Princess, beloved wife - then exiled
Maacah's life was certainly not dull. Daughter of one of the great tragic figures of the Bible, Absalom, she witnessed her father's rebellion and death. Then Solomon, her father's rival, married her to his heir, rather aan odd thing to do until one learns that the young prince, Rehoboam, loved her greatly - more than any of his other wives. A love match, but their happiness did not last...
Maacah's Life: the main events
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT HER?
Birth and Marriage
She was also linked, through her father, to the idea of kingship by popular acclaim, rather than through inheritance. King David struggled against this: he wanted kingship by inheritance, so that his own dynasty could rule. Absalom preferred the ancient method of choosing a king - by popular choice.
When it was time for Maacah to marry, her cousin Rehoboam was chosen. He already had at least one other wife who had given him sons, but Maacah was his favorite. He is said to have loved her more than any of his other wives and concubines. She remained in the palace harem, where she had grown up.
A modern reader might balk at the idea of two such closely related people marrying, but marriage between a man and his father's brother's daughter was seen as the ideal alliance in ancient Israel. The two young people were not necessarily full first cousins, since the brother might be a half-brother, as Absalom was to Solomon.
Rehoboam later chose Maachah's son Abijah to succeed him. She has other sons, Attai, Ziza and Shelomith. Her husband Rehoboam reigned from 928-911BC, and she was Queen Mother in the years 911-908BC.
Solomon Dies and the
By the time that Solomon died, Rehoboam was already 41, no longer young.
The last few years had been increasingly difficult. The ten northern tribes were taxed more heavily than the two tribes living in the south, in Judah, and when Solomon died they used the opportunity to negotiate for better conditions.
At his coronation the situation came to a head. Face to face with their king, the northern chieftains demanded reforms. The levies and taxes imposed by Solomon were unendurable. They balked at the drain in money and manpower. They also saw Rehoboam as being heavily biased in favour of the southern tribes - which he was.
Rehoboam played for time. He consulted with his advisers.
The older and more experienced among them told him to concede, to give the tribes what they asked for.
The young men in Rehoboam's entourage, on the other hand, advised him to take a firm hand. They felt there had already been too many concessions made by Solomon, and that to continue this would be a sign of weakness. Not only that, but they urged him to speak in insulting terms to the tribal leaders, to put them in their place and show who was boss.
The situation is remarkably similar to the one faced by King Edward VIII of England when he tried to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. He too listened to the advice of friends rather than to experienced statesmen, and suffered the consequences.
Instead of negotiating as Solomon would have done, he threatened to raise the taxes even higher.
When all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying, "What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; To your tents, O Israel! Now look after your own house, David!" So Israel departed to their tents.
But as for the sons of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them. (1 Kings 12:16-17).
One wonders where Maacah stood in all of this. Her father had died for the principle of popular selection by the tribes (as well as many other grievances against King David). But she, as the favorite wife, must have had some part in Rehoboam's decision to flout the tribes and behave autocratically.
There was a violent reaction to Rehoboam's ultimatum. The northern tribes refused outright to accept his demands and withdrew to the safety of their own territories.
Rehoboam responded by sending his tax collector, Adoram, to impose his will, but the unfortunate man was captured and stoned to death.
The coronation was aborted, and Rehoboam retreated to Jerusalem, where he assumed the crown of Judah, but not Israel.
After a breathing space of some months, he assembled a large army to invade and subdue the northern tribes, but one of his advisers, Shemaiah, persuaded him that the odds were against him. He abandoned his plan, and in doing so lost all the rich territories of the north. Henceforth he ruled only tiny Judah.
Shishaq Attacks Judah - see Herzog 127
Five years later he faced another national emergency. The Egyptian Pharaoh Shishaq (Sheshonq I, founder of the 22nd dynasty) and his allies invaded Judah. There had been an alliance between Solomon and the Egyptian rulers, and one of the most important wives of Solomon had been the daughter of Pharaoh.
But her family was gone, replaced by Shishaq. He invaded Judah with a striking force of 1,200 chariots and the Lybian and Nubian infantry, and the entire territory of Judah was left open to rape and pillage. Jerusalem and its palaces were sacked.
The wealth of the city was looted, and among the items stolen were the golden shields that Solomon had made for his body-guard, treasured items that had been stored in his Temple.
The jewelry belonging to Maacah and the other women of the royal harem would have been prised from their fingers and given into the coffers of Shishaq.
When Rehoboam returned he replaced the shields, but without the resources of Solomon he was forced to replace them with brass, not gold. What resources he had were funnelled into the building of a series of fortresses and defensive walls around his territory. These were working defense centres for storing food and arms, all within riding distance of each other, all watching and reporting back to Rehoboam's central command centre in Jerusalem.
The jewelry of the royal women would not have been replaced.
Now Maacah came into the full power of a Great Lady/Queen Mother. This position would normally be held for the rest of her life - or until her son died, if that was before her own death.
The Gebira was very powerful indeed. This was especially so for Maacah because her son tolerated the fertility religions.
Where did the gebira's power come from? Her role seems to have been an official office, including cultic tasks related to the cult of the goddess Asherah. She may have been the high priestess of Asherah, representing her on earth, standing beside the god Yahweh.
Yahweh was the spiritual father and guide of the king. Asherah was his spiritual mother.
But Abijah reigned for only two years. Why? The Bible text does not tell us. He may have died a natural death, or been murdered in a palace coup. This is a possibility, since he was fiercely hated and opposed by the Yahwist party.
Asa Becomes King
Maacah would not have taken this lying down. She was still the Gebira. But she must have been out-manouvred, because the young King Asa got rid of her.
According to the Bible text, she was accused of making an image of Asherah. But there are hints all through the Bible that worship of the fertility gods and goddesses continued alongside worship of Yahweh, and there were hill-shrines, sacred pillars, poles and 'high places' scattered throughout the country. Judah-Israel was, after all, dependent on agriculture, and the fertility rituals regulated the dates for planting and harvesting crops.
So the fight about religion would seem to be a power struggle between the new monarch Asa and his Yahwist supporters on the one hand, and Maacah and the fertility religions on the other. Asa had to strike a deal with the Jahwist priests to gain their support in his grab for the throne.
Women in the Bible - Royal Women of the House of David.