Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Nephtali

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From volume 10 of the work.


Sixth son of Jacob and Bala (Gen., xxx, 8). The name is explained (ibid.) by a paranomasia which causes no small perplexity to commentators. Modern interpreters, following Simonis and Gesenius, translate it "wrestlings of God have I wrestled [D. V., "God hath compared me"] with my sister, and I have prevailed." According to this rendering, Nephtalia would mean "my wrestling", or simply "wrestling". Pseudo-Jonathan, commenting on Gen., xlix, 21, tells us Nephtali was the first to announce to Jacob that Joseph was alive; in another passage of the same Targum, Nephtali is mentioned among the five whom Joseph presented to Pharaoh (Gen., xlvii, 2). According to the apocryphal "Testament of the twelve Patriarchs", he died in his one hundred and thirty-second year and was buried in Egypt. These details, however, are unreliable; in point of fact, we know nothing with certainty beyond the fact that he had four sons: Jaziel, Guni, Jeser, and Sallem (Gen., xlvi, 24; Num., xxvi, 48 sqq.; I Par., vii, 13).


The tribe of Nephtali counted 53,400 men "able to go forth to war" (Num., i, 42), being thus the sixth in importance among the tribes of Israel. The second census brought it down to the eighth place, and reported only 45,400 warriors (Num., xxvi, 48-50). During the wanderings of the Isrealites in the desert, the tribe of Nephtali, under the command first of Ahira, and later on of Phedael, was always united with the tribes of Dan and Aser. When spies were sent from the desert of Pharao to view the land of Chanaan, Nahabi, the son of Vapsi, represented the tribe in the expedition (Num., xiii, 15). The territory allotted to Nephtali in Chanaan lay to the extreme north of Palestine, and was bounded (Jos., xix, 33- 34) on the north by the River Leontes (Nahr el-Qasimiyeh), on the east by the course of the Jordan as far as 12 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, on the west by the tribes of Aser and Zabulon; and on the south by that of Issachar. Including some of the finest land in Palestine, "it invites the most slothful to take pains to cultivate it" (Joseph., "Bell. Jud.", III, iii, 2). Naturally the Chanaanites of that district were most unwilling to give up their rich possessions; the Book of Judges possibly even imples that the Hebrews could not overcome the natives (i, 33); in fact, foreigners were at all times numerous in that neighbourhood, called on that account "Galilee of the Gentiles" (Isa., ix, 1; IV Kings, xv, 29). Finally, they banded together under Jabin and Sisara to drive the Israelites out of the land. How this confederacy was defeated by Barac, a man of Cedes, with the warriors of Zabulon and of his own tribe, called together by Debora, to the glory of Naphtali, needs not be recounted here (Judges, iv, v). Again, with Gedeon, warriors of Nephtali took part in the pursuit of the Madianites (Judges, vii, 23), and sent to David at Hebron a contingent of 1000 captains and 37,000 men "furnished with shield and spear" (I Par., xii, 34). And the men of Nephtali, according to Josephus, guarding the "Entrances of Emath", the key to northern Palestine, were "inured to war from their infancy" ("Bell Jud.", loc. cit.).

JOSEPHUS, Judean Wars, III, iii; Commentaries on Gen., Jos., and Deut.; MERRILL, Galilee in the Time of Christ (Boston, 1881); THOMSON, The Land and the Book, II (London, 1881); DHORME, Les pays bibliques et l'Assyrie in Revue Biblique (Apr., 1910), 195, 197; LAGRANGE, La Prophétie de Jacob in Revue Biblique (1898), 534.