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Abimelech and Saul - are they the same person?

It has been suggested that the Judges 9 account of Abimelech, and so Abimelech himself, is a duplication of the account of Saul's reign. Under this hypothesis the seemingly separate accounts would actually be variations of the same underlying events. Both ruled only for a short time, and they both sought to be killed by an armour-bearer to avoid a more shameful death. This page seeks to assess the likelihood of being able to identify the two with each another.

Similarities and differences

First, areas explicitly mentioned in the two accounts will be considered:

√ Similarities √ × Differences ×
Both ruled from the central highland area Their tribal origins were different
Gideon (Abimelech's father) and Saul both claimed to be weak and insignificant. Abimelech's father was important, Saul's was not. Abimelech renounced connections with his family, Saul did not
Both appear to have used fear and military power to enforce their authority in their own territory Saul initially had religious anointing and support, Abimelech never did
Both appear to have been leaders of a Habiru band Saul attracted followers from several Israelite tribes (including support from transJordan), Abimelech did not
Both died in battle, and their deaths caused their armies to disperse The cause of their mortal wounds was quite different (a thrown millstone and archery fire)
Both asked their armour-bearers to kill them to avoid a shameful death Abimelech's armour-bearer carried out the orders, Saul's did not
  Abimelech defeated his main challenger (Gaal), Saul did not (David)

Second, what of areas where one or other account simply omits details? These are:

  1. The activities of Abimelech outside the immediate area of Shechem - whether to fight or to make treaties - are not discussed
  2. Abimelech's children or successors - if any - are not mentioned, though it would be unusual for him to have not established a family
  3. Saul was publicly honoured by those loyal to him after his death, but there is no similar information about Abimelech

Some conclusions

On balance, the differences between these two accounts outweigh the similarities, particularly when considered in conjunction with the stature of the various towns. Shechem was the key location for Abimelech, whereas Saul has a more dispersed sphere of operations including Jabesh-Gilead in transJordan. The idea that the two individuals are in fact the same is improbable. However, that does not negate the possible importance of Abimelech.

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