—Biblical Data:

Name given to the chapter containing the prophetic utterances of Jacob concerning the destiny of his twelve sons as the fathers and representatives of the twelve tribes (Gen. xlix. 1-27). It is called thus after verse 28: "Every one according to his blessing he blessed them"; though in reality many of the utterances contain rebukes rather than blessings. Jacob is represented as revealing to his sons that which shall befall them "in the last days." Reuben is told that he has forfeited his birthright—that is, his leadership among the tribes—on account of his incestuous conduct with reference to Bilhah (Gen. xlix. 3-4; comp. ib. xxxv. 22; I Chron. v. 1). Simeon and Levi are called brethren whose inborn nature (for "mekerah" or "mekurah" = "kinship"; comp. Ezek. xxi. 35 [A. V. xxii. 3], xxix. 14) it is to handle weapons of violence (A. V. "instruments of cruelty"); their fate—"to be divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel," instead of forming two strong tribes—is declared to be due to their fierce anger shown at the massacre of the men of Shechem (Gen. xlix. 5-7; comp. ib. xxxiv. 25).

Judah, on the other hand, is addressed as the leader of the tribes, before whom his enemies shall flee and his brethren shall bow down. The rather obscure verse, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come, and to him shall the gathering of the peoples be," seems to refer to David as having been elected king in Shiloh (this is not in harmony with II Sam. v. 3; but the whole history of Shiloh is wrapped in mystery; see Shiloh). Judah's land, as producing wine, is especially praised (Gen. xlix. 8-12). Zebulun is told that he shall dwell on the coast of the sea and be a neighbor of the Phenician merchantcity of Sidon (ib. verse 13). Issachar with his beautiful land is rebuked for having allowed himself from love of ease to become a tribute-paying servant to the Canaanite (verses 14-15). Dan is represented as struggling hard for his existence among the tribes; he can assail his mightier foe only by way-laying him and acting like the serpent, which bites the heels of the horse so that the rider falls. The situation is that of the later time of the Judges (verses 16-18; comp. Judges i. 35, v. 17, xviii. 1-29). The tribe of Gad is depicted as being pursued by troops of the neighboring tribes of Ammon or Moab, but at last overcoming them by falling upon them in the rear (Gen. xlix. 19). Asher is praised only because of its land, which yields choice fruits for the table of kings (ib. verse 20). Naphtali, according to the Masoretic text, is declared to be a "hind let loose; he giveth goodly words"; but this fails to convey a clear idea, and the original reading seems to have been: "Naphtali is a stretched-out terebinth ["elah" instead of "ayyalah"], sending forth beautiful branches." It refers to the beautiful landscapes of the country (ib. verse 21; comp. Deut. xxxiii. 23). Signal blessing is conferred upon Joseph, who is called "a fruitful bough by the well, whose branches run over the wall." His tribe is described as being engaged in warfare but coming forth victorious, strengthened by the mighty God of Jacob and by the arms (read "mi-zero'e" instead of "mi-sham ro'eh") of the Rock of Israel. In consequence of this he possesses the hills of Ephraim, rich in blessing (Gen. xlix. 22-26). Benjamin, the warrior tribe (Judges iii. 15, xx. 16; I Chron. viii. 40, xii. 2), is likened to a wolf that devours its prey in the morning and divides the spoil at night (Gen. xlix. 27).

E. C. K.—Critical View:

It has been held by some authorities that the text is not intact. Verses 10, 25, 26, and probably verse 18, are regarded as interpolations. Verse 10 interrupts the continuity of thought, verse 11 taking up the thread dropped in verse 8. All these verses touch upon the possession of the land of promise; whereas verse 10 refers to the future and to the submission of the people. Verses 25 and 26 bear a suspicious resemblance to Deut. xxxiii. 13-16; and while the text of verses 22-24, corresponding to other very ancient songs, presents a knotty problem, verses 25 and 26 are comparatively intelligible (Fripp, in "Zeit. für Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft," 1891, pp. 262 et seq.; Holzinger, "Commentar zur Genesis," ad loc.). The lack of connection between verse 18 and the other verses is made clear by the form of the matter: the speech concerning Dan consists of three couplets, and verse 18 seems to hobble lamely after. Moreover, the idea expressed in verse 18 is different from that of the other verses (comp. Ball, "S. B. O. T." ad loc.).

Origin of the Song.

The question as to the origin of the song is independent of the age of the Pentateuchal sources; for there is no doubt that the song bears no relation to them, and that it had been composed before the time of the author who introduced it into his narrative. It is difficult to determine who that author was; yet, since Reuben's great transgression and the dispersion of Levi and Simeon, here mentioned, were likewise touched upon, in fact were more explicitly given, in the oldest source (J)—in Gen. xxxiv., xxxv. 22—it is highly probable that J was the one who wove the song into his story. Consequently the origin of this oldest source determines the latest date at which the song could have been written.

Date of Composition.

The difficulty of an exact determination is increased by doubt concerning the unity of the composition. The first to dispute its unity was E. Renan ("Histoire Générale des Langues Sémitiques," p. iii.); and the conjecture that the song consists of sayings originating in different periods gains more and more credence (J. P. N. Land, "Disputatio de Carmine Jacobi," 1857; Kuenen, Holzinger, and others). The great variety of forms in the song supports this theory: while the language of one part is smooth and clear, another part is obscure. The determination of the correctness of this theory involves an investigation of the age of each verse; and in several instances this can not be ascertained, since the verses indicate nothing concerning the time of their origin (see verses on Zubulun, Gad, Asher, and Naphtali). The verses on Issachar have reference to the period after the struggles of Deborah (Judges v.); the verses on Dan, describing his battles in the north, where in his conflicts with the surrounding nations he maintained the old Israelitish custom of making an insidious rear attack instead of offering a bold challenge, refer to the time after Judges xvii. et seq.; and the verses on Judah (8, 11) presuppose the kingdom of Judah. The comparison of Judah to a lion's whelp seems to characterize him as a rising power. This may apply to different periods, not necessarily to the time of David.

The verses on Joseph (22-27) allude to a defensive war, in which Joseph was successful. Since the text refers to archers, and the Arabs were excellent marksmen, Dillmann thinks that the war was with the Arabs. But his conjecture is erroneous; for the conflicts with the Arabs were confined to the portion of Manasseh east of the Jordan, and the term "Joseph" designates the portion of the tribe of Joseph dwelling west of the Jordan. Since, moreover, the reference could not have been to the Philistines, by whom the tribe was occasionally subdued, the verse clearly alludes to the Arameans of Damascus, with whom the conflicts were of long duration, often threatening the safety of the tribe of Joseph—that is, of the Northern Kingdom. Verse 24, however, bears no testimony of times following the glorious period of Jeroboam II.; consequently the passage on Joseph points to the ninth century. Probably it was in the second half of this century, at all events before the conquests of Jeroboam, and evidently in the Southern Kingdom, that the collection of these pithy descriptions of the tribes was completed. If verses 25 and 26 are interpolations, this is the only interpretation which would also explain both the esteem felt for Judah, expressed in the passage on him, and the silence concerning the Benjamite kingdom and possibly even the Northern Kingdom.

Dillmann endeavored to arrive at the same conclusion by the supposed sequence in the enumerationof the minor tribes, proceeding from south to north. But this supposition is not tenable; for the very first tribe mentioned is the most northerly, and, furthermore, the sequence is broken by Gad. However, even if there were an exact geographical succession of tribes from south to north, it would prove nothing concerning the home of the collector of the passages, since the same order would have been natural for an Ephraimite (comp. Holzinger ad loc.).

Zimmern's attempt (in "Zeit. für Assyriologie," 1892, pp. 161 et seq.) to connect Jacob's blessing with the Babylonian representation of the zodiac, specifically with the Gilgamesh epic, can not be regarded as successful. Ball has given some important and well-founded arguments against this theory (Commentary on Genesis in "S. B. O. T." pp. 114 et seq.). Zimmern himself does not assume that the poet or collector of the song was aware of the original significance of each passage.

Historically, Jacob's blessing is of the greatest value, both because it is the only source of information for certain of the tribes in ancient times, and because it is an aid in rendering the sources (for example, Gen. xxxiv.) more intelligible,

  • See, besides the commentaries on Genesis of Dillmann, Merx, Knobel, Delitzsch, Holzinger, Ball, and Gunkel, Diestel, Segen Jakobs, 1853;
  • Meier, Gesch. der Poet. Nationalliteratur, 1858;
  • K. Kohler, Der Segen Jakobs, 1867;
  • Offord, The Prophecy of Jacob, 1877.
E. C. W. N.
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