The existence of Ahab is historically supported outside of the Bible. Shalmaneser III documented 853 BC that he defeated an alliance of a dozen kings in the Battle of Qarqar; one of these was Ahab.
Ahab became king of Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Asa, king of Judah, and reigned for twenty-two years, according to 1 Kings. William F. Albright dated his reign to 869–850 BC, while E. R. Thiele offered the dates 874–853 BC. Most recently, Michael D. Coogan has dated Ahab's reign to 871–852 BC.
Omri (Ahab's father and founder of the short-lived Omri Dynasty) seems to have been a successful military leader; he is reported in the text of the Moabite Mesha Stele to have "oppressed Moab for many days". During Ahab's reign, Moab, which had been conquered by his father, remained tributary. Ahab was allied by marriage with Jehoshaphat, who was king of Judah. Only with Aram Damascus is he believed to have had strained relations.
Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the King of Tyre. 1 Kings 16–22 tells the story of Ahab and Jezebel, and indicates that Jezebel was a dominant influence on Ahab and strove to spread idol worship of Baal in Israel. Ahab was succeeded by Ahaziah and Jehoram, who reigned over Israel until Jehu's revolt of 842 BC.
The Battle of Qarqar is mentioned in extra-biblical records, and was perhaps at Apamea, where Shalmaneser III of Assyria fought a great confederation of princes from Cilicia, Northern Syria, Israel, Ammon, and the tribes of the Syrian desert (853 BC), including Ahab the Israelite (A-ha-ab-bu matSir-'a-la-a-a) and Hadadezer (Adad-'idri).
Ahab's contribution was estimated at 2,000 chariots and 10,000 men. In reality, however, the number of chariots in Ahab's forces was probably closer to a number in the hundreds (based upon archaeological excavations of the area and the foundations of stables that have been found). If, however, the numbers are referring to allies it could possibly include forces from Tyre, Judah, Edom, and Moab. The Assyrian king claimed a victory, but his immediate return and subsequent expeditions in 849 BC and 846 BC against a similar but unspecified coalition seem to show that he met with no lasting success. According to the Tanakh, however, Ahab with 7,000 troops had previously overthrown Ben-hadad and his thirty-two kings, who had come to lay siege to Samaria, and in the following year obtained a decisive victory over him at Aphek, probably in the plain of Sharon at Antipatris (1 Kings 20). A treaty was made whereby Ben-hadad restored the cities which his father had taken from Ahab's father, and trading facilities between Damascus and Samaria were granted.
Jezreel has been identified as Ahab's fortified chariot and cavalry base.
In the Biblical text, Ahab has five important encounters with prophets. The first encounter is with Elijah, whom Ahab refers to as "the troubler of Israel" (1 Kings 18:17), in which Elijah predicts a drought (1 Kings 17:1). This encounter ends with Elijah victorious over the official Baal prophets of Israel in a contest held for the sake of the Israelites and their king, Ahab. The contest ends when Elijah's God consumes the offering which the Baal worshipers could not induce their god to touch, after which Elijah slaughters the Baal prophets (1 Kings 18:17–40). The second encounter is between Ahab and an unnamed prophet in 1 Kings 20:22. The third is again between Ahab and an unnamed prophet who condemns Ahab for his actions in a battle that had just taken place (1 Kings 20:34-43). The fourth is when Elijah confronts Ahab over Ahab's and Jezebel's execution of Naboth and usurpation of the latter's ancestral vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-16). Upon the prophet's remonstration ("Hast thou killed and also taken possession?" (1 Kings, 21:19)), Ahab displayed sincere remorse (1 Kings 21:27). The fifth encounter is with Micaiah, the prophet who, when asked for advice on a military campaign, first assures Ahab he will be successful and ultimately gives Ahab a glimpse into God's plan for Ahab to die in battle (1 Kings 22).
Three years later, war broke out east of the Jordan River, and Ahab with Jehoshaphat of Judah went to recover Ramoth-Gilead from the Arameans. During this battle Ahab disguised himself, but was mortally wounded by an unaimed arrow (1 Kings 22). The Hebrew Bible says that dogs licked his blood, according to the prophecy of Elijah. But the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) adds that pigs also licked his blood, symbolically making him unclean to the Israelites, who abstained from pork. Ahab was succeeded by his sons, Ahaziah and Jehoram.
Jezebel's death, however, was more dramatic than Ahab's. As recorded in 2 Kings 9:30-34, Jezebel was confronted by Jehu who had her servants throw her out the window, causing her death.
1 Kings 16:29 through 22:40 contains the story of Ahab's reign. This reign is one which faces opposition from several prophets of Yahweh throughout as well as various consequences because of his marriage to Jezebel, because of his worship of Baal, disobedience to prophetic warnings and words, and also because of the murder of Naboth. The murder of Naboth (see Jezebel), an act of royal encroachment, stirred up popular resentment just as the new cult aroused the opposition of the Israelite prophets, including Elijah and Micaiah. Indeed, he is referred to, for this and other things, as being "more evil than all the kings before him" (1 Kings 16:30). The followers of Yahweh found their champion in Elijah. His denunciation of the royal dynasty of Israel and his emphatic insistence on the worship of Yahweh and Yahweh alone, illustrated by the contest between Yahweh and Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), form the keynote to a period which culminated in the accession of Jehu, an event in which Elijah's chosen disciple Elisha was the leading figure.