The fifth son of Jacob and one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Dan's mother is Rachel's maid Bilhah (Gen. 30.1–6). The name Dan seems to be derived from the Hebrew verb meaning “to judge or vindicate.” The tribe of Dan's first settlement is depicted as lying between the territories of Ephraim to the north, Benjamin to the east, and Judah to the south (Josh. 19.40–48). Dan was renowned for its verve (Gen. 49.16–17; Deut. 33.22).

Already at an early time, a majority of the tribe migrated northward to a site near the source of the Jordan river (Josh. 19.47–48; Judg. 1.34). Hence, Dan often marks the northern border of Israel (1 Sam. 3.20; 2 Sam. 24.15). If the stories of the Danite hero Samson (Judges 13–16) and the song of Deborah (Judg. 5.17) have a historical core, however, some members of the tribe must have remained in the south. With the rise of the monarchy, these southern clans were apparently assimilated into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

Dan can also refer to a city (e.g., Gen. 14.14), originally called Laish (Judg. 18.7, 27–29) or Leshem (Josh. 19.47), which was captured and renamed by the Danite tribe. Dan's northern clans were probably located around this city (Map 3:Y2). The ancient sanctuary at Dan (Judg. 18.2, 30) was designated by King Jeroboam I of Israel as one of his two national shrines (1 Kings 12.29–30; see Golden Calf). Archeological work at Dan has revealed a substantial cult center dating to the tenth century BCE, the era of Jeroboam I. During the reign of Pekah, king of Israel, the territories of Dan and Naphtali were conquered by Tiglath‐pileser III of Assyria, who exiled many of their residents (2 Kings 15.29).

Gary N. Knoppers