The Official Journal of the Ensign Trust, London





Dan,  the  third  “brigade” leader of Israel  in the camps of the Wilderness, was  the son of Jacob and Bilhah, the servant of Rachel.   During Rachel’s long period  of barrenness, when she  was  jealous  of her sister  Leah’s children, she  had  suggested to Jacob that he should  take her maid Bilhah as a concubine, and hoped in this way to have the longed for children by proxy.  Dan was  the first of Bilhah’s  sons,  and  his name means “Judging”, for Rachel remarked that God had judged  her.

This story, and those of the births of Jacob’s other sons, are  told in Genesis 30.   In Numbers 2 the arrangement of the encampments in the Wilderness are  given,  and  the  numbers of the  tribes.   Dan’s position was on the North side of the camp, and  the combination of the tribes of Dan, Asher and  Naphtali amounted to 157,600.   This was quite a sizeable number for a brigade, and  of these, the tribe of Dan numbered 62,700.    The  eagle of  Dan ‘s  standard continued to be used  down the centuries and is one of the four “living creatures” described in the vision of Ezekiel  1:10 and  in Revelation  4, so  we  should search further in  history for  the  eagle emblem. Another   emblem of Dan  was  the  serpent, for  in Jacob’s blessing  to his sons  he said “Dan shall  be a serpent by  the  way, an  adder in  the  path  that biteth the  horse heels”. (Genesis 49:1 7)  Later  in history the horse seems to have become an emblem of Dan also.  In the previous verse, reference is made to the meaning of Dan’s name: “Dan shall judge his people  as one  of the  tribes of Israel”.

The eagle seems to have been  the main badge for the brigade, and was also used by Asher and Naphtali. It occurs frequently in  European heraldry and  is distinct  from  the  double headed eagle  of the  Holy Roman Empire, which is descended from  the Babylonian  Empire.  The eagle was later used  by the United States of America, and appears in many of the Scottish  clan  badges and  arms. It was  one  of the emblems of the Norsemen or Vikings.

The horse  was  the emblem of the Angles, whose traditional leaders were  Hengist and Horsa (meaning stallion and mare), and it has been  adopted by Kent, where they settled. It also appears in the heraldry of the Netherlands.

The serpent does not appear frequently in heraldry, but its symbolism plays a great  part in following the travels of the people of Dan. When the land of promise was  settled  by the tribes it appears that the Danites were a maritime  people,  dwelling  in the northern and  coastal areas, above  the Sea of Galilee, and reaching as far as Mount Hermon.   They may  have  been  short  of living space, as  they were one of the largest of the tribes. In parts of their allotted territory  there  were  still pockets of Amorites,  who proved difficult to dislodge. However, six hundred pioneers opened up  the  area above Sidon , and founded the city of Dan, named after their ancestor. (Joshua 19:47)  This proved  to be a trait of the tribe, in that they included the name of Dan in most places where they  settled, and  in this  way  many  of their wanderings may be traced.  They left a “serpent’s trail” for historians to follow.

Moses’ blessing of the Tribes mentioned Dan thus: “Dan is a lion’s whelp: he shall leap  from Bashan”. (Deuteronomy 33:22). The northern limits of Bashan reached as far as Mount Hermon.  After her victory over Sisera,  Deborah  reproached Dan for “abiding in ships” (Judges 5:17), when they should  have been fighting with the other tribes, which points to the fact that the tribe was  off at sea,  and  founding  colonies elsewhere. Joppa  (now Jaffa) was a Danite port, and wood  for the Temple was imported here.  The trade with Tarshish was carried on from Joppa.  Ezekiel’s message to Tyre mentions that Dan traded with Javan (which  is likely to have been  the islands of the Ionian Sea).

Colonies  were  established in the islands around Greece and the eastern end of the Mediterranean as early as the time of the Exodus, followed  by later migrations when  the tribes were settled  in the land of Canaan.  The  popular belief is that all the “Phoenicians” were  of Canaanite stock,  although many archaeologists are of the opinion that they were Semites, and  probably related to the Israelites. However that may be, it appears likely that a seafaring tribe  such as Dan would have  been among the Mediterranean  traders of those early times. They must have worked in close association with the Phoenician traders.  In Solomon’s days the ships  of Israel were ranked  with  those  of Tyre and  Sidon,  which  were Phoenician cities.

Dan probably did not have much  contact with the other tribes once  the colonising and trading activities were under way, and the most prominent member of the tribe mentioned in Scripture after the time of the Exodus ,  was Samson,  one  of   the    Judges . (“Judgement” again!)   Others  were  Aholiab, who worked  on the Temple,  and Hiram,  the overseer of the Temple work, who was a Danite on his mother’s side.

From now on we shall have to follow the fortunes of the tribe from secular sources, as the Bible seldom mentions the fate of the Danites.  As has been  pointed out ,  the “serpent’s trails” give us clues,  and we only have  to look  for the  prefix  “Dan”  in the  names of places in the ancient world. The ancient Greeks called themselves ” Danaans ” .   The  Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses III had  records in which  it is stated that a tribe of marauding peoples, among whom  were  the Danauna, had moved  down  through the Aegean,  via Palestine, to Egypt. They were allied with the Pulesti, who sound very much  like “Philistines”. This was around  1200 BC, the  times  of the  Judges, and  the Danites  had  probably become  subservient to  the Philistines and  been compelled to  play  a  part  in military and naval operations.

The prefix “Dan” is a root name which  crops  up frequently in the names of the Greeks and  their leaders.   Some  examples follow:  Danaus,  Danae, Danoi , Danaids. According to Thucydides  the earliest immigrants to Greece were  the Pelasgians, and one of their leaders was  Danaus,  who  arrived  with  his followers from Egypt. Another  leader was Cadmus. Athens was supposed to have  been  colonised from Egypt , and the Danaans colonised the regions  round Lemnos  and also some sailed  to the Tyrrhenian  Sea near  Italy,  their  descendants  becoming known  as Etruscans. Herodotus says that Cadmus came from Tyre, and that he introduced the letters of the alphabet to Greece. The alphabet is known  to have originated in the region which is now Palestine. Tyre was close to the  northern territory  of Dan.   Other  historians stated  that  the  Greek  and  Phoenician deities were based  on  ancestor  worship, and  were  of Hebrew origin.   Some  authorities equate Kronos  or Saturn (the Roman version) with Israel (Jacob), and record that  he  had  a son  Ieoud ,  (which  is very similar  to “Judah”).

The Greeks also claimed an origin in the south and the east,  and  the  Minoans of Crete  worshipped the bull. This points  back to the idolatrous golden calf of Moses’ time.

Moving on to the New Testament  times, we find from  the  “Antiquities” of Josephus that  the Lacedaemonians  (Spartans)  considered themselves descended from  Israelites.   They exchanged letters during   the  period of  the Maccabees, and the letter from Sparta had a seal with an eagle and a serpent!  In Homer’s  “Iliad” the badges of the tribe of Dan were described as appearing over  the  contending armies  in the siege of  Troy.  Herodotus states  that   the Lacedaemonians came  from Dorus, the son of Hellen, (hence the “Hellenes”), and that their laws came from Crete. Crete’s civilisation was very old, and  the  culture  had  many  links with Greece. Tacitus believed that the Cretans were “Jews”, and that their name came from Mount Ida (“Judah”?). There is also a Mount Ida in Greece, where Zeus/ Jupiter was supposed to have been  brought up. The same legend is told about the Cretan Mount Ida. The Myceneans had a horned altar similar to that of the Hebrews, and the fig tree, doves and pillars  were  sacred objects in their  religion. Incidentally, the very name “Jupiter” is significant, in that it could be “Ju(dah)-Pater” (Father Judah).

Given their colonising and exploring qualities,  and their involvement with trade,  it is not surprising that the Greek  Danites  began  to move  ever  westwards, and  here  their  “trails”  are  useful  in following  their route.  We have the rivers Danube,  Don, and Dniester. The  straits of the  Black  Sea  were called the Dardanelles. Eventually the westward thrust,  many people following  the River Danube itself, led the colonists to Danmark (or Denmark, as we English call it).  Nearby is the Baltic port of Danzig, another outlet for  the  sea-faring traders .   The  area is  called Scandinavia and another of the countries is Sweden. The last colonising push in Europe was to the British Isles, where the Danes of the Danelaw  settled to live peaceably at last with their brethren, the Saxons of King Alfred.  This is where the “serpent ‘s trail ” dries up, for the tribes became integrated into the British race, which later went on to colonise  the four corners of the earth,  in fulfilment  of God’s  promise that they should  become a blessing  to all nations.

This is a most  romantic and  thrilling  story,  and there is far more evidence to be found than that given in this limited  space, if  any  reader should  wish  to make  an in depth study.  It may be argued that  the above  is circumstantial evidence, but that so many legends and  traditions tie in to a harmonious whole cannot  be ignored  by even the most sceptical. God ‘s purposes were worked  out remarkably, and the tribe of  Dan  has  left  a  greater number of clues to  its wanderings than any other  of the tribes of Israel.