NAPHTALI (Heb. נַפְתָּלִי), the sixth son of Jacob and second son of Bilhah, Rachel's maid (Gen. 30:7). The name is said to derive from Rachel's words, "A fateful contest (naftule) I waged (niftalti) with my sister; yes, and I have prevailed" (Gen. 30:8). Its exact origin is uncertain. Nothing is related about Naphtali in the biblical sources except that he had four sons. He gave his name to one of the tribes of Israel.
The Tribe and its Territory
The affiliation of Naphtali to Bilhah testifies to an inferior status, at some period, among the tribes of Israel, as does its position in the listings of the sons of Jacob where it appears in the ninth (Deut. 33:23; Gen. 49:21), tenth (Gen. 35:23ff.; I Chron. 2:1), eleventh (Num. 1:15, 42), and occasionally even in last place (Gen. 46:24; Deut. 27:13). The four clans of the tribe of Naphtali are Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem (Gen. 46:24; Num. 26:48–50; and with some slight variants, I Chron. 7:13). These names do not seem to have any connection with settlements, a fact which testifies to their tribal, rather than territorial, origins. This would contradict the view of the German school about the formation of the Israelite tribes. (Guni may be an exception as a place name, possibly to be identified with Umm Jūnī on the east bank of the Jordan.) However, the matter is complicated because of a Gadite family with the same name (I Chron. 5:15). Naphtali's territory was the sixth to be decided by lots at Shiloh in the tribal division of the land. The description in Joshua comprises border points and a list of cities (Josh. 19:32–39). The description of the boundary begins with the south, and proceeds from west to east, from the Tabor to the Jordan, with five designated border points: Heleph (apparently Khirbat ʿArbītā north of the Tabor), the Elon-Bezaanannim (apparently a geographic designation; cf. Judg. 4:11), Adami-Nekeb (apparently Khirbat Dāmiya), Jabneel (either Tell Anʿam or Khirbat Yamma), and Lakkum (apparently Khirbat el-Manṣūra close to the Jordan). The western and eastern boundaries are only alluded to by reference to the boundary of Zebulun at the south and Asher on the west. In the south, the text designates only Hukok, the point of intersection of the three tribes Naphtali, Zebulun, and Asher (Hukok is apparently the ruins of Khirbat Jumayjima to the east of Cabul). The description of the northern boundary is missing, but by reference to the northern boundary of Asher which extended to Sidon (Josh. 19:28), and relying on the fact that the northern border of David's kingdom at the time of David's census was "to Dan and from Dan they went around to Sidon" (II Sam. 24:6), it may be assumed that it followed the line Dan-Ijon-Sidon. The northern boundary of Naphtali's territory can thus be envisioned to have been to the east of this line. The list of cities is probably not complete since, according to its title, it includes only "fortified cities" (Josh. 19:35), which testifies to the character and origin of the list. Furthermore, an archaeological survey has shown that there were many populated areas in the territory of Naphtali during the period of settlement. The total number of 19 cities given at the end of the list (19:38) does not refer to the given list, and perhaps it includes also the settlements described in the list as border points.
The History of the Tribe
Information is sparse and is based only on inference. The importance of Naphtali's territory from an agricultural (Deut. 33:23) and military standpoint (Josh. 19:35, "fortified cities") and the designation of the whole of Galilee as "the land of Naphtali" (II Kings 15:29) testify to the prominent and central role of this tribe among the northern tribes during the historical period, in contrast to the nomadic. At the beginning of the period of the Judges, the members of the tribe of Naphtali appear to have constituted a minority living among the Canaanites and to have been subject to them (Judg. 1:33). Only after the decisive battle between the Canaanites and the Israelite tribes during the time of Deborah did they overcome those Canaanites living within their territory. In this war, the tribe played an outstanding role. The rebellion was led by Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-Naphtali (Judg. 4:6) and the men of his tribe risked their lives on the heights of the field (5:18). High praise is given to Naphtali and its territory both in the blessings of Jacob and Moses which refer to the period of the Judges. In the united kingdom of David and Solomon, Naphtali became a royal administrative district which seems to have also included the territory of Dan. (Apparently, the families of Dan were absorbed by Naphtali; cf. I Kings 7:13–14
A. Saarisalt, Boundary Between Issachar and Naphtali (1927); Abel, Georg, 2 (1938), 63–65; J. Lewy, in: HUCA, 18 (1943–44), 452, n. 122; Alt, Kl Schr, index; Y. Aharoni, Hitnaḥalut Shivtei Yisrael ba-Galil ha-Elyon (1957); idem, Land; Z. Kalai, Naḥalot Shivtei Yisrael (1967), 56–57, 191ff., 259–60, 367ff., 401ff.; Kol Ereẓ Naphtali (1968).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.