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ABIATHAR
(ah bi' uh thahr) HEBREW: EVYATAR
"father is preeminent/abundant"
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One of the chief priests of Israel during the reign of King David. Abiathar began his religious career at the side of his father, Ahimelech, chieft priest of the Israelite shrine at Nob. That quiet life of priestly ritual was suddenly interrupted after David, in flight from Saul, sought sanctuary at Nob, where Abiathar's father gave him bread from the sacred stores and the sword with which David had slain the giant Goliath. When Saul learned that Ahimelech had helped David, he had the entire community of 85 priests and their families at Nob slaughtered. Only Abiathar escaped and fled after David.

In surviving the massacre at Nob, Abiathar was able to rescue the high priest's ephod, not the linen vestment also called an ephod but a box containing lots used by the high priest to discern God's will for the future. Later, Abiathar used the ephod to help David as he "inquired of the Lord" whether he should pursue the Amalekites, who had raided David's town of Ziklag, burned it, and taken captive its children and women - including David's two wives, Ahinoam and Abigail. "Pursue," Abiathar advised him; "for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue" (1 Sam. 30:8). And so it happened.

When David became king, established his capital in Jerusalem, and brought the ark of the covenant there, he appointed Abiathar as one of the two chief priests in charge of the new sanctuary, along with Zadok, the son of Ahitub. During the rebellion led by Absalom, the two priests were told by David to remain in Jerusalem even after the king withdrew from his capital. Thus, they were able to send information about the uprising to the king through their sons, Jonathan and Ahimaaz. After the rebellion was put down, Abiathar was instrumental in having David restored to his throne.

When David was about to die, Abiathar gave his support and advice to Adonijah, David's eldest surviving son and, it was thought, his heir apparent. He was evidently not aware, however, that David had promised his wife Bathsheba to put her son Solomon on the throne. When Solomon was crowned, he executed Adonijah and his principal supporters and deposed Abiathar. But out of respect for the priest's service to his father, the new king spared Abiathar's life and allowed him to retire to his family estate in Anathoth, northeast of Jerusalem. He was the last of the descendants of Eli to serve as high priest of Israel.

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{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}