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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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DAN . According to the popular tradition, Dan was the fifth son of Jacob, and full brother of Naphtali, by Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid ( Genesis 30:6; Genesis 30:8 ). Rachel, who had no children, exclaimed ‘dananni ’ (‘God hath judged me’), and, therefore, he was called Dan . As in the case of so many names, this is clearly a ‘popular etymology.’ It is probable that Dan was an appellative, or titular attribute, of some deity whose name has not come down to us in connexion with it, or it may even be the name of a god as Gad was (cf. the Assyr. [Note: Assyrian.] proper names Ashur-dân [‘Ashur is judge’], Aku-dâna [‘the moon-god is judge’] of the period of Hammurabi). Its feminine counterpart is Dinah (Jacob’s daughter by Leah), which as the name of the half-sister of Dan is probably reminiscent of some related clan that early lost its identity.

Of this eponymous ancestor of the tribe tradition has preserved no details, but some of the most interesting stories of the Book of Judges tell of the exploits of the Danite Samson, who, single-handed, wrought discomfiture in the ranks of the Philistines. These are heroic rather than historical tales, yet suggestive of the conditions that prevailed when the tribes were establishing themselves.

P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] makes Dan a large tribe. With his characteristic love of large numbers he gives the fighting strength of Dan in the Wilderness census as 62,700, more than that of any other except Judah (Numbers 1:33; cf. Numbers 26:43 , Moab census). All the other data point in the opposite direction. J [Note: Jahwist.] ( Judges 18:11 ) speaks of it as a ‘family’; elsewhere Dan is said to have had only one son, Hushim or Shuham ( Genesis 46:23 , Numbers 26:42 ). The tribe at first occupied the hill-country in the S.W. of Ephraim, and thence attempted to spread out into the valleys of Aijalon and Sorek. That it ever reached the sea, either here or in its later northern home, is unlikely, notwithstanding the usual interpretation of Judges 5:17 , a passage which yields no wholly satisfactory meaning. (But see Moore, Judges, ad loc .). In this region the Danites were severely pressed by the ‘Amorites’ = (Canaanites). The major portion were compelled to emigrate northward, where they found at the foot of Mt. Hermon an isolated city, Laish or Leshem, situated in a fertile tract of country ( Joshua 19:47 , Judges 18:1-31 ). This city with its unsuspecting inhabitants the Danites ruthlessly destroyed. A new city was built, to which they gave the name of Dan. In this colony there were only 600 armed men with their families. On their way thither they induced the domestic priest of an Ephraimite, Micah, to accompany them with his sacred paraphernalia, an ephod, a graven and a molten image, and the teraphim . These were duly installed in a permanent sanctuary, in which the descendants of Moses are said to have ministered until the Captivity ( Judges 18:30 ). That the remnant of the family left in the South was either destroyed by its enemies, or, more likely, absorbed by the neighbouring tribes, is made probable by Judges 1:35 , which ascribes the victory over their enemies to the ‘house of Joseph.’ Genesis 49:17 says ‘Dan shall be a serpent in the way, an adder in the path’; and Deuteronomy 33:22 , ‘Dan is a lion’s whelp,’ etc. These characterizations are more applicable to a small tribe of guerilla fighters, versed in cunning strategy, wont to strike a quick blow from ambush at a passing troop, than they are to the more sustained measures of warfare of a large and powerful body. See also Tribes.

James A. Craig.

DAN . A city in northern Palestine, once called Laish ( Judges 18:29 ) or Leshem ( Joshua 19:47 ), though the ancient record of the battle of four kings against five gives the later name ( Genesis 14:14 ). It was a city remote from assistance, and therefore fell an easy prey to a band of marauding Danites, searching for a dwelling-place. It was in the north boundary of Palestine. The story of the Danites stealing the shrine of Micah is told to account for its sanctity, which Jeroboam I. recognized by setting up here one of his calf-shrines ( 1 Kings 12:29 ). It was perhaps the same as Dan-jaan , one of the borders of Joab’s census district ( 2 Samuel 24:6 ). It was captured by Ben-hadad ( 1 Kings 15:20 ). It is identified with Tell el-Kadi on account of the similarity of meaning of the names (Arabic kadi = Hebrew dan = ‘judge’) a very dangerous ground for such speculations. The site, however, would suit the geographical context of the narratives.

R. A. S. Macalister.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Dan'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​d/dan.html. 1909.
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