Ahitophel ("Brother of Insipidity", or "Impiety") was a counselor of King David and a man greatly renowned for his sagacity. At the time of Absalom's revolt he deserted David (Psalm. 41:9; 55:12-14) and espoused the cause of Absalom (2 Samuel 15:12).
David sent his old friend Hushai back to Absalom, in order that he might counteract the counsel of Ahitophel (2 Sam. 15:31-37). Ahitophel, seeing that his good advice against David had not been followed due to Hushai's influence, correctly predicted that the revolt would fail. He then left the camp of Absalom at once. He returned to Giloh, his native place, and after arranging his worldly affairs, hanged himself, and was buried in the sepulcher of his fathers (2 Sam. 17:1-23).
A man named Ahitophel is also mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:34, and he is said to be the father of Eliab. Since 2 Samuel 11:3 notes that Eliab is the father of Bathsheba, some scholars suggest that the Ahitophel of 2 Samuel 15 may in fact be Bathsheba's grandfather. Levenson and Halpern, for example, note that "the narrator is sufficiently subtle (or guileless) to have Bathsheba's grandfather... instigate the exaction of YHWH's pound of flesh," as Nathan's curse in 2 Samuel 12:11 comes to fruition.
In Rabbinical Literature
The Talmud speaks of this counsellor of David as "a man, like Balaam, whose great wisdom was not received in humility as a gift from heaven, and so became a stumbling-block to him" (Num. R. xxii.). He was "one of those who, while casting longing eyes upon things not belonging to them, lose also the things they possess" (Tosef., Soṭah, iv. 19). Ahithophel was initiated into the magic powers of the Holy Name, by means of which he could replace the foundation-stone of the world, removed by King David in his search for the great abyss, in the exact spot above which the Temple was to be built. And being thus familiar with all the secret lore as imparted through the Holy Spirit, he was consulted as an oracle like the Urim we-Tummim (II Sam. xvi. 23, Yer. Sanh. x. 29a, Suk. 53a et seq.). But he withheld his mystic knowledge from King David in the hour of peril, and was therefore doomed to die from strangulation (Tanna debe Eliyahu R. xxxi., Mid. Teh. iii. 7; Ex. R. iv., Mak. 11a). "Ahitophel of the house of Israel and Balaam of the heathen nations were the two great sages of the world who, failing to show gratitude to God for their wisdom, perished in dishonor. To them the prophetic word finds application: 'Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,' Jer. ix. 23" (Num. R. xxii.). Socrates was said to have been a pupil of his. K.
The Haggadah states that Ahithophel, who was the grandfather of Bath-sheba (Sanh. 69b), was misled by his knowledge of astrology into believing himself destined to become king of Israel. He therefore induced Absalom to commit an unpardonable crime (II Sam. xvi. 21), which sooner or later would have brought with it, according to Jewish law, the penalty of death; the motive for this advice being to remove Absalom, and thus to make a way for himself to the throne. His astrological information had been, however, misunderstood by him; for in reality it only predicted that his granddaughter, Bathsheba, the daughter of his son Eliam, would become queen (Sanh. 101b, YalḲ. Sam. § 150). David, during his reign, had many disagreeable encounters with Ahithophel. Shortly after his accession the king seems to have overlooked Ahithophel in his appointments of judges and other officials. Consequently, when David was in despair concerning the visitation upon Uzzah during the attempted transport of the ark (II Sam. vi. 6; see Uzzah) and sought counsel of Ahithophel, the latter mockingly suggested to him that he had better apply to his own wise men. Only upon David's malediction, that whoever knew a remedy and concealed it should surely end by committing suicide, did Ahithophel offer him some rather vague advice, concealing the true solution, which was that the ark must be carried on the shoulders of men instead of upon a wagon (Num. R. iv. 20, Yer. Sanh. x. 29a).
Curse upon Ahithophel.
Ahithophel rendered a service to David upon another occasion; not, however, until he had been again threatened with the curse. It appears that David excavated too deeply for the foundations of the Temple, with the result that earth's deepest floods () broke forth, and nearly inundated the earth. None could help but Ahithophel, who withheld his counsel in the hope of seeing David borne away upon the flood. When David again warned him of the malediction, Ahithophel counseled the king to throw a tile, with the ineffable name of God written upon it, into the cavity; whereuponthe waters began to sink. Ahithophel is said to have defended his use of the name of God in this emergency by reference to the practise enjoined by Scripture (Num. v. 23) to restore marital harmony; surely a matter of small importance, he argued, compared with the threatened destruction of the world (Suk. 53a, b). David's repeated malediction that Ahithophel would be hanged was finally realized when the latter hanged himself.
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