Thursday, September 03, 2009

Maacah the "mother" of Abijah and Asa

The Problem
Recently I was chatting with a fellow who proposed that there may be an error in the Scriptures.  So in the course of the conversation he shared what he thought was the error and I've worked through what I think are some possible solutions to the apparent error (being someone who loves a challenge, believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, and just plain old loves to study the Bible).  So I thought I'd blog my thoughts about this...for whatever its worth.

Here is the problem: 1 Kings 15:2 says Maacah was the "mother" of Abijah and 1 Kings 15:10 says Maacah was the "mother" (depending on what English translation you look at because some say "grandmother") of Asa--Abijah's son.
Now in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, Abijam became king over Judah.  He reigned three years in Jerusalem; and his mother's name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. (1Ki 15:1-2 NAS) 
So in the twentieth year of Jeroboam the king of Israel, Asa began to reign as king of Judah.
And he reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem; and his mother's name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. (1Ki 15:9-10 NAS)

Option 1- The term for "mother" may also mean "grandmother" since there are no other words available for referring to a grandmother.

The term in the Hebrew (אֵם) for 'mother' has a wider possible meaning than simply 'mother', it can also be applied to the matriarch of the family (grandmother, etc.), just as the Hebrew for "father" can also be applied to an ancestor that stands in the lineage of the family without being the specific/anatomical birth-father of the individual named (immediate context and the wider Scriptural context will normally shed light on which it is).

Besides of which, there does not appear to be a Biblical Hebrew word for "grandmother" besides אֵם which means just means "mother", but has (only in this immediate context) the wider meaning of "grandmother". So unless it can be demonstrated that the Hebrew of the Old Testament era has another specific word for "grandmother" I would say that אֵם is the appropriate term to refer to each -- mother and grandmother.  This works just the same as אָב means "father" "grandfather" "great-grandfather" etc. There is only this one word for "father", "grandfather" in the OT Hebrew (so far as I can tell). So context is the only possible aid in helping to know just what is being meant by the single word which appears to have been the ONLY word possible.

Thus, there are translations which reflect "grandmother" in 15:10 (NIV, NLT, NET) -- understanding אֵם to mean "grandmother" in this context.  But there are others (KJV, NAS, NRSV, ESV) that retain the reading as "mother" and choose to not try to resolve the possible difficulty posed by Maacah being the "mother" of both Abijam and Abijam's son Asa.  So perhaps other options should be considered as well.

Option 2 - The name of Asa's "mother" was Ana and not Maacah.

The Greek Septuagint (LXX) in 1 Kings 15:10 actually lists the 'name of his [Asa's] mother' as "Ana daughter of Abishalom" instead of "Maacah daughter of Abishalom" which is what the Hebrew Masoretic text reads.  All the English translations (ESV, KJV, NIV, NRSV, NAS, NET, NLT) I've looked at take the former (Maacah) reading for 1 Kings 15:10...thus believing that the Masoretic text (being the more difficult reading and therefore the easiest to explain the smoothing towards changing the name to "Ana" found in the LXX) is the preferred reading...whether they chose "mother" or "grandmother" the idea would be that the Masoretic text preserves the original text here (which is most likely and would also be in agreement with the Masoretic and LXX reading of 2 Chronicles 15:16 with the name 'Maacah' as the "mother" of Asa).  The fact that the LXX only changed the name in 1 Kings 15:10, but not in 2 Chronicles 15:16 speaks more to questions (at least for me) about the texual tradition of the LXX than it does about the dilemma at hand.  So I would say that the suggestion that "Ana" was the mother of Asa is to be rejected and we are still left trying to resolve Maacah being the "mother" of both Abijam and his son Asa.

Option 3 - Maacah actually raised Asa as her son (even though he was her grandson by birth) because the mother was out of the picture for some unexplained reason. 

This is actually not a strange option, since everyone would agree that even a child who is not biologically a son or daughter may be adopted by someone and therefore have a new "mother" or "father".  Joseph being the "father" of Jesus is a perfect example.  So perhaps Maacah acted as the "mother" of Asa and therefore held the rightful name of "mother".  all adoptive parents understand that being a "mother" or "father" of a child is far more than biological.

Option 4 - Maacah was his birth mother, thus the writer of Kings would be implying that Abijam (Asa's father) slept with his own mother, got her pregnant and she ended up giving birth to Asa. 

Thus, she would physically/anatomically be the "mother" of each of them. Often the writer of Kings records activities without offering any specific critique of the rightness or wrongness, but simply reports certain incidences and allows the light of the Torah (Lev.18:6-7) to declare the rightness or wrongness of something.  This may indeed be one of those cases.


Option 2 seems to betray a difficulty in the text of the LXX concerning the transmission of Kings (since Chronicles retains the reading of Maacah as "mother" of Asa) and therefore should be rejected out of hand.  Options 1, 3, and 4 are actually--in my opinion--viable options given the nature of the text and authors and the lexicography (semantic possibilities) of words.  I did at one point leans towards option one (with option 3 as slightly less likely), but currently find option 4 to be the most probable...given the way that the author of Kings has again and again offered the readers a story reflecting the sinful ways of Judah and Israel (and may give further justification for the removal of his "mother" Maacah from a place of prestige and authority beyond her public support and financing of idolatry -- see 1 Kings 15:13).

Perhaps there are even other options which I've over-looked.  If so please feel free to comment on that.  Also, I'd be interested in any thoughts on this subject whether positive or negative.  Or perhaps you don't care and you are thinking, "Rick has WAY too much time on his hands"... :-)


  1. Option 1 seems strong to me. Option 3 seems possible. Option 4 seems possible, but disturbing (and perhaps slightly less likely). Nice text work.

  2. Thanks for this particular blog. I've read 1 Kings 15 tons of times, but only tonight, noticed this "problem." After googling, I found your blog. I very much appreciate the work you put into trying to find an answer to this.

    After reading this blog, and rereading 1 Kings 15, I would have to say I think option 4 is the most likely one. Abijam clearly was following in ALL of the sins of his father. The passage strongly implies that God would have destroyed this entire family, except for the sake of David (including promises God made to David).

    The number 3 appears to be the smallest number of "completion", and of course, indication of DIVINE involvement. I think that it is noteworthy that Abijam's reign only lasted 3 years, and then he died. The passage does seem to infer (though we can't absolutely be sure) that his death was judgement from God. When everything is put together in this passage, it does appear that Abijam did not live up to his name meaning ("worshiper of Yah"). Maachah his mother was clearly evil, and it appears that he certainly tolerated her idol worship.

    Asa turned out to be a much better king. There is no indication (that I can find) on how old he was when he became king. Unlike other child kings, there is indication that he was. If he was an adult, that the sin of Abijam having his own mother seemed to happen years before Abijam became king. Could this be an indication that Rehaboim was alive when this affair occurred? Could he have condoned this behavior? The implications of such multiple layers of sin is sickening, but then again, sin has a way of compounding itself, which often leads to God having to finally judge it severely.

  3. Thanks for the comments Arnie. It may in fact have been that Rehoboam was alive when his son did this (although the text does not state any of this explicitly). The note in 1 Kings 15:2 that Abijam reigned for 3 years in Jerusalem would seem to indicate this since it would seem likely that Abijam took the throne shortly after his father Rehoboam died at age 58 (1 Kings 14:21). This would also suggest that he was an adult (probably in his later twenties? or early thirties?) and definitely not a child king since his son Asa took the throne after him.

  4. The grandmother solution works if you read 2Chronicles 11:22 where Abijah (Abijam in Kings) is referred to as the son of Maacah, but the son of Micaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah in 2Chronicles 13:2.

  5. Anonymous12:47 PM

    Interesting... Here's a related question I have:
    I'm confused about the identity of Maacah's father: II Chronicles 13:2 describes "Maacah, the daughter of Uriel from Gibeah" (NLT) "Michaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah" (KJV); whereas I Kings 15:2 has "Maacah, the daughter of Absalom." (NLT) "Maachah, the daughter of Abishalom" (KJV). I wonder why the KJV has two different names for who I assume is the same person (Michaiah/Maachah = Maacah?); who was her dad?

    1. I've moved my blog to another location. I'm copying your questions there and (if its alright) I'll leave my reply there as well. You can read it at

  6. Option 1 seems to be the correct one in view of the very next verse after 1 Kings 15:2. 1 Kings 15:3 (KJV) reads:
    "And he (Abijam) walked in all the sins of his father (Rehoboam)... and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father." Here, David is called "his father" when clearly he was his great-grandfather instead. The convention of "mother" and "father" as referring to grandparents holds.


Your comments and questions are always appreciated. :-)