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Issachar

Issachar

[is-uh-kahr]
Issachar, in the patriarchal narratives of the Bible, son of Jacob and Leah and the ancestor of one of the 12 tribes. The territory allotted to the tribe of Issachar at the time of the conquest extended along the west bank of the Jordan.
Issachar/Yissachar was, according to the Book of Genesis, a son of Jacob and Leah (the fifth son of Leah, and ninth son of Jacob), and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Issachar; however some Biblical scholars view this as postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation. The text of the Torah gives two different etymologies for the name of Issachar, which textual scholars attribute to different sources - one to the Yahwist and the other to the Elohist; the first being that it derives from ish sakar, meaning man of hire, in reference to Leah's hire of Jacob's sexual favours for the price of some mandrakes; the second being that it derives from yesh sakar, meaning there is a reward, in reference to Leah's opinion that the birth of Issachar was a divine reward for giving her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob as a concubine. Scholars suspect the former explanation to be the more likely name for a tribe, though some scholars have proposed a third etymology - that it derives from ish Sokar, meaning man of Sokar, in reference to the tribe originally worshipping Sokar, an Egyptian deity.

In the Biblical account, Leah's status as the first wife of Jacob, is regarded by biblical scholars as indicating that the authors saw the tribe of Issachar as being one of the original Israelite groups; however, this may have been the result of a typographic error, as the names of Issachar and Naphtali appear to have changed places elsewhere in the text, and the birth narrative of Issachar and Naphtali is regarded by textual scholars as having been spliced together from its sources in a manner which has highly corrupted the narrative. A number of scholars think that the tribe of Issachar actually originated as the Shekelesh group of Sea Peoples - the name Shekelesh can be decomposed as men of the Shekel in Hebrew, a meaning synonymous with man of hire (ish sakar); scholars believe that the memory of such non-Israelite origin would have led to the Torah's authors having given Issachar a handmaiden as a matriarch.

In classical rabbinical literature, it is stated that Issachar was born on the fourth of Ab, and lived 122 years. According to the midrashic Book of Jasher, Issachar married Aridah, the younger daughter of Jobab, a son of Joktan; the Torah states that Issachar had four sons, who were born in Canaan and migrated with him to Egypt, with their descendants remaining there until the Exodus. The midrashic Book of Jasher portrays Issachar as somewhat cowardly, or at least pragmatic, with him taking a feeble part in military campaigns involving his brothers, and generally residing in strongly fortified cities, opening the gates whenever challenged.

The Talmud 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 - is a reference to the religious scholarship of the tribe of Issachar, though scholars feel that it may more simply be a literal interpretation of Issachar's name, and the justification for the tribe of Issachar being a tributary to the Canaanites.

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