© 1989. The Pierpont Morgan Library. New York. M 638. F. 14

Abimelech’s suicide. Gideon’s son and self-declared king of Shechem, Abimelech, lower center, falls to the sword of his own arms-bearer, whom he ordered to kill him. While assaulting a tower during an attack on Thebez, Abimelech had received a mortal wound, a crushing blow to the skull from a millstone dropped by a woman in the tower, upper right, in this illumination from a 13th-century, French manuscript. This circumstance provided justification for his suicide—one of only five in the Old Testament—because he did not want men to say, “A woman killed him” (Judges 9:54). Such a justification for suicide was acceptable in Abimelech’s time, because suicide was not regarded as a sin beyond redemption until the time of St. Augustine (354–430). Indeed, no explicit prohibition against suicide appears in either the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament.