Damien F. Mackey
“Along with his predecessor king Zimri who ruled for only seven days, Omri is the first king mentioned in the Bible without a statement of his tribal origin: although some scholars speculate that Omri was from the tribe of Issachar, this is not yet confirmed by any biblical account or scientific or historical evidence …”.
Taking my cue from P. Ellis (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1968), I considered the possibility that Omri may have been a foreigner (a non-Israelite) in my postgraduate thesis:
A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah
and its Background
in the section, “Omri’s Fame” (Volume One, pp. 62-63):
…. origin for the Omrides. It may perhaps therefore be interesting that, in regard to the Omride names, Ellis has made the observation, without however linguistically qualifying it, that: …. “Neither ‘Omri’ nor ‘Ahab’ would seem to be Israelite names”. And he has further suggested – with reference to Noth – that perhaps Omri “was a foreign mercenary who rose through the ranks to become general of the militia”. I certainly believe this last to have been basically the case. If indeed these Omrides were of foreign origin ….
At this point I am more interested in the name, ‘Omri’ (Hebrew: עָמְרִי), and he who bore it, rather than Ahab and his name, since I shall be discussing these latter in some detail towards the end of this chapter. …. there seems to be a fair scholarly consensus that Omri was a non-Israelite foreigner of some sort; or that, at least, his name was foreign.
[End of quote]
No Tribe of Israel
Associated with Omri
Previously I had concluded, in my article:
Why Bible May Neglect Certain Powerful Kings. Part Two: Omri
that the Bible may be laconic about Omri “… due to Omri’s being not actually located in Israel for the major part of his reign”.
And I followed this with the question: “If so, where may he have been?”
The purpose of this article will be to provide an answer to this question.
Apart from the possible foreignness of his name, further mystery surrounds Omri due to the fact that we are not told to what tribe of Israel he belonged, nor who his father may have been (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omri):
Along with his predecessor king Zimri who ruled for only seven days, Omri is the first king mentioned in the Bible without a statement of his tribal origin: although some scholars speculate that Omri was from the tribe of Issachar, this is not yet confirmed by any biblical account or scientific or historical evidence.
Historians and commentators are acutely aware, though, that there is much more to king Omri than is recorded about him in the Bible. I Kings 16:27 tantalisingly hints at this: “As for the other events of Omri’s reign, what he did and the things he achieved, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel?”
We already know a bit more about this mighty king from those extra-biblical sources that were referred to in the above article (“Why Bible May Neglect …?”): namely, the Mesha Stele and the references to the “House of Omri” (Bīt Humri) by several neo-Assyrian kings. In conventional terms and dates (needing revision) these latter references are as follows
The table below lists all the historical references to Omri in Assyrian records.
|Shalmaneser III||Black Obelisk, Calah Fragment, Kurba’il Stone, Ashur Stone||841 BCE||mar Hu-um-ri-i||“[Bit ]-Humrite”|
|Adad-nirari III||Nimrud Slab||803 BCE||KUR <Bit>-Hu-um-ri-i||“the ‘land of Bit-Humri”|
|Tiglath-Pileser III||III R 10,2||731 BCE||KUR E Hu-um-ri-a||“land of Bit-Humri”|
|Tiglath-Pileser III||ND 4301 + 4305||730 BCE||KUR E Hu-um-ri-a||“land of Bit-Humri”|
|Sargon II||Palace Door|
Here, more than a century and a half after Omri (conventional dating), neo-Assyrian kings are still referring to Israel (broadly speaking) as ‘the land of the House of Omri’.
That fact bespeaks a highly influential king and dynasty!
Conventional dates for king Omri are approximately 884 BC – 873 BC.
Now, who was a great contemporary king – presumably of the early El Amarna [EA] period – who was ruling outside Israel but nevertheless greatly affecting that land – and preferably having a name like Omri?
Tushratta (= Ben-Hadad) was one such great, contemporary king.
Pharaoh Amenhotep III, EA’s Nimmuria, was another, and we find that his EA name comes very close to Omri. “The throne name of Amenhotep III, which we render as Neb-maat-ra, was variously vocalized by the cuneiform scribes as Nimmuria, Nammuria, Nimutriya, or Mimmuria” (W. F. Petrie, Syria and Egypt: From the Tell El Amarna Letters, p. 27).
But, getting even closer to the mark, we learn that a variant of these EA names for pharaoh Amenhotep III was, as noted by Dr. I. Velikovsky (Ages in Chaos, 1952, p. 232), Immuria, “They were addressed to Nimmuria (Ni-ib-mu’-wa-ri-ia, Mi-im-muri-ia, Im-mu-ri-ia), who was Amenhotep III”.
My conclusion: Pharaoh Amenhotep III ‘the Magnificent’, EA’s Immuria, was the biblical Omri.
Omri = Immuri[ia]
And the reason why the Bible is so laconic about the highly influential Omri is because he ruled Israel from his base in Egypt.
Some Pros and Cons
Does this identification work?
In favour of my identification would be that it might serve to explain the mystery surrounding the origins of Omri, why no tribe nor father of his is mentioned in the Bible, and why so little is recorded about Omri as a king of Israel. It would enable for the recognition, in a glorious Egypt of the EA age, of those “other events of Omri’s reign, what he did and the things he achieved”, that are not elaborated upon in the account of Omri in I Kings 16.
It may also fit well with my view that Amenhotep son of Hapu, whose brilliant career basically ran parallel with the reign of Amenhotep III, was king Asa of Judah:
Asa a Powerful King of Judah. Part Three: As Amenhotep son of Hapu
The alliance between Judah and Israel during the next generation may already have been instigated by Asa and Omri, who appear to have co-existed peacefully. Jewish Virtual library refers to a “triple alliance between Israel, Judah, and Phoenicia”.
Davidids accepted (at least temporarily) the existence of the northern kingdom, and the two royal houses made a pact (see: *Ahab, *Jehoshaphat). Israel enjoyed great economic prosperity in the time of Omri as a result of the treaty with Ethbaal king of Sidon, which was sealed by the marriage between Jezebel, Ethbaal’s daughter, and Ahab, apparently while Omri was still alive (cf. Amos 1:9, “the brotherly covenant”). The triple alliance between Israel, Judah, and Phoenicia served at the same time as a counterweight to the threat of Aram-Damascus, whose aim was to gain possession of the northern part of Ereẓ Israel and to establish hegemony in Syria and Ereẓ Israel (see: *Ben-Hadad).
[End of quote]
The two main points of difficulty that immediately stand out for me regarding this identification (Omri = Amenhotep III) are that:
(i) whereas Amenhotep III reigned for some 38-39 years (c. 1390-1350 BC, conventional dating – and 500 years too early), Omri reigned over Israel for less than a third of this. For, according to I Kings 16:23: “In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned twelve years, six of them in Tirzah”.
(ii) (v. 28): “Omri rested with his ancestors and was buried in Samaria. And Ahab his son succeeded him as king”, whereas “Amenhotep III was buried in the Western Valley of the Valley of the Kings, in Tomb WV22” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amenhotep_III).
The explanation for (i) could be that Amenhotep III’s rule over Israel had occurred late in his reign, upon the demise of the House of Ba’asha, and by mutual agreement with his ally, Asa. But (ii) having two different places of burial for the one ruler is somewhat more of a problem. “It has been suggested that the mummy from the 1881 cache originally identified as Amenhotep III might rather be that of Ay …”. That might be one possible solution to the problem.
Much has been – and presumably yet will be – written about Amenhotep III.
Here is one typical account of the pharaoh known as “the Magnificent”.
Amenhotep III ….
Amenhotep III was the great grandson of Thutmose III. He reigned for almost forty years at a time when Egypt was at the peak of her glory. He lived a life of pleasure, building huge temples and statues. He was incredibly rich and his palace at Thebes was the most opulent of the ancient world.
With stable international trade and a plentiful supply of gold from the mines, the economy of Egypt was booming. This great wealth led to an outpouring of artistic talent and Amenhotep was the driving force behind this activity. Much credit must also go to the king’s scribe, overseer, and architect, Amenhotep, son of Hapu, who was so highly thought of by the king that he was rewarded with his own mortuary temple.
Amenhotep’s patronage of the arts set new standards of quality and realism in representation. His building works can be found all over Egypt. Many of the finest statues in Egyptian art, attributed to Rameses II, were actually made by Amenhotep III. (Ramses II simply removed Amenhotep’s name and replaced it with his own.) One of Amenhotep’s greatest surviving achievements is the Temple of Luxor on the east bank of the river.
Unfortunately, his mortuary temple, the largest of its kind ever built, was destroyed when Rameses II used it as a quarry for his own temple. Only the two colossal statues that stood at the entrance survive.
In the early years of his reign, Amenhotep was a vigorous young man who enjoyed sport and hunting. In his fifth year as king, he led an expedition to Nubia to put down a rebellion, but there was no need for military activity for the remainder of his reign. Amenhotep favored peaceful pursuits over war—although he wasn’t averse to adopting grandiose names, at one point describing himself as “Great of strength who smites the Asiatics.”
Indulging himself in all the pleasures, extravagances, and luxuries of life were his priorities. He had a large harem that included foreign princesses, though the great love of his life was his queen, Tiy, whom he had married before becoming king. She was a commoner, which was unusual for a chief wife. While most royal marriages were politically motivated, Amenhotep’s marriage to Tiy seems to have been motivated by genuine feeling. He made her a lake 3,600 cubits long by 600 cubits wide (about a one mile 1.6Km in length) in her town of T’aru. He then held a festival on the lake, during which he and Tiy sailed a boat called the Disk of Beauties.
Tiy gave birth to six children: four daughters and two sons. The eldest boy, Thutmose, became a priest and is thought to have begun the tradition of burying the mummified Apis bull, which was believed to be the incarnation of the god Ptah. Unfortunately, Prince Thutmose died, and his brother, the future Akhenaton, ascended the throne.
…. Amenhotep began restricting the power of the priests of Amun by recognizing other cults. One of these was a special form of the god Ra known as the Aten. It was this deity which Amenhotep’s son, Akhenaton, was to promote as the one and only true god, causing trouble within Egyptian society over the next generation. Amenhotep’s greatest legacy was his high standard of artistic and architectural achievement. This sophisticated and refined taste in art permeated Egyptian society and is manifest in the tombs of high officials such as Ramose and Khaemhet. He set the stage for Akhenaton’s unique style and left some of the finest monuments in Egypt. Amenhotep truly deserves the title “the Magnificent.”