According to the Biblical text, Caleb was of the tribe of Judah. He represented that tribe among the twelve spies whom Mosessent from the wilderness to spy out Canaan. He and Joshua alone brought back an encouraging report, and in consequence were the only ones of all that came out of Egypt who were permitted to survive and enter Canaan (Num. xiii. 6, 30; xiv. passim; xxvi. 65; xxxii. 12; xxxiv. 19; Deut. i. 36). After the conquest he was given Hebron and the region around it. In the conquest of this territory he offered the hand of Achsah, his daughter, to the man who would capture Hebron for him; the feat was accomplished and the maiden won by Caleb's younger brother, Othniel. To him was assigned the south land, to which later, at Achsah's request, "the upper springs" were added (Josh. xiv., xv.; and Judges i. passim). His name is connected with several towns in southern Judah (I Chron. ii. passim).
In the rabbinical sources, Caleb, the son of Hezron (I Chron. ii. 18-20), is identified with Caleb, the son of Jephunneh (Num. xiii. 6), the epithet "Jephunneh" having been given to him because he "turned away" ( = ) from the sinful intention of the other spies who advised the people against going into the Holy Land. Caleb is also called (I Chron. iv. 5) "Ashhur," because his face became black () from much fasting, and "father of Tekoa" (), because he fastened () his heart on God, and in this faith he married the prophetess Miriam, whom, although she was neither fair nor healthy, he treated with fatherly love (), appreciating her own piety and her relationship to such brothers as Moses and Aaron.
Although the son of Jephunneh, Caleb is also called "the Kenizzite" (A. V., "Kenezite," Josh. xiv. 6, 14; compare Judges i. 13), because Kenaz, the father of Othniel, was his stepfather; Othniel thus being in fact his half-brother (Soṭah 11a, 12a, where the names of Azubah's children [I Chron. ii. 18] are applied to Caleb in haggadic fashion; see also Ex. R. i. 17).
When Caleb came to Palestine as one of the spies, he visited the graves of the Patriarchs in Hebron (compare Num. xiii. 22) and prayed for their help against the sinful intention of his colleagues (Soṭah 34b). It was also he alone who insisted that the spies should take some of the fruits of the country with them in order to convince the people of the extraordinary fertility of Palestine. As they did not wish to do this Caleb drew his sword and said: "If you will not take any fruit with you, then either my life or yours!" (Tan., Shelaḥ 15, ed. Buber; Num. R. xvi. 14). Thoroughly realizing the evil intentions of the spies, and knowing that it was useless to attempt to dissuade them, he did not betray his plans to them, but acted as if he agreed with them (Tan., l.c. 19; Num. R, l.c. 19). But when the spies began to incite the people against Moses, and hissed Joshua, who attempted to act as peacemaker, Caleb, whom they had thought to be on their side, rose and said, "This is not the only thing the son of Amram has done for us."—here all the ring-leaders were silent—"He has taken us out of Egypt; he has divided the sea for us; and he has fed us with manna. Now, therefore, if he were to command us to make ladders and scale the heavens, we should obey him. Let us go up at once and take possession" (Soṭah 35a; Num. R. l.c.; Tan., l.c.). When the country was divided, Caleb and Joshua received the portions that had been intended for the other spies (B. B. 117b, 118b).
Caleb was the father of Hur from his second wife Ephrath (I Chron. ii. 19), and, therefore, the progenitor of the Davidic house, the "Ephrathite" (I Sam. xvii. 12; Soṭah 11b; Sanh. 69b).
The eponymous ancestor of the clan of Calebites. Since "Caleb" signifies dog, it has been thought that the dog was the totem of the clan. Modern criticism finds several different strata to this material, representing different points of view. The oldest writer (J) calls him simply Caleb in Josh. xv. 14-19; and Judges i. connects him with the expulsion of the sons of Anak from Hebron, and with the gift of Achsah and of certain lands to Othniel. D and P call him Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, and make him one of the twelve spies. In the original form of the story he alone brought back the favorable report, and so of all that came out of Egypt he alone entered Canaan.
- Wellhausen, Die Composition des Hexateuchs, pp. 337 et seq.;
- Driver, Introduction, p. 58;
- Moore, Judges, p. 31.