1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Simeon

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SIMEON, in the Old Testament, the name of a tribe of Israel, named after the second son of Jacob by Leah (Gen. xxix. 33). According to Gen. xxxiv., the brothers Simeon and Levi massacred the males of Shechem to avenge the -violation of their sister Dinah (" judgment ") by. Shechem the son of Hamor. Jacob disavowed the act, and on his deathbed solemnly cursed their ferocity, condemning the two to be divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel (xlix. 5-7). Subsequently the priestly Levites are found distributed throughout Israel without portion or inheritance (Deut. xviii. 1, Josh. xiii. 14). The career of Simeon, on the other hand, raises numerous questions. Simeon is reckoned among the N. tribes in 2 Chron. xv. 9, xxxiv. 6, but is elsewhere assigned a district in S. Palestine, the cities of which are otherwise ascribed to Judah (cf. Josh. xix. 1-9 with xv. 26-32).[1] A gloss in 1 Chron. iv. 31 (which breaks the connexion) states that the latter was their seat in David's time, but there is no support for this in other records (see 1 Sam. xxvii., xxx.). In fact, Simeon is not mentioned in the “blessing of Moses” (Deut. xxxiii.," see S. R. Driver, Deut. p. 397 seq.), or in the stories of the “judges”; and notwithstanding references to it in the chronicler's history of the monarchy, it is not named in the earlier books of Samuel and Kings. But is Gen. xxxiv. to be taken literally? Shechem is the famous holy city, Hamor a well-known native family, Jacob talks of himself as being " few in number," and the deeds of Simeon and Levi are those of communities, not of individuals. What historical facts are thus represented, and how they are to be brought into line with the early history of Israel, are problems which have defied solution (see J. Skinner, Genesis, p. 421 seq.). It is conjectured that Dinah represents a clan or group (cf. Dan) which settled in Shechem and was exposed to danger (e.g. oppression or absorp- tion); the tribes Simeon and Levi intervened on its behalf, the ensuing massacre was avenged by the Canaanites, and the two were broken up. These events would belong to an early stage in the invasion of Palestine by the Israelites (i5th-i3th century B.C.), perhaps to a preliminary settlement by the “sons” of Leah (Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah), previous to the entrance of the " son " of Rachel, Joseph, the “father” of Ephraim and Manasseh.[2] The internal biblical evidence has forced all independent investigators to adopt some reconstruction, but the above theory is in many respects precarious.[3] It may explain the disappearance of a secular tribe of Levi, but not the rise of the sacred Levites. Even in Judges ix. 28 Shechem is still held by the family of Hamor (cf. Gen. xxxiii. 19), and if Simeon was scattered and divided at any early date, its appearance in tradition many centuries later is inexplicable. On the other hand, the latter feature is significant for its vitality in post-exilic traditions. Gen. xxxiv. and the narratives upon which the above reconstruction depends are preserved by compilers of the 6th century and later, and the correlation of Simeon and Levi points to a time when the latter had at length become the recognized eponym of the well-known ecclesiastical body.

Gen. xxxiv. has been heavily revised and is in a post-exilic dress. The original story must have concerned Simeon and Levi alone (vv. 25 seq., 30, cf. xlix. 7), but it has been adapted to tribal history, to the spoliation of Shechem by all the " sons " of Jacob (xxxiv. 27-29) Both forms have lost their true sequel, and when Jacob and his sons journey S. they are protected from pursuit by a mysterious panic which seizes the district (Gen. xxxv. 5). As the narrative now stands, the conduct of Simeon and Levi is judged far less unfavourably than in Jacob's curse, and the editor evidently shared that aversion from foreign marriages (especially with the Samaritans of Shechem) which is characteristic of the post-exilic age (cf. Neh. xiii. 27-29). It is the attitude of the story of the zeal of Phinehas (Num. xxv. 1-15). and of the terrible extermination of Midian (ib. xxxi.), and it becomes more pronounced as early Judaism extolled the two brothers.[4] In these circumstances the original narrative can scarcely be re- covered, and one can only point to the traditions of the Levites (q.v. § 3) and the hints of fierce religious reforms which, in certain circles and at an intermediate stage in the literary growth of the biblical sources, were condemned. In fact, the Levites are connected by the genealogical evidence with S. Palestine, the district which is associated with the scene of their divine selection, with the seat of the tribe Simeon, and with the life of Israel around Kadesh previous to Joshua's invasion. Herein lies the peculiar complexity of the problem. Underlying Gen. xxxiv. and other portions of Genesis may be recognized the tradition of a settlement of Jacob, which belongs to a cycle quite independent of the descent into Egypt and the Exodus (cf. E. Meyer, op. cit., and J. Skinner, Genesis, p. 418). But the story of the entrance of Jacob and his " sons " finds a parallel in the entrance of the tribes under Joshua and in the S. move of Judah and Simeon (see Genesis). With the conquest of Zephath (renamed Hormah, Judg. i. 17) by these tribes, compare not only Judah's settlement (Gen. xxxviii., cf. Skinner p. 450), but also that of Simeon (Gen. xlvi. 10), and the related tradition that Simeon married a Zephathite (Jubilees, xliv. 13). 1 Chron. iv. 39 sqq. mentions a Simeonite occupation of Gedor, or rather Gerar, which would bring this tribe into the district of Kadesh (cf. Gen. xx. 1 seq., xxvi. 1), and adds a raid upon Mount Seir (Edom) ending in the overthrow of Amalek (1 Chron. iv. 39-43).[5] S. Palestine, associated with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and with the separation of the non-Israelite Ishmael and Esau (Edom), is the district whence Jacob departed to his Aramaean relatives (Gen. xxviii. sqq.). Hormah, too, is the scene of an Israelite victory in the story of the Exodus (Num. xxi. 1-3), and is connected with evidence suggesting that this victory at the very gate of the promised land belongs to a tradition of some movement from Kadesh into Judah (Wellhausen, G. F. Moore, H. P. Smith, and others; see Exodus, The). The other tradition, that the Israelites were defeated there by Amalekites and Canaanites, explains the detour by Edom and Moab (ib. xiv. 25, 40-45), and the appearance of the tribes E. of the Jordan to invade the land of their ancestors. Obviously these represent fundamentally differing views, which cannot be woven into a single outline; and they cannot be isolated from more profound questions which really affect all ordinary conceptions of the structure of biblical history.

See S. A. Cook, Amer. Journ. of Theol. xiii. 370-388 (1909); Jews, §§ 5-8, 22; Levites; Palestine: History.  (S. A. C.) 

  1. It is difficult to determine whether the writers included Simeon among the ten N. tribes (2 Sam. xix. 43, 1 Kings xi. 31, 35) which are contrasted with the one (Judah, I Kings xi. 32, 36, xii. 20), or two (plus Benjamin; ib. xii. 21-23) which remained faithful to the Davidic dynasty.
  2. So in general, the favourite interpretation (Wellhausen, Stade, Guthe and many others) with some variation of detail, see especially Gunkel's commentary (Handkommentar, 1901, pp. 335 sqq.).
  3. See the instructive study by E. Meyer, Die Israeliten und ihre Nachbarstämme (1906), pp. 409-428 (especially his criticisms, p. 421 seq.) ; cf. also I. Benzinger, Hebr. Archaologie (1907), pp. 345 sqq. (whose astral interpretation of the narrative, however, is quite inadequate).
  4. See Judith ix. 2, Philo, De Migr. Abrahami, 39, and, for fuller details of the trend of Jewish opinion, R. H. Charles, Book of Jubilees, p. 179, id., “Test, of xii. Patriarchs,” p. 22.
  5. On these wars, see the criticisms of H. W. Hogg in his elaborate study of Simeon, Ency. Bib. col. 4524-34.