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Repeatedly in Ruth (e.g. 1:2, 1:3, 2:1...) and in I Samuel (21:1, 21:6, 21:8, 22:9), the LXX (in all printed critical versions, although some manuscripts correct this, see here for details) as well as Josephus, Antiquities 5:9:1 and 6:12:1 (who may have relied on the LXX, but that is a separate question) replace other similar Hebrew names with Abimelekh. In the MT and other early versions, the name of the character in Ruth is Elimelekh, and the name of the character in I Samuel is Ahimelekh.

It is highly unlikely that this is based on a different Hebrew source (as has been suggested a few times, see for example the top of page 240 (really page 2) here), as there would have to have been a harmonization to all of the instances that the name appeared in both books, not to mention that we have no other textual evidence to support such a theory (certainly in Ruth, I haven't checked I Samuel).

It is equally unlikely to be an error in the Greek, because of the magnitude of change (two letters that look nothing alike, rather than only one similar letter in the Hebrew), as well as the above concern of having to harmonize across multiple verses, so it seems intentional.

Schipper (here) suggests that it is because it is a more common name, but that too seems unrealistic - are there any other instances in the LXX where we see that an uncommon name is replaced with a more common one?

So, I pose the question: Why does the LXX translate Ahimelekh and Elimelekh as Abimelekh? Feel free to post your own answer or defend any of the above options. (I have my own idea, but again, I'm interested to see other approaches.)

  • Ahimelekh is also changed to Abimelekh in Psalms 51. – Alex Jan 20 at 8:53
  • @Alex correct, but see LXX I Chronicles (or Supplements) 24, and you may find mg.alhatorah.org/Full/Divrei_HaYamim_I/18.16#e0n6 interesting. – רבות מחשבות Jan 20 at 16:09
  • Very good question! Im not able to find anything relevant in all the scholarly resources I have in Logos. – XegesIs Feb 19 at 22:23
  • When do we get to hear “my own idea”? – Alex Apr 30 at 22:30
  • @alex the gist of it is that it is a midrashic rename, either as some have suggested that he is sort of an ancestor of david, or that because he is a descendant of yehudah/nachshon. – רבות מחשבות May 1 at 3:39
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Overview
αβιμελεχ and αχιμελεχ are transliterations whose meanings in Greek are simply the names Abimelech or Ahimelech. However, a translator would also continue to know the original meaning behind each name:

The misuse of these names is found in Ruth, 1 Samuel, 1 Chronicles, and Psalm 52. However, only in Ruth is the use of the "wrong" name consistent. Elsewhere the treatment varies: sometimes Ahimelech is rendered as Abimelech, others it is unchanged, and Abimelech is almost always rendered correctly, yet once it is rendered as Ahimelech.

Elimelech
Since there is no satisfactory textual explanation for the anomalies, I see the most plausible explanation that the translator intentionally changed the name (or title - see below) to Abimelech.

There are reasons a translator might see this as both necessary and acceptable:

  • An attempt to translate or transliterate "God" into a Greek name could be considered as profaning the name of God.
  • A translator will have a more developed understanding of the importance of the book of Ruth within the Davidic Covenant: it establishes the ancestral record of David, the future and eternal king of Israel. Replacing a name whose meaning is "My God is king" hides the contradictory fact Elimelech and his sons die so a distant relative may establish the line of David. The change also mimics the historical reality Israel demanded a king to replace YHVH, their divine King.

I suspect both reasons entered into the decision. Any attempt to correctly write "Elimelech" will raise the issue of how to do this in a way that could not be construed as misusing the name of God. Also Boaz, whose exact ancestral connection to Elimelech is never explained, is the key figure, regardless of how Naomi's deceased husband is identified. Finally, the death of Elimelech and his sons lessens the need to correctly record his identity.

As shown below, both αβιμελεχ and αχιμελεχ are used, suggesting a translator had a choice between either when addressing the issue inherent to the name Elimelech. The Hebrew meaning seems to be the determining factor in choosing to use Abimelech over Ahimelech. It is Boaz who is asuming the role of Mahlon's brother when he marries Ruth. Calling Elimelech, who is Mahlon's father, αχιμελεχ, (My brother...) misstates his familial relationship. Thus, αβιμελεχ (My father...) is the wrong name yet better embodies Elimelech's relationship to Boaz within this narrative.

Abimelech
The anomalous use of the name Abimelech is not limited to Ruth; elsewhere it is used selectively to replace Ahimelech. While it is possible to see these as scribal or manuscript errors, if Elimelech was purposely changed, it seems prudent to consider whether all changes should be viewed in that light.

Here is a comparison of the names in those books where the treatment is inconsistent:

                 MT (KJV)    LXX                   Change                Died before Saul
1 Sa 21:1a       Ahimelech   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  Replaces Ahimelech          Yes
1 Sa 21:1b       Ahimelech   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  Replaces Ahimelech          Yes
1 Sa 21:2        Ahimelech   --------                                          ---
1 Sa 21:6        ---------   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  --------                    Yes
1 Sa 21:8        Ahimelech   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  Replaces Ahimelech          Yes
1 Sa 22:9        Ahimelech   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  Replaces Ahimelech          Yes
1 Sa 22:11       Ahimelech   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  Replaces Ahimelech          Yes
1 Sa 22:14       Ahimelech   --------              --------                    ---
1 Sa 22:16       Ahimelech   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  Replaces Ahimelech          Yes
1 Sa 22:20       Ahimelech   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  Replaces Ahimelech          Yes
1 Sa 23:6        Ahimelech   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  Replaces Ahimelech          Yes
Psalm 52:1       Ahimelech   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  Replaces Ahimelech          Yes

2 Sa 11:21       Abimelech   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  --------                    Yes
2 Sa 11:22       ---------   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  --------                    Yes
Psalm 34:1       Abimelech   αβιμελεχ (Abimelech)  --------                 Uncertain

1 Ch 18:16       Abimelech   αχιμελεχ (Ahimelech)  Changed to Ahimelech        No
1 Sa 26:6        Ahimelech   αχιμελεχ (Ahimelech)  --------                    No 
1 Sa 30:7        Ahimelech   αχιμελεχ (Ahimelech)  --------                    Yes
2 Sa 8:17        Ahimelech   αχιμελεχ (Ahimelech)  --------                    No
1 Ch 24:3        Ahimelech   αχιμελεχ (Ahimelech)  --------                    No
1 Ch 24:6        Ahimelech   αχιμελεχ (Ahimelech)  --------                    No
1 Ch 24:31       Ahimelech   αχιμελεχ (Ahimelech)  --------                    No

As shown, in these books there is one "translation philosophy" which if followed will explain most of the decisions on how a name is to be recorded:

  • A person who dies while Saul was reigning as king is identified as an Abimelech otherwise the person is identified as an Ahimelech.

Behind the Greek αβιμελεχ and αχιμελεχ is the meaning of "My father is king" or "My brother is king." However, αχιμελεχ is not simply a name, it is a concept within the Law:

“When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. (Deuteronomy 17:15-16 ESV)

The LXX is most selective on how Ahimelech, "My brother is king" is used. That name is reserved for individuals who served David as sole king of Israel. That is, for the LXX translator αχιμελεχ not only transliterates the name Ahimelech, it conceptualizes "One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you." It is a word which represents the hope of all living in post-exilic times: the Davidic Covenant will be fulfilled and David (their "brother) will rule over the kingdom of Israel.

Here are the two places in which this "rule" was not followed:1

Pertaining to Dauid. When he changed his face before Abimelech, and he let him go, and he went away. (Psalm (33)34:1) [NETS]

And Dauid said to the priest, Abiathar son of Achimelech, "Bring the ephoud." (1 Samuel 30:7) [NETS]

In the first, Abimelech likely was alive when Saul died. However, the decision to make an exception to the rule can be justified if the translator understood Abimelech as Achish (1 Samuel 21:10-15), the Philistine king who would not meet the criteria of a brother. Some see the Psalm's use of "Abimelech" as a royal title not a proper name:

The psalm heading names the king Abimelech, not Achish, suggesting that the tradition is confused on this point. However, perhaps “Abimelech” was a royal title, rather than a proper name. See P. C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50 (WBC), 278.2

In fact, that is how Abimelech is consistently handled throughout the LXX: it is a royal title given to those like Elimelech who are not in the position to say of David, "My brother is king."

The one clear violation of the rule occurs in 1 Samuel 30:7 where Abiathar is correctly identified as the son of Ahimelech, who Saul had killed. This exception could be deemed necessary to ensure Abiathar's correct ancestry is preserved somewhere in the narrative.

Conclusion
The decision to change Elimelech's name, which likely was done of necessity creates ancillary ripples in the flow of Israel's history as it is presented as a Greek narrative:

  • Elimelech is removed from the record just as My God [YHVH] is "removed" as king.
  • Abimelech is marginalized and becomes a title, not a name.
  • Ahimelech takes on greater meaning:
    • Boaz assumes the role of Mahlon's brother in the key event in David's ancestry.
    • Deuteronomy 17:15-16 is fulfilled.
    • When YHVH, whom the people rejected as King, promises David he will rule forever, the people have the hope they will see the day they can say, "My brother is king."

  1. By not following the rule, the translation is faithful to the Hebrew text.
  2. Notes NET Bible
0

I don't know for certain why the LXX writers replaced both "Ahimelech" and "Elimelech" with "Abimelech". The FSB (Faithlife Study Bible, comes with Logos Bible Software) says the following about the name אֲבִימֶ֫לֶךְ (Abimelech):

Genesis 20:1–2 (LEB): And Abraham journeyed from there to the land of the Negev, and he settled between Kadesh and Shur. And he dwelled as an alien in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said about Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.

Abimelech This is a fairly common personal name in northwest Semitic literature (Ugaritic and Phoenician literature). It means “my father is king,” and may be a title.

Maybe it's because the passages that mention Abimelech, Ahimelech and Elimelech take place in the same(?) region:

Genesis 20:1 (LEB): And Abraham journeyed from there to the land of the Negev, and he settled between Kadesh and Shur. And he dwelled as an alien in Gerar.

enter image description here

Ruth 1:1–2 (LEB): And it happened in the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem of Judah went to reside in the countryside of Moab—he and his wife and his two sons. 2 And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephraimites from Bethlehem in Judah. And they went to the countryside of Moab and remained there.

enter image description here

1 Samuel 21:1–2 (LEB): Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came trembling to meet David, and he said to him, “Why are you alone and there are no men with you?” 2 So David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘No one must know anything about this matter on which I am sending you, with which I have charged you and the servants.’ ” So I have arranged to meet with my servants at a certain place.

enter image description here

It appears to be the in "Dead Sea region" I guess.

While looking for answers I also noticed each passage I quoted includes some sort of migration.

  1. Abraham moves to Gerar > meets "Abimelech".
  2. Elimelech moves to Moab > LXX writers rename him "Abimelech"
  3. David goes to Nob/Nov > meets Ahimelech > LXX writer rename him "Abimelech"

This is all speculative but just some ideas.

  • 1
    It's a nice connection, but I fail to see why the LXX writers would then change the name of the character... – רבות מחשבות Mar 31 at 1:30
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HALOT (Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament) gives these examples:

In 2Sam 8:17 both LXX and MT say Ahimelech.
Then, and this one is very interesting, the sister verse to the above is 1Chr 8:16.
In 1Chr 8:16 MT says Abimelech, but LXX says Ahimelech.

There are other verses where both LXX and MT say "Ahimelech". (1Sa 30:7; 1Chr 24:3,6,31)

HALOT says that Ahimelech is a conjectural reading for Abimelech, which, I think, means that it is a guess that both names are interchangeable.

In 1Sam 21:2, MT says "Ahimelech, the priest", and LXX and DSS just say "the priest".
This verse is referenced by Jesus in Mark 2:26, where Jesus says "Abiathar the high priest".
There seems to be confusion in the old Testament between the names "Abiathar" and his father "Ahimelech".
"Abimelech" is a kind of combination of "Abiathar" and "Ahimelech".

DSS says Ahimelech in 1Sa 21:8, agreeing with MT, disagreeing with LXX.

DSS says Elimelech in Ruth 1:3 & 4:3 agreeing with MT, disagreeing with LXX.

A possibility: Ahimelech and Abimelech were used interchangeably. MT unified it to say Ahimelech, and the LXX Hebrew text had been unified to say Abimelech. LXX was less unified than MT because the LXX Hebrew text is much older.

Same for Ahimelech vs Abimelech in Ruth. Since it's just in 1 short book, it was easier to unify one way or the other.

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