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According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Asher (Hebrew: אָשֵׁר, Modern Ašer Tiberian ʼĀšēr ; "happy") was one of the twelve Tribes of Israel.

Following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite tribes after about 1200 BCE[1], Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes. To Asher he assigned western Galilee, (Joshua 19:24-31) a region with comparatively low temperature, and much rainfall, making it some of the most fertile land in Canaan, with rich pasture, wooded hills, and orchards; as such Asher was particularly prosperous, and known for its olive oil[2].

The Blessing of Moses appears to prophecy this, though textual scholars view this as a postdiction[3][4].

From after the conquest of the land by Joshua until the formation of the first Kingdom of Israel in c. 1050 BC, the Tribe of Asher was a part of a loose confederation of Israelite tribes. No central government existed, and in times of crisis the people were led by ad hoc leaders known as Judges. (see the Book of Judges) With the growth of the threat from Philistine incursions, the Israelite tribes decided to form a strong centralised monarchy to meet the challenge, and the Tribe of Asher joined the new kingdom with Saul as the first king. After the death of Saul, all the tribes other than Judah remained loyal to the House of Saul, but after the death of Ish-bosheth, Saul's son and successor to the throne of Israel, the Tribe of Asher joined the other northern Israelite tribes in making David, who was then the king of Judah, king of a re-united Kingdom of Israel. However, on the accession of Rehoboam, David's grandson, in c. 930 BC the northern tribes split from the House of David to reform a Kingdom of Israel as the Northern Kingdom. Asher was a member of the kingdom until the kingdom was conquered by Assyria in c. 723 BC and the population deported.

From that time, the Tribe of Asher has been counted as one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.



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Despite the connection to this general geographic region, it is difficult to determine from the Torah the exact boundaries of the tribe, to the extent that it is even uncertain whether Asher even had continuous territory[5]. Sites which according to the bible were allocated to Asher, and whose locations have since been identified, appear to be a scattered distribution of settlements rather than a compact and well-defined tribal region.[5] Despite appearing to have had good contact with the markets of Phoenicia, Asher appears, throughout its history, to have been fairly disconnected from the other tribes of Israel; additionally it seems to have taken little part in the antagonism portrayed in the Bible between the Canaanites and the other tribes, for example in the war involving Barak and Sisera.[5] Critical scholars generally conclude that Asher consisted of certain clans that were affiliated with portions of the Israelite tribal confederation, but were never incorporated into the body politic.[5]

The Ashurites are mentioned in the Old Testament among those over whom Ish-bosheth was made king (2 Samuel 2:9).


According to the Torah, the tribe consisted of descendants of Asher the eighth son of Jacob, from whom it took its name.

Critical scholars view this as an eponymous metaphor.[4] Asher is one of the two descendants of Zilpah, a handmaid of Jacob, the other being Gad; critical scholars claim that the authors intended this to mean Asher and Gad were not of entirely of Israelite origin.[5]

Archaeological evidence

A group named Aseru, living in a similar region to Asher in the 14th century BC, are mentioned in Egyptian monuments of the period. Identification with the tribe of Asher is plausible according to views that place the Exodus at the end of the Hyksos period but conflicts with views that date it to the 13th century.

This article incorporates text from Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897), a publication now in the public domain.


  1. ^ Kitchen, Kenneth A. (2003), "On the Reliability of the Old Testament" (Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)(ISBN 0-8028-4960-1)
  2. ^ This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.
  3. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (Harper San Francisco) (1987) ISBN 0-06-063035-3
  4. ^ a b Peake's commentary on the Bible
  5. ^ a b c d e Jewish Encyclopedia

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Up to date as of January 23, 2010

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Tribes of Israel



—Biblical Data:

The fortune of Asher is foreshadowed in the Blessing of Jacob, where it is said: "Asher, his food shall be rich, and he shall yield the dainties of a king" (Gen 49:20, Hebr.). Until the settlement in Canaan, the tribe stood in honor. Of its lot in Egypt there is no record; but after the Exodus its men numbered 41,500 strong (Num 1:41); and at the close of the desert march the census showed that it had reached 53,400 (Num 26:47). During the journeyings the tribe had its station between Dan and Naphtali, north of the Tabernacle (Num 2:25ff). It also had its representative among the tribal chiefs sent to spy out the land of Canaan (Num 13:13).

Relations to Other Tribes.

The blessing of Moses, delivered, according to tradition, at the close of the march, is put forward as partly predictive: "Blessed be Asher with descendants, and let him be pleasing to his brethren, and let his foot be dipped in oil" (Deut 33:24, Hebr.). The material portion of this aspiration, like that of Jacob's Blessing, was in large measure fulfilled. The territory allotted to Asher (Josh 19:24ff) was the coast-land extending from Dor (Tanturah) on the south to Sidon on the north. It thus included, north of Mount Carmel, the territories of Accho, Achzib, Tyre, and Sidon. The coast-land west of the shoulder of Carmel, though assigned to Asher, was occupied by Manasseh (Josh 17:11).

The tribe was thus settled on the western slopes and valleys of Upper and Lower Galilee and on the Phenician plain. Here was some of the most productive land in Palestine (pasture, wooded hills, and orchards) noted especially for the abundance and richness of its olive-oil. On account of its remoteness from the centers of national life, and its facility of communication with the Phenician markets, as well as the ease with which it could support itself, the tribe speedily became dissociated from the rest of Israel, so that it took no part against the Canaanites with Barak and Deborah (Jdg 5:17). Yet it joined in the pursuit of the Midianites after the victory of Gideon (Jdg 7:23). It is also said (1Chr 12:36) that a great host of Asherites offered their support to David when he succeeded to the kingdom of Saul, and that some men of the tribe "humbled themselves" in the reformation of Hezekiah (2Chr 30:11).


—Critical View:

Asher is one of the most indistinct and elusive of the tribes of Israel. It is difficult to fix the boundaries of the tribe's possessions; and it is not even certain that it inhabited any extensive continuous territory. There is, as mentioned above, no trace of its clansmen south of Carmel; and it is not clear in what sense this district was assigned to them. Possibly the tradition is based on some migration of Asherites northward through that region. Many of the towns allotted to them north of Carmel can not be identified. But those whose sites are known (among them Cabul, Achshaph, Helkath, Neiel) suggest by their location a distribution of settlements rather than a compact and well-defined tribal possession. Besides the Phenician coast cities (Accho, Tyre, Sidon), Beth-dagon further inland was probably never Asherite.

Asher appears to have had at no time a close connection with the body of Israel. It had more at stake than any other tribe in the common struggle with the northern Canaanites, and yet it held aloof. In the light of this outstanding fact, it is not easy to understand how it could have become so loyal at any later date as to send 40,000 men to join the standard of David (1Chr 12:36). The probability of such a statement is lessened by the fact that in the tabulation of the several contingents (verses 23-38) the largest quotas are said to have come from the tribes that were most remote from the centers of the life and activity of Israel. On the whole the conclusion is irresistible that Asher consisted of certain clans that were affiliated with portions of Israel, but were never incorporated into the body politic.

Name and Origin.

Critical opinion is divided as to whether Asher was a name originally Israelitish, or whether it was adopted by certain of the outlying tribesmen from a Canaanitic source. What light does the story of the birth of Asher throw on the question? He was the full brother of Gad, and the names have the same meaning. Gad is a Canaanitish god of fortune, and Asher is from a root meaning "prosperous,""happy," whence the great Assyrian god Asshur. But how was this name Asher suggested? A clue is perhaps afforded in the fact pointed out by W. Max Müller ("Asien und Europa," p. 236), that "Aseru" appears on Egyptian monuments as the name of a land and people in western Galilee in the fourteenth century B.C. It is conceivable that Israelitish settlers in that region adopted in this modified form the name of their new residence. Such a thing was not in itself impossible, since there is evidence that several of the tribes had territorial designations given to them after the Hebrew occupation of Canaan.

There is, however, still the possibility that this "Aseru" was itself the name of a Hebrew settlement existing from olden time in Palestine and kept up independently of the sojourn in Egypt which ended with the Exodus. In considering these possibilities a good deal must depend upon the analogy of the history of the other tribes and their current designations - a matter which is itself still very obscure.

The Asherite clan Heber.

Still another hypothesis has been offered. Jastrow suggests ("J. B. L." xi. 120) that the clan Heber of the tribe Asher (1Chr 7:31) represents the Chabiri of the El-Amarna tablets, and the brother-clan Malchiel, the Milkili, who figure in the same inscriptions. If this should be correct, the conclusion would be drawn that a formidable body of people was pressing upward from southern Palestine two hundred years before the Exodus, and that they finally settled in western Galilee; leaving perhaps a trace of their temporary settlement in the towns south of Carmel referred to above as being finally occupied by Manasseh. This hypothesis has to contend against the opinion, now somewhat widely held, that the Chabiri were the Hebrews themselves.

Bibliography: Besides the most recent commentaries on the Biblical passages cited above, see Kittel, Gesch. der Hebräer; Meyer, Gesch. des Alterthums; Wellhausen, Israelitische und Jüdische Gesch. pp. 15 et seq.; Stade, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, i. 172 et seq.; Entstehung des Volkes Israel, in Akad. Reden u. Abhandlungen; Jastrow, in J. B. L. xi. 120; Barton, ibid. xv. 174; Bernh. Luther, Die Israel. Stämme, in Stade's Zeitschrift, 1901, xxi. 12 et seq., 18 et seq., 41 et seq., 51.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.
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