Second son of Jacob by Leah, and progenitor of one of the tribes of Israel; born at Padan-aram. In Gen. xxix. 33 the origin of the name is given: "God hath heard that I am hated" (R. V.). Various etymological theories have been advanced, of which those of Fürst and Redslob may be mentioned. The former ("Hebräisches Handwörterbuch") explains the name as meaning "the famous one"; the latter ("Die Alttestamentlichen Namen," p. 93) compares it to an Arabic word meaning "bondmen." Simeon was prominent in two incidents: He was associated with his brother Levi in the massacre of the Shechemites in revenge for the defilement of Dinah, for which act he was rebuked by Jacob (Gen. xxxiv. 25 etseq.); and he was taken by Joseph as a hostage and imprisoned until his brothers had returned with Benjamin (Gen. xlii. 24 et seq.). The reason that Joseph selected Simeon may have been that the latter was the eldest after Reuben, who was spared by Joseph in return for his interference on Joseph's behalf many years before (Gen. xxxvii. 21-22; comp. Simeon in Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature). Simeon had six sons, all of whom migrated to Egypt (Gen. xlvi. 8, 10).
Simeon was born on the twenty-first day of the tenth month (Ṭebet) of the year 2124 after the Creation (Book of Jubilees xxviii. 13; Midr. Tadshe, in Epstein, "Mi-Ḳadmoniyyot ha-Yehudim," p. xxii.). His name is interpreted as meaning "he who listens to the words of God" (Gen. R. lxxi. 4); or, according to another authority (Midr. ha-Gadol to Gen. xxix. 33), it is composed of (= "there is sin"), Leah alluding under this name to Zimri, the Simeonite prince who sinned with the Midianite woman (comp. Num. xxv. 6, 14). Referring to the narrative of the destruction of the Shechemites by Simeon and Levi (Gen. xxxiv. 25 et seq.), the "Sefer ha-Yashar" brings Simeon into still greater prominence. When Hamor asked Dinah's hand for his son Shechem, Simeon and Levi, to outwit him, replied that some delay was necessary in order to consult their grandfather Isaac about the matter. After Hamor had gone it was Simeon who advised his brothers to require the circumcision of all the men of Shechem, and by this means place them at their mercy ("Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Wayishlaḥ," p. 52a, Leghorn, 1870). However, many of the men escaped circumcision; and Simeon, who was then only thirteen years old (Gen. 12. lxxx. 9), had to fight against them as well as against the women of the city. Owing to his extraordinary strength, he and Levi slew all the men and captured eighty-five young women, one of whom, named Bonah, Simeon married ("Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c. p. 54a). Simeon was prominent also in the war against the Canaanites described in the Midrash Wayissa'u and at greater length in the "Sefer ha-Yashar" (see Judah in Rabbinical Literature). He is always represented as having a particularly powerful voice; and it is said that once, in the brunt of a battle, when he shouted, the enemy fled in terror at the sound ("Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c. p. 61a).
The Rabbis cite Simeon as the most implacable antagonist of Joseph. In Test. Patr., Simeon, 2, where Simeon is stated to have been very strong and fearless, it is likewise said that he was of a very envious character. He was thus filled with spite against Joseph for the particular love borne to him by Jacob; and he intended to kill him. According to the "Sefer ha-Yashar" ("Wayesheb," p. 67a), it was Simeon who said: "Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him" (Gen. xxxvii. 19-20; comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan ad loc.). The Rabbis hold that it was Simeon, too, who cast Joseph into the pit, and that he afterward ordered that stones be thrown therein (Gen. R. lxxxiv. 15; Tan., Wayesheb, 13). Later, when a dispute concerning Joseph arose between the brothers and the Midianites (see Joseph in Rabbinical Literature), Simeon distinguished himself by his heroism. On this occasion he again made use of his terrible voice, in such a way that the earth began to quake, and the Midianites, frightened and prostrating themselves on the ground, consented to arrange the matter amicably ("Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c. p. 68a). In the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (l.c.), however, it is stated that Simeon was not present at the sale of Joseph, having gone to Shechem. But for five months he was furiously angry with Judah for having sold Joseph to the Midianites, and thus allowed him to remain alive. As a punishment for his inhuman conduct toward Joseph, Simeon's right hand withered for seven days; Simeon then acknowledged his wrong-doing and exhibited penitence, whereupon his hand was healed. According to one authority, after the sale of Joseph, Simeon married his sister Dinah, who at the destruction of the Shechemites would not leave her seducer's house until Simeon had sworn to make her his wife. She bore to Simeon his sixth son, Shaul, who is styled in Gen. xlvi. 10 "the son of a Canaanitish woman" (Gen. R. lxxx. 10). The "Sefer ha-Yashar" (l.c. p. 75a) states that Shaul was Simeon's son by Bonah, while by Dinah were born to him the first five sons enumerated in Gen. l.c.Why Joseph's Hostage.
The Rabbis give two reasons why Simeon was chosen by Joseph for a hostage (see Simeon, Biblical Data): (1) Joseph desired to punish Simeon for having thrown him into the pit; and (2) he wished to separate Simeon from Levi, lest they together might destroy Egypt as they had destroyed Shechem (Gen. R. xci. 6). Simeon naturally was not willing to go to prison; and when, at Joseph's call, seventy mighty Egyptians approached to take him by force, he uttered a cry so terrible that they became frightened and ran away. It was Manasseh, Joseph's son, who subdued Simeon and led him to prison ("Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Miḳḳeẓ," p. 86a). The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (Simeon, 4), however, conformably to its statement that Simeon repented, declares that he recognized the justice of his punishment, and did not complain, but went willingly to prison. Contrary to the foregoing account of Simeon's extraordinary strength, the Rabbis declare that he was not one of the stronger of Jacob's sons; and they state that he was one of the five brothers brought by Joseph before Pharaoh (Gen. xlvii. 2; Gen. R. xcv. 3).
Simeon died at the age of 120, seventy-five years after Jacob and his children went to Egypt, and hence three years before Reuben's death (Seder 'Olam Zuṭa; Midr. Tadshe l.c.; "Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Shemot," p. 103a; Test. Patr., Simeon, 8; but this statement conflicts with Num. R. xiii. 10, which relates that Simeon was the head of the Patriarchs after Reuben's death; see Reuben in Rabbinical and Apocryphal Literature). It is said in Gen. R. c. 12 that the remains of all the Patriarchs were enclosed in coffins and taken to the land of Canaan by the Israelites at the time of the Exodus. But the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (l.c.) declares that Simeon's remains which had been putinto a coffin of imperishable wood, were secretly brought to Hebron at the time of the Egyptian war.