The Ahab syndrome: Why Olmert should resign now
The Bible hardly mentions Ahab's great accomplishments as the monarch of the northern kingdom.
DECEMBER 16, 2008 20:36
If Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had a better grasp of the history of the Jewish people, he would have already resigned and repented for his sins. Olmert, who has lost the trust of most Israelis - as well as the Jews in the Diaspora whom he bilked - should open up his copy of the Bible and read the sad but enlightening story of King Ahab. Perhaps he would learn the lesson of what happens when a powerful man loses sight of what is truly important in life and becomes seduced by the power of his authority.
Ahab was one of the most successful and accomplished monarchs of the ancient Middle East in the period following the breakup of David's united kingdom into two states. The descendants of David ruled the southern kingdom of Judah from the capital in Jerusalem. The Omride dynasty, although later overthrown, led the northern kingdom of Israel for many years. Ahab ruled the northern kingdom in the mid-ninth century BCE.
The archeological record reveals Ahab as a monarch who fielded massive armies in battle and who was a master builder. A monument of Shalmaneser III, the king of the powerful Assyrian empire, reports that in a battle north of Damascus at Karkar in 853 BCE, Ahab's kingdom contributed 2,000 chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers to the fight against the Assyrians. The king of Israel was successful at stopping the Assyrian advance, despite Shalmaneser's boasts of victory over the alliance rebelling against his empire.
Ahab was also a great builder, as is evidenced by the finds of archeologists in Dan, Hatzor, Megiddo and Tirza. The citadels he built and the sophisticated systems of delivering water to major cities that he developed are a marvel of ancient architecture and engineering. Ahab was an important and powerful leader in the annals of the ancient Israelites and the Middle East.
IT IS too bad for Ahab, however, that the Bible hardly mentions his great accomplishments as the monarch of the northern kingdom. In fact, the scribes and prophets who authored the books of Kings paint a portrait of Ahab as an idol worshiper and a tyrant. The king is condemned for marrying Jezebel, a princess of Tyre who promoted Ba'al worship and persecuted prophets of the God of Israel. In its most searing indictment of Ahab, recounted in I Kings 21, Elijah condemns him for stealing the vineyard of Naboth and, with Jezebel encouraging the ruler, executing this man who owned the plot of prime land near the palace. According to the Bible, "there never was anyone like Ahab, who committed himself to do what was displeasing to the Lord, at the instigation of his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably, straying after the fetishes just like the Amorites, whom the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites." The battle of Karkar and Ahab's 2,000 chariots are never mentioned in the Bible and there is scant reference to his building projects in and around Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom.
At first glance, these omissions in the Holy Scriptures might seem unfair. Why not give Ahab the credit for his success where the credit is due? Ahab's record as a ruler was a record of accomplishment and success both in the kingdom of Israel and throughout the Middle East. Israel flourished under the Omride king. Ahab, in the face of overwhelming force of the great empire of Assyria, defended the kingdom he ruled and retained its political and military integrity. He should be commended for his leadership, not condemned.
If the books of Kings were simply a social and economic history of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, perhaps Ahab would have been credited for his success. But the reality of the Bible is that it is alone interested in the relationship between God and His chosen people. Fidelity to God is the paramount concern of the most important book in Western literature and faith. For all of Ahab's glory as a strong leader, he fails miserably in the Bible as a paragon of virtue and belief.
He and Jezebel are enemies of the prophets and are lacking in the ethics required of true Israelite leaders. Elijah is the hero in the story of Ahab's reign. Ahab has always been remembered as the villain. For all of his success in realpolitik, Ahab is a moral and ethical failure. That is how he will always be remembered, no matter how many archeological finds reveal otherwise.
I HOPE Ehud Olmert takes Ahab into consideration as he repents for sins committed as mayor of Jerusalem, as a leader in the cabinet and as prime minister. All of Olmert's positive accomplishments in these roles as a public servant will be forgotten for a long, long time. In America today, Richard Nixon is remembered as a purveyor of political scandal, not the leader who revolutionized American foreign policy by opening relations with Mao's China, promoting dÃ©tente with the Soviet Union and helping to arm Israel during the crisis early in the Yom Kippur War.
Too bad for Ahab. Too bad for Nixon. And too bad for Ehud Olmert. The role of a public servant is not only to promote a nation's power and wealth. He or she must act responsibly and ethically. Olmert should leave the office of responsibility entrusted to him - now. He should have thought years ago about his responsibility to the State of Israel and its citizens. Certainly he, a Jewish leader who suffers from the syndrome of the great but seriously flawed King Ahab, should remember that responsibility now.
The writer is on the faculty of Nova Southeastern University's Lifelong Learning Institute in Davie, Florida.