Biblical Archaeology Review 37:3, May/June 2011

Strata: The Bible In the News: Who’s Afraid of Abishag?

By Leonard J. Greenspoon

Abishag? Abishag the Shunammite? If the name doesn’t ring a bell, do not despair. The young woman with this name makes only a brief appearance in the Hebrew Bible, in the first two chapters of the First Book of Kings, during the story of the succession of power from David to Solomon. Perhaps because of her role—to provide warmth to the aging (no, aged) David (1 Kings 1:1–4)—she has assumed far greater prominence in the post-Biblical, especially modern, world than she did in antiquity. Based on numerous references to her in the press, however, it is uncertain whether she would have been flattered, or flattened, by this enhanced notoriety.

According to some commentators (this particular example comes from The Times of London), Abishag was the first in a perennial series: “As for elderly men, the joys of young lovelies are obvious. Ever since the elderly King David was comforted by the young Abishag, men have loved young women.” While not wishing to criticize this writer for his turns of phrases, we cannot as easily overlook his lack of Biblical insight: It is precisely the fact that David was not sufficiently “comforted” by Abishag that signaled his impending loss of power and death.

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