Tribe of Issachar

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Issachar (Hebrew: יִשָּׂשכָר, Modern Yissakhar, Tiberian Yiśśâḵār) was one of the Tribes of Israel.

Following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite tribes after about 1200 BCE,[1] Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes. The territory which it was allocated was immediately north of (the western half of) Manasseh, and south of Zebulun and Naphtali, stretching from the Jordan River in the east, to the coast in the west; this region included the fertile Esdraelon plain. (Joshua 19:17–23)


12 Tribes of Israel Map.svg

According to the Torah, the tribe consisted of descendants of Issachar, the ninth son of Jacob, and a son of Leah, from whom it took its name; however some biblical scholars view this also as postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation.[2] According to this biblical passage, the name Issachar refers to Leah hiring Jacob's sexual favours at the cost of some mandrakes; this suggests the etymology is ish-sachar, literally meaning man of hire, though the Bible says it means reward or recompense, in reference to Issachar being the result of Jacob being hired (Gen 30:17).

A number of people think that some of the Israelite tribes actually originated as part of the sea peoples.[3] Issachar may be one of these, since in Egyptian accounts there is a tribe of sea peoples named Shekelesh; Shekelesh is here believed to be composed from shekel-ish, meaning men of the shekel, a meaning synonymous with Issachar's man of hire. The biblical passage in which Leah is described as Issachar's matriarch is one which is regarded by some textual scholars as having been spliced together from its sources in a manner which has highly corrupted the narrative; Leah as a matriarch is interpreted to suggest that the text's authors believed the tribe to be one of the original Israelite groups, and it is having a handmaidenBilhah or Zilpah—as a matriarch that would have indicated a foreign origin.[2] In the ancient Song of Deborah, Issachar is closely associated with Naphtali, which itself does have a handmaiden as matriarch, and at one point the text appears to have been changed by the word Issachar being inserted instead of Naphtali.[2]


Traditionally, Issachar was seen as being dominated by religious scholars;[4] there is said by some to be an allusion to this in the Book of Chronicles[4]...from Issachar, men who understood the times, and knew what Israel ought to do ...[5]—and if this is indeed an allusion to the tradition, then it would imply that the tradition was in existence by the time that the Book of Chronicles was compiled. In the Midrash, it is said that Issachar were the most influential in proselytism,[4] and that Jewish religious scholars were either from the tribe of Levi or that of Issachar.[6] Additionally, the Midrash argues that Issachar's description in the Blessing of JacobIssachar is a strong ass lying down between the sheepfolds: and he saw that settled life was good, and the land was pleasant; he put his shoulder to the burden, and became a slave under forced labour[7]—is a reference to the religious scholarship of the tribe of Issachar, rather than simply to a more literal interpretation of Issachar's name.[4]

Since the tribe of Zebulun were traditionally seen as merchants and Issachar as religious teachers, Issachar and Zebulun were considered to have a symbiotic relationship, whereby Issachar would devote its time to the study and teaching of Torah, while Zebulun would provide the financial support, in exchange for a share of Issachar's spiritual reward .[8] Such was the tradition of this symbiosis, that anyone engaged in such a partnership became termed Issachar and Zebulun respectively, even into modern times.


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


  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. ^ a b c Peake's commentary on the Bible
  3. ^ Yigael Yadin And Dan, Why Did He Remain in Ships
  4. ^ a b c d Jewish Encyclopedia
  5. ^ 1 Chronicles 12:32
  6. ^ Yoma 26a
  7. ^ Genesis 49:14–15
  8. ^ Dr. J.H. Hertz (former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain), commentary on Deuteronomy 33:18–19, in The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, J.H. Hertz, ed., second edition, London, Soncino Press, 1975