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Aaron Demsky





Manasseh’s Genealogies: Why They Change Between Numbers, Joshua, and Chronicles





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Aaron Demsky





Manasseh’s Genealogies: Why They Change Between Numbers, Joshua, and Chronicles








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Manasseh’s Genealogies: Why They Change Between Numbers, Joshua, and Chronicles

The genealogy of the tribe of Manasseh appears in Numbers 26 and again in Joshua 17 with slight differences. It appears a third time, in 1 Chronicles 7, wholly reconceived, highlighting how certain biblical genealogies represent tribal kinship patterns that shift over time.


Manasseh’s Genealogies: Why They Change Between Numbers, Joshua, and Chronicles

Manasseh’s genealogies. © TheTorah.com

Linear versus Segmented Genealogies

Biblical genealogies can be divided into two overall types, linear and segmented.[1] The defining feature of the classic linear genealogy is a diachronic listing of descendants or ancestors often up to ten generations, as that marks an eon in the biblical conception of time. This has been termed by social anthropologists as the “structural depth” of the family.[2]

It can be used to provide pedigree or lineage, as in biblical family law (Deut 23:3 and 4) or it can be a literary device in biblical narrative to abbreviate the story, e.g., as in the ten-generational list from Adam to Noah in Genesis 5, or from Shem to Abram in Genesis 11:10–32. Shorter linear genealogies are used to introduce biblical figures: Saul (1 Sam 9: 1-2); Ezra (Ezra 7:1-5); Mordechai (Esther 2:5). Here we find the phenomenon of “telescoping,” i.e., reducing the number of ancestors by skipping generations.

Segmented genealogies divide up the lineage into either brother branches or children of the different wives in a polygamous family (Gen 35:23b–26), illuminating kinship between tribes or clans. These maternal or filial branches reflect the tribal area, what anthropologists call the “spatial depth” of that family’s settlement.

Such genealogies express a social contract defining tribal or familial obligations, primarily the laws of ge’ulah (redemption, Jer 32:7) and matters of permitted marriage and particularly inheritance rights between sons of the primary wife and those of the concubines (Gen 25: 5-6). It was these concerns that maintained the conservative tribal structure for generations, well into the monarchic period, despite the centralized government, urbanization, civil administration, and taxation.[3]

Segmented genealogies usually cover one to five “generations”. They highlight the relationship between the tribal units. Good examples of such genealogies in the Bible are the sons of Qeturah (Gen 25:1–4), the twelve sons of Ishmael (Gen 25:13–16), the sons of Esau/Edom (Gen 36:1–5, 9–14), and, of course, the sons of Israel/Jacob.

The Genealogy of Manasseh in Numbers 26

Some texts mix linear and segmented genealogies, some are lists, and some narrative.[4] The genealogy of Manasseh in Numbers 26 begins as a linear genealogy (x gave birth to y), listing the first three generations of Manasseh, father and son only:

במדבר כו:כט בְּנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה לְמָכִיר מִשְׁפַּחַת הַמָּכִירִי וּמָכִיר הוֹלִיד אֶת גִּלְעָד לְגִלְעָד מִשְׁפַּחַת הַגִּלְעָדִי.
Num 26:29 Descendants of Manasseh: Of Machir, the clan of the Machirites. — Machir begot Gilead. — Of Gilead, the clan of the Gileadites.

The text continues with a list of the six sons of Gilead, in the form of a segmented genealogy:

כו:ל אֵלֶּה בְּנֵי גִלְעָד:
אִיעֶזֶר מִשְׁפַּחַת הָאִיעֶזְרִי
לְחֵלֶק מִשְׁפַּחַת הַחֶלְקִי.
כו:לא וְאַשְׂרִיאֵל מִשְׁפַּחַת הָאַשְׂרִאֵלִי
וְשֶׁכֶם מִשְׁפַּחַת הַשִּׁכְמִי.
כו:לב וּשְׁמִידָע מִשְׁפַּחַת הַשְּׁמִידָעִי
וְחֵפֶר מִשְׁפַּחַת הַחֶפְרִי.
26:30 These were the descendants of Gilead:
Iezer, the clan of the Iezerites;
of Helek, the clan of the Helekites;
26:31 Asriel, the clan of the Asrielites;
Shechem, the clan of the Shechemites;
26:32 Shemida, the clan of the Shemidaites;
Hepher, the clan of the Hepherites.

Following this list of six sons/clans, the text zooms in only on the Hepher clan, and offers a segmented genealogy of the daughters of Hepher’s son, Zelophehad:

כו:לג וּצְלָפְחָד בֶּן חֵפֶר לֹא הָיוּ לוֹ בָּנִים כִּי אִם בָּנוֹת וְשֵׁם בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד מַחְלָה וְנֹעָה חָגְלָה מִלְכָּה וְתִרְצָה.
26:33 Now Zelophehad son of Hepher had no sons, only daughters. The names of Zelophehad’s daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.[5]
כו:לד אֵלֶּה מִשְׁפְּחֹת מְנַשֶּׁה….
26:34 Those are the clans of Manasseh…

This genealogy can be easily graphed:

The Genealogy of Manasseh in Joshua 17

The genealogy of Manasseh in Joshua 17 is similar, but not identical to the one in Numbers 26.

Machir, the Transjordanian Son

The opening verse refers to Machir as the first son of Manasseh, as per the list in Numbers, and we are told that he is to receive the Transjordanian regions of Gilead and Bashan, east and northeast of the Jordan River. Note, however, the difference in how Gilead is presented:

יהושע יז:א וַיְהִי הַגּוֹרָל לְמַטֵּה מְנַשֶּׁה כִּי הוּא בְּכוֹר יוֹסֵף לְמָכִיר בְּכוֹר מְנַשֶּׁה אֲבִי הַגִּלְעָד כִּי הוּא הָיָה אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה וַיְהִי לוֹ הַגִּלְעָד וְהַבָּשָׁן.
Josh 17:1 And this is the portion that fell by lot to the tribe of Manasseh, for he was Joseph’s first-born. Since Machir, the first-born of Manasseh and the father of the Gilead, was a valiant warrior, the Gilead and the Bashan were assigned to him.

Unlike Numbers 26, in which Gilead is presented literally as Machir’s son and the eponymous ancestor of Gileadites, the phrase “father of the Gilead” here must mean “settler of the Gilead region” and not “father of the man Gilead.” This is because of MT’s use of the definite article, “the Gilead”;[6] in Biblical Hebrew, a personal name cannot be preceded by the definite article.

In genealogies, “the father of a geographic entity” is a technical term referring to tribal or clan settlement of a certain place. See for example, in the following Judahite genealogy:

דברי הימים א ב:נ …שׁוֹבָל אֲבִי קִרְיַת יְעָרִים.נ:נא שַׂלְמָא אֲבִי בֵית לָחֶם חָרֵף אֲבִי בֵית גָּדֵר.
1 Chron 2:50 …Shobal father of Kiriath-jearim, 2:51Salma father of Bethlehem, Hareph father of Beth-gader.

These are certainly place names and not the names of eponymous sons.

The Cis-Jordanian Sons

The text of Joshua 17 then continues by describing the land allotment of Manasseh’s sons. In this list, the six brothers are described not as sons of Gilead or as descendants of Machir. Instead, these are the sons of Manasseh and the brothers of Machir:

יהושע יז:ב וַיְהִי לִבְנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה הַנּוֹתָרִים לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם לִבְנֵי אֲבִיעֶזֶר וְלִבְנֵי חֵלֶק וְלִבְנֵי אַשְׂרִיאֵל וְלִבְנֵי שֶׁכֶם וְלִבְנֵי חֵפֶר וְלִבְנֵי שְׁמִידָע
Josh 17:2 And now assignments were made to the remaining sons of Manasseh, by their clans: the descendants of Abiezer,[7] Heleq, Asriel, Shechem, Hepher, and Shemida.
אֵלֶּה בְּנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה בֶּן יוֹסֵף הַזְּכָרִים לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם.
Those were the male descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph, by their clans.

Before describing the division of land, the text turns to the five daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, who remind Joshua and Eleazar of Moses’ promise that they were to be allotted their father’s land in his stead (17:3–4). The text then returns to the division of land:

יהושע יז:ה וַיִּפְּלוּ חַבְלֵי מְנַשֶּׁה עֲשָׂרָה לְבַד מֵאֶרֶץ הַגִּלְעָד וְהַבָּשָׁן אֲשֶׁר מֵעֵבֶר לַיַּרְדֵּן. יז:ו כִּי בְּנוֹת מְנַשֶּׁה נָחֲלוּ נַחֲלָה בְּתוֹךְ בָּנָיו וְאֶרֶץ הַגִּלְעָד הָיְתָה לִבְנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה הַנּוֹתָרִים.
Josh 17:5 Ten districts fell to Manasseh, apart from the lands of Gilead and Bashan, which are across the Jordan. 17:6 For Manasseh’s daughters inherited a portion with his sons, while the land of Gilead was assigned to the rest of Manasseh’s descendants.

According to this, Machir receives the Gilead and Bashan areas in the Transjordan, while Manasseh’s six other sons get the Cisjordanian land, except that Hepher’s land is subdivided into five areas, each going to one granddaughter.

We can graph the genealogy thus:

Comparing the Genealogies

When compared to the genealogy of Numbers 26, in Joshua 17, Machir is no longer part of the line of the six brothers, but represents a different line, while Gilead is no longer a “person” or clan at all, but merely a toponym. This division of eastern vs. western sons reflects the geographical change that occurs between Numbers 26 and Joshua 17: In Numbers 26, all of Manasseh is in the Transjordan, but in Joshua 17, the Cisjordan has been conquered, and the families are split based on their lands.

The genealogy then, is not a simple attempt to describe the “real” family structure of eponymous ancestors but rather an attempt to make sense of the relationships between clans in the time of a given author and/or within certain literary contexts. This point is particularly important for when we try to understand the very different Manasseh genealogy found in 1 Chronicles 7:14–19.

Chronicles: An Alternative Genealogy for Manasseh

The key to creating order out of the chaos in the Chronicler’s Manasseh genealogy is a proper understanding of the problematic opening verse, especially identifying Manasseh’s two wives. It is therefore noteworthy that in these patriarchal genealogies, a woman is included for three different reasons:

  1. Importance—She was important in her own right and might even be known from other passages in the Bible. Often, when listed with her brothers, she will follow them with the citation “and their sister,” though she might be their senior (Numb 26:59).
  2. Relationship—She constitutes an inter-tribal/clan alliance or a connubium. In such a relationship, she will be referred to as a “wife” or as a “sister”.
  3. Blemish—She reflects a certain social or ethnic blemish like being a concubine or a foreigner, which will impinge on the inheritance rights of her children.[8]

Regarding the Chronicler’s genealogy of Manasseh, some commentators have tried to interpret verse 14 as referring to one woman.[9] In my opinion, the verse refers to two different women, the first, who is an unnamed Israelite, was the mother of Asriel and the other western clans, and the second, the Aramean concubine, was the mother of Machir.[10] I will include the cantillation marks here to help clarify how to divide the verse into units (note the etnachta under the word yaladah which shows that it is the end of a phrase):

דברי הימים א ז:יד בְּנֵ֣י מְנַשֶּׁ֔ה אַשְׂרִיאֵ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֣ר יָלָ֑דָה
1 Chron 7:14 The sons of Manasseh: Asriel, whom she (an unnamed woman) bore;
פִּֽילַגְשׁוֹ֙ הָֽאֲרַמִּיָּ֔ה יָלְדָ֕ה אֶת־מָכִ֖יר אֲבִ֥י גִלְעָֽד:
His Aramean concubine bore Machir the father of Gilead.

This section of the genealogy agrees with Joshua over Numbers in some important respects:

  1. Asriel is the brother of Machir, not his grandson.
  2. Gilead is a toponym and not a person or clan.
  3. Machir is Transjordanian, and this distinguishes him from his brother, who is presumably Cisjordanian. This, of course, reflects the historic division of that tribe into two units on either side of the Jordan.

Most importantly, the compiler of this genealogy (to be distinguished from the Second Temple period Chronicler), compares these two branches, favoring and giving primacy to the Western clans. He implies that Asriel, the son of an Israelite wife, is of higher status than Machir, the son of an Aramean concubine. This contrasts sharply with Numbers 26, according to which Machir is the father of all Manassite clans!

A Spliced Genealogy

In short, each branch/wife in the Manasseh genealogy of Chronicles represents a geographic area of Manasseh:

West (Cisjordan)—The sons of Manasseh’s unnamed wife settle the territory of Samaria. These are the higher status branches of the Manassite tribe. (Higher social status)

East (Transjordan)—As it did in Joshua, Machir represents Manassites living in the region of Gilead and presumably Bashan in the Transjordan. (Lower social status)

The genealogy continues with many new names, and at first the relationship of the individuals in the text seems chaotic, and the text unreadable.[11] The reason for this is because the genealogist introduced a novel way to describe both branches simultaneously, by moving from one to the other.[12] In other words, the text here presents a genealogy that moves back and forth between Transjordanian and Cisjordanian clans, but the two genealogies are interwoven seemingly without clear literary markers of when one and when the other is being discussed.

Nevertheless, the text is easier to follow when each strand is read independently, so we will look first at one and then the other. (For a look at the text, see appendix.)

The Eastern Clans

The genealogy of the eastern clans contains a host of names and relationships that appear nowhere else in the Bible:

דברי הימים א ז:יד בְּנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה… פִּילַגְשׁוֹ הָאֲרַמִּיָּה יָלְדָה אֶת מָכִיר אֲבִי גִלְעָד.
1 Chron 7:14 The sons of Manasseh… His Aramean concubine bore Machir the father of Gilead.
ז:טו וּמָכִיר לָקַח אִשָּׁה לְחֻפִּים וּלְשֻׁפִּים וְשֵׁם אֲחֹתוֹ מַעֲכָה…
7:15 And Machir took a wife of (the clans of) Ḥuppim and Shuppim. The name of his sister (i.e, their kinswoman =Machir’s wife) was Maacah.…
ז:טז וַתֵּלֶד מַעֲכָה אֵשֶׁת מָכִיר בֵּן וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ פֶּרֶשׁ וְשֵׁם אָחִיו שָׁרֶשׁ וּבָנָיו אוּלָם וָרָקֶם. ז:יז וּבְנֵי אוּלָם בְּדָן אֵלֶּה בְּנֵי גִלְעָד בֶּן מָכִיר בֶּן מְנַשֶּׁה.
7:16 And Maacah the wife of Machir bore a son, and she named him Peresh; and the name of his brother was Sheresh; and his sons were Ulam and Rekem. 7:17 The sons of Ulam: Bedan. These were the sons of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh.[13]

The following diagram explains these verses:

The marriage of Machir to Maachah teaches us something about clan relationships in biblical times. Ḥuppim and Shuppim are almost certainly the names of Benjaminite clans. Genesis 46:21 names two of the clans Muppim (מֻפִּים) and Ḥuppim (חֻפִּים), whereas Numbers 26:39 names them Shephupham (שְׁפוּפָם) and Ḥuppam (חוּפָם). The spelling of the first in our verse is just another variant. [14] The marriage of Machir to the “sister” of two Benjaminite clans is called a connubium, an intertribal marriage which then binds the families with social obligations and mutual support.

The marital relations between Manassites of Yabesh Gilead and Benjaminites is reflected in the story of concubine from Gibeah (Judg 21:14), although in that case, the Benjaminites are the spear (male) side and the Gileadites the distaff (female) side. These ties are also echoed in the Saul stories; Saul becomes king by saving Jabesh-Gilead from Nahash the Ammonite (1 Sam 11), and the Jabesh Gileadites rescue Saul’s body and bury him (1 Sam 31:11-13).

Unknown Names

Other than the reference to this connubium, the list is filled with unfamiliar names (Peresh, Sheresh,[15] Ulam, Rekem, and Bedan[16]), since in the other two genealogies, only Machir and Gilead are mentioned. There is, thus, little to compare to the earlier genealogies.

The Western Clans

Comparing the information about the western clans to Numbers and Joshua offers many insights into how genealogies change. These verses read:

דברי הימים א ז:יד בְּנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה: אַשְׂרִיאֵל אֲשֶׁר יָלָדָה…
1 Chron 7:14 The sons of Manasseh: Asriel, whom she (unnamed wife) bore…
וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִי צְלָפְחָד וַתִּהְיֶנָה לִצְלָפְחָד בָּנוֹת.…
And the name of the second (son of Manasseh from the unnamed wife) was Zelophehad; and Zelophehad had daughters.…
ז:יח וַאֲחֹתוֹ הַמֹּלֶכֶת יָלְדָה אֶת אִישְׁהוֹד וְאֶת אֲבִיעֶזֶר וְאֶת מַחְלָה.ז:יט וַיִּהְיוּ בְּנֵי שְׁמִידָע אַחְיָן וָשֶׁכֶם וְלִקְחִי וַאֲנִיעָם.
7:18 And his (Zelophehad’s) “sister”, i.e., kinswoman, Hammolekhet bore Ish-Hod, Abiezer, and Mahlah. 7:19 The sons of Shemida, his brother (read: אחיו), Shechem,[17] and Liqhi and Aniam.

The following chart explains these relationships:

We can categorize four types of relationships between this and the earlier genealogies:

  1. Same—Mahlah (one of Zelophehad’s daughters), Abiezer, Shemida, and Shechem are known from the older lists.
  2. Variant spellings—Liqhi is a metathesis of Heleq; Aniʿam may be related to Noʿa, and Hammolekhet (the definite article ha points to this being a clan name)[18] is a variation of the name Milkah.
  3. Absent—The names Hepher, Tirzah, and Hoglah are missing entirely.
  4. New—Ish-Hod does not appear in the earlier lists.[19]

More significantly, the clans of Manasseh have been reconfigured. Instead of six brothers in the first row, there are three brothers and one sister. One of the brothers (Hepher) known from earlier sources is missing entirely. Two others, Shechem and Heleq/Liqhi, appear as the sons of Shemida instead of his brothers, while (Av)iezer is now the son of Hamolekhet/Milkah instead of being her great uncle.

Zelophehad is no longer the son of Hepher, but a primary brother in his own right. His identity is confirmed by the notice that he had the daughters, alluding to Numbers/Joshua, but here they are unnamed. I would suggest that he is just a peg to introduce his surviving daughter-clans.

At the same time, three of the women mentioned as his daughters in those earlier texts appear in other slots:

  • Milkah/HaMolekhet is now introduced as “his sister,” demonstrating this clan’s importance, on par with Asriel and Shemida (part of the older lists of the six brothers, sons of Manasseh or Gilead).
  • Mahlah is now Milkah/HaMolekhet’s “daughter” and Zelophehad’s “niece.”
  • Aniam/Noa(?) is now the “daughter” of Shemida and, also, Zelophehad’s “niece.”

In my opinion, these familial terms when referring to eponymous clans indicate dependency.

A Post-Destruction Genealogy

Why is the genealogy of the western Manasseh clans so different here? The best explanation is historical: Chronicles dates from the post-exilic period (ca. 400 B.C.E.), though the sources it uses for the genealogies is much earlier. That said, it is clear that whatever source he used for the Manasseh genealogies was composed after the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom (735–722 B.C.E.) and the subsequent exile of parts of the Manasseh tribe.[20]

In other words, the primacy given to the west Jordanian families over the east Jordanian families in this genealogy is likely the result of the latter having been exiled by the time of its composition. Certainly, there was no longer room to claim Machir (or Gilead) as the ancestor of the surviving Cisjordanian clans, some of whom were now dependent and aligned as offspring of their erstwhile kinsmen. Similarly, Hoglah and Tirzah, although Cisjordianian cities or clans, are absent, presumably because they had already been exiled when this list was composed.

The fact that certain groups that were once primary are now listed as dependents of other groups implies a shift in their relative power after the Assyrian conquest of Samaria. This national catastrophe required the various clans to reorient themselves with respect to one another.

In short, although the Chronicler’s Manasseh genealogy appears at first to be inexplicable and chaotic, after applying a method of research developed by social anthropologists, we can decipher the message of this lineage that notes the changing fortunes of this once powerful and dominant tribe.


The Chronicler’s Manasseh Genealogy

Below is the Manasseh genealogy as presented in Chronicles. The western, Cisjordan tribes are in black while the eastern, Transjordanian segment is in blue and indented:

דברי הימים א ז:יד בְּנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה:
1 Chron 7:14 The sons of Manasseh:
אַשְׂרִיאֵל אֲשֶׁר יָלָדָה.
Asriel, whom she (unnamed wife) bore;
פִּילַגְשׁוֹ הָאֲרַמִּיָּה יָלְדָה אֶת מָכִיר אֲבִי גִלְעָד. ז:טו וּמָכִיר לָקַח אִשָּׁה לְחֻפִּים וּלְשֻׁפִּים וְשֵׁם אֲחֹתוֹ מַעֲכָה
His Aramean concubine bore Machir the father of Gilead. 7:15 And Machir took a wife of (the Benjaminite clans of) Ḥuppim and Shuppim. The name of his sister (i.e, their sister or kinswoman) was Maacah.
וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִי צְלָפְחָד וַתִּהְיֶנָה לִצְלָפְחָד בָּנוֹת.
And the name of the second (son of Manasseh from the unnamed wife) was Zelophehad; and Zelophehad had daughters.
ז:טז וַתֵּלֶד מַעֲכָה אֵשֶׁת מָכִיר בֵּן וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ פֶּרֶשׁ וְשֵׁם אָחִיו שָׁרֶשׁ וּבָנָיו אוּלָם וָרָקֶם. ז:יז וּבְנֵי אוּלָם בְּדָן אֵלֶּה בְּנֵי גִלְעָד בֶּן מָכִיר בֶּן מְנַשֶּׁה.
7:16 And Maacah the wife of Machir bore a son, and she named him Peresh; and the name of his brother was Sheresh; and his sons were Ulam and Rekem. 7:17 The sons of Ulam: Bedan. These were the sons of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh.
ז:יח וַאֲחֹתוֹ הַמֹּלֶכֶת יָלְדָה אֶת אִישְׁהוֹד וְאֶת אֲבִיעֶזֶר וְאֶת מַחְלָה.ז:יט וַיִּהְיוּ בְּנֵי שְׁמִידָע אַחְיָן וָשֶׁכֶם וְלִקְחִי וַאֲנִיעָם.
7:18 And his (Zelophehad’s) sister Hammolekhet bore Ish-Hod, Abiezer, and Mahlah. 7:19 The sons of Shemida his (Asriel’s) brother (read: אחיו), Shechem, and Liqhi, and Aniam.


August 22, 2019


Last Updated

April 15, 2024


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Prof. Aaron Demsky is Professor (emeritus) of Biblical History at The Israel and Golda Koschitsky Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry, Bar Ilan University. He is also the founder and director of The Project for the Study of Jewish Names. Demsky received the Bialik Prize (2014) for his book, Literacy in Ancient Israel.