The word Av (אב) = "father" was an epithet for the deity as well as forming part of the royal title (cf Jupiter = Iou-pater = sky father). Thus Av-Ram (אברם) and Av-Raham (אברהם) for Abraham, but also here Avi-Melech.
Melech (מלך) means king, and its root is the same as Moloch; probably Avi-Melech meant "my father is Moloch" rather than "my father is king", a name that would describe perfectly the title of the High Priest, or of the tribal sheikh, though those two roles were generally combined.
Genesis 20:2 ff; 21:22 ff; 26:1 ff; Psalm 34:1 make it the name of a king of the Plishtim (Philistines), which in the Genesis references is slightly odd, in that it contradicts the belief that the Plishtim did not begin to attack Yisra-El's shores much before King Sha'ul's time; their arrival led to the tribe of Dan being forced to move away from the coastal plain to a new home at La'ish in the north-east of Yisra-El. But the tribe of Dan cannot have settled there until the time of the conquest by Yehoshu'a, thereby rendering impossible the presence of Plishtim in Genesis or Exodus. However, if Genesis and Exodus are correct, then the Plishtim were clearly established in the region of Aza (Gaza) much sooner, and the departure of Dan would have to be a consequence of their failure to conquer their designated territory from the Plishtim, rather than their being expelled by the new arrivals, and would support the alternate scholarly theory that the Danites came from the region of La'ish and attempted to colonise further to the south and west, rather than the other way around.
There is, however, yet a third possibility, which is that they were actually the same people, and that the movement of Dan not an expulsion but either a further stage of colonisation, or a conflict within the tribe that caused it to split. See GREEKS for a fuller account, but the probability is that the Plishtim and the Dan'ans clashed, and the weaker Dana'ans moved away, becoming the tribe of Dan.
Avi-Melech's capital was at Gerar (Genesis 21:33), though this was the name of the kingdom as well as the capital, something in the city-state tradition of the later Greeks. It stood on the south-west border of Kena'an, between Aza and Be'er Sheva, possibly Wadi Sahr'ah, possibly Wadi Ghaza. Most evidence, Biblical and otherwise, suggests that the Plishtim came from Kaphtor, which was Minoan Crete. Daedalus, the father of Icarus, also came from Kaphtor, where he was known as Kothar wa-Khasis ("Wise and Skilful"); elsewhere among the Greeks he was Hephaestus, among the Egyptians Ptah, and was known among various of the Beney Kena'an, including the Plishtim, by the same name; or slightly varied, as Choshar va Chasis (כושר וחסיס), in the Hebrew.
The People of the Sea (also known as Phoenicians) were aboriginal Greeks, who bore such tribe-names as the Pulasati (whence the Hebrew Bene Pelesht from which the English creates Philistine and later Palestine) and Purasati; elsewhere we can find Ekwesh, which is possibly a variant on the Achaeans, in a dialect that suggests possible Chivite links. The Plishtim called themselves Puresatu or Pulesatu (Hebrew Plishtim, though it may have been pronounced Pelishtim - פלשתים) in their own language, which was Cretan Phoenician; the word meant "wanderers" or "foreigners", and they came from Crete after the fall of Knossos. Homeric Greek accounts regard the aboriginal Greeks as having come from Kena'an (see "The Leprachauns of Palestine"), and called these people Dana'an, which is highly likely the tribe of Dan; making Dan a colony of the Dana'ans of Argos. They were worshipers of the Phoenician sun-god Moloch and the moon-goddess Danaë, whose shrine they established at Shechem (today's Nablus) under the name Dinah. Several "Hebrew" stories in the Bible, which are attributed to the tribe of Dan, have very strong links with the Greek myths and legends, especially the Shimshon (Samson) legends, which echo Hercules, and the David legends during his time at Tsiklag (1 Samuel 29 ff), which echo Orpheus.
Both the Av-Raham/Sarah and Yitschak/Rivka stories take place in Gerar, which may have been (debated, as above) a city of the Plishtim. An identical story is told for both Av-Raham/Sarah (Genesis 20) and Yitschak/Rivka (Genesis 26), of sister-pretense and royal marriage; the third version, of Av-Ram and Sarai, makes the Mitsri Pharaoh the king, which suggests an error of the scribes or the repetition of some genuine marriage ritual, or simply the incapacity of the Redactor to leave out tales that were important to different tribes in their own version.
Was there then one Avi-Melech, or more than one? The meaning of the name is identical to the Persian Padishah, and Atalik of the Khans of Bhokra. "Our Father Our King" (Avinu Malkeynu) is a very ancient Hebrew epithet for and hymn to YHVH, which echoes the name Avi-Melech, but may actually be a remnant of the liturgy of Moloch worship absorbed into the Hebrew cult. 1 Samuel 21:11 suggests that Avi-Melech may also have been called Achish; or that Achish was the name of the Philistine King of Gat, and Avi-Melech his title. Achish is also mentioned in 1 Samuel 27:2 and 1 Kings 2:39.
Psalm 34's reference to him by name infers a non-Hebrew origin for that song.
Judges 8:31 ff makes Avi-Melech a son of Gideon (Gidon in the Hebrew - גדעון) by his concubine in Shechem (we can deduce that the concubine was in fact Dinah - or at least her high priestess). His story is told in full in Judges 9; he also crops up in 2 Samuel 11:21 which has the story of the murder of Avi-Melech ben Yeruv-Eshet. But more significant is the statement in Judges 7:1 that Gidon's real name was Yeru-Ba'al (ירבעל); Gidon (Gideon) was called to judgement while threshing wheat by the winepress under the oak in Oprah, which belonged to Yo'ash Avi Ha-Ezri. Every detail of this, names and places as well as actions, tells us we have a "pagan" Kena'anite tradition which the later redactors of the Bible have attempted to rewrite as a Hebrew legend.
1 Chronicles 18:16 has an Achi-Melech, meaning "brother-king", obviously a related term, pardon the pun.
See Ancestry of the Patriarch 1, Taurus Mountains 400,000 BCE for the link between Avi-Melech and Eurystheus, the king who set Hercules his twelve labours.
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