“‘and Ahab of old, thou knowest, was a crowned king!’”

English: Ahab was king of Israel and the son a...

English: Ahab was king of Israel and the son and successor of Omri (1 Kings 16:29-34). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1 Kings 16-22 in the Old Testament, it is told how King Ahab ruled over the northern kingdoms of Israel and was renowned as the wickedest king ever to have ruled, for he committed major sins in the eyes of God. Son of Omri, King Ahab married Jezebel and under her influence began to worship Baal (1 Kings 16:31). Worshipping a pagan deity was bad enough, but King Ahab also violated other strictures of the one true God. The Prophet Elijah warned Ahab that if the false idols were not torn down then “there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at [Elijah’s] word” (1 Kings 17:1). After three years and no rain, Elijah came back to Ahab in the midst of battle and offered the Lord’s assistance (1 Kings 20:13). After the armies of Aram Damascus (modern Syria) and their leader Ben-hadad were defeated, Ahab did not take the life of Ben-hadad, as he was instructed to do by the prophet of God, Elijah; instead he made a treaty with Ben-hadad and restored to him the lands that his own father had seized from Aram (1 Kings 20:34). A prophet who is unnamed tells King Ahab, “This is what the Lord says ‘You have set free a man that I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his’” (1 Kings 20:42). King Ahab’s final sin occurred when he sought a property that did not belong to him but a fellow Israelite, Naboth. Since Naboth would not sell his vineyard, Jezebel deceitfully used her husband’s name and seal to conspire against Naboth, which eventually led to his death (1 Kings 21:11-13). After Naboth’s death sentence was carried out, Ahab seized his lands. For this last sin, the Prophet Elijah came to Ahab with the Lord’s words: “in the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood, yes yours” (1 Kings 21:19). Ahab was killed in battle against the Arameans and his entire family was killed by the Jehu overthrow some years later.

In Moby-Dick, the mention of “‘Ahab of old’” occurs in Chapter 16, “The Ship,” after Ishmael signs the articles to join the Pequod’s crew. Ishmael notes the absence of Captain Ahab and questions Peleg about him. Peleg describes Captain Ahab as a “‘grand, ungodly, god-like man,’” who has occupied the most prestigious places and the most cannibalistic regions of the world. Peleg characterizes Captain Ahab just the way a royal subject would speak of his king. In awe, he explicitly makes the connection between Ahab’s name and that of a once-crowned King. Ishmael questions the stigma of “‘Ahab of old’” in the Bible and asks, “‘[W]hen that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did they not lick up his blood?’” Peleg defends Captain Ahab against these parallels that Ishmael is drawing between the two Ahabs. He explains how Ahab’s ignorant, widowed mother had bequeathed the name to him and how, after she died, the “‘old squaw Tistig…said that the name would somehow prove prophetic.’” Even though Peleg’s defense is well meant, he is drawing even more parallels between the two Ahabs. After Captain Ahab lost his leg to Moby Dick, he became a “‘kind of moody,—desperate moody and savage at times.” King Ahab had these same issues throughout his life, as he worshipped false idols, just like Captain Ahab is obsessed with hunting the White Whale. In both King Ahab’s story and that of Captain Ahab, there are people that warn against the consequences of blasphemous action. Elijah and Starbuck play similar roles in that they foretell that Ahab’s pursuits will end in nothing but tragic loss. While Elijah is the Prophet of God, Starbuck is the voice of reason during Ahab’s rampages, as he rallies his crew to assist him in avenging himself against Moby Dick. The question, at this stage in the book, is this: will their fates be the same? Will God strike down the great Captain like he did the wicked King?

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