Othniel

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For the Israeli settlement in the West Bank, see Otniel.

Othniel (/ˈɔːθniəl/ or /ˈɒθniəl/; Hebrew: עָתְנִיאֵל בֶּן קְנַז, Modern Otniel Ben Knaz, Tiberian ʻOṯnîʼēl Ben Qənáz ; "lion/might of God") is the first of the Biblical Judges.

Family[edit]

Othniel was related to Caleb, as his father Kenaz was Caleb's brother. The Talmud (Sotah 11b) argues that Othniel was Caleb's brother.[1] When Caleb promises the hand of his daughter Achsah to him who will conquer the land of Debir,[2] it is Othniel who rises to the challenge, thus becoming Caleb's son-in-law (Joshua 15:16, 17; Judges 1:13).[3]

Campaign as a Judge[edit]

Some time after the death of Joshua, the Israelites once again turned to sin and fell under the subjection of Chushan-rishathaim, the king of Aram-Naharaim in Mesopotamia, because of the transgressions against God. He oppressed them for eight years; when they "cried" unto God, Othniel was raised up to be their deliverer. He was the son of Kenaz, who was the younger brother of Caleb according Bible translations such as the New American Bible (Judg. 3:8). He is the only Judge mentioned connected with the Tribe of Judah. Under Othniel, peace lasted for forty years.[4]

After these forty years, Israel fell under the subjection of Eglon, a king of Moab who defeated Israel with help from Ammon and Amalek (Judges 3:12-13).

Tomb[edit]

The tomb of Othniel Ben Knaz is located in Hebron in a traditional burial cave.[5] Located approximately 200 meters west of the Beit Hadassah building, it has been revered as a site for prayers for generations.[6]

The structure of the tomb corresponds to the way Jewish burial sites were made in the times of the Mishnah, as a family burial cave with compartments in the sides.[7]

Menachem Mendel of Kamenitz,[8] the first hotelier in the Land of Israel [9] references his visit to the Tomb of Othniel in his 1839 book Sefer Korot Ha-Itim. He states, "outside of the city [of Hebron] I went to the grave of Othniel ben Kenaz and, next to him, are laid to rest 9 students in niches in the wall of a shelter standing in a vineyard. I gave 20 pa’res to the owner of the vineyard." [10]

The author and traveler JJ Benjamin mentioned visiting the tomb in his 1859 book Eight Years in Asia and Africa. He states, "Likewise outside the city, towards the south, in a vineyard, which was purchased by the Jews, are the graves of the father of King David and of the first Judge, Othniel, the son of Kinah." [11]

In recent years prayer services have been organized for the holiday of Lag Ba'Omer [12] and for Tisha B'Av.[13]

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Othniel
Preceded by
Joshua
Judge of Israel Succeeded by
Ehud