89. Lot of Dan
DAN , the fifth son of Jacob and the firstborn of Bilhah, Rachel's maid (Gen. 30:1-6).
The Name. The narrative attributes the origin of the name Dan to Rachel, who said: "God has vindicated me (dananni); indeed, He has heeded my plea and given me a son" (30:6). The name would thus be derived from the verb dyn ("to judge or vindicate"; cf. Gen. 49:16). Some scholars see in the name Dan the divine epithet dayyan, while others regard it as a divine name in itself. Most likely, however, the literal meaning intended by the biblical etymology is correct, and the name Dan should be regarded as a short form of Dan(ann)iel or the like.
The Tribe and Its Inheritance. Dan is listed first among the handmaid tribes in Jacob's blessing (Gen. 49:16-18), but second in the blessing of Moses (Deut. 33:22) and the Song of Deborah (Judg. 5:17). In tribal genealogies, only one clan is attached to Dan, Hushim (Gen. 46:23 or, by metathesis, Shuham, Num. 26:42). In the wilderness wanderings, the tribe encamped north of the Tabernacle together with Asher and Naphtali (Num. 2:25-29). It numbered 62,700 and 64,400 adult males respectively in the two censuses taken in this period (Num. 2:26; 26:43).
History of the tribe. Dan was the only one of the handmaid tribes originally to settle among the tribes of Leah and Rachel. Its inheritance bordered on Ephraim, Benjamin, and Judah. It would seem that, at first, its territory was limited to the area between Zorah and Eshtaol. Here, however, they were under pressure from Amorites on the west (Judg. 1:34), and perhaps also from the house of Joseph on the east (1:35). There may even have been pressure from Judah (15:11). At any rate, the tribe of Dan was forced to search for a new area of settlement (18:1). The story of this second attempt is related in detail in a unique narrative which may have wider significance (Judg. 18). The Danite experience possibly constitutes the paradigm for all movements and migrations of the tribes of Israel during the period of settlement. The operation began with the dispatch of scouts (cf. Num. 13) to gather information about a suitable location. Five "able men" were sent from Zorah and Eshtaol "to spy out the land and to explore it" (Judg. 18:2). The spies found Laish and its environs to be adequate to their needs because it was fertile country, rich and spacious (18:9-10). Its conquest would present no great military problems since the city was isolated due to its distance from the Sidonian metropolis (18:7, 10, 27-28). Three references in ancient Hebrew poetry reflect the history of the Danites during the period of the Judges and the beginning of the monarchy. These are the allusions to be found in Jacob's blessing (Gen. 49), the blessing of Moses (Deut. 33), and the Song of Deborah (Judg. 5), short poetic utterances in which, however, there is more that is obscure than is clear. Jacob's blessing appears to reflect the earliest period in the history of the Danites, describing a tribe which, on the one hand, is struggling for recognition, participation, and responsibility within the tribal confederacy (Gen. 49:16) and, on the other, is fighting for its survival against nomadic tribes or even the Amorites (49:17). In the Song of Deborah the tribe is berated for not having participated in the war against the Canaanites. With biting irony the question is asked, "... and Dan, why did he abide with the ships?" (Judg. 5:17). It is not clear from this verse exactly where Dan resided at the time of Deborah's war, whether in the south across from Jaffa on the coast before the migration northward (cf. Josh. 19:46), or already in the north following the migration. Scholarly opinion generally favors the presence of Dan already in the north at this time, since it appears in the Song of Deborah together with the northern tribe of Asher. In the blessing of Moses it is clear that the tribe is in its northern location, since it is described as "a lion's whelp that leaps forth from Bashan" (Deut. 33:22), and is also coupled with the northern Naphtali, its "brother" tribe (cf. Gen. 30:6-8). The Samson narratives indirectly give information concerning the Danite families which remained in their southern inheritance during the period of the Judges (Judg. 13ñ16). Those families in Mahaneh-Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol (Judg. 13:25) were subjugated by the Philistines together with the tribes of the house of Joseph and Judah, though they suffered more than the others since they were the first to be affected by the Philistine eastward expansion. Samson's guerrilla activities led to a hardening of Philistine rule (15:9). At the same time, Samson's experiences show that despite the attempt to preserve the purity of the family, tribe, and nation by not intermixing with the nations of the land (14:3), social contact and even marital ties were established between the Danite clans and the Philistines.
The Danite clans of the north apparently intermingled with their neighbors, especially the tribe of Naphtali (cf. I Kings 7:13 with II Chron. 2:13) and even with the people of Tyre (ibid.). The territory of Dan in the north constituted the northern flank of the kingdom of Israel and it suffered in the struggles and wars between Israel and Aram and between Israel and Assyria. In the time of King Baasha of Israel, the cities of Dan (Ijon, Dan, and Abel-Beth-Maacah) were conquered by Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, who had been hired by King Asa of Judah (I Kings 15:16ñ20). In the time of Pekah, king of Israel, the territory of Dan together with that of Naphtali and the whole of Galilee was conquered by Tiglath-Pileser III (732 B.C.E.), and its inhabitants were exiled to Assyria (II Kings 15:29). In this region, he established the Assyrian province of Megiddo.
Isaac Avishur, Encyclopaedia Judaica, ad v. "Dan" (extract)
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 55)
Here the first settlement area of the Danites is meant (Josh. 19:40-46), before the tribe migrated to the north, captured the city of Laish and named it Dan (Tall al-Qadi near Banyas) according to Judg. 17-18.
Map Section 7 Place Sources