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(Hebrew dn, Sept. Dán),—(1) The fifth son of Jacob, being the elder of the two sons born to him by Bala, the handmaid of Rachel, and the eponymous ancestor of the tribe bearing the same name. Etymologically, the word is referred to the Hebrew root dyn signifying "to rule" or "judge", and in the passage, Genesis 19:17, it is interpreted "judge", but in Genesis 30:6, the explanation of the name rests rather on the passive sense of the word—the child Dan being represented as the result of God's judgment in favour of Rachel. In accordance with the meaning expressed in the latter passage, Josephus (Antiq., I, xix, 7) gives as the equivalent of the name Dan the Greek Theókritos. A cognate feminine form of the same word, likewise in the passive sense, is recognized in Dina (dynh), name of the daughter of Jacob by Lia, doubtless with reference to the judgment or vindication she received at the hands of her two brothers Simeon and Levi (Genesis 34). Apart from the account connected with his birth in Genesis 30, the Bible gives very little information concerning Dan the son of Jacob. In Genesis 35:25, his name is mentioned together with those of the other sons of Israel, and in Genesis 46, which contains a genealogical list of their immediate descendants, we read (23), "The sons of Dan: Husim". This last, being a Hebrew plural form, refers most likely not to an individual, but to a clan or tribe. In Numbers 26:42, we find "Suham" instead of "Husim". In Jacob's blessing (Genesis 49), as well as in Deuteronomy 33:22, and various other passages, the name Dan refers not to the son of the patriarch, but to the tribe of which he was the acknowledged father.

(2) One of the twelve tribes of Israel. According to the census related in Numbers 1 (a section ascribed to the priestly writer), there were reckoned among the "sons of Dan" in the second year after the Exodus, 62,700 men "able to go forth to war", being the largest number given to any of the tribes except that of Juda. Confining ourselves to the Biblical data, and prescinding from all criticism of sources, it would appear from these figures that the tribe must have suffered a considerable diminution ere its establishment in Canaan, where, from various indications, it appears as one of the smallest of the twelve. The territory occupied by the tribe lay to the southwest of Ephraim; it was bounded on the south by Juda and on the west by the Shephela. Whether the Danites occupied also the latter or were confined to the mountainous inland district is uncertain. A passage of the Canticle of Debbora (Judges 5:17) would seem to indicate that the territory extended down to the sea, and moreover, among the towns enumerated in Josue, xix, 40-48 (P.) mention is made of Acron and Joppe. Be that as it may, it was doubtless because of their narrow territorial limits that later the Danites undertook an expedition northward and created a new settlement at Lais. For, notwithstanding the narrative contained in Josue, xix, 40- 48, indicating with detail the district and the cities allotted to Dan in the distribution after the conquest, we find later in Judges 18:1 that "the tribe of Dan sought them an inheritance to dwell in: for unto that day they had not received their lot among the other tribes". This was perhaps another way of conveying the idea already set forth in the first chapter, viz. that "the Amorrhite straitened the children of Dan in the mountain, and gave them not place to go down to the plain". Being thus cramped and restricted in their territory, they resolved to seek a home elsewhere. The interesting story of this expedition is told, with many traits characteristic of that period of Hebrew civilization, in the eighteenth chapter of Judges. Having previously sent spies to reconnoitre the ground, the Danites sent a detachment of six hundred men who plundered and burnt the city of Lais, and butchered its inhabitants, after which they "rebuilt the city and dwelt therein". At least a remnant of the tribe must have remained in the south, as is evidenced in the story of Samson, who was a Danite. Several references to the activities of the tribe of Dan in the early period of the monarchy are found in the Books of Chronicles. Thus, 28,600 armed men of the tribe are represented as taking part in the election of David in Hebron (1 Chronicles 12:35), and among the skilled artists sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon was the metal-worker Hiram, whose mother was of the tribe of Dan (2 Chronicles 2:13 sq.).

(3) A city of Palestine, originally Lais, or Lesem, and called Dan after it had been destroyed and rebuilt by the six hundred emissaries from the tribe of that name (Judges 18). Its location marked the northern boundary of Palestine as did Bersabee the southern extremity, whence the popular expression "from Dan to Bersabee" used to designate the entire extent of the country. Although nothing now remains of the city of Dan, its situation on the confines of Nephthali has been pretty accurately determined by means of various Scriptural and other ancient indications. That Lais was a Sidonian settlement at a distance from the parent city is clear from Judges, xviii, 7, 28, and the great fertility of the spot is affirmed in the same chapter (9, 12). Josephus, who calls the town Dána, and elsewhere Dánon, places it "in the neighbourhood of Mt. Libanus, near the fountains of the Lesser Jordan, in the great plain of Sidon, a day's journey from the city" (Antiq., V, iii, 1). According to Eusebius and St. Jerome, the village of Dan was situated within four miles of Paneas (Banias, or Cæsarea-Philippi), on the road to Tyre, at the rise of the Jordan. Its proximity to Paneas has led to a confusion of the two towns in certain ancient works, as, for instance, in the Babylonian Talmud; and a few modern scholars, among whom is G. A. Smith, still identify Dan with Banias, but the generally received opinion places it at Tell el-Qadi, and this identification has in its favour, among other reasons, the practical identity of the name, as "Tell el-Qadi" signifies the "hill of the Judge". This quadrangular mound is situated about a mile and a half southwest of Mt. Hermon, and to the west of Banias. The site and surroundings are remarkably picturesque, and close to the mound on the west is a spring from which clear, cold water flows in abundance, forming a nahr, or torrent, which the Arabs call Nahr Leddân—probably a corruption of ed-Dân. This torrent is the main source of the Jordan, and it is doubtless the "Lesser Jordan" mentioned by Josephus.

Dan is mentioned in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis in connection with the expedition of Abraham against Chodorlahomor, but it is doubtful if the place there referred to is the same as the ancient Lais. Though the identification is affirmed by both Eusebius and Jerome, many modern scholars place the Dan of Genesis 14 in the vicinity of Galaad, and identify it with Dan-Yuan mentioned in 2 Samuel 24:6. The conquest of Lais by the Danites, referred to above under (2), is related in Judges 18. The portion of the tribe which took up its abode there was addicted to certain forms of idolatry from the beginning (cf. Judges 18:30, 31), and it was in this frontier town that Jeroboam set up one of the golden calves which were intended to draw the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom away from the Sanctuary in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:29-30; 2 Kings 10:29).


For (1) VIGOROUX, for f(2) and (3) LEGENDRE, both in Dict. de la Bible, s.v.; also for (1) and (2) PEAKE, for (3) MACKIE, both in HASTINGS, Dict. of the Bible, s.v.

About this page

APA citation. Driscoll, J.F. (1908). Dan. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Driscoll, James F. "Dan." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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