Emblem of the Tribe of Judah
Alba (Illustrated) Bible
Madrid, 15th century

Jacob assembles his sons before his death, and speaks to them in "a combination of blessing, curse, warning, psychological assessment, parable, recollection and hope."[1] He speaks to each son separately, in poetic language that certain scholars associate with ancient tribal songs and memories. Judah, the fourth son of Leah, is described with these famous words: "Judah is a lion's whelp; On prey, my son, have you grown. He crouches, lies down like a lion, like the king of beasts, who dare rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet…."[2] The celebrated metaphor of Judah as a lion's whelp (young offspring) is one of strength and daring; the "lion of Judah" has become a favorite motif in Jewish art and folklore and has acquired messianic associations.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses blesses his people before his death, in the tradition and in the spirit of Jacob's prophetic prayer. As regards the lion ascription, we find in Deuteronomy that lion-like strength and prowess are applied to Gad and Dan, and not to Judah. "And of Gad [Moses] said: Blessed be He who enlarges Gad. Poised is he like a lion to tear off arm and scalp…. And of Dan he said: Dan is a lion's whelp that leaps forth from Bashan."[3] Dan, in fact, is compared to the same "lion's whelp" used to describe the powerful tribe of Judah in Genesis.

It has been claimed by scholars that comparison of Dan to a lion may have been inspired by this former name of the tribe's chief city, Laish: laish is a poetic term for lion. Dan was originally assigned territory in the Shefelah and the coastal plain, near Philistia. Later the tribe migrated to the northern extremity of the land where it destroyed and rebuilt the city of Laish, settled there and renamed the city Dan.


[1] W. Gunther Plaut, A Modern Commentary on the Torah (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981), p. 307 [back]
[2] Genesis 49:9-10 [back]
[3] Deut. 33:20, 22   "Of Judah [Moses] said: Hear O Lord, the voice of Judah and (Duet. 33:7) [back]

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