Naphtali, Tribe of
Naphtali, Tribe Of
The blessing pronounced by Jacob upon Naphtali was very short; but the language is obscure, and its interpretation has occasioned considerable controversy. In the English version it reads thus, "Naphtali is a hind let loose; he giveth goodly words" (Ge 49:21). The Septuagint translates the first clause, Νεφθαλεὶ στέλεχος ἀνειμένον, "Naphtali is a wide-spread tree." The translators must either have had before them or they must have invented a different pointing of the Hebrew text (אֵילָה instead of , אִיּלָה. The former, equivalent to איל, or אלון, signifies "a strong tree," arbor robusta; but especially an "oak" or "terebinth." Gesenius, Thesaurus, page 47). The second clause is made to correspond, ἐπιδιδοὺς ἐν τῷ γεννήματι κάλλος, "putting forth in its fruit beauty," or "giving forth goodly boughs." Here the pointing must have been different from the Masoretic. Instead of אַמרֵי, "words," they read אֲמַרֵי "shoots" or "leaves." This view has been substantially adopted by Bochart and many modern commentators. Bochart examines the text minutely, and translates, "Nephthali est ut arbor surculosa, edens ramos pulchritudinis," id est, "egregios et speciosos" (Opera, 2:895 sq.; comp. Stanley, S. and P. page 355). The translation of this difficult passage given by Ewald (Geschichte, 2:380),
"Naphtali is a towering Terebinth; He hath a goodly crest,"
gives it an allusion at once to the situation of the tribe at the very apex of the country, to the heroes who towered at the head of the tribe, and to the lofty mounltains on whose summits their castles, then as now, were perched. The only reasons for the change are that it gives a better sense, and it seems to accord more with Moses's blessing in De 33:23. The great fruitfulness of the tribe would thus be indicated, and the nature of the country they were to occupy. This translation, however, is opposed to the Masoretic text, and to the interpretations of the best Jewish writers (Bochart, 1.c.). The present reading, too, when thoughtfully considered, is as appropriate as the other. This, like the other blessings of the patriarch, was intended to shadow forth under poetic imagery the future character and history of the tribe. "Naphtali is a hind let loose," or "a graceful hind" — timid and distrustful of its own powers, swift of foot to elude its enemies; but when brought to bay fierce and strong to defend its life. These were the qualities shown by Naphtali. They left several of their cities in the hands of the Canaanites (Jg 1:33); they had not confidence to fight alone, but when assailed they made a noble defence (Jg 5:18), and united with others in pursuit of a flying foe (6:35).
Their want of self-confidence was chiefly shown in the case of Barak; and then, too, they displayed in the end heroic devotion and unwearied alacrity. '"He (that is, Naphtali; the masc. חִנֹּתֵן proves this) giveth goodly words." The tribe was to be famous for the beauty of its language. It probably possessed poets and writers whose names have not come down to us. We have one noble ode ascribed in part at least to a Naphtalite (Jg 5:1. See Kalisch, On Genesis 49:21).
During the sojourn in Egypt Naphtali increased with wonderful rapidity. Four sons went down with their father and Jacob; and at the exodus the adult males numbered 53,400 (Nu 1:43). It thus held. exactly the middle position in the nation, having five above it in numbers, and six below. But when the borders of the Promised Land were reached its numbers were reduced to 45,400, with four only below it in the scale, one of the four being Ephraim (Nu 26:48-50; comp. 37). The leader of the tribe at Sinai was Ahira ben-Enan (Nu 2:29); and at Shiloh, Pedahel benAmmihud (Nu 34:28). Among the spies its representative was Nahbi ben-Vophsi (Nu 13:14).
During the march through the wilderness Naphtali occupied a position on the north of the sacred tent with Dan, and also with another tribe, which, though not originally so intimately connected, became afterwards his immediate neighbor — Asher (Nu 2:341). The three formed the "camp of Dan," and their common standard, according to the Jewish traditions, was a serpent or basilisk, with the motto, "Return, O Jehovah, unto the many thousands of Israel" (Targ. Pseudojon. on Nu 2:25).
Jacob's blessing had special reference to the character and achievements of the tribe; that of Moses to the nature of their territory — "O Naphtali, satisfied with favor, and full with the blessinq of the Lord: possess thou the west and the south" (De 30:20). A more literal and more accurate rendering of the Hebrew would be, "Naphtali, replete with favors, and full of the blessings of Jehovah; possess thou the sea and Darom." The word יָם, Yam, which in the A.V. is translated "west," evidently means "the sea;" that is, the Sea of Galilee, which lay in part within the territory of Naphtali. The Hebrew term דָּרוֹם, Darom ("a circuit," from the root דור=Arab. ddr, "to go round;" see Gesenius, Thesaurus, s.v.), is most probably a proper name equivalent to Galil ("a circuit"), or Galilee, the name given in Jos 20:7; Jos 21:32, and elsewhere, to a district amid the mountains of Naphtali, SEE GALILEE, of which Darom may have been the older appellation. "The sea and Darom" would thus signify the region by the Lake of Galilee and the mountains to the north of it. Both the Sept. and Vulgate render ים the sea" (see also the Chaldee rabbi Salomon, Bochart, Ainsworth, Montanus, and others). The possessions allotted to Naphtali are described in Jos 19:32-39. The lot of this tribe was not drawn till the last but one. The two portions then remaining unappropriated were the noble but remote district which lay between the strip of coast-land already allotted to Asher and the upper part of the Jordan, and the little canton or corner, more central, but in every other respect far inferior, which projected from the territory of Judah into the country of the Philistines, and formed the "marches" between those two never-tiring combatants. Naphtali chose the former of these, leaving the latter to the Danites, a large number of whom shortly followed their relatives to their home in the more remote but undisturbed north, and thus testified to the wisdom of Naphtali's selection. The territory thus appropriated was enclosed on three sides by those of other tribes. It lay at the northeastern angle of Palestine. On the east the tribe was bounded by the Jordan and the lakes of Merom and Galilee; on the south by Zebulun; on the west by Asher; and on the north apparently by the river Leontes. Hammath was one of its cities, and it has been satisfactorily identified with the ruins around the warm springs a mile south of Tiberias. Consequently, to Naphtali belonged the whole western shore of the Sea of Galilee. SEE TRIBE. Naphtali possessed a greater variety of soil, scenery, and climate than any of the other tribes. Its northern portions are the highlands of Palestine. The sublime ravine of the Leontes separates its mountains from the chain of Lebanon, of which, however, they may be regarded as a prolongation. The scenery is here rich and beautiful. The summit of the range is broad, presenting an expanse of undulating table-land, ornamented with broad belts and irregular clumps of evergreen oak, and having here and there little upland plains, covered with verdure, and bordered with thickets of arbutus and hawthorn. In the center of this park-like region lie the ruins of the sanctuary of the tribe, the northern city of refuge, Kedesh-Naphtali. The ridge rises gradually towards the south, and culminates at Safed. which has an elevation of nearly three thousand feet. Two other peaks, a few miles westward, are one thousand feet higher, and are the loftiest points in Western Palestine (see Van de Velde, Memoir, page 177). On the western brow of the ridge the tribes of Asher and Naphtali joined, the former having allotted to it the western slopes and narrow plain of Phoeniicia (Jos 19:24-30). On the east the mountains of Naphtali break abruptly down in gray cliffs and wooded slopes into the rich valley of the Jordan. On the north brow of these slopes stands the massive castle of Hunin, probably the ancient BethRehob; and twelve miles south of it, commanding the waters of Merom, are the ruins of Kasyun, which may perhaps mark the site of the capital of the northern Canaanites-Hazor. The Jordan valley, though soft, and in places marshy, is extremely fertile. Here the people of Sidon established at an early period an agricultural colony to supply their city with grain and fruits. The region, or "circuit," around Kedesh was anciently called Galil, a name subsequently extended to the whole of Northern Palestine; and as a large number of foreigners settled among the mountains — descendants of the Canaanites, and others from Phcenicia and Syria — it was called "Galilee of the Gentiles." SEE GALILEE. According to Josephus (Ant. 5:1, 22), the eastern side of the tribe reached as far as Damascus; but of this — though not impossible in the early times of the nation and before the rise of the Syrian monarchythere is no indication in the Bible. The question was recently discussed in the Journal of Sacred and Classical Philology by Thrupp and Tregelles (Nos. for 1855, 1856), who both favor the idea of a much wider extension in that direction than has usually been supposed; but their arguments have not sufficed to convince Ewald, who reviews them in his eighth Jahrbuch, and who very justly thinks that the statement of Josephus ought not to be pressed. The southern section of Naphtali was the garden of Palestine. The little plains along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the vales that run up into the mountains, are of unrivalled fertility. Josephus describes the plain on the shore of the lake, then called Gennesaret, as an earthly paradise, where the choicest fruits grew luxuriantly, and where eternal spring reigned. His words are not much exaggerated; for now, though more a wilderness than a paradise, its surpassing richness is apparent. The shore is lined with a wide border of oleander; behind this is a tangled thicket of the lote tree; and here and there are clumps of dwarf palms. The plain beyond, except the few spots cultivated, is covered with gigantic thistles (Josephus, War, 3:10,8; Robinson, Bib. Res. 2:402). Thus Naphtali had a communication with the Sea of Galilee, the rich district of the Ard el-Huleh and the Merj Aymn, and all the splendidly watered country about Banias and Hasbeya, the springs of Jordan. But the capabilities of these plains and of the access to the lake, which at a later period raised Galilee and Gennesarethto so high a pitch of crowded and busy prosperity, were not destined to be developed while they were in the keeping of the tribe of Naphtali. It was the mountainous country ("Mount Naphtali," Jos 20:7), which formed the chief part of their inheritance, that impressed or brought out the qualities for which Naphtali was remarkable at the one remarkable period of its history. This district, the modern Belad-Besharah, or "land of good tidings," comprises some of the most beautiful scenery and some of the most fertile soil in Palestine (Porter, page 363), forests surpassing those of the renowned Carmel itself (Van de Velde, 1:293); as rich in noble and ever-varying prospects as any country in the world (2:407). As it is thus described by one of the few travellers who have crossed its mountains and descended into its ravines, so it was at the time of the Christian aera--"the soil," says Josephus (War, 3:3, 2), "universally rich and productive; full of plantations of trees of all sorts; so fertile as to invite the most slothful to cultivate it." The following is a list of all the localities in the tribe, with their probable identification:
Abel-beth-Maachah. Town. Abil el-Karub. Abel-maim. do. SEE ABEL-BETH-MAA- CHAH. Adamah, or Adami. do. Damieh? Ahlab. do. El-Jish. Ajalon. do. Jalun. Arbel. do. SEE BETH-ARBEL. Aznoth-Tabor. do. [Kurn-Hattin]? Baal-gad, or Baal-her- do SEE CAESAREA- PIILIPMON. Beth-anath. do. Ainata. Beth-arbel. do. Irbid. Beth-shemesh. do. Mejdel esh-Shems. Caesarea-Philippi. do. Banias. Capernaum. do. Tell-Hum?
Chinnereth, or Cinnereth, or Cinneroth. Town. Region Lake [Abu-Shusheh]?
SEE GENNESARETH Chorazin Town. Bir-Kerazeh? Dalmanutha. do. Ain el-Barideh? Dan, or Dan-jaan. do. SEE LAISH.
Edrei. do. Tell-Khuraibeh? En-hazor. do. [Tell-Hazur.] Gennesareth Plain. N.W. shore of Lake Tiberias. Gennesareth Lake. Bahr-Tubariyeh.
Hammath, or Hanmon, or Hammothdor Town Hamman? Haroseth. do. Tuleil Girsh? Hazar-enam. do. [Hasbeya] ? Hazor. do. Hazur. Heleph. do. Beitlif? Hermon. Mount. Jebel es-Sheikh. Horem. Town. Hurah? Hukkoth. do. Yakuk. Ijon. do. Tell-Dibbin? Iron. do. Khurbet- Yarun. Jahneel. do. [El-Jcanneh? Janoah. do. Kulat Hunin? Kartan. do. [El-Katanah]? Kedesh, or Kishion. do. Kades. Laish, or Leshem. do. Tell-Kadi? Lakum. do. [Ruins E. of Tell-Ak-bara]? Magdala, or Migdal-el. do. El-Mejdel. Nekeb. do. SEE ADAMI. Rakkath. do. SEE HAMMATH. Ramah. do. Rameh. Rehob. do. Deir Ritheib? Shepham. do. SEE CASAREA-PHILIP Tiberias. do. Tubariyeh. Zaanaim, or Zaanium. do. [Ain Mellahah]? Zedad. do. [Jedeida]? Ziddim, or Zer. do. Hattin? Ziphron. do. [Kaukaba]?
Three of the towns of Naphtali were allotted to the Gershonite Levites: Kadesh (already called Kedesh-in-Galilee), Hammoth-dor, and Kartan. Of these, the first was a city of refuge (Jos 20:7; Jos 21:32). It should be noticed that in the list of fortified towns at Jos 19:35-38 only sixteen cities are enumerated (or but thirteen if we join as one the names not connected by the conjunction), whereas the sum calls for nineteen. The difference is probably to be made up by including such of those mentioned in the preceding verses as lay within the territory of the tribe and had walls. The enumeration, like the rest in this and the adjoining chapters, is not exhaustive (see Keil, ad loc.).
Naphtali, on account of its position, was in a great measure isolated from the Israelitish kingdoms. Yet it had its share in those incursions and molestations by the surrounding heathen which were the common lot of all the tribes (Judah perhaps alone excepted) during the first centuries after the conquest. One of these, apparently the severest struggle of all, fell with special violence on the north of the country, and the leader by whom the invasion was repelled — Barak of Kedesh-Naphtali — was the one great hero whom Naphtali is recorded to have produced. How gigantic were the efforts by which these heroic mountaineers saved their darling highlands from the swarms of Canaanites who followed Jabin and Sisera, and how grand the position which they achieved in the eyes of the whole nation, may be gathered from the narrative of the war in Judges 4, and still more from the expressions of the triumphal song in which Deborah, the prophetess of Ephraim, immortalized the victors and branded their reluctant countrymen with everlasting infamy. Gilead and Reuben lingered beyond the Jordan among their flocks; Dan and Asher preferred the luxurious calm of their hot lowlands to the free air and fierce strife of the mountains; Issachar, with characteristic sluggishness seems to have moved slowly if he moved at all; but Zebulun and Naphtali, on the summits of their native highlands, devoted themselves to death, even to an extravagant pitch of heroism and self-devotion (Jg 5:18):
"Zebulun are a people that threw away their lives even unto death — And Naphtali, on the high places of the field." Naphtali was one of Solomon's commissariat districts, under the charge of his son-in-law Ahimaaz; who with his wife Basmath resided in his presidency, and doubtless enlivened that remote and rural locality by a miniature of the court of his august father-in-law held at Safed or Kedesh, or wherever his residence may have been (1Ki 4:15). Here he doubtless watched the progress of the unpromising new district presented to Solomon by Hiram — the twenty cities of Cabul, which seem to have been within the territory of Naphtali, perhaps the nucleus of the Galilee of later date. The ruler of the tribe (נָגַיד) — a different dignity altogether from that of Ahimaaz — was, in the reign of David, Jerimoth ben-Azriel (1Ch 27:19). In later times the Naphtalites appear to have resigned themselves to the intercourse with the heathen which was the bane of the northern tribes in general, and of which there are already indications in Jg 1:33; comp. Isa 9:1. The location by Jeroboam within their territory of the great sanctuary for the northern part of his kingdom must have given an impulse to their nationality, and for a time have revived the connection with their brethren nearer the centre. Nominally subject to Samaria, it was separated from it by the plain of Esdraelon, over which so often swept the devastating hordes of the "Children of the East," and the powerful armies of Syria. The usual route of the Syrian expeditions was along the east base of Hermon, and across the Jordan at Jacob's bridge. The Naphtalites in their mountain fastnesses thus generally escaped their devastations. But whenever the enemy marched through the valley of Ccele-Syria, then Naphtali bore the first brunt of the onset. In the reigns of Baasha, king of Israel, and Asa, king of Judah, this tribe was the first to suffer from the invasion of Benhadad, king of Syria, who "sent the captains of the hosts which he had against the cities of Israel, and smote all Cinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali" (1Ki 15:20), especially "all its store cities" (2Ch 16:4). At length, in the reign of Pekah, king of Israel (cir. B.C. 730), Tiglath-pileser overran the whole of the north of Israel, swept off the population, and bore them away to Assyria (2Ki 15:29). It is perhaps worth while adding that Tobit belonged to Naphtali, for he tells us that "in the time of Enemessar (or Shalmaneser), king of the Assyrians, he was led captive out of Thisbe, which is at the right hand of that city which is called Kedesh of Naphtali, in Galilee, above Aser;" that he came with his brethren to Nineveh, and that the Most High gave him grace and favor before Enemessar, who made him purveyor to the palace (Tobit 1:5; 7:3).
But though the history of the tribe of Naphtali ends here, and the name is not mentioned again except in rie well-known citation of Matthew (Mt 4:15); and the mystical references of Ezekiel (Eze 48:3-4,34) and of the writer of the Apocalypse (Re 7:6), yet under the title of Galilee — apparently an ancient name, though not brought prominently forward until the Christian aera — the district which they had formerly occupied was destined to become in every way far more important than it had ever before been. After the captivity the Israelites again settled largely in Naphtali, and its southern section became the most densely populated district in Palestine. It became the principal scene also of our Lord's public labors. After his brethren at Nazareth rejected and sought to kill him, he "came down" (Lu 4:31) from the uplands and dwelt in "Capernaum, which is upon the sea-coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim" (Mt 4:13). The new capital of Galilee had recently been built by Antipas, and called after the emperor, Tiberias. Other towns - Magdala, Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida-dotted the shore, which teemed with life and industry. Vast multitudes followed Jesus wherever he went (Mr 2:1-12; Mt 13:1-23, etc.). The greater number of his beautiful parables were spoken here; and it was the scene of most of his miracles (Porter, Hand-book, page 430, 431). Then the words of Isaiah were fulfilled as they are quoted and applied by Matthew (Mt 4:15-16): " The land of Zabulon, and the laznd of Nephthalinz, the region of the sea [that is. of the Sea of Galilee; the same district called "the sea" in De 33:23], Peraea [the proper name of the country beyond Jordan], Galilee of the Gentiles [called "Darom" in De 33:23] — the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up." The details of this tribe's history, as well as the account of its sufferings and heroic resistance during the campaign of Titus aud Vespasian prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, are given elsewhere. SEE PALESTINE.
Naphtali is now almost a desert. A mournful silence reigns along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. There are still a few populous villages among the mountains; but Safet and Tiberias are the only places of any importance within the boundaries of the tribe, and they are fast falling to ruin.