OTHNIEL (Heb. עָתְנִיאֵל), son of Kenaz, the first judge of Israel. He is first mentioned as a hero of the tribe of Judah during the period of the conquest of the land. As a reward for capturing Debir, he received in marriage Achsah, the daughter of *Caleb. At his wife's request Othniel also obtained from Caleb springs of water (Josh. 15:15–19; Judg. 1:11–15). As a motif, this narrative is reminiscent of the action of *Saul in promising his daughter to the one who would defeat Goliath (i Sam. 17:25). Historically, it presents a difficulty in that the capture of Debir is earlier attributed to Joshua himself (Josh. 10:38–39). The next reference to Othniel is as a divinely sent national hero who delivered Israel from the eight-year oppression of Cushan-Rishathaim, king of Aram-Naharaim, and so enabled the land to enjoy a respite from its enemies for a whole generation (Judg. 3:8–11). He was the only judge to come from a southern tribe. Othniel is described as being "the son of Kenaz, Caleb's [younger] brother" (Josh. 15:17; Judg. 1:13; 3:9). The ambiguity in the relationship is most likely to be resolved, on the basis of the genealogy of i Chronicles 4:11–15, in favor of his being Caleb's nephew. However, the problem of Othniel's identity is complicated by the fact that Kenaz is also the name of a clan. Caleb is a Kenizzite (Num. 32:12; Josh. 14:6, 14) and Kenaz is also the name of an Edomite tribe (Gen. 36:11, 15, 42; i Chron. 1:36, 53). Many scholars believe that Caleb and Othniel were respectively the eponymous ancestors of older and younger clans of the tribe of Kenaz that became absorbed within Judah. The importance of the clan of Othniel is indicated by the fact that one of David's divisional commanders in charge of the 12 monthly relays was "Heldai the Netophathite of Othniel" (i Chron. 27:15; cf. 11:30; ii Sam. 23:28–29).
[Nahum M. Sarna]
In the Aggadah
Othniel is identified with Jabez (i Chron. 2:55), and was so called because he counseled (Heb. ya'aẓ; יעץ) and fostered the study of Torah in Israel. He restored the knowledge of the Torah, particularly the Oral Law, which had been forgotten in the period of mourning for Moses (Tem. 16a). He assumed the leadership of the people of Israel while Joshua was still alive (Gen. R. 58:2) and judged Israel for 40 years (sor 12). According to the Alphabet of Ben Sira (ii, 29a and 36a), he was one of those who was vouchsafed to enter Paradise alive.
E. Taeubler, in: huca, 20 (1947), 137–42; A. Malamat, in: jnes, 13 (1954), 231–42; Noth, Hist Isr, 56ff.; S. Yeivin, in: Atiqot, 3 (1961), 176–80; E. Danelius, in: jnes, 22 (1963), 191–3. For further bibl. see *Cushan Rishathaim. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index; I. Ḥasida, Ishei ha-Tanakh (1964), 359–60.