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The sons of Jacob

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posted on Jan, 23 2015 @ 05:01 PM
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The sons of Jacob fall into two groups, if we follow the narrative in Genesis chs.29-30.

The first group are the tribes associated with Leah; that is, the six sons of Leah and the two sons of Leah’s handmaid.
What this might be telling us about Israel’s history is that the tribes of Leah were the first version of the confederacy of “Israel”.
They would have been the original “sons of Jacob”.
They would have had a common worship at the places which Jacob named in the stories, like Bethel and Mahanaim and Peniel.

The chief tribes at the time will have been the four “eldest sons” of Leah, namely Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah.

Reuben, on the eastern side of the Jordan, is identified as the eldest son.
Evidently the leading tribe in the early days of the confederacy, which may have begun on that side of the river.
The survey of tribes in Genesis ch49 calls Reuben “pre-eminent in pride and pre-eminent in power”. (v3)
Yet the survey in Deuteronomy ch33 is aware that Reuben has declined;
“Let Reuben live, and not die, nor let his men be few.” (v6)

The next two sons are Simeon and Levi, who are identified as “brothers” because they work together closely.
In ch34 they combine to attack Shechem. The survey in ch49 speaks of their violence and their fierce anger.
The implication is that they used to be a formidable power in the central highlands west of the Jordan.
However, the survey also says “I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel”. (vv5-7)
In the accounts of the division of the land, Simeon has become a small group of settlements in the south of Judah. They vanish from history, except that they must be the unnamed eleventh tribe which fails to join the “ten” in breaking away from the house of David.
Levi is no longer a military power, and has become a blanket name covering the priestly families of Israel.
The survey in Deuteronomy dwells on the militant priestly role of Levi, and leaves out Simeon altogether.

So what happened? There may be a clue in the Merneptah Stele.
In a list of his victories, the Pharaoh Merneptah claims to have laid waste Israel (or possibly Jezreel).
This is interesting, for historians, but also a little awkward, because it isn’t easy to match the dates in Egyptian history with the traditional dates for Israelite occupation of the land.
If “Israel” is the correct reading, my theory is that it refers to the power exercised by Simeon and Levi.
In other words, it was the Pharaoh Merneptah who “scattered them” from their hold on the central highlands.

The fourth son is Judah, but the descriptions in the surveys will come from the time when Judah was dominant under the house of David.

Gad and Asher are included in the confederacy as the sons of Leah’s maid.
Gad shares with Reuben the lands on the eastern side of the Jordan. They are subject to raids from the tribes further east (ch49 v19). Nevertheless, Deuteronomy thinks that Gad “chose the best of the land for himself” and “has a commander’s portion” (vv20-21).
Asher is another substantial tribe north of the plain of Jezreel.
Issachar and Zebulun are small tribes in the same region, which come later in the birth-story, but they count as fully-fledged “sons of Leah” rather than allies.
They have a cultic site of their own- the mountain (probably Mt. Tabor) on which they offer “right sacrifices” (Deuteronomy ch33 v19).

These eight tribes between them cover the bulk of the territory of later Israel.

The second group are the tribes associated with Rachel. That is, the two sons of Rachel and the two sons of her handmaid.

Joseph, who was “separate from his brothers” is described as a “fruitful bough” enriched with many blessings (Genesis ch49 vv22-26).
The description in Deuteronomy also reflects the way that Joseph took over the leadership of the confederacy;
“…prince among his brothers…his horns are the horns of a wild ox; with them he shall push the peoples to the ends of the earth” (ch33 vv16-17).
We can hardly ignore the association of Joseph with Egypt.
At the same time, since Joshua was an Ephraimite, the house of Joseph is closely associated with the westward crossing of the Jordan.
The account in Numbers takes the tribes of Israel from Egypt and Sinai to the eastern side of the Jordan, before getting them across the river.
I suggest there is a core of truth in this plot, except that it is not the story of Israel as a whole; it is the story of the house of Joseph.
The real sequel would be an encounter between Joseph and the original confederacy of Israel, with the ultimate result that Joseph became part of Israel as the new leading tribe.
Any signs of “violent invasion” in the archaeology might belong to this particular stage in the development.

Manasseh was the “elder son” of Joseph. That is, the dominant partner in the early stages.
However, the supremacy soon passed to Ephraim, and this change is reflected in Genesis by the story of Jacob giving Ephraim his “right-hand” blessing.

There is a theory that Benjamin originated as an offshoot of Ephraim.
In the birth narrative, Benjamin is the last of the sons and does not arrive until Jacob is already back in Canaan.
“Benjamin” is interpreted as “son of the right hand”, but can also mean “southerner”.
The theory finds support in the ambiguous way that both places and individuals belonging to Benjamin can also be described as belonging to Ephraim.
Thus Sheba the son of Bichri is later called “a man of the hill country of Ephraim” (2 Samuel ch21 v21). While Shimei son of Gera. of the same tribe, calls himself “first of all the house of Joseph” to greet David on his return from exile (2 Samuel ch19 v20).
So it’s possible that Benjamin was, at first, simply the southern province of Ephraim.

The last two tribes are Dan and Naphtali, the sons of Rachel’s maid.
Dan originated east of Jordan- “leaps from Bashan” (Deuteronomy ch33 v22).
I would guess that both tribes went west at the same time as Joseph, as part of the same movement.
Dan continued to be restless. One portion of the tribe gave their name to Laish in the north and founded a sanctuary which ultimately became one of the two chief shrines of Jeroboam’s kingdom.
Genesis says that Dan “will judge his people” (ch49 v16). I would apply this to their dominance of the northernmost group of tribes.
Naphtali remain closely associated. They possess the lake of Galilee and “the south” (that is, the area south of Dan)- Deuteronomy ch49 v23.
The seduction of their mother, Rachel’s maid, is supposed to have been responsible for the downfall of Reuben.
That may be a coded way of disparaging Reuben’s claim on the allegiance of the two tribes, while they were still east of the Jordan.
This would have been a contest which Reuben lost, a crucial event in the transference of power to the house of Joseph.

Signs of friction between the two groups of tribes can still be found in the final version of the story of Joseph in Genesis. Reuben suggests throwing Joseph into the pit. Judah suggests the sale. Simeon is later made a hostage. Of the four “eldest sons” of Leah, only Levi escapes some kind of invidious role.

Nevertheless, the final result was a renewed and enlarged confederacy, now united in their worship of the God of Sinai.
If this was really how Israel came together, the implication is that Paul was right.
Even in those early days, the real bond of unity in Israel was not their common blood but their common faith.




posted on Jan, 23 2015 @ 05:03 PM
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There was literally no space in the OP to comment on the way that I would be treating the birth-narratives of Genesis chs29-30.
This is a very speculative approach, of course.
I’m taking the narrative as a simplified version of what would have been a more complex process.
One clue to the process is the way that Simeon and Levi are called “brothers”, in one of the
traditions, suggesting a close association between them older than the official story that all twelve tribal ancestors were sons of the one man.
As the confederacy expands, the family tree which links them together gains new members.

Parallels can be found elsewhere in the world.
In Scottish history, the Clan Chattan was a federation of clans which had come together in different ways.
I have a book on Scottish tartans which gives two completely different accounts of the way the clan Mackintosh became part of this group.
On one page, Angus Mackintosh married Eva, the heiress of the original chiefs,
On another page, though, the various members of the group including the Mackintoshes were lineal descendants of the original line, branching off at different times.
The first version is the historical story, and the second is evidently the legendary, unifying version.
It seems to me that what we have in Genesis is the legendary, unifying version, and our best chance of getting at the real history is to tease out the evolutionary process which underlies the legend.
I have tried to do this by using evidence from those traditional observations about the tribes, which have been collected into the two tribal surveys at the end of Genesis and Deuteronomy.

As the word “evolution” implies, the question of Israel’s origins, when faced honestly, offers a challenge to the believer comparable to the question of human origins.
In both cases, Genesis presents an account which would not necessarily be accepted, in its literal form, by modern scholars.
On the subject of human origins, many Christians are convinced that it’s possible to find room for a theory of evolution without surrendering the basic theological principle that God was at the root of the process.
In the same way, I suggest, it’s possible to question the details of the Genesis account of Israel’s origins, without surrendering the basic theology that Israel became God’s people, the nation which he brought into existence.



posted on Jan, 24 2015 @ 01:36 AM
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any idea as to what the story might relate to as a revelation as to the coming of the Messiah or do you consider it just historical?



posted on Jan, 24 2015 @ 03:45 AM
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a reply to: borntowatch
The basic theology of the story is that God brought Israel together as a nation to make them his people.
This in turn leads into the Messiah, because Christ is born into that people and fulfils their mission.



posted on Jan, 24 2015 @ 05:49 AM
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a reply to: DISRAELI


Very interesting take. I watched a movie on archeology from the early part of Israel's history and they posited something akin to this, along with the downfall of the Egyptian control over the Levant in the 9th Century, and an uprising of the hill peoples (I can't remember exactly).

In my sig line thread I wrote about Serabit Al-Khadim as a potential site for Sinai, which was a shrine of Hathor, and also where we find the oldest recorded evidence of the name YHWH. It seems that at least one of the tribes were metal workers/miners under Egyptian rule, and were likely the guardians of the temple of Hathor. We also find hathor images in Israel, with a bronze serpent in the Holy of Holies, with a tent of meeting pretty much identical to the Israelite tabernacle. It was Midianite, which are Abrahamic peoples. The gradual movement of these metal workers/Yhwh worshipers from Egyptian territory, abandoning Serabit Al-Khadim and moving into Israel is very likely an origin of some of the stories.

I also think there are quite a few scholars who see at the very least Levi and Simeon not being blood descendants. Also Judah is often thought to possibly be non family because of the fact that the 4th son would have no reason to have kingship (or something to that effect).




posted on Jan, 24 2015 @ 06:06 AM
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originally posted by: zardust
In my sig line thread I wrote about Serabit Al-Khadim as a potential site for Sinai, which was a shrine of Hathor, and also where we find the oldest recorded evidence of the name YHWH.

Yes, on my theory the "house of Joseph" would have been the people who carried the name of YHWH and the Sinai covenant away from this area.
Whereas Elohim would have been local to Canaan and the normal usage of the Leah tribes, before the merger of the groups merged the two names and traditions.

I would take seriously the Numbers tradition that there was fighting on arrival at the eastern side of the Jordan. It was not just a "peaceful penetration".


Also Judah is often thought to possibly be non family because of the fact that the 4th son would have no reason to have kingship (or something to that effect).

In the earliest stories, kingship is not an hereditary thing anyway.
It's a case of "We are being attacked by enemies- who is our best fighter?- let's make him king".
Adding in the element of being chosen by God, that's how both Saul and David come to the throne.

However, I'm still attached to the principle that the order of birth in the birth-narratives reflects the order of inclusion in the group.
In other words, Simeon, Levi, Judah had to have been there right at the beginning.



edit on 24-1-2015 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 24 2015 @ 08:56 AM
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originally posted by: zardust

with a bronze serpent in the Holy of Holies, with a tent of meeting pretty much identical to the Israelite tabernacle. It was Midianite, which are Abrahamic peoples. The gradual movement of these metal workers/Yhwh worshipers from Egyptian territory, abandoning Serabit Al-Khadim and moving into Israel is very likely an origin of some of the stories.



A bronze serpent, reminiscent of the caduceus I would suspect.
I doubt pagan origins?



posted on Jan, 24 2015 @ 04:24 PM
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An episode in Judges points to a subtle diference in dialect between the two groups of tribes.
The Ephraimites had crossed the river to fight Jephthah and the men of Gilead, and were put to flight.
One of the reasons for bad blood between the two sides was that the Ephraimites used to insult the men of Gilead, calling them "fugitives of Ephraim". It's possible that the population of Gilead was supplemented by debt or crime fugitives from across the river, like the men of Huckleberry Finn's time "lighting out for the Territory".
After the battle, the men of Gilead got to the river fords first, and would allow no man to cross before they had heard him say the word "shibboleth". If he said "sibboleth", he was recognised as an Ephraimite, and they killed him. (Judges ch12 vv1-6)
Now the letter "SH" appears and is used in the Hebrew alphabet, so the people of Judah must also have been able to pronounce it.
It looks as though the ability to pronounce "SH" was shared by the Leah tribes of Gilead and Judah, but not by the Rachel people on Mount Ephraim.


When I was young, political groups were always accusing one another of being committed to an "outworn shibboleth".
Now the phrase seems to have gone out of use.
It must have become an outworn shibboleth.



posted on Jan, 24 2015 @ 07:30 PM
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originally posted by: DISRAELI
An episode in Judges points to a subtle diference in dialect between the two groups of tribes.
The Ephraimites had crossed the river to fight Jephthah and the men of Gilead, and were put to flight.
One of the reasons for bad blood between the two sides was that the Ephraimites used to insult the men of Gilead, calling them "fugitives of Ephraim". It's possible that the population of Gilead was supplemented by debt or crime fugitives from across the river, like the men of Huckleberry Finn's time "lighting out for the Territory".
After the battle, the men of Gilead got to the river fords first, and would allow no man to cross before they had heard him say the word "shibboleth". If he said "sibboleth", he was recognised as an Ephraimite, and they killed him. (Judges ch12 vv1-6)
Now the letter "SH" appears and is used in the Hebrew alphabet, so the people of Judah must also have been able to pronounce it.
It looks as though the ability to pronounce "SH" was shared by the Leah tribes of Gilead and Judah, but not by the Rachel people on Mount Ephraim.


When I was young, political groups were always accusing one another of being committed to an "outworn shibboleth".
Now the phrase seems to have gone out of use.
It must have become an outworn shibboleth.


Which probably would indicate the old phrase among the older Jews "My father was a wandering Aramean".

Aramean is of Aram, which is today Syria. Leah and Rachel were both Aramean.



posted on Jan, 25 2015 @ 12:26 PM
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Further to the remarks about the Merneptah stele;
In a number of places (e.g. Exodus ch23 v28) Israel are told that the Lord will send "hornets" into the land ahead of them, to drive out the previous inhabitants.
I have seen the suggestion that this refers to the Egyptians, from their own symbol for themselves.
If so, the statements would support the speculation that the house of Joseph, specifically, were able to advance across the Jordan more easily because of the power vacuum which the Egyptians had just been creating on the western side, wreaking havoc in the power structures there, including the first version of Israel.




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