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Copper engraving of the death of Naboth by Caspar Luiken, 1712

Naboth (Hebrew: נבות‎) "the Jezreelite" is the central figure of a passage from the first Book of Kings in the Hebrew Bible. Queen Jezebel arranged to have him judicially murdered because her husband, King Ahab coveted Naboth's land. This action set in motion the ultimate destruction of the Omride dynasty.[1]

NarrativeEdit

1 Kings 21:1-16 states that Naboth owned a plot of land close to the palace of King Ahab in the city of Jezreel, who wished to acquire it for a vegetable[2] or herb garden.[3] Naboth, however, had inherited his land from his father, and he refused to sell it to the king.[4] Since it was an inheritance, the law forbade him from selling it outright. [5]

Frustrated at not being able to procure the vineyard, Ahab returned to his palace and went to bed without eating anything. His wife, Jezebel, after learning the reason for his being upset, asked mockingly, "Are you not the king?"[2] She then said that she would obtain the vineyard for him. To do so, she sent a letter, under Ahab's name, to the elders and nobles of Naboth's city, instructing them to set Naboth up by proclaiming a fast and ordering Naboth to sit in a "prominent place". Two witnesses, referred to as "scoundrels" by Jezebel, were then called forth to (falsely) accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king. After that, they would take him outside the city and stone him to death. The elders and nobles agreed to carry out the letter's instructions as the letter mentioned using two witnesses to accuse Naboth, which according to Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15, was sufficient to charge an offender, accused of committing offenses that were worthy of the death penalty, guilty. Being written under Ahab's name and including Naboth's alleged crime of cursing the king, the letter also possibly convinced the elders and nobles that the crimes Naboth was to be executed for actually took place. After the letter's instructions were completely caried out, dogs outside of the city licked the blood of Naboth's corpse. Emil G. Hirsch points out that "It seems from II Kings ix. 26 that Naboth's sons perished with their father, probably being killed soon afterward by order of Jezebel in order that they might not claim the vineyard as their inheritance."[3] After Naboth was executed, the Queen told Ahab to take possession of the vineyard.[2]

As punishment for this incident, the prophet Elijah visited Ahab and prophesised his death and the extermination of the Omride line. Elijah also prophesised the death of Jezebel. Ahab humbled himself at Elijah's words, and God spared the king accordingly, instead postponing the prophesied destruction of Ahab's house to his son's reign.[1] Johannes Pedersen said that "The story teaches us that the king is bound to respect the proprietary rights of families..."[6] According to Rabbanic Literature, Naboth's soul was the lying spirit that was permitted to deceive Ahab to his death.[7] Elijah's prophecy on the doom of Ahab's house was fulfilled when Jehu executed Ahab's son Jehoram by shooting him in the back with an arrow, and had his body thrown into the field of Naboth the Jezreelite, as punishment for his parents' sin in illegally stealing Naboth's land. Jezebel met a similar fate after she was thrown off a building, with her corpse devoured by dogs.

InterpretationsEdit

 
Naboth's stoning in front of the vineyard, Prague, 14th century

Archaeological exploration conducted by the University of Haifa and the University of Evansville discovered an ancient winery in the vicinity of an Iron Age IIB (900–700 B.C.E.) military enclosure at the foot of Tel Jezreel.[1] While not definitely identifying the site as the location for the story of Naboth, archaeologist Dr. Norma Franklin, of the University of Haifa said that the vineyard appears to have been established sometime prior to 300 BCE, which would not be inconsistent with the time frame for Naboth. Franklin further noted, "Owning a vineyard would make him wealthy since wine was an important commodity. I reckon that since he was from the aristocracy he probably lived in Samaria and had more than one vineyard. This would give a slightly different picture than the Bible, which implies, though does not state explicitly, that he was a poor man being abused by the wealthy king."[5]

Francis Andersen observed that "Commentators have seen in the episode a clash of Israelite and Canaanite ideas of kingship, of citizenship, and of property."[6]

Jewish medieval scholars sometimes used Elijah's words to Ahab "You have killed and also taken possession" ("הֲרָצַחְתָּ וְגַם יָרָשְׁתָּ") or the expression "Naboth's vineyard" to hint at double injustice (or crime committed with indecency, as opposed to "simply committed" crime). The Talmud also sees here a link to the prohibition of mixtures of milk and meat in Jewish law.[citation needed]

Roger Williams, the founder of the American colony of Rhode Island and the co-founder of the First Baptist Church in America, wrote about Naboth's story in The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience as an example of how God disfavored Christians from using government force in religious matters, such as the religious decrees by Jezebel and Ahab. Williams believed using force in the name of religion would lead to political persecution contrary to the Bible.[8]

In popular cultureEdit

 
Naboth as illustrated in the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle

James Smetham did an 1856 oil painting of "Naboth in his Vineyard".[9]

Naboth was played by Ludwig Donath in the 1953 film Sins of Jezebel. The plot of the 2014 film Leviathan, about a man's struggle against a corrupt mayor's appropriation of his land and house, has been compared by critics to Naboth's life.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainEaston, Matthew George (1897). "Naboth" . Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons.