Tribe of Issachar

Tribe of Issachar

The Tribe of Issachar (Hebrew Name|יִשָּׂשׁכָר|Yissaḫar|Yiśśâḵār) was one of the Tribes of Israel. At its height, the territory it occupied was immediately north of (the western half of) Manasseh, and south of Zebulun and Naphtali, stretching from the Jordan River in the east, to the coast in the west; this region included the fertile Esdraelon plain.


According to the Torah, the tribe was founded by Issachar, the ninth son of Jacob, and a son of Leah, from whom it took its name; however Biblical scholars view this also as postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation ["Peake's commentary on the Bible"] . According to this biblical passage, the name "Issachar" refers to Leah "hiring" Jacob's sexual favours at the cost of some Mandrakes; this suggests the etymology is "ish-sachar", literally meaning "man of hire", though some Jewish sources take it instead to mean "reward" or "recompense", in reference to Issachar being the result of Jacob being hired.

A number of scholars think that some of the Israelite tribes actually originated as part of the sea peoples [Yigael Yadin "And Dan, Why Did He Remain in Ships"] . Issachar may be one of these, since in Egyptian accounts there is a tribe of sea peoples named "Shekelesh"; "Shekelesh" is here believed to be composed from "shekel-ish", meaning "men of the shekel", a meaning synonymous with Issachar's "man of hire". The biblical passage in which Leah is described as Issachar's matriarch is one which is regarded by textual scholars as having been spliced together from its sources in a manner which has highly corrupted the narrative; Leah as a matriarch is interpreted to suggest that the text's authors believed the tribe to be one of the original Israelite groups, and it is having a "handmaiden" - Bilhah or Zilpah - as a matriarch that would have indicated a foreign origin ["Peake's commentary on the Bible"] . In the ancient Song of Deborah, Issachar is closely associated with Naphtali, which itself does have a "handmaiden" as matriarch, and at one point the text appears to have been changed by the word "Issachar" being inserted instead of "Naphtali" [ibid]


Traditionally, Issachar was seen as being dominated by religious scholars ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] ; there is said by some to be an allusion to this in the Book of Chronicles ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] - "...from Issachar, men who understood the times, and knew what Israel ought to do..." [1 Chronicles 12:32] - and if this is indeed an allusion to the tradition, then it would imply that the tradition was in existence by the time that the Book of Chronicles was compiled. In the Midrash, it is said that Issachar were the most influential in proselytism ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] , and that Jewish religious scholars were either from the tribe of Levi or that of Issachar [Yoma 26a] . Additionally, the Midrash argues that Issachar's description in the Blessing of Jacob - "Issachar is a strong ass lying down between the sheepfolds: and he saw that settled life was good, and the land was pleasant; he put his shoulder to the burden, and became a slave under forced labour" [Genesis 49:14-15] - is a reference to the religious scholarship of the tribe of Issachar, rather than simply to a more literal interpretation of Issachar's name ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] .

Since the tribe of Zebulun were traditionally seen as scribes, Issachar and Zebulun were considered to have a symbiotic relationship, whereby Issachar would devote its time to the study and teaching of Torah, while Zebulun would provide the financial support, in exchange for a share of Issachar's spiritual reward. Such was the tradition of this symbiosis, that anyone engaged in such a partnership became termed "Issachar" and "Zebulun" respectively, even into modern times.


As part of the Kingdom of Israel, the territory of Issachar was conquered by the Assyrians, and the tribe exiled; the manner of their exile lead to their further history being lost.

ee also

*Tribe of Zebulun
*Sea Peoples


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