ACHAN (in I Chron. ii. 7, Achar, probably from Achor, the valley mentioned in Josh. vii. 26).
By: Kaufmann Kohler
The son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, who committed sacrilege during the capture of the city of Jericho by the people of Israel in taking a portion of the spoil devoted to the Lord. Since the war was a holy war (see Ban and Ḥerem), he involved the whole nation in guilt, and caused its defeat in the battle of Ai, in which thirty-six men of Israel were killed. To assuage the wrath of the Lord kindled against the people, the twelve tribes were assembled according to their clans and households, and the sacred lot was cast in order to discover the guilty family that had come under the ban. Achan was singled out, and confessed that he had stolen silver and gold and a costly Babylonian mantle, and had hidden them in his tent. The stolen things were immediately sent for and laid before the Lord, and Achan and his family, his cattle, his asses, his sheep, and all his belongings were brought to the valley afterward called the "Valley of Achor" ( "Trouble"). Joshua said to him there: "Why hast thou troubled us? The Lord shall trouble thee this day." Achan and all that belonged to him were stoned to death and, with the whole of his possessions, burned, and "a great heap of stones" was raised over the ashes (Josh. vii. 24-26). This mode of expiation for sacrilegious theft appears somewhat harsh and inhumane, particularly so if we understand the words, "And all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire and stoned them with stones" (Josh. vii. 25), to refer not only to Achan, his goods, and his beasts, but also to "his sons and daughters" mentioned in the preceding verse (see W. Robertson Smith, "Religion of the Semites," 2d ed., p. 162).
The Jewish exegetes, Rashi, Gersonides, and others, maintain that the stoning (Josh. vii. 25) was inflicted only on the beasts, and that the sons and daughters were brought there merely to witness and be warned. This seems to be the opinion also of the rabbis in the Talmud (see Rashi on Sanh. 44a), although they say that the wife and the children were accessories to the crime, in so far as they knew of it and kept silent. According to another and apparently much older rabbinical tradition, Achan's crime had many aggravating features. He had seen in Jericho an idol endowed with magic powers, with a tongue of gold, the costly mantle spread upon it, the silver presents before it. By taking this idol he caused the death, before the city of Ai, of thirty-six righteous men of Israel, members of the high court. When Joshua, through the twelve precious stones of the high priest's breastplate, learned who was the culprit, he resorted to the severest measures of punishment, inflicting death by stoning and by fire both on him and his children, in spite of Deut. xxiv. 16; for these had known of the crime and had not at once told the chiefs of the hidden idol. They thus brought death upon more than half the members of the high court (see Pirḳe R. El. xxxviii.; Tan., Wa-yesheb, ed. 1863, p. 43). Another view expressed by the rabbis is that Achan committed incest, or violatedthe Sabbath, or was otherwise guilty of a five-fold crime. This view is based upon the fivefold use of the word ("also," "even") in Josh. vii. 11 ("They have also transgressed my covenant," etc.), as well as upon his own confession: "Thus and thus have I done" (Josh. vii. 20). Achan is held up by the rabbis as a model of the penitent sinner; because his public confession and subsequent punishment saved him from eternal doom in Gehenna. "Every culprit before he is to meet his penalty of death," says the Mishnah Sanh. vi. 2, "is told to make a public confession, in order to be saved from Gehenna's doom." Thus Achan confessed to all his sins when he said: "Of a truth I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel, and thus and thus I have done." That his avowal saved him from eternal doom may be learned from Joshua's words to Achan: "Why hast thou troubled us? So may the Lord trouble you this day," which are taken to mean "in the life that now is, so that thou mayest be released in the life to come" (Sanh. 43b-44; see also Ḳimḥi on Josh. v. 25).—Critical View:
Bible critics are inclined to ascribe the story of Achan to two different writers, since the words in the first part of Josh. vii. 25, "All Israel stoned him with stones" (), show a different style and tradition from those at the end of the verse: "they stoned them with stones" ( ). See Dillmann's commentary ad loc., and Bennet on Joshua in "S. B. O. T." p. 66.