Abi'athar (Heb. Ebyathar', אֶביָתָר, father of abundance, i.e. liberal; Sept. 'Αβιάθαρ or 'Αβιαθάρ, N.T. 'Αβιάθαρ, Josephus 'Αβιάθαρος), the thirteenth high-priest of the Jews, being the son of Ahimelech, and the third in descent from Eli; B.C. 1060-1012. When his father was slain with the priests of Nob, for suspected partiality to David, Abiathar escaped; and bearing with him the most essential part of the priestly raiment [ sEE EPHOD ], repaired to the son of Jesse, who was then in the cave of Adullam (1Sa 22:20-23; 1Sa 23:6). He was well received by David, and became the priest of the party during its exile and wanderings, receiving for David responses from God (1Sa 30:7; comp. 2Sa 2:1; 2Sa 5:19). The cause of this strong attachment on the part of the monarch was the feeling that he had been unintentionally the cause of the death of Abiathar's kindred. When David became king of Judah he appointed Abiathar high priest (see 1Ch 15:11; 1Ki 2:26), and a member of his cabinet (1Ch 27:34). Meanwhile Zadok had been made high-priest by Saul — an appointment not only unexceptionable in itself, but in accordance with the divine sentence of deposition which had been passed, through Samuel, upon the house of Eli (1Sa 2:30-36). When, therefore, David acquired the kingdom of Israel, he had no just ground on which Zadok could be removed, and Abiathar set in his place; and the attempt would probably have been offensive to his new subjects, who had been accustomed to the ministration of Zadok, and whose good feeling he was anxious to cultivate. The king appears to have got over this difficulty by allowing both appointments to stand; and until the end of David's reign Zadok and Abiathar were joint high priests (1Ki 4:4). As a high-priest, Abiathar was the least excusable, in some respects, of all those who were parties in the attempt to raise Adonijah to the throne (1Ki 1:19); and Solomon, in deposing him from the high-priesthood, plainly told him that only his sacerdotal character, and his former services to David, preserved him from capital punishment (1Ki 2:26-27). This completed the doom upon the house of Eli, and restored the pontifical succession — Zadok, who remained the high-priest, being of the elder line of Aaron's sons. SEE ELEAZAR.
In Mr 2:26, a circumstance is described as occurring "in the days of Abiathar, the high-priest" (ἐπὶ 'Αβιάθαρ τοῦ ἀρχιερέως — a phrase that is susceptible of the rendering, in [the time] of Abiathar, [the son] of the high-priest), which appears, from 1Sa 21:1, to have really occurred when his father Ahimelech was the high-priest. The most probable solution of this difficulty (but see Alford's Comment. in loc.) is that which interprets the reference thus: "in the days of Abiathar, who was afterward the high-priest" (Middleton, Greek Article, p. 188-190). But this leaves open another difficulty, which arises from the precisely opposite reference (in 2Sa 8:17; 1Ch 18:16; 1Ch 24:3,6,31) to "Ahimelech [or Abimelech] the son of Abiathar," as the person who was high-priest along with Zadok, and who was deposed by Solomon; whereas the history describes that personage as Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech. Another explanation is, that both father and son bore the two names of Ahimelech and Abiathar, and might be, and were, called by either (J. C. Leuschner, De Achimelecho binomini, Hirschb. 1750). But although it was not unusual for the Jews to have two names, it was not usual for both father and son to have the same two names. Others suppose a second Abiathar, the father of Ahimelech, and some even a son of the same name; but none of these suppositions are warranted by the text, nor allowable in the list of high priests. SEE HIGH-PRIEST. The names have probably become transposed by copyists, for the Syriac and Arabic versions have "Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech." The mention of Abiathar in the above passage of Mark, rather than the acting priest Ahimelech, may have arisen from the greater prominence of the former in the history of David's reign, and he appears even at that time to have been with his father, and to have had some part in the pontifical duties. In additional explanation of the other difficulty above referred to, it may be suggested as not unlikely that Ahimelech may have been the name of one of Abiathar's sons likewise associated with him, as well as that of his father, and that copyists have confounded these names together. SEE AHIMLECH.