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Tribe of Dan

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Title: Tribe of Dan  
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Subject: List of minor biblical figures, A–K, Bible/Featured chapter/Exodus, Dan (ancient city), Ten Lost Tribes, Dan.
Collection: Ancient Israel and Judah, Descendants of Eber, Tribes of Israel
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Tribe of Dan

The Tribe of Dan, also sometimes spelled as "Dann", (Hebrew: דָּן, Modern Dan, Tiberian Dān ; "Judge") was one of the Tribes of Israel. They were allocated a coastal portion of land when the people of Israel entered the Promised Land, later moving northwards.


  • Origin 1
  • Territory 2
  • History 3
    • Iconography 3.1
    • Characteristics 3.2
  • Fate 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


According to the Torah, the tribe consisted of descendants of Dan, a son of Jacob and Bilhah, Rachel's maidservant (Genesis 30:4). In the biblical account, Dan is one of the two children of Bilhah, the handmaid of Jacob's wife Rachel, the other child of Bilhah being Naphtali. Scholars see this as indicating that the authors saw Dan and Naphtali as being not of entirely Israelite origin (being descendants of handmaids rather than of full wives).[1] Some have noted that the territory of the handmaid tribes happens to be the territory closest to the north and eastern borders of Canaan, thus exposing them to Assyria and Aram.[2] However, other tribes born to wives, including the firstborn Reuben, were also included on the eastern outskirts, and immediately adjacent to Israel's more traditional enemies at the time of their entry to Canaan, the Moabites and Ammonites.

The territory of Dan appears in dark green north of Philistia on this map of the tribes.


According to the Hebrew Bible, following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite tribes after about 1200 BCE,[3] Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes. Dan was the last tribe to receive its territorial inheritance.[4][5] According to the biblical narrative, the land originally allocated to Dan was a small enclave in the central coastal area of Canaan, between Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim and the Philistines.[6] On the north the territory of Dan ended opposite Joppa, the modern Jaffa. This territory, not very extensive originally, was soon diminished by its dangerous neighbors, the Philistines.[1] The tribe was only able to camp in the hill country overlooking the Sorek Valley, the camp location becoming known as Mahaneh Dan ("Camps of Dan"). (Joshua 19) The region they were trying to settle extended south into the Shephelah in the area of Timnah; as a result, the modern state of Israel refers to the region as Gush Dan (the Dan area). However, as a consequence of the pressure from the Philistines, the tribe abandoned hopes of settling near the central coast, instead migrating to the north of Philistine territory, and after conquering Laish, refounded it as their capital (renaming it Dan). (Judges 18)


The Dan tribe's serpent plate on the Heichal Shlomo's door in Jerusalem

In the Biblical census of the Book of Numbers, the tribe of Dan is portrayed as the second largest Israelite tribe (after Judah).[7] Some textual scholars regard the census as being from the Priestly Source, dating it to around the 7th century BC, and more likely to reflect the biases of its authors, though this still implies that Dan was one of the largest tribes at a point fresh to the memories of the 7th century BC.[8][9] In the Blessing of Moses, which some textual scholars regard as dating from only slightly earlier than the deuteronomist,[8] In Moses' blessing Dan is prophesied to "leap from Bashan"; scholars are uncertain why this should be since the tribe did not live in the Bashan plain, east of the Jordan.[1]

From after the conquest of the land by Joshua until the formation of the first Kingdom of Israel in c. 1050 BC, the Tribe of Dan was a part of a loose confederation of Israelite tribes. No central government existed, and in times of crisis the people were led by ad hoc leaders known as Judges. The most celebrated Danite was Samson. Pnina Galpaz-Feller sees similarities between the story of Samson and Denyen tribal legends.[10]

With the growth of the threat from Philistine incursions, the Israelite tribes decided to form a strong centralised monarchy to meet the challenge, and the Tribe of Dan joined the new kingdom with Saul as the first king. After the death of Saul, all the tribes other than Judah remained loyal to the House of Saul, but after the death of Ish-bosheth, Saul's son and successor to the throne of Israel, the Tribe of Dan joined the other northern Israelite tribes in making David, who was then the king of Judah, king of a re-united Kingdom of Israel. However, on the accession of Rehoboam, David's grandson, in c. 930 BC the northern tribes split from the House of David to reform a Kingdom of Israel as the Northern Kingdom.[11]


Scales of justice emblem of the tribe

Modern artists use the "scales of justice" to represent the Tribe of Dan due to Genesis 49:16 referencing Dan "shall achieve justice for his kindred". However, more traditional artists use a snake to represent Dan, based on Genesis 49:17, "Let Dan be a serpent by the roadside, a horned viper by the path, That bites the horse's heel, so that the rider tumbles backward."


Their primary trade characteristic was seafaring, unusual for the Israelite tribes.[12] In the Song of Deborah the tribe is said to have stayed on their ships with their belongings.[13][14][15]


As part of the Kingdom of Israel, the territory of Dan was conquered by the Assyrians, and exiled; the manner of their exile led to their further history being lost.

Ethiopian Jews, also known as Beta Israel, claim descent from the Tribe of Dan, whose members migrated south along with members of the tribes of Gad, Asher, and Naphtali, into the Kingdom of Kush, now Ethiopia and Sudan,[16] during the destruction of the First Temple. This position is supported by former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.[17] They are said to have fought with the natives.[18] Charles Upton relates the serpent voodoo God Danbhala as derived in part from a heterodox form of Ethiopian Judaism.[19]

According to the Book of Revelation (7:4–8), the tribe of Dan is the only original tribe of Israel which is not included in the list of tribes which are sealed. No mention is made of why they are excluded. It has been suggested that this could be because of their pagan practices.[20] This made Hippolytus of Rome and a few Millennialists propose that the Antichrist will come from the tribe of Dan.[21][22]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Jewish Encyclopedia"Dan",
  2. ^ Peake's commentary on the Bible
  3. ^ Kitchen, Kenneth A. (2003), "On the Reliability of the Old Testament" (Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)(ISBN 0-8028-4960-1)
  4. ^ Petrie, George Laurens. "Jacob's sons", Neale, 1910. p. 111
  5. ^ Butler, James Glentworth. "The Bible-work, the Old Testament: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1 Chronicles XI., 1 Kings I-XI., 2 Chronicles I-IX", Funk & Wagnalls, 1889. p. 129
  6. ^ NAB, Joshua 19, n.5
  7. ^ Numbers 1:39
  8. ^ a b Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (Harper San Francisco) (1987) ISBN 0-06-063035-3
  9. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia"Numbers, Book of",
  10. ^ , Peter Lang, 2006. ISBN 3-03910-852-2, ISBN 978-3-03910-852-7. p. 278-282Samson: the hero and the manGalpaz-Feller, Pnina.
  11. ^ , p.215, Taylor & Francis, 1996, ISBN 9781884964039International Dictionary of Historic PlacesRing, Trudy; Salkin, Robert M. and La Boda, Sharon.
  12. ^ Mediterranean archaeology, Volume 16. University of Sydney. Dept. of Archaeology. 2003. p. 117
  13. ^ "The Children of Noah: Jewish Seafaring in Ancient Times", Raphael Patai. Princeton University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-691-00968-6, ISBN 978-0-691-00968-1. p. 59
  14. ^ "King, cult, and calendar in ancient Israel: collected studies", Shemaryahu Talmon. BRILL, 1986. ISBN 965-223-651-9, ISBN 978-965-223-651-7. p. 97
  15. ^ "Women in scripture: a dictionary of named and unnamed women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books, and the New Testament", Carol L. Meyers, Toni Craven, Ross Shepard Kraemer. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0-8028-4962-8, ISBN 978-0-8028-4962-5. p. 270
  16. ^ "From tragedy to triumph: the politics behind the rescue of Ethiopian Jewry", Mitchell Geoffrey Bard. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002. ISBN 0-275-97000-0, ISBN 978-0-275-97000-0. p. 2
  17. ^ "Ideology, policy, and practice: education for immigrants and minorities in Israel today", Devorah Kalekin-Fishman. Springer, 2004. ISBN 1-4020-8073-5, ISBN 978-1-4020-8073-9. p. 274
  18. ^ "The image of the Black in Jewish culture: a history of the other", Abraham Melamed. Psychology Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7007-1587-8, ISBN 978-0-7007-1587-9. p. 153
  19. ^ "The system of Antichrist: truth & falsehood in postmodernism and the New Age Religious", Charles Upton. Sophia Perennis, 2005. ISBN 0-900588-38-1, ISBN 978-0-900588-38-9. p. 441
  20. ^ "The uttermost part of the earth: a guide to places in the Bible", Richard R. Losch. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0-8028-2805-1, ISBN 978-0-8028-2805-7. p. 83
  21. ^ "Understanding Dan: an exegetical study of a biblical city, tribe and ancestor", Mark W. Bartusch. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003. ISBN 0-8264-6657-5, ISBN 978-0-8264-6657-0. p. 4
  22. ^ "The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology", Jerry L. Walls. Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN 0-19-973588-3, ISBN 978-0-19-973588-4. p. 371
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