Monarchies are constructed, connected, and maintained through familial relationships. Royal women of the ancient Near East included daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, and widows. The use of relational language, such as “wife of” and “daughter of” to refer to royal women was far more common than titles such as “queen,” “princess,” or “queen mother.” Relational language is also dominant in the Bible, with the exception of the Book of Esther.
The category of royal mothers includes women who are not mothers of a king. Among such biblical royal mothers are the daughter of Pharaoh who adopted Moses as her son (
Most biblical references to royal mothers occur in the announcements in the books of 1 and 2 Kings that a new king has begun to reign. These announcements appear for all the kings of Judah except two (Jehoram and Ahaz), from the division of Israel into two kingdoms (922 B.C.E.) until the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (587 B.C.E.). The announcements indicate the relationship of the new king (typically a son) to the previous one, the name of the mother, the number of years the king ruled, and whether or not the king “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (for example,
Royal women also connect the dynasty to peoples and places in the nation and beyond. The mother of King David’s firstborn son, Amnon, was Ahinoam of Jezreel, and the mother of his second son, Chileab, was Abigail of Carmel in southern Judah. David’s third son, Absalom, was the “son of Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur” (
Royal mothers provided life instruction for their sons and daughters. The wisdom of
A royal mother was active directly and indirectly in securing the status and future well-being of her children. Marriages needed to be arranged between royal or prominent families in the country or neighboring nations (a diplomatic strategy reflected in the marriages of King David mentioned above). A king’s eldest son might have the best—but not the only—chance of succession.
An essential part of keeping safe and attaining the throne was cultivating loyalties. In an ancient Near Eastern example, Zakutu (also known as Naqia), the widow of the Assyrian king Sennacherib, legitimated the reign of her son Esarhaddon, who became king ahead of his brothers after their father’s murder. When her grandson Ashurbanipal eventually ascended to the throne, Zakutu imposed a loyalty pact “with Assyrians high and low,” requiring them to report any conspiracy against Assurbanipal. Likewise Bathsheba, mother of King David’s son Solomon, secured Solomon’s appointment as David’s heir ahead of his brother Adonijah in
- Exum, J. Cheryl. Fragmented Women: Feminist (Subversions) of Biblical Narratives. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1993.
- Koenig, Sara M. Isn’t This Bathsheba? A Study in Characterization. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2011.
- Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. Just Wives? Stories of Power and Survival in the Old Testament and Today. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. See especially pp. 69–90.
- Meyers, Carol, ed. Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
- Solvang, Elna K. A Woman’s Place is in the House: Royal Women of Judah and their Involvement in the House of David. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 349. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003.