Tribe of Asher

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According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Asher (Hebrew: אָשֵׁר, Modern Asher, Tiberian ʼĀšēr, "happy one") was one of the Tribes of Israel. It is one of the ten lost tribes.

Biblical Narrative[edit]

According to the biblical Book of Joshua, following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite tribes Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes. According to biblical scholar Kenneth Kitchen, this conquest should be dated slightly after 1200 BC.[1] However, the consensus of modern scholars is that the conquest of Joshua as described in the Book of Joshua never occurred.[2][3][4]

In the biblical account, Joshua assigned Asher western and coastal Galilee,[5] a region with comparatively low temperature, and much rainfall, making it some of the most fertile land in Canaan, with rich pasture, wooded hills, and orchards; as such Asher was particularly prosperous, and known for its olive oil.[6] The Blessing of Moses appears to prophesy this allocation,[7] although textual scholars view this as a postdiction.[8]

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 Asher 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 (see the Book of Judges). With the growth of the threat from Philistine incursions, the Israelite tribes decided to form a strong centralized monarchy to meet the challenge, and the Tribe of Asher 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, and followed his son Ish-bosheth,[9] but after Ish-bosheth's death, the Tribe of Asher joined the other northern Israelite tribes in making David, who was then the king of Judah, king of a re-united Kingdom of Israel.

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. Asher was a member of the kingdom until the kingdom was conquered by Assyria in c. 723 BC and the population deported. From that time, the Tribe of Asher has been counted as one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

In the New Testament, Anna the prophetess and her father, Phanuel, are described as belonging to the Tribe of Asher.[10]

Territory[edit]

Map of the twelve tribes of Israel

Despite the connection to this general geographic region, it is difficult to determine from the Torah the exact boundaries of the tribe, to the extent that it is even uncertain whether Asher even had continuous territory.[11] Sites which according to the Bible were allocated to Asher, and whose locations have since been identified, appear to be a scattered distribution of settlements rather than a compact and well-defined tribal region.[11] Despite appearing to have had good contact with the markets of Phoenicia, Asher appears, throughout its history, to have been fairly disconnected from the other tribes of Israel; additionally it seems to have taken little part in the antagonism portrayed in the Torah between the Canaanites and the other tribes, for example in the war involving Barak and Sisera.[11] Critical scholars generally conclude that Asher consisted of certain clans that were affiliated with portions of the Israelite tribal confederation, but were never incorporated into the body politic.[11]

Origin[edit]

According to the Torah, the tribe consisted of descendants of Asher the eighth son of Jacob, from whom it took its name.

Critical scholars view this as an eponymous metaphor.[8] Asher is one of the two descendants of Zilpah, originally a handmaid of Leah, the other being Gad; critical scholars claim that the authors intended this to mean Asher and Gad were not of entirely of Israelite origin.[11]

Archaeological evidence[edit]

A group named Aseru, living in a similar region to Asher in the 14th century BC, are mentioned in Egyptian monuments of the period. Identification with the tribe of Asher is plausible according to views that place the Exodus at the end of the Hyksos period but conflicts with views that date it to the 13th century.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kitchen, Kenneth A. (2003), "On the Reliability of the Old Testament" (Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)(ISBN 0-8028-4960-1)
  2. ^ “Besides the rejection of the Albrightian ‘conquest' model, the general consensus among OT scholars is that the Book of Joshua has no value in the historical reconstruction. They see the book as an ideological retrojection from a later period — either as early as the reign of Josiah or as late as the Hasmonean period.” K. Lawson Younger, Jr. (1 October 2004). "Early Israel in Recent Biblical Scholarship". In David W. Baker; Bill T. Arnold. The Face of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches. Baker Academic. p. 200. ISBN 978-0-8010-2871-7. 
  3. ^ ”It behooves us to ask, in spite of the fact that the overwhelming consensus of modern scholarship is that Joshua is a pious fiction composed by the deuteronomistic school, how does and how has the Jewish community dealt with these foundational narratives, saturated as they are with acts of violence against others?" Carl S. Ehrlich (1999). "Joshua, Judaism and Genocide". Jewish Studies at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, Volume 1: Biblical, Rabbinical, and Medieval Studies. BRILL. p. 117. ISBN 90-04-11554-4. 
  4. ^ ”Recent decades, for example, have seen a remarkable reevaluation of evidence concerning the conquest of the land of Canaan by Joshua. As more sites have been excavated, there has been a growing consensus that the main story of Joshua, that of a speedy and complete conquest (e.g. Josh. 11.23: 'Thus Joshua conquered the whole country, just as the LORD had promised Moses') is contradicted by the archaeological record, though there are indications of some destruction and conquest at the appropriate time.Adele Berlin; Marc Zvi Brettler (17 October 2014). The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition. Oxford University Press. p. 951. ISBN 978-0-19-939387-9. 
  5. ^ Joshua 19:24-31
  6. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "article name needed". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. 
  7. ^ Deuteronomy 33:24-25
  8. ^ a b Peake's Commentary on the Bible
  9. ^ 2 Samuel 2:9-10
  10. ^ Luke 2:36
  11. ^ a b c d e Jewish Encyclopedia

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainEaston, Matthew George (1897). "Asher". Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons.