuh) HEBREW: ATALYAHU
"Yahweh is exalted"

Though she was the daughter of King Ahab of Israel, Athaliah became the queen of Judah and its sole ruler from about 842 to 837 B.C. She was evidently born to one of Ahab's many unnamed wives, perhaps before he married Jezebel, the princess of Sidon. (In some translations of the Bible, she is called the daughter of Omri and would thus have been Ahab's sister.) Athaliah, however, was strongly influenced by Jezebel, and she became an ardent devotee of Jezebel's god Baal.

In 867 B.C. Ahab concluded an alliance with King Jehoshaphat of Judah, ending 50 years of hostility between the two kindgoms. The treaty was sealed by the marraige of Athaliah to Jehoram, the prince of Judah. During the following years, though Jehoshaphat actively promoted the worship of Yahweh in the south, Athaliah maintained her ties to her family in the north and her devotion to Baal.

Her husband Jehoram was made governmental regent by Jehoshaphat about 852. Some three years later Athaliah became queen of Judah when her husband succeeded Jehoshaphat; at about the same time her brother, also named Jehoram, became king of Israel. Judah became divided religiously. Jehoram, as a descendant of David, represented the worship of Yahweh, but he was tolerant of Athaliah's promotion of Baal. After eight years Jehoram died of a painful illness, cited by his opponents as a plague from God, and Athaliah's son Ahaziah became king; Athaliah was the power behind the throne.

The next year, bitterness engulfed Athaliah's life. Her son Ahaziah was with her brother Jehoram in Israel, when an army commander named Jehu assassinated them both in the name of Yahweh. Jehu soon had Athaliah's extended family executed or murdered; 70 of her half brothers, Ahab's sons, were slaughtered in Samaria, as were the priests and worshipers of Baal. In response to this holy war against her family and religion, Athaliah attacked the Davidic dynasty that had been the mainstay of the worship of Yahweh. After executing all possible Davidic successors, she assumed the throne herself, apparently hoping to reestablish in Judah the dynasty that had been destroyed in Israel.

A single infant escaped the queen's wrath; Joash, one of her grandsons, who was raised in secret by the priest Jehoiada in the temple. Opposition to Athaliah's draconian rule remained underground for six years, so that she was taken by surprise when the priest brought forth Joash and proclaimed him king. Athaliah rushed to the temple to try to stop this rebellion but was captured and executed.

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}

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