views updated May 23 2018


MANASSEH (Heb. מְנַשֶּׁה; perhaps "one who causes [an earlier deceased, child] to be forgotten"), king of Judah (698–643 b.c.e.), son of *Hezekiah. Manasseh ascended the throne at the age of 12 and reigned for 55 years (ii Kings 21:1). In those years Assyrian power reached its pinnacle; Manasseh's reign coincided with more than half of Sennacherib's (705–681 b.c.e.), all of Esarhaddon's (680–669), and most of Ashurbanipal's (668–627). During most of Manasseh's reign, Judah was a submissive dependent of Assyria. Manasseh is mentioned, together with 22 kings of Syria, Palestine, and Cyprus, in one of Esarhaddon's inscriptions relating that he imposed forced labor upon them, making them convey timber and stones for the construction of his palace in Nineveh (Pritchard, Texts, 291). Most of these kings, including Manasseh, are also mentioned in one of Ashurbanipal's inscriptions which recounts that their armies accompanied him to Egypt in his campaign against *Tirhakah (687; Pritchard, Texts, 294). Several scholars hold that part of Manasseh's army remained in Egypt as a garrison, and that they were the first inhabitants of the Jewish settlement in *Elephantine. Further evidence of Judah's subordination to Assyria is found in a fragment of an inscription from the period between Sargon and Esarhaddon, which lists the tribute of Judah after that of Ammon and Moab, the amount of the former being smaller than that of the latter. This probably relates to the period after *Sennacherib's campaign in Judah, when the country was impoverished.

The Book of Kings does not mention any political events during Manasseh's reign, but in Chronicles it is stated that, because he did what was displeasing to the Lord, the Lord caused the Assyrian officers to oppose him and put him in chains, transporting him to Babylon, where he submitted to God's will and was returned to Jerusalem and his throne (ii Chron. 33:10–13). To the degree that there is any historical validity to the story, the imprisonment was probably brought about by an attempted revolt against Assyria, and not by foreign religious practices, which would be a sign of submission to Assyria. The tradition that he was transported to Babylon appears strange, unless the Assyrian king happened to be there in response to a Babylonian revolt. It is likely that Manasseh was involved in the revolts which broke out against Assyria at the time of Shamashshumukîn's revolt in Babylon against his brother Ashurbanipal (668–631). Further evidence of Manasseh's efforts to overthrow Assyrian domination may be seen in the fortification of Jerusalem and his appointing of officers over all the walled cities in Judah (ii Chron. 33:14), although these events may refer to a later period. The account of Manasseh's return from imprisonment to the throne is given credence by the policy of Ashurbanipal, who, having exiled rebellious Egyptian princes to Assyria, came to favor Neco (671–663), the father of Psammetichus i, and returned him to Egypt as vassal ruler.

Manasseh abolished the religious reforms of his father Hezekiah and introduced alien rites into the Temple (ii Kings 21:3). It has been argued that this course was forced upon him by the Assyrian overlords. Ashurbanipal imposed religious duties upon several Chaldean states in southern Mesopotamia after crushing their attempted revolt. (However, his actions in defeated territories need not be conclusive evidence concerning his policies in lands ruled by his vassals. (For a nuanced discussion, see Cogan 1993). It is significant, though, that none of the negative cultic activities attributed to Manasseh is Assyrian. Instead it appears that whereas Hezekiah had been an adherent of the "Yahweh-alone" party (Smith), Manasseh supported the majority position that ignoring other gods with a long history of worship in Israel was perilous. Indeed, the severe territorial losses suffered by Hezekiah could have been attributed to his excessive zeal for monolatry, just as the fall of Judah in 586 was attributed to Josiah's reforms by the exiled Judahites in Jeremiah 44 (Cogan). The abolition of Hezekiah's reforms was therefore part of the internal struggle in Judah between those who had supported a policy of acceptance of the ancient native cults and perhaps some newer Syro-Palestinian ones dating from the time of Ahaz, and the devout circles around the prophets. It was a ruthless struggle, and Manasseh is described as having shed "very much innocent blood …" (ii Kings 21:16). According to ii Chronicles 33:12ff., Manasseh fully repented upon his return from Babylon, but this does not agree with ii Kings 21:16, which relates that he died without repenting. It appears unlikely that the destruction of Jerusalem would have been so emphatically attributed to the sins of Manasseh had he completely repented as described in Chronicles.

[Jacob Liver /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

In the Aggadah

Manasseh's mother was the daughter of the prophet Isaiah, and married King Hezekiah after his miraculous recovery (Ber. 10a). Manasseh and his brother Rab-Shakeh soon showed their total dissimilarity from their parents. Once, when Hezekiah was carrying his two sons on his shoulders to the schoolhouse, he overheard their conversation. One said, "Our father's bald head might do well for frying fish." The other rejoined, "It would be good for offering sacrifices to idols." Enraged by these words, Hezekiah threw his sons to the ground. Rab-Shakeh was killed by the fall, but Manasseh escaped unhurt (Dik. Sof., Ber. 10a). His name is derived from נשה (nashah; "he forgot"), in that he forgot his God and indulged in idolatry, murder, and other abominable acts (Sanh. 102b). After his father's death, Manasseh began to worship idols. He destroyed the altar and set up an idol with four faces, copied from the four figures on the divine throne of Ezekiel, so that from whatever direction a man entered the Temple he saw a face of the idol (Sanh. 103b). Manasseh also made another idolatrous image so heavy that it required 1,000 men to carry it. New bearers were employed daily because the king had each group executed at the end of the day's work (ibid.). He expunged the name of God from the Scriptures (ibid.) and delivered public lectures whose sole purpose was to ridicule the Torah (Sanh. 99b). He also committed incest by violating his sister (Sanh. 103b).

Manasseh sat in judgment on his own grandfather, Isaiah, and condemned him to death. The indictment against him was that his prophecies contradicted the teachings of Moses. Isaiah refused to defend himself, knowing that his efforts would be of no avail and preferring that his grandson act out of ignorance rather than from wickedness. He fled for safety and when he pronounced the Ineffable Name a cedar tree swallowed him up. Manasseh ordered that the tree be sawn in two, causing the prophet's death (Yev. 49b). Manasseh was carried off to Babylon in the 22nd year of his reign (sor 24) and there placed in a heated oven. In his torture, he prayed in vain to the idols he had formerly worshiped, and at last besought the God of his fathers. The angels pleaded with the Almighty not to accept his penance. The plea was not accepted, God saying, "If I do not accept him I will be closing the door of repentance in the face of all repentant sinners." Immediately a wind arose and carried Manasseh back to Jerusalem (tj, Sanh. 10:2, 28c).

Manasseh is included among those who have no share in the world to come. Despite his restoration to Jerusalem, the rabbis felt that he had forfeited eternal life because of his previous sins. R. Judah, however, held that he was also restored to his portion in paradise (Sanh. 10:2). Manasseh possessed a profound knowledge of the Torah and could interpret Leviticus in 55 different ways (Sanh. 103b). He justified his actions by pointing to the corrupt behavior of his times. R. Ashi once announced a lecture about him, saying, "Tomorrow, I shall speak about our colleague, Manasseh." That night, the king appeared to Ashi in a dream and asked him a ritual question which Ashi could not answer. Manasseh then revealed the solution to him. Amazed by the king's scholarship, R. Ashi asked why one so erudite had worshiped idols. Manasseh answered, "Had you lived at my time, you would have caught hold of the hem of my garment and sped after me" (Sanh. 102b).


Bright, Hist, 271–99; Nielsen, in: Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies, 1 (1967), 103–6; em, 5 (1968), 41–45 (incl. bibl.); Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (19474), 277–81; 6 (1946), 370–6. add. bibliograpy: M. Smith, Palestinian Parties and Politics that Shaped the Old Testament (1971); M. Cogan, Imperialism and Religion (1974); M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, ii Kings (ab; 1988), 264–73; idem, in: jbl 112 (1993), 403–14; H. Spieckermann, Juda unter Assur in der Sargonidenzeit (1982); C. Evans, in: abd iv, 496–99; S. Japhet, i … ii Chronicles (1993), 999–1014.


views updated May 17 2018


MANASSEH (Heb. מְנַשֶּׁה), elder son of *Joseph and the name of one of the 12 tribes of Israel. Manasseh was born to Joseph in Egypt by *Asenath, daughter of Poti-Phera (Gen. 41:50–51). The name is said to be symbolic of Joseph's turn of fortune. Manasseh is distinguished by several traditional historical peculiarities. Whereas ten of the tribes (or 11 if Levi is included) are conceived as immediate sons of Jacob, Manasseh and *Ephraim are presented as the sons of Joseph and, thus, as the grandsons of Jacob. This feature of the tradition is in part a device to retain the number 12 as normative for the tribal roster. There are in fact two basic versions of the tribal roster:

(1) the enumeration which counts Joseph as one tribe and includes Levi and

(2) the enumeration which subdivides Joseph into Ephraim and Manasseh and omits Levi. It is commonly believed that the former is the older reckoning dating to the time when Joseph was still a single tribal entity and when Levi was as yet a secular tribe. The second is assumed to stem from a later period when Joseph broke into two segments and Levi became a priestly tribe and was dropped from the tribal roster. However, it may also be argued that the tribal league of 12 members did not become the normative until David made the old tribes into administrative subdistricts of his kingdom, in which case the version including Ephraim and Manasseh was older. Once the kingdom divided after Solomon's reign, the 12-fold tribal roster became a sacral tradition and Levi had to be included for religious reasons. To retain the number 12, Ephraim and Manasseh were coalesced under the heading Joseph. This bracketing of Ephraim and Manasseh as Joseph within the 12-tribe roster points, however, to an older affinity between the two tribes reflected in some texts (e.g., Gen. 41:50–52; 48:8–22; Deut. 33:13–17; Josh. 17: 14–18). Ephraim and Manasseh were geographically contiguous, occupying the fertile mountains and small plains extending northward from Bethel to the plain of Jezreel in the region later to be known as Samaria. Manasseh lay to the north of Ephraim. The relationship between the two tribes is portrayed in the Bible as ethnic; they migrated into the central highlands as one people who later divided under the decentralizing pressure of settlement in rather different geographical-agricultural and cultural-political zones. It is, however, conjectured by some scholars that they were ethnically distinct and had entered the land separately, but were closely linked in a common religious conversion. The decision on this point depends largely on whether Ephraim and Manasseh are seen as Exodus tribes or are regarded as early converts to the religion brought to them by Levi or other tribes. The rivalry and struggle for priority between Manasseh and Ephraim is strongly attested to in the traditions. In most tribal lists Ephraim is named first, which reflects its political predominance as epitomized in the leadership of Ephraimites (e.g., Joshua and Jeroboam i). By contrast, some lists name Manasseh first (Num. 26:28–37), which accords with the genealogical claim that Manasseh was the firstborn of Joseph (Gen. 41:50–52). This discrepancy between Ephraim's genealogical subordination and its historical dominance has been harmonized by inserting an etiology that accounts for the greater blessing which Jacob gave to Ephraim (Gen. 48:17–20). That Manasseh is sometimes represented as having priority probably points to its larger territory and population, to the prominence of the Manassite city of Shechem, and to the tribe's political leadership under Gideon.

Yet another traditional historical peculiarity of Manasseh is its stylization as a "half-tribe" in the central highlands west of Jordan and as a "half-tribe" in the highlands east of Jordan. It appears that colonists from the Manassite holdings in the Samarian highlands crossed the Jordan eastward and settled on the slopes of the Gilead Mountains from the Jabbok River northward to the Sea of Galilee. Since the biblical account of the conquest tradition pictured all Israel as entering the Land of Canaan from the east as a unit, the presence of Israelites in Transjordan is explained by an initial occupation of Transjordan by two and a half tribes: Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (Num. 32). There are scholars, however, who believe that all these Transjordan settlements were the result of movements from the western highlands eastward across the Jordan. Historically, the Transjordan settlement was relatively light and always tenuous prior to the monarchy; even under the monarchy it was precarious except when a strong king secured the frontiers against the Arameans, Ammonites, and Moabites. The colonization of Transjordan by Manassites was matched by Ephraimite colonization in the same region (Judg. 12:4; ii Sam. 18:6), and it is strongly suspected that Reuben and Gad were either offshoots of more established tribes in

the western highlands or transplants of reduced or decimated tribes originally located in cis-Jordan. That Manasseh alone was credited with territory on both sides of the Jordan is probably an index of its greater success in colonization.

Another name for Manasseh was Machir (Judg. 5:14). Machir elsewhere is credited as a major clan within Manasseh, the latter's "firstborn" and "the father of Gilead" (Gen. 50:23; Josh. 17:1). If Machir was the original name of the tribe, Manasseh would have been introduced once colonization had extended the group holdings and the need was felt for a more inclusive term. The adoption of the term Manasseh would probably also have been a function of the desire to relate the tribe more closely to Ephraim, the two being regarded as "sons of Joseph."

Manasseh's territorial holdings as described in Joshua 17 and in Judges 1:27–28 appear in an account of the tribal allotments at the time of the Conquest, which some exegetes regard as an incomplete and mutilated sketch of the tribal administrative subdistricts of David's kingdom. The boundary of Manasseh with Ephraim to the south is given with some precision. The borders with Issachar and Asher to the north have been obscured as a result of redaction of the sources. Similar uncertainty exists in delimiting the Transjordan holdings of Manasseh in relation to Gad. It is doubtful whether, before the time of David, Manasseh settled the coastal plain on the west, the Carmel highlands on the northwest, the plain of Jezreel to the north, or the plain of Beth-Shean on the northeast. In Transjordan, Manassite colonization, it is supposed, hardly penetrated beyond the crest of the Gilead Mountain Range and perhaps some distance up the Jabbok Valley. The major settlements in west Manasseh, prior to the expansion under David, were Shechem, Dothan, Tirzah, Thebez, Arumah, Ophrah, Bezek, and Arubboth. In east Manasseh the major towns were Jabesh-Gilead and Abel-Meholah. The settlements of Succoth, Penuel, Zarethan, and Zaphon, located in or around the Jabbok Valley and its juncture with the Jordan, may also have been Manassite, although some of them are attributed to Gad. Among the clans of Manasseh (Josh. 17:2–3) are Canaanite cities, such as Shechem, some of which probably remained non-Israelite down to David's time, even though surrounded by Israelites. The approximate position of several of the clans in the west Jordan highlands can be plotted on the basis of their occurrence as place names in the Samaria Ostraca (Albiezer, [A]sriel, Helek, Hoglah, Noah, Shechem, Shemida).

[Norman K. Gottwald]

In the Aggadah

Manasseh emerges in the aggadah as his father's right-hand man. He was sent by Joseph to spy on his brothers after they entered Egypt (Tanḥ. B., Gen. 202). He is identified as the interpreter between Joseph and his brothers (Gen. 42:23) when his father feigned ignorance of Hebrew (Gen. R. 91:8), and it was he who overcame Simeon despite his martial prowess and cast him into prison (Tanḥ, Va-Yiggash, 4). As the steward of his father's house, Manasseh also prepared the repast for Joseph's brothers (Tar. Pseudo-Jon. Gen. 43:16), and was later sent to search the sacks for the silver cup (Tanḥ. B., Gen. 197). On the flag of the tribe of Manasseh was embroidered a wild ox, an allusion to Deuteronomy 33:17, which refers to Gideon (Judg. 6:11), a descendant of Manasseh (Num. R. 2:7).

For the relationship between Ephraim and Manasseh see *Ephraim in the Aggadah.


em, 5 (1968), 45–51 (incl. bibl.); M. Noth, in: pjb, 37 (1941), 50–101; idem, in: zaw, 60 (1944), 11–57; J. Simons, in: peq, 79 (1947), 27–39; idem, in: Orientalia Neerlandica (1948), 190–215; M. Naor, Ha-Mikra ve-ha-Areẓ, 1 (1952), 145–6; 2 (1954), 63–68; E. Danelius, in: peq, 89 (1957), 55–67; 90 (1958), 32–43; E. Jenni, in: zdpv, 74 (1958), 35–40; W. Phythian-Adams, in: peq, 61 (1929), 228–41; idb, 3 (1962), 252–4; 4 (1962), 705; Aharoni, Land, index; Z. Kallai, Naḥalot Shivtei Yisrael (1967), 142–51, 248–54, 259, 375ff. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index.


views updated May 18 2018

Manasseh in the Bible, the name of a Hebrew patriarch, son of Jacob, and the tribe descended from him, and of one of the kings of Judah.
Prayer of Manasses a book of the Apocrypha consisting of a penitential prayer put into the mouth of Manasseh, king of Judah. His life and reign are described at 2 Kings 21:1–18.