NAHSHON (Heb. נַחְשׁוֹן; "little (?) serpent"), son of Amminadab (Ex. 6:23; Num. 2:3, et al.). Nahshon was chieftain of the tribe of Judah (Num. 2:3) which consisted of 74,600 men (Num. 2:3–4; 10:14). He assisted Moses in taking a census of the community (Num. 1:7). He was the first to present his offering at the dedication of the Tabernacle (Num. 7:12–17) and the first to proceed in the desert marches (Num. 10:14). Elisheba, his sister, married Aaron (Ex. 6:23). He was the descendant of *Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar, and his son Salmah (Ruth 4:20; Salmon, 4:21; Salma, I Chron. 2:11) was the father of Boaz. King David was thus one of his descendants.
In the Aggadah
According to a well-known aggadah, Nahshon was the only one among the Israelites on reaching the Red Sea to obey the command of Moses to descend into the waters and courageously enter the waves, trusting that the promised miracle would occur and the sea be parted. The members of the tribe of Judah followed their leader's example (Mekh., Be-Shallaḥ 5; Sot. 37a). This version of the story is attributed to Tarfon (early second century).
According to an opposing version, all the tribes were eager to obey the command and competed among themselves, who was to be the first; eventually, the tribe of Benjamin jumped first into the water, but the tribe of Judah, infuriated by Benjamin's success, attacked them with stones (Mekh. loc. cit.; Sot. 36b). Benjamin's reward for being the first to descend into the sea was that the first king of Israel – Saul – was chosen from their tribe (Targum Ps. 68:28 and I Sam. 15:17), or else that the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) dwelt in their territory (the Temple was built in the territory of Benjamin; Mekh. and Sot., loc. cit.). According to the version which ascribes the outstanding feat of courage to Nahshon, the reward to the tribe of Judah was that kingship in Israel was accorded to them permanently. Tarfon's version was probably meant to encourage acts of rebellion – in the period of unrest preceding the Bar Kokhba Revolt – as the one and only means to reattain king-ship for Judah, that is to say, to regain political independence. Various attempts to explain this aggadah against the background of other events remain unconvincing.
Ginzberg, Legends, 3 (19473), 195, 220–1; 6 (19463), 75–76.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.