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Illustration from the Morgan Bible depicting the death of Ish-bosheth.
Illustration from the Morgan Bible depicting the death of Ish-bosheth
King of Israel
HouseHouse of Saul

Ish-bosheth (Hebrew: אִישׁ־בֹּשֶׁת, romanizedʼĪš-bōšeṯ, "man of shame"), also called Eshbaal (אֶשְׁבַּעַל‎, ’Ešba‘al; alternatively spelled Ishbaal, "man of Baal") was, according to the Hebrew Bible, the second monarch of the Kingdom of Israel. After the death of his father, Saul, Ish-bosheth ascended to the throne and reigned for two years.[1]

During his reign, Ish-bosheth engaged in a protracted conflict with David, who had been anointed as Saul's successor by the Tribe of Judah. This rivalry between the two leaders shaped the political landscape of the kingdom at the time. The Hebrew Bible recounts that Ish-bosheth's reign was marked by war with David's forces, as both factions vied for control and legitimacy. According to biblical accounts, he was killed by two of his own army captains, Baanah and Rechab, who believed that assassinating Ish-bosheth would earn them favour with David. This act not only brought a premature conclusion to Ish-bosheth's rule but also played a significant role in the subsequent unification of the kingdom under David's leadership.

Biblical narrative

In the biblical account, Abner, the captain of Saul's army, proclaimed Ish-bosheth king over Israel at Mahanaim in Transjordan (2 Samuel 2:8), after the slaying of Ish-bosheth's father and brothers in the battle of Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:1). Ish-bosheth was 40 years old at this time and reigned for two years (2 Samuel 2:10).

However, after the death of King Saul, the tribe of Judah seceded from the rule of the House of Saul by proclaiming David as its king (2 Samuel 2:4), and war ensued (2 Samuel 2:12). David's faction eventually prevailed against Ish-bosheth's (2 Samuel 3:1), but the war continued until Abner joined David (2 Samuel 3:6).

Before the death of Saul, David had been married to Saul's daughter Michal, Ish-bosheth's sister, until Saul and David had a falling out and Saul gave her to another man (1 Samuel 25:44). Later, at the conclusion of the war with Ish-bosheth, David's terms for peace required returning Michal to him, and Ish-bosheth complied (2 Samuel 3:14). After Abner's death, Ish-bosheth seems to have given up hope of retaining power (2 Samuel 4:1).

Two of Ish-bosheth's own army-captains, Rechab and Baanah, assassinated the deposed king, (2 Samuel 4:5) expecting a reward from David for this. David, however, refused to give any commendation for high treason; he had both killers executed and their hands and feet cut off. David's supporters buried the head of Ish-bosheth in Abner's grave at Hebron (2 Samuel 4:12).

Problem of naming

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The names Ish-bosheth and Eshbaal have ambiguous meanings in the original Hebrew. In Hebrew, Ish-bosheth means "Man of shame".[2] He is also called Eshbaal, in Hebrew meaning "Baal exists",[2] or "fire of Baal".

Critical scholarship suggests that Bosheth was a substitute for Baʿal, beginning when Baʿal became an unspeakable word;[3] as (in the opposite direction) Adonai became substituted for the ineffable Tetragrammaton (see taboo deformation).

As Ish-bosheth

He is exclusively called Ish-bosheth in the Books of Samuel in the Hebrew Bible:

Now Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul's host, had taken Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim; and he made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel. Ish-bosheth Saul's son was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. (2 Samuel 2:8–10, Jewish Publication Society, 1917)

When he was assassinated and King David punished the killers:

... Rechab and Baanah, went, and came about the heat of the day to the house of Ish-bosheth, as he took his rest at noon, and they came into the house, as though they would have fetched wheat; and they struck him in the groin; and Rechab and Baanah his brother escaped. ... And they brought the head of Ish-bosheth to David in Hebron, and said to the king: "Behold the head of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul your enemy, who sought your life; and the Lord has avenged my lord the king this day of Saul, and of his seed." ... And David answered ... "shall I not now require his blood of your hand, and take you away from the earth?" ... But they took the head of Ish-bosheth, and buried it in the grave of Abner in Hebron. (2 Samuel 4:5–12)

As Eshbaal

Meanwhile, in the Books of Chronicles, he is exclusively called Eshbaal:

And Ner begot Kish; and Kish begot Saul; and Saul begot Jonathan, and Malchi-shua, and Abinadab, and Eshbaal. (1 Chronicles 8:33 and 1 Chronicles 9:39, Jewish Publication Society, 1917)


In 2012, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority, archaeologists had discovered a 3,000-year-old inscription on a reconstructed large ceramic jar found in Khirbet Qeiyafa, containing the name "Eshbaal ben Beda". Though this Eshbaal is a different person than the Eshbaal/Ish-bosheth of the Bible, it was the first time the name was discovered in an ancient inscription. It is one of only four Hebrew inscriptions ever discovered dating to the 10th century BC.[4][5]


  1. ^ Garfinkel, Ganor & Hasel 2018, p. 182.
  2. ^ a b Bright 2000, p. 195.
  3. ^ Margalith 1994, p. 38.
  4. ^ "Israeli archaeologists find inscription of name from Bible". Associated Press. June 16, 2015. Archived from the original on July 24, 2015. Retrieved July 18, 2015.
  5. ^ "Inscription bearing name from Davidic era found at ancient site". Times of Israel. June 16, 2015. Retrieved July 18, 2015.


Ish-bosheth House of SaulCadet branch of the Tribe of Benjamin Regnal titles Preceded bySaul King of Israel Succeeded byDavid
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