Ruben (Bible)

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Israel map from 1695

Twelve tribes of Israel

Ruben ( Hebrew רְאוּבֵן re'uwên ) means in the Tanach , the Hebrew Bible , the first son of Jacob . His name also denotes the tribe of his descendants. All Israelites can be traced back to the sons of Jacob as patriarchs of the Twelve Tribes of Israel .

The name

Reuben appears in Genesis as the first son of Lea , Jacob's first wife. She interpreted his name after Gen 29,32  EU at his birth with the grateful belief: Yahweh has seen my misery. Because Jacob actually wanted her younger sister Rahel and therefore spurned her ( Gen. 29: 20–30  EU ). In return, God made Lea, not Rachel, fertile. Accordingly, after the birth of Rubens, Lea hoped: Now my husband will love me.

The Old Testament scholar Hermann Gunkel called this name explanation a "breakneck" etymology . Because literally translated “Ruben” in Hebrew means: “Look! A son! ”(ראו בן re'u wên or ~ bên ).

Biblical person

Conspicuously little is reported in the Jacob stories of Ruben, who was the firstborn to have the right of inheritance. However, according to the biblical story , he stopped the brothers from killing Joseph out of envy. Unlike his two younger brothers Simeon and Levi, he does not appear by name in a campaign of revenge for the desecration of Jacob's daughter Dina (Gen. 34).

Only at the end of the Jacob tales does it casually say that he had had intercourse with Bilhah , Rachel's maid , and that his father had known this (Gen. 35:22). This was adultery , a crime worthy of death under biblical law. Because Bilha belonged as concubine to Rubens father Jacob and was the mother of two of his half-brothers. Only on his deathbed, when he gave his blessing to his assembled sons, did Jacob return to this offense and justify that Reuben was not the “chief” of his brothers, that is, should lose his birthright (Gen 49.4).

In the previous Joseph story, however, Reuben is portrayed as an exemplary son and brother: he was the only one who contradicted his brothers' plan to murder the second youngest son of James, Joseph, and tried to save his life (Gen. 37: 21f). When Joseph, who has now risen to the position of chief administrator under the Pharaoh , interrogated the brothers while they were buying grain in Egypt and had them arrested as spies, Reuben reminded them of his warning that the arrest was the result of attempted murder and the sale of slaves (Gen. 42:22). On the second trip to Egypt he took responsibility for the life of Benjamin , the youngest of Jacob's sons whom Joseph wanted to see, and promised his father that he would bring him home safe or, otherwise, stick with the life of his own sons (Gen. 42:37).

Here, therefore, an uninterrupted generation succession from the son entitled to inherit to the grandchildren of Jacob is assumed. Reuben is said to have fathered four sons: Enoch, Pallu, Hezron and Karmi. However, a Hezron is also passed down as a descendant of Judah (Num. 26,6f.21f). Members of the Ruben tribe were later found in the "Rotte Korah ", which according to Num 16f. and Num 26:11 raised against Moses and Aaron .


The territories of the 12 tribes of Israel

According to the classifications of the tribal lists, Reuben was one of the leasons who lived in northern Israel and later formed the northern kingdom of Israel . However, only a few and contradicting information is available about the exact tribal area of ​​Rubens. According to Jos 15: 6 and Jos 18:17, the area was in the area of Gads , i.e. on the east side of the northern Dead Sea . More probable is the information in Num 32,37f, according to which the Ruben tribe was settled in the West Bank north of the Gad area. According to the Mescha stele , the Biblical settlement area of ​​the Rubenites was at least since the 9th century BC. In the possession of the Gadites.

Judg 5,15f. notes with disapproval that Ruben's tribe is missing from the battle of Deborah . Apparently little was known about the Ruben tribe when the Pentateuch was written . With him or soon after, Gad was probably ousted as well. Their disappearance from the biblical tradition is explained, for example, as merging into other, faster-growing tribes or from military defeats. Rubens' adultery with Bilhah mentioned in Gen. 35:22 is associated with competition with their sons Dan and Naftali , for which there is no biblical evidence. Perhaps the tribe fell victim to the spread of the Ammonites who had settled northeast of it .

Nevertheless, long after his death, Reuben was listed as the first among the tribes and his continued life was requested ( Dtn 33.6  EU : "Long live Reuben and do not die so that his men become fewer").

Jewish tradition

In the wills of the twelve patriarchs , Rubens' misstep with Bilhah is enriched with a few details. Ruben has a few things to say in support of his apology. B. been drunk. The author of the pseudepigraphic script uses these biographical notes to warn readers urgently against fornication, drunkenness and other vices. The vices have not only a moral quality , but also, as Beliar's spirits, a demonic quality.

In the rabbinical tradition, the righteous Reuben was often compared and preferred to the sinister Esau . The adultery with his father's maid was often seen as an attempt to uphold the honor and rank of the mother Leah. According to this, repentance counted more than the offense, so that Hosea could emerge from Ruben's descendants as the first prophet of the return to the promised land without blemish. It is said in the Babylonian Talmud:

Reuben: Rabbi Eleazar said: Lea said: “See what difference there is between my son and the son of my father in silence [= Esau]. For the son of my father-in-law, although he voluntarily sold his birthright, as it is written: “Then ... he sold his birthright to Jacob.” ( Gen 25.33  EU ), see what is written: “Esau was an enemy to Jacob "( Gen 27.41  EU ) and" Esau said: Wasn't he given the name Jacob - deceiver? He has already betrayed me twice ”( Gen 27.36  EU ). But my son, although Joseph had stolen his birthright against his will, as it is written: "But since he had desecrated his father's bed, his birthright was given to Joseph's sons ..." ( 1 Chr 5,1  EU ), he envied not him, as it is written: "Reuben heard this and wanted to save him from her hand." ( Gen 37.21  EU ) "" "

- Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot, chapter 1, page 7b

This passage also plays with the name Ruben (רְאוּבֵן rə'ûven , German 'See, a son!' ) by adding both components of the name, the imperativeרְאוּ rə'û , German 'See!' (as well as the equivalent Aramaic formחֲזוֹ ḥǎzô ) and the nounבֵּן ben , German 'son' can be used.


Individual evidence

  1. Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot, Chapter 1, page 7b , on (Hebrew and English).
  2. Babylonian Talmud, Berachot Tract, Chapter 1, page 7b , on Internet Archive (German translation).