From Bible Encyclopedia
ath-a-lī´a (עתליה, ‛athalyāh; meaning uncertain, perhaps, “whom YHWH has afflicted” or "whom God afflicts"; 2 Kings 8:26; 11; 2 Chronicles 22:1-12; 23):
The daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, and the wife of Jehoram, king of Judah (2 Kings 8:18), who “walked in the ways of the house of Ahab” (2 Chronicles 21:6), called “daughter” of Omri (2 Kings 8:26). On the death of her husband and of her son Ahaziah, she resolved to seat herself on the vacant throne. She slew all Ahaziah's children except Joash, the youngest (2 Kings 11:1, 2 Kings 11:2). After a reign of six years she was put to death in an insurrection (2 Kings 11:20; 2 Chronicles 21:6; 2 Chronicles 22:10-12; 2 Chronicles 23:15), stirred up among the people in connection with Josiah's being crowned as king.
Daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, grand-daughter of Omri, 6th king of Israel. In her childhood the political relations of the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel had, after many years of strife, become friendly, and she was married to Jehoram, eldest son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah (2 Kings 8:18). The marriage was one of political expediency, and is a blot on the memory of Jehoshaphat.
2. Athaliah as Queen
When Jehoram was 32 years of age, he succeeded to the throne, and Athaliah became queen of Judah. She inherited her mother's strength of will, and like her developed a fanatical devotion to the cult of the Zidonian Baal. Elijah's blow at the worship of Baal in Samaria shortly before her accession to power did nothing to mitigate her zeal. It probably intensified it. The first recorded act of Jehoram's reign is the murder of his six younger brothers; some princes of the realm, who were known to be favorable to the ancient faith of the nation, were also destroyed (2 Chronicles 21:4). There can be little doubt that these deeds of blood were supported, and perhaps instigated, by Athaliah, who was a much stronger character than her husband.
3. Murder of Her Grandchildren
After eight years of royal life, Athaliah became a widow, and her son, Ahaziah, then 22 years of age (2 Kings 8:26; not 42 as in 2 Chronicles 22:2), ascended his father's throne. As queen-mother, Athaliah was now supreme in the councils of the nation, as well as in the royal palace. Within a single year, the young king fell (see Jehu), and the only persons who stood between Athaliah and the throne were her grandchildren. It is in such moments that ambition, fired by fanaticism, sees its opportunity, and the massacre of the royal seed was determined on. This was carried out: but one of them, Jehoash, a babe, escaped by the intervention of his aunt, Jehosheba (1 Kings 11:2; 2 Chronicles 22:11).
4. Her Usurpation
The palace being cleared of its royal occupants, Athaliah had herself proclaimed sovereign. No other woman, before or since, sat upon the throne of David, and it is a proof of her energy and ability that, in spite of her sex, she was able to keep it for six years. From 2 Chronicles 24:7 we gather that a portion of the temple of Yahweh was pulled down, and the material used in the structure of a temple of Baal.
5. The Counter-Revolution
The high priest at this time was Jehoiada, who had married the daughter of Athaliah, Jehosheba (2 Chronicles 22:11). His promotion to the primacy led to the undoing of the usurper, as Jehoiada proved staunchly, if secretly, true to the religion of Yahweh. For six years he and his wife concealed in their apartments, near the temple, the young child of Ahaziah. In the seventh year a counter-revolution was planned. The details are given with unusual fullness in Books of Kings and Chronicles, the writings of which supplement one another. Thus, when the Chronicler wrote, it had become safe to give the names of five captains who led the military rising (2 Chronicles 23:1). With the Book of Kings before him, it was not necessary to do more than extract from the ancient records such particulars as had not hitherto appeared. This it is which has chiefly given rise to the charge of variations in the two narratives.
6. Her Death
At the time of her deposition, Athaliah was resident in the royal palace. When roused to a sense of danger by the acclamations which greeted the coronation ceremony, she made an attempt to stay the revolt by rushing into the temple court, alone; her guards, according to Josephus, having been prevented from following her (Ant., IX, vii, 3). A glance sufficed. It showed her the lad standing on a raised platform before the temple, holding the Book of the Law in his hand, and with the crown upon his brow. Rending her robe and shouting, “Treason! Treason!” she fled. Some were for cutting her down as she did so, but this was objected to as defiling the temple with human blood. She was, therefore, allowed to reach the door of the palace in flight. Here she fell, smitten by the avenging guards.
Athaliah's usurpation lasted for six years (2 Kings 11:3; 2 Kings 12:1; 2 Chronicles 22:12). Her 1st year synchronizes with the 1st of Jehu in Israel, and may be placed 846 BC (some put later). See Chronology Of The Old Testament. The statement of 2 Kings 12:1 is here understood in the sense that Jehoash began his public reign in the 7th year of Jehu, and that he reigned 40 years counting from the time of his father's death. A modern parallel is the dating of all official records and legal documents of the time of Charles II of England from the death of Charles I.
The only other reference to Athaliah is that above alluded to in 2 Chronicles 24:7, where she is spoken of as “that wicked woman.”