ASHER, ASER (ăsh'êr, ă’sêr, happy)
The second son of Zilpah, the handmaid whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter and whom she gave to Jacob; named “Happy” by Leah in her happiness at his birth. He was born at Padan-Aram (in the plain of Mesopotamia) during Jacob’s service with Laban (Gen.30.13). We know little of his personal history except the names of his five children (Gen.46.17).The tribe that descended from Asher (Josh.19.24-Josh.19.31). It was given the territory along the Mediterranean in the NW corner of Palestine, but failed to drive out the inhabitants of Sidon, Acco, and other Canaanite towns, and settled down to dwell among them. By David’s time Asher seems to have become insignificant, for this tribe is omitted in the list of David’s chief rulers (1Chr.27.16-1Chr.27.22).
The name Asher has been confirmed as an authentic northwestern Sem. personal name in an Egyp. papyrus of c. 1750 b.c., but in the papyrus it is the name of a female slave. It is now considered highly improbable by most scholars that inscrs. of Seti I (1303-1290 b.c.) and Ramses II (1290-1224) mention Asher as a vanquished tribe in Canaan. The place name ’isr as it appears in the Egyp. texts would represent ’ṭr not ’šr as would be the case if the Israelite tribe of Asher were intended. This conclusion also eliminates the Seti I reference in his inscr. as a factor in calculating the date of the Exodus.
2. The tribe of which Asher, the son of Jacob, was the progenitor multiplied so that at the time of the Exodus from Egypt it numbered 41,500 fighting men (Num 1:41). Before the invasion of Canaan this number had increased to 53,400. In blessing the tribes of Israel, Moses said, “Blessed above sons be Asher; let him be the favorite of his brothers, and let him dip his foot in oil” (Deut 33:24). Consisting of five main families (Num 26:44-47), Asher shared the blessings, trials, and responsibilities of the wilderness journeyings (1:13; 2:27; 7:72; 13:13).
In the course of the Israelite journey through the desert, flanked by the tribes of Dan and Naphtali, the position of Asher was to the N of the Tent of Meeting (2:25-30). After Israel left Mt. Sinai, Asher served as rear guard together with Dan and Naphtali (10:25-28). From the ranks of Asher, Sethur served as a scout to explore the land of Canaan (13:13).
Asher does not occupy a prominent place in Israel’s history. No significant leader is known to have come from the tribe, and Asher could not control her coastal cities. Asher apparently never overcame Phoen. dominance (Judg 1:31, 32). It did not join in the battle against Sisera, the captain of Jabin, who ruled the neighboring territory to the E (4:2). Later the tribe did come to the aid of Gideon against the Midianites (6:35; 7:23). At David’s coronation at Hebron, 40,000 of Asher’s fighting men were present (1 Chron 12:36), but the name of the tribe is missing from other lists of his reign (27:16-22). Solomon ceded some of Asher’s cities to the Tyrian Hiram (1 Kings 9:11-14).
Apparently, the only Asherite of any significance was the prophetess Anna who praised God at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:36). Many scholars are of the opinion that Asher was the least “Israelite” of all the tribes, not only because the tribe was geographically remote, but also because it failed to dominate the Canaanites culturally as well as politically in an effective manner.
3. Asher may also have reference to a town (Josh 17:7). It has been suggested that it was located at the modern village of Teyasir c. eleven m. NE of Shechem on the road to Bethshean. But some scholars say this statement also refers to the territory of the tribe.
W. F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (1942), 61, 121, 132; W. C. Hayes, A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom in the Brooklyn Museum (1955); K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (1966), 70.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
1. Biblical Account:
2. Modern Theory:
According to a modern theory, the mention of the slave girl Zilpah as the mother of Asher is meant to indicate that the tribe was of mixed blood, and arose through the mingling of Israelites with the Canaanites. It is suggested that the name may have been taken from that of the Canaanite clan found in the Tell el-Amarna Letters, Mari abd-Ashirti, "sons of the servant of Asherah." A similar name occurs in the inscriptions of the Egyptian Seti I (14th century BC), `Aseru, a state in western Galilee (W. Max Muller, As. und Eur., 236-39). This people it is thought may have associated themselves with the invaders from the wilderness. But while the speculations are interesting, it is impossible to establish any relationship between these ancient tribes and Asher.
3. Territory of Asher:
The boundaries of the territory are given in considerable detail in Jos 19:25 ff (compare Jud 1:31 f; Jos 17:10 f). Only a few of the places named can be identified with certainty. Dor, the modern Tan-Turah, although occupied by Manasseh belonged to Asher. Wady ez-Zerqa, possibly identical with Shihor-libnath, which enters the sea to the South of Dor, would form the southern boundary. The lot of Asher formed a strip of land from 8 to 10 miles wide running northward along the shore to the neighborhood of Sidon, touching Issachar, Zebulun and Naphtali on the East Asher seems to have taken possession of the territory by a process of peaceful penetration, not by conquest, and as we have seen, he never drove out the Phoenicians from their cities. The rich plain of Acre, and the fertile fiats between the mountain and the sea near Tyre and Sidon therefore remained in Phoenician hands. But the valleys breaking down westward and opening on the plains have always yielded fine crops of grain. Remains of an ancient oak forest still stand to the North of Carmel. The vine, the fig, the lemon and the orange flourish. Olive trees abound, and the supplies of olive oil which to this day are exported from the district recall the word of the old-time blessing, "Let him dip his foot in oil."
(1) See preceding article.
(2) A town on the southern border of Manasseh (Jos 17:7). The site is unknown.
(3) A place of this name is mentioned in Apocrypha (Tobit 1:2), identified with Hazor, in Naphtali. See Hazor.