Ish-bosheth (Hebrew: אִֽישְׁבֹּשֶׁת‎, Ishboshet), also called Eshbaal (אֶשְׁבַּעַל‎, Eshbaal; also Ishbaal), was one of the four sons of King Saul. According to the Hebrew Bible, Ishboshet was briefly declared king over the northern half of the Kingdom of Israel after the death of his father and three brothers at the Battle of Mount Gilboa, and before both parts of the kingdom were reunited under King David.[1]

Illustration from the Morgan Bible depicting the death of Ish-bosheth.
Illustration from the Morgan Bible
depicting the death of Ish-bosheth.
Reignc. 1012-1010 BCE
Bornc. 1052 BCE
Diedc. 1010 BCE
HouseHouse of Saul

Biblical narrativeEdit

In the biblical story, Ish-bosheth was proclaimed king over Israel by Abner, the captain of Saul's army, at Mahanaim in Transjordan (2 Samuel 2:8), after his father and brothers were slain 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 did not come to a close until Abner joined David (2 Samuel 3:6).

Before the death of Saul, David had been married to Saul's daughter Michal, Ishbosheth'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 Ishbosheth, David's terms for peace required that Michal be returned 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).

Ish-bosheth was assassinated by two of his own army-captains, Rechab and Baanah (2 Samuel 4:5), who expected a reward from David because of this. David, however, refused to give any commendation for high treason; he had both killers hanged with their hands and feet cut off. The head of Ishbosheth was buried in Abner's grave at Hebron. (2 Samuel 4:12)

Problem of namingEdit

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-boshethEdit

He is almost 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 prematurely 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. [1] (2 Samuel 4:5–12)

As EshbaʿalEdit

One possible explanation to that would be that Esh-baʿal (≈ 'man of the Lord') was his birth name, and that Judahites (i.e., from the South kingdom) could not find it in themselves to pronounce the name of a heathen divinity, and so called him Ish-bosheth ('man of shame') instead. Similarly, e.g., Mephiboshet for Merib-ba`al son of Jonathan and Merib-ba'al son of Saul. Note that the Bible uses baʿal as a common noun meaning 'master', as in 'the master of this dog'.


The Israel Antiquities Authority says archaeologists have discovered a rare 3,000-year-old inscription of a name mentioned in the Bible. The name "Eshbaal Ben Beda" appears on a large ceramic jar found in Khirbet Qeiyafa. Eshbaal of the Bible was a son of King Saul. Archaeologists Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor say the jar belonged to a different Eshbaal, likely the owner of an agricultural estate. They said it is the first time the name was discovered in an ancient inscription. It is one of only four inscriptions discovered from the biblical 10th century B.C. Kingdom of Judah, when King David is said to have reigned. Archaeologists pieced together the inscription from pottery shards found at a 2012 excavation in the Valley of Elah in central Israel.[4][5]


  1. ^ Britannica
  2. ^ a b John Bright (2000). A History of Israel. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-664-22068-6.
  3. ^ Margalith, Othniel (1994). The Sea Peoples in the Bible. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 38. ISBN 978-3-447-03516-3. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  4. ^ "Israeli archaeologists find inscription of name from Bible". Associated Press. June 16, 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.

External linksEdit

Cadet branch of the Tribe of Benjamin
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Israel Succeeded by