He married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon, and the alliance was doubtless the means of procuring him great riches, which brought pomp and luxury in their train. We read of his building an ivory palace and founding new cities, the effect perhaps of a share in the flourishing commerce of Phoenicia.1
The material prosperity of his reign, which is comparable with that of Solomon a century before, was overshadowed by the religious changes which his marriage involved. Although he was a worshipper of Yahweh, as the names of his children prove (cp. also xxii. 5 seq.), his wife was firmly attached to the worship of the Tyrian Baal, Melkart, and led by her he gave a great impulse to this cult by building a temple in honour of Baal in Samaria. This roused the indignation of those prophets whose aim it was to purify the worship of Yahweh (see Elijah.)
During Ahab's reign Moab, which had been conquered by his father, remained tributary; Judah, with whose king, Jehoshaphat, he was allied by marriage, was probably his vassal; only with Damascus is he said to have had strained relations.
The one event mentioned by external sources is the battle at Karkar (perhaps Apamea), where Shalmaneser II of Assyria fought a great confederation of princes from Cilicia, North Syria, Israel, Ammon and the tribes of the Syrian desert (854 B.C.). Here Ahabbu Sir'lai (Ahab the Israelite) with Baasha, son of Ruhub (Rehob) of Ammon and nine others are allied with Bir-'idri (Ben-hadad), Ahab's contribution being reckoned at 2000 chariots and 10,000 men. The numbers are comparatively large and possibly include forces from Tyre, Judah, Edom and Moab. The Assyrian king claimed a victory, but his immediate return and subsequent expeditions in 849 and 846 against a similar but unspecified coalition seem to show that he met with no lasting success. According to the Old Testament narratives, however, Ahab with 7000 troops had previously overthrown Ben-hadad and his thirty-two kings, who had come to lay siege to Samaria, and in the following year obtained a remarkable victory over him at Aphek, probably in the plain of Sharon (1 Kings xx.). A treaty was made whereby Ben-hadad restored the cities which his father had taken from Ahab's father (that is, Omri, but see xv. 20, 2 Kings xiii. 25), and trading facilities between Damascus and Samaria were granted.
A late popular story (xx. 35-42, akin in tone to xii. 33-xiii. 34) condemned Ahab for his leniency and foretold the destruction of the king and his land. Three years later, war broke out on the east of Jordan, and Ahab with Jehoshaphat of Judah went to recover Ramoth-Gilead and was mortally wounded (xxii.). He was succeeded by his sons (Ahaziah and Jehoram).
It is very difficult to obtain any clear idea of the order of these events (Septuagint places 1 Kings xxi. immediately after xix.). How the hostile kings of Israel and Syria came to fight a common enemy, and how to correlate the Assyrian and Biblical records, are questions which have perplexed all recent writers. The reality of the difficulties will be apparent from the fact that it has been suggested that the Assyrian scribe wrote "Ahab" for his son "Jehoram" (Kamphausen, Chronol. d. hebr. Kon., Kittel), and that the very identification of the name with Ahab of Israel has been questioned (Horner, Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch., 1898, p. 244).2
Whilst the above passages in 1 Kings view Ahab not unfavourably, there are others which give a less friendly picture. The tragic murder of Naboth (see Jezebel), an act of royal encroachment, stirred up popular resentment just as the new cult aroused the opposition of certain of the prophets. The latter found their champion in Elijah, whose history reflects the prophetic teaching of more than one age. (See Kings). His denunciation of the royal dynasty, and his emphatic insistence on the worship of Yahweh and Yahweh alone, form the keynote to a period which culminated in the accession of Jehu, an event in which Elijah's chosen disciple Elisha was the leading figure.
The allusions to the statutes and works of Omri and Ahab in Mic. vi. 16 may point to legislative measures of these kings, and the reference to the incidents at the building of Jericho (1 Kings xvi. 34) may be taken to show that foundation sacrifices, familiar in nearly all parts of the world, were not unknown in Israel at this period.3 This has in fact been confirmed by excavation in Palestine.
Another Ahab is known only as an impious prophet in the time of the Babylonian exile (Jer. xxix. 21). (S. A. C.)
1 Ahab's ivory palace found its imitators (1 Kings xxii. 39; Am. iii. 15). The ivory was probably brought by the Phoenicians from Cyprus or from one of the works on the coast of Asia Minor.
2 See the discussions by Cheyne, Ency. Bib. col. 91 seq., and by Whitehouse, Dict Bib. i. 53.
3 See Trumbull, Threshold Covenant, pp. 46 sqq.; Haddon, Study of Man, pp. 347 sqq.; P. Sartori, Zeitschr. fur Ethnologie, 1898, pp. 1 seq.