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ACHAN (Heb. עָכָן), sacrilegious transgressor from the tribe of Judah, son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah. In the time of Joshua, Achan violated the *ḥerem imposed on Jericho and was subsequently executed (Josh. 7). Despite the ban on spoils from Jericho, Achan misappropriated a fine shinar mantle, 200 shekels of silver, and a wedge (lit. "tongue") of 50 shekels' weight and buried them in the ground under his tent. The Israelites were defeated in an attempt to take *Ai because of the trespass of the ḥerem. Lots were cast to determine who was responsible and Achan was indicated. On the principle of collective responsibility the people had been punished for the transgression of this one man, since Achan's sin was ascribed to all of Israel (Josh. 7:1, 11). Achan confessed his sin publicly before God and Israel (Josh. 7:20–21). Another example of collective responsibility is that he was stoned with all his family in the valley of *Achor ("troubling"), where the articles he had taken were burned and a great mound of stones was raised over him. The word achor is a play on the name Achan. In i Chronicles 2:7 he is actually called "Achar, the troubler of Israel."

The story of Achan may be an amalgam from two different sources. The first half of Joshua 7:25 reads "and they stoned him," while the second half says "and they stoned them," which is not only a duplication but employs a different Hebrew verb for "to stone." The story is widely regarded as an independent, Judean, etiological narrative, explaining the origin of the name valley of Achor and the presence there of a big pile of stones (Josh. 7:26). According to Y. Kaufmann, however, it belongs to a class of biblical legal literature which illustrated rulings by example. These were actual cases decided on the spot and the story preserved the result of the case (e.g., Lev. 10:1–7, 12–20; 24:10–23; Num. 9:6–44; 27:1–11; 36:1–12; i Sam. 30:22–25).

In the Aggadah

Achan was a hardened criminal whose sins (previous to stealing the spoil from Jericho) included desecration of the Sabbath, obliterating the signs of his circumcision, and adultery (Sanh. 44a). Nevertheless, he is one of the three men who, by their confessions, lost this world, and gained the world to come (arn version b, 4–5:3). When his fellow tribesmen were willing to espouse his cause to the extent of slaying one group after another in Israel, Achan said to himself: "Any man who preserves one life in Israel is as though he had preserved the entire world… It is better that I should confess than be responsible for a calamity" (Num. R. 23:6). His confession was a victory over his evil inclinations. "The Lord shall trouble thee this day" (Josh. 7:25), implied: "This day thou art troubled, but thou wilt not be troubled in the world to come" (Lev. E. 9:1 and Sanh. 6:2).


de Vaux, Anc. Isr., index, s.v. Akan and Ḥerem; Y. Kaufmann, Sefer Yehoshu'a (1959), 116–7; Malamat, in: Sefer ha-Yovel… Y. Kaufmann (1960), 149 ff. add. bibliography: S. Stern, The Biblical Herem (1991); S. Ahituv, Joshua (1995), 121–29.

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