Reuben - Encyclopedia

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REUBEN, a tribe of Israel named after the eldest "son" of Jacob and of Leah. Both the meaning of the name (see Gen. xxix. 32) and the history of the tribe are extremely obscure. In one version of the story of Joseph, Reuben appears in a somewhat favourable light (Gen. xxxvii. 22, 29, xlii. 37), but in Gen. xxxv. 22 he is charged with a grave offence, which in Gen. xlix. 4 is given as a reason why the tribe which called him father did not take in Hebrew history the place proper to its seniority (cp. 1 Chron. v. 1); Dathan and Abiram were Reubenites (Num. xvi.; Deut. xi. 6), and in Deut. xxxiii. 6 the tribe appears as threatened with extinction. In Judg. v. 15 seq. it is described as a pastoral tribe which took no share in the patriotic movement under Barak and Deborah. The district allotted to Reuben (Josh. xiii. 15-23; Num. xxxii. 37 seq.) is detailed in late passages which have little historical value for the age to which they are attributed. The tribe is represented as settled E. of the Jordan on the Moabite border, but no mention is made of it in the inscription of the Moabite king Mesha (see GAD; MoAB). The references to the tribe's wars against Arabians (1 Chron. v. 10, 18 sqq.) in the time of Saul have caused much fruitless speculation.

For mythological elements in the tribe's history, see especially E. Stucken, Mittheil. d. vorderasiat. Gesell. (1902), pt. iv. pp. 46 sqq.; and for a full discussion of the biblical data, see H. W. Hogg, Ency. Bib. s.v., also E. Meyer, Die Israeliten and ihre Nachbarstamme, pp. 53 o sqq.

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