The narrative in Genesis 14 describing Abraham’s struggles with the four kings from the east has generated much discussion among scholars. In this chapter Abraham is portrayed not just as a lonely man sojourning through the land of Canaan, but rather as the chief of a clan, a man with a large entourage, one who is strong enough to challenge the four kings and defeat them (Genesis 14:14-17).
According to the story, Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was captured by the four kings from the east at the time they invaded Canaan. Lot was taken as captive after the invaders sacked the land and returned back to their countries through North Syria. In order to rescue Lot, Abram prepared a contingency of 318 men, all of them servants born in his house, and pursued the four kings “as far as Dan” (Genesis 14:14) and rescued Lot.
The purpose of this article is not to discuss the identity of the four kings, nor the composition of Chapter 14, nor the relationship between Genesis 14 and the Abraham cycle. Rather, the intent of this article is to discuss the meaning of the expression “as far as Dan” in Genesis 14:14.
As it stands in the text, the use of Dan is an anachronism. Dan was the fifth son of Jacob and the first son of Bilhah, the maid given by Rachel to be Jacob’s secondary wife (Genesis 30:6). Later on, when the people of Israel conquered the land of Canaan in the days of Joshua, the tribe of Dan received a portion of the land as its inheritance.
When Dan received its inheritance in Canaan, Dan’s territory was between the tribes of Ephraim and Judah. In the days of the judges, the Amorites forced the Danites into the hill country (Judges 1:34). Later on, during the struggle between Israel and the Philistines, the Danites were oppressed by the Philistines. Shamgar, the son of Anath, killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad and delivered Israel (Judges 3:31).
In the days of Samson, the Israelites struggled again against the Philistines, but Samson, a judge from the tribe of Dan, was not able to deliver the Danites from the oppression of the Philistines and the Danites were forced to move (Judges 18:1-31). The migration of the Danites is also mentioned in Joshua 19:47-48.
The tribe of Dan conquered Laish (Judges 18:7) and burned the city (the city is named Leshem in Joshua 19:47). Then, they rebuilt the city and called it Dan. Laish was a city at the northernmost end of the land of Canaan. Eventually, the expression “from Dan to Beer-sheba came to express the northern and the southern borders of Israel. The reference to Sidon in Judges 18:28 may indicate that, at the time the Danites conquered the city, Laish was a colony of Sidon.
Thus, it is clear then that the appearance of Dan in Genesis 14:14 is an anachronism, since in the days of Abraham Dan was not yet born and there was no Dan to give name to a city located in the northern part of Canaan.
The expression “as far as Dan” is also an anachronism because Moses could not have written about the location of Dan since the land of Canaan had not yet been occupied by the Israelite tribes who were living in Egypt.
The issue with this anachronism has to do with the question of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. For those who accept Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the anachronism of Genesis 14:14 poses a problem. Several solutions have been proposed to solve the anachronism and thus hold to the integrity of the text and to Mosaic authorship.
The proposed solution is the view that the Dan of Genesis 14:14 is not the Laish conquered by the Danites and then later renamed Dan, but that this Dan was Dan-jaan, a city mentioned in 2 Samuel 24:6. According to this view, the Dan of Genesis 14:14 belonged to Gilead (see Deuteronomy 34:1), and is no doubt the same as the Dan-jaan mentioned in 2 Samuel 24:6 in connection with Gilead.
This view should be rejected for two reasons: First, Josephus in his Antiquities 1:10 mentioned that this Dan was located near one of the sources of the Jordan. In addition, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, and Targum Onkelos follow the Masoretic Text.
Second, many scholars believe that Dan-jaan and Dan were the same city. This view reflects the possibility that the scribes did not preserve the correct name of this city. Some Bible translations accept the identification of Dan-jaan with Dan.
The following translations translate “Dan” in 2 Samuel 24:8: ESV, RSV, NRSV, Tanak, BBE, Douay-Rheims, NAB, and the NJB.
The following translations translate “Dan-jaan”: KJV, NIV, NKJV, NLB, CSB, Darby, Geneva, JPS, Webster, and Young.
Another proposal to deal with the anachronism is the view that Dan was the original name of the city, which was renamed Laish by the Sidonians after they conquered the city. Thus, when Abraham pursued the Mesopotamian kings, he went as far as Dan, a city that already existed in the days of the patriarchs.
Other scholars believe that the name Dan in Genesis 14:14 was substituted by an editor or a redactor for its older name Laish in order to reflect the new name of the city.
Some scholars have identified “Jaan” with Ijon, a city located north of Dan (cf 1 Kings 15:20). Others have identified Dan-jaan with Denyen, one of the groups that settled in Canaan at the time of the migration of the Sea Peoples.
These explanations do not solve the anachronism in Genesis 14:14. Thus, it is clear that someone other than Moses wrote Genesis 14:14. The attempt at explaining the anachronism has not been successful (click here to read an article on inerrancy that lists several possible explanations which have been developed to clarify the anachronism).
The book of Genesis is an anonymous book. The Bible never says that Moses wrote Genesis. It was Jewish tradition that attributed Mosaic authorship to the Pentateuch and Christians have adopted this tradition as a matter of fact. The Bible is the Word of God even if someone other than Moses wrote Genesis 14:14.
NOTE: For several other studies on Abraham, read my post Studies on Abraham.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
NOTE: Did you like this post? Do you think other people would like to read this post? Be sure to share this post on Facebook and share a link on Twitter or Tumblr so that others may enjoy reading it too!
I would love to hear from you! Let me know what you thought of this post by leaving a comment below. Be sure to like my page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Tumblr, Facebook, and subscribe to my blog to receive each post by email.
If you are looking for other series of studies on the Old Testament, visit the Archive section and you will find many studies that deal with a variety of topics.
>Oh! And all this time, I thought that Dan was a person. ;-)Just kidding. Nice post, Claude.
>Hello!Reading Wegners book about “textual criticism of the bible” I got to that passage Gen.14:14. In my opinion it is important to accept what the bible says about itself. Jesus himself called the pentateuch for the book of Moses Mk.11:26In Exodus 17:14 and 34:27 and Deut.31:19 Moses is instructured to write down the words in a book. I suppose he did!I think scholars too often neglect what the Scritures say themselves!Of course didnot Moses write about his own death. Conform Jewish tradition it was Joshua that completed the pentateuch … but so much speaks for Moses as the author. Why should we neglect this? It might be okay for non-believers, but there i no reason to do so for us that love God and his word!Bless!Dutch fellow, living in Sweden
…45Do not think that I will accuse you before the FATHER. Your accuser is Moses, in whom you have put your hope. 46If you had believed Moses, you would believe ME, because he wrote about ME. 47But since you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”…
Dear Pastor Baker,
When I come before the Father, I will come with a clear conscience. How could Moses have said that Abraham pursued his enemies “as far as Dan” when Dan was not born yet. Dan was a son of Jacob and by the time Abraham fought against his enemies, Jacob was not born yet (and neither was Isaac, Jacob’s father).
If you have a better interpretation, let me know. Explain to me how Abraham could speak of Dan since Dan was born more than 400 years after Abraham.
The bible says in 2 Peter 1:21: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but HOLY MEN OF GOD SPAKE AS THEY WERE MOVED BY THE HOLY GHOST”. Moses was the instrument, the Holy Ghost the author and He makes no mistakes. Better fr men to admit that they simply do not understand, and humbly come before the Lord in prayer, asking for His wisdom and understanding.. There is a natural meaning and a spiritual meaning and that which is natural came first.
I never cease to be amazed at the scholarly to question or disbelieve the Word of God, or to have the audacity to call themselves Christians while they engage themselves in “textual criticism”, particularly in cases where their logic fails them, as it should. The bible is a spiritual book THAT INTERPRETS ITSELF.. Your degree will avail you nothing; the anointing everything. That is where you must begin.
I understand your feeling, but humbly, you are wrong. First, you say that as a scholar I do not believe the Word of God. How can you say that, you don’t know me. I believe that Word of God, but I am also honest in dealing with problems such as Genesis 14. Second, ask yourself, “how could Abraham go as far as Dan if Dan would not be born until hundreds of years after Abraham?” If you can give an honest answer to this question then you would have the right to criticize me for what I wrote.
Very honest and excellent work researching it. Thank you.
Thank you for your nice words and thank you for visiting my blog.
However I just researched this and found that the ktav vehakabala explain this, that it is a different Dan. Also radak at the end and shadal reason that this must be a different city. If you read Hebrew you can see these on sefaria. That’s where I found them. Shadal makes a very interesting point that we don’t ever find an erased and replaced word in the old testament so he reasons it must be a different Dan. We will find for example they went to x which is y. I am not the expert he is but I take his word.
Many ancient and contemporary scholars have proposed that the Dan of Genesis 14:14 is a different city. They have proposed that this Dan was Dan-jaan, a city mentioned in 2 Samuel 24:6. As I mentioned in my post, this view should be rejected. Josephus in his Antiquities 1:10 mentioned that this Dan was located near one of the sources of the Jordan. In addition, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, and the Targum Onkelos follow the Masoretic Text. The reason scholars have proposed Dan to be a different city is to avoid the problem of the anachronism that exists in this passage, since there was no city of Dan at the time of Abraham.
I read your post. It’s not dan yaan that they are proposing, but another one.
The problem I see with this proposal is that there is no other city named Dan at the time of Abraham. It is an argument from silence.