Ithobaal I (or Ethbaal; Biblical Ethbaal, 1 Kings 16:31) was a king of Tyre who founded a new dynasty. During his reign, Tyre expanded its power on the mainland, making all of Phoenicia its territory as far north as Beirut, including Sidon, and even a part of the island of Cyprus. At the same time, Tyre also built new overseas colonies: Botrys (now Batrun) near Byblos, and Auza in Libya.
Primary information related to Ithobaal comes from Josephus’s citation of the Phoenician author Menander of Ephesus, in Against Apion i.18. Here it is said that the previous king, Phelles, “was slain by Ithobalus, the priest of Astarte, who reigned thirty-two years, and lived sixty-eight years; he was succeeded by his son Badezorus (Baal-Eser II).”
The dates given here are according to the work of F. M. Cross and other scholars who take 825 BC as the date of Dido’s flight from her brother Pygmalion, after which she founded the city of Carthage in 814 BC. See the chronological justification for these dates in the Pygmalion article.
Ithobaal held close diplomatic contacts with king Ahab of Israel. First Kings 16:31 relates that his daughter Jezebel married Ahab (874 – 853 BC), and Phoenician influence in Samaria and the other Israelite cities was extensive. In the 1 Kings passage, Ithobaal is labeled king of the Sidonians. At this time Tyre and Sidon were consolidated into one kingdom.
Menander’s comment that Ithobaal had been a priest of Astarte before becoming king explains why his daughter Jezebel was so zealous in the promotion of idolatry, thus leading to the conflicts between Elijah and Jezebel’s forces described in 1 Kings 18 and 19. Menander’s further statement that her father was a murderer sheds some light on her choice of a way to solve the “Naboth” problem in 1 Kings 21.
Tyre is not mentioned as an opponent of Shalmaneser III at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 BC, but twelve years later, in 841, Ithobaal’s son Baal-Eser II gave tribute to the Assyrian monarch.
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