The Jordan River and the Two Half-Tribes of Manasseh

Speaker: David Moster, Bar-Ilan University
Location: Yeshiva Stern College 215 Lexington Ave (between 32nd and 33rd Street, Room 208, New York
Date: November 14, 2017
Time: 6:00 pm  to  7:00 pm

The Jordan River is often depicted as a significant boundary in the Hebrew Bible. Moses may not cross it, Joshua must perform a miracle to cross it, and the tribes on one side almost go to war with those on the other. Recent scholars have named this outlook “the Jordan as a boundary” viewpoint. In this talk I will use geographic and ethnographic evidence to demonstrate that the Jordan as a boundary viewpoint has a uniquely southern perspective. That is, in the south the Jordan was a forceful river situated in a harsh and wide desert valley, making it difficult to traverse. However, in the north the Jordan was a relatively tame river in a lush, open plain and was much easier to cross. This insight has significant ramifications for our understanding of the two-half tribes of Manasseh, which were separated by the river. According to a growing number of scholars, the “half-tribes” of Manasseh must have been an artificial literary construction because one tribe could not have lived on both sides of the boundary. In this talk I will demonstrate that in the north, where Manasseh was located, the Jordan was more of a non-boundary than a boundary, more of a stream than a divisive river. Furthermore, the ethnographic record reveals that a number of other tribes lived on both sides of the river in the north, which makes it much less likely that the biblical authors invented the two-half tribes of Manasseh from whole cloth.

David Z. Moster is a research fellow in the department of Judaic Studies at Brooklyn College, a lecturer in Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins at Nyack College, and a PhD candidate in Biblical Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He previously studied Ancient Israelite and Near Eastern History at New York University (M.A.) and Hebrew Bible, Jewish Philosophy, Jewish Education, and Rabbinics at Yeshiva University (B.A., M.A., M.S., Semicha). David has written articles for The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, the Journal of Biblical Literature, and the Biblical Archaeology Society’s Bible History Daily. In addition to his dissertation about the biblical tribe of Manasseh, he is currently writing about each of the 929 chapters of the Hebrew Bible on this blog, 929chapters.com

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