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”And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.“ ‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭16‬:‭33‬-‭34‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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  • Welcome to the site Rialynn. Be aware that questions that are "opinion-based" are often ruled off topic here. However, I think it's an important question and have therefore given a pro-and-con answer instead of expressing my personal opinion. Commented Feb 19 at 2:58
  • By the way, the question is quite thought provoking. For future reference it might have been better to explain why you think that their being Ahab's sons was a real possibility. Commented Feb 19 at 3:20

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This verse is reporting the literal fulfilment of the curse announced by Joshua in Joshua ch6 v26, on anyone who dared to rebuild Jericho after his own destruction of the town.

I suggest that a curse is threatening an event which will be against the will of the person being cursed. So their deaths would not have been by Hiel's intention, anyway. But a deliberate murder by somebody else, for whatever reason, would fulfil the curse as effectively as an accidental death, if it occurred at the right time. We don't have enough information for a definite answer.

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Whose Children?

Grammatically, the text suggests that the two sons where the children of Hiel of Bethel, not of Ahab. It was during Ahab's reign that the event occurred:

1 Kings 16:34

During his (Ahab's) reign, Hiel from Bethel rebuilt Jericho. At the cost of Abiram, his firstborn son, he laid the foundation, and at the cost of Segub, his youngest son, he set up the gates

On the other hand, the OP's question about this is not as farfetched as it might seem at first glance. Were these actually Ahab's sons? This could indeed be the case if Hiel - knowing of Joshua's curse - demanded that Ahab provide two sons as a sacrifice in order to protect himself (Hiel) from the curse. In this scenario Hiel would be Ahab's agent who required a kind of "insurance policy" in carrying out Ahab's instruction to fortify Jericho.

Accidental or Intentional?

Since the grammar of the text suggests they were not Ahab's sons I will proceed on that basis. Commentaries vary widely as to whether the deaths of Hiel's two sons in the rebuilding of Jericho were accidental or intentional. If they were put to death intentionally the question arises as to whether Hiel offered them to God of Israel or to a pagan deity.

One argument in favor of this being a case of human sacrifice is the fact that the previous verses provide a catalog of the evil religious traditions practiced under Ahab's reign. There is also one piece of historical evidence that supports the idea of an intentional sacrifice. The Interpreter's Bible reports that archaeological digs at Jericho have unearthed evidence of child-sacrifice at the site consistent with the time in question. Much earlier, the biblical archaeologist Theodore F. Wright wrote

Child-sacrifice was a practice of the land, and Israel was adopting it in the worship of Molech. Later it became the usage also in Judah under Ahaz (2 Kings I6: 3). The belief in its efficacy is shown in 2 Kings 3:27, when the Moabite king openly sacrificed his eldest son, and thereby sent his victorious enemies home in fear and shame. The danger of the rite being introduced is seen from Lev. 20: 2-5. With accumulating evidence of the prevalence of the rite, we shall probably be led to see an instance of it in the case of Jericho, the foundation stones being laid with burial jars beneath them... the jar under the beginning of the wall containing the body of Hiel's eldest son, and that under the last gate the body of his youngest son.

Such interpretations are challenged on the grounds that burial jars were used in the case of natural deaths as well as human sacrifices. In addition it makes little sense that Hiel would consciously sacrifice his sons in order to fulfill the curse. This reasoning tends to support the interpretation that their deaths were accidental.

Conclusion: In the end, the answer to the question boils down to a matter of opinion. If they were indeed Ahab's sons, then they were almost certainly sacrificed to protect Hiel from the curse. If they were Hiel's sons, then accidental death is more likely but not certain.

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