The Danaan and Danites are a mystery people for many historians. Speculated to have been Greek seafarers in the late Bronze Age, they are also closely associated with the Sea Peoples who ravaged the Eastern Mediterranean during the same period. Whoever the Danaan or Danites were, they left a conflicting legacy. Looking to the Bible and its description of ancient events leads to Greek myth, and the truth behind hidden identities.
Notice the similarities between the two names Aikupitiyo and Yakubher? Now compare that to the name Jacob found in New Testament Greek in the book of Matthew 1:2, that is rendered as “Iakob,” thus the plausibility that the name Aegyptus is a variation of the name Jacob found in the Bible becomes potentially clearer in our search of the Danaan identity.
For one name is Mycenaean with Semitic influence while the other is Egyptian with Semitic influence, and when we look to the New Testament Greek, we find a link between the two names. Thus, it is possible that both names are related due to the Semitic influence that both the Mycenaean and Egyptian cultures inherited.
The Song of Deborah
The question we must ask is did the tribe of Dan have a falling out with Jacob? The answer to that question is yes! However, before going further, understand that if we are to look at the story of two brothers, the story is partially false and partially true. The false part of the story is that Dan and Jacob were brothers; according to the Bible, Jacob was Dan’s father. However, and with that said, Dan and Jacob could be considered brothers. In other words, the tribes of Israel were all brothers to one another including the tribe of Dan.
Symbol of the Tribe of Dan (Serpent in the center) (Public Domain)
This is where the story of Danaus and Aegyptus are in relation to the Biblical account of Dan and Jacob/Israel. However, we must ask ourselves what story in the Bible can be related to Danaus and Aegyptus? For that answer, one must look to the book of Judges and focus on the famed “song of Deborah.”
A statue of prophetess Deborah in Aix-en-Provence, France. She was the only female judge mentioned in the Bible. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The song of Deborah states, “Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships?” Judges 5:17. The answer to this verse is due to a man named Sisera, found in the book of Judges 5:20, whom the Israelites were at war with. Dan refused to fight and remained in his ships. Dan could either care less or was being cautious as to what was going on and the same can be said for a portion of the Manassehites living in Gilead, according to the verse.
This is where we get the story of Danaus fleeing with his daughters from his brother Aegyptus and sons. As for why Dan fled, one must look to the story of Hypermnestra and her husband Lynceus to find the answer. In this story, one will notice a similar law between the Hebrews and Greeks, and that the names Hypermnestra and Lynceus are a metaphor for places connected to the Bible.
‘The Danaides’ (1903) by John William Waterhouse. (Public Domain)
Law and Marriage
The story of how Hypermnestra allowed her husband to live may be connected to Biblical events that took place. According to Greek law, if a woman had no brothers then the next of kin was obliged to marry her so that the land her father left her stayed in the family. Aegyptus, according to Greek legend, was the brother of Danaus. Aegyptus had fifty sons, Danaus had fifty daughters. If Danaus refused to marry his daughters to his brother’s sons, the inheritance would have gone to someone else, not of the tribe. This Greek law bears great resemblance to the Hebrew law wherein if a woman had no brothers to take over the family’s lands, then she had to marry someone of her kin in order to keep the land within the family. This was also the case with Zelophehad and his five daughters found in the book of Numbers (26:33, 27:3), and in the book of Joshua (17:3).
The Daughters of Zelophehad (Public Domain)
These five daughters were not married when Joshua presided over Israel and the land was being divided up among the chieftains. The men of Israel were concerned over this, that if these daughters did not marry, then there was a possibility that other men may take them and thus divide up the inheritance. Like the Greek story, one will notice that not only did the daughters of Danaus marry their kin, so did the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:11).
Besides the similarities in the law, the Greeks and Hebrews seemed to share their stories. We now focus on the names Hypermnestra and Lynceus. Hypermnestra, according to the story, was the daughter of Danaus. However, her name may be in relation to the name or place known as Gilead. The word “hyper” in Greek means over, above, or exceeding, which is similar to and may have originated from the Hebrew word Gilead. In Hebrew, Gilead can mean, hill, mound, or rugged, you could say. The word Gilead can also be considered “upper Manasseh”, and is the reason is that the land the tribe of Manasseh is allotted extends far north when one looks at a map as to where the twelve tribes of Israel were located.
Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel. (Public Domain) Tribe of Dan is top row, third from right.
Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
One will notice that part of the tribe of Manasseh dwells on the east side of Jordan River where you will find the land of Gilead if you look north. When you compare the two names’ definitions, you see that Hyper means over, as in over a river, as in the Jordan River, and above, as in hilly or mountainous region, like the region of Gilead which means hill, mound, or rugged.
Now the name Lynceus is also interesting, for the name Lynceus in Greek may be derived from lynx or leopard in association with a lion, just as the Hebrew word Laish, which is also a city of the tribe of Dan, and is said to mean “lion,”; “for Dan is a lions whelp,” (Deuteronomy 33:22). It becomes possible that the story of Hypermnestra and Lynceus is a story not about two people, but about how the tribe of Dan refused to join his brothers Jacob/Israel in their fight against Sisera. In addition, it also shows how a part of Manasseh living in Gilead near the Danite city of Laish refused to follow Jacob/Israel and thus allowed the city of Laish to live as it may. This event may have served as the story or background for the famed story of Hypermnestra and Lynceus—that Hypermnestra and Lynceus were tribal brothers and tribal allies who shared interests in opposing Jacob/Israel against Sisera. The Greeks may have viewed the alliance as a marriage, but through tribal relations, and over time the story went from two tribes related through marriage as in terms of having the same founding father, to just two people related.
With that said, it should also be noted that the story concerning Zelophehad and his daughters may have been used as a backdrop in explaining the law when the Danites made it to Greece, and over time that story transformed into the story we have today. Whatever the case maybe, it is plausible that the events and stories that took place in Israel during the time of Judges could have been passed unto the Greeks through the tribe of Dan.
Betrayal and Murder
Let us focus on the other part of the story that many find horrendous, and that is the forty-nine daughters of Danaus murdering their forty-nine husbands on the night of their wedding.
Danaus’ 49 Daughters, the Danaid. (Public Domain)
According to myth, on the wedding night Danaus give instructions to his fifty daughters to murder their husbands. As you have already read, one daughter spared her husband’s life. However, the question that needs addressing is, is there a connection to another story found in the Bible concerning both the forty-nine daughters murdering their forty-nine husbands? According to the book of Judges and during the same time that the tribe of Dan and a part of the tribe of Manasseh turned their backs on their kin, there lived a woman named Jael. In the book of Judges 4:17-22, Jael is not a Hebrew but a Kenite. The name Kenite comes from the Hebrew word qayin, which means smith or metalworker. The Kenites were well-known metalworkers and their craftsmanship was acknowledged from the lands as far south as Arad in Negreb and as far north as Kedesh near Elon-bezaanannim in Naphtali. The Kenites were friends with those of Sisera.
As the story goes, Sisera fled, probably from a lost battle, until he reached an area were the Kenites lived, such as Jael. It was there that she offered him a place to rest his head. Once asleep, Jael killed him with a tent peg through his temple, till it came out the other side and into the ground, as the story says.
The gruesome death of Sisera at the hands of Jael. (Public Domain)
What is fascinating about this story is that the act parallels that of the Greek myth. The only difference between the two is that the Biblical story praises Jael for a job well done and she is showered with blessings, while the Greek story paints the women who murdered their husbands at night as villains and castaways for such an act. What else becomes evident, and something already discussed, is that Dan refused to fight when Sisera arrived, but once Jael ended Sisera’s life the war ended, and the same goes for when the forty-nine daughters of Danaus murdered their husbands while they were asleep; the war between the Danaus and Aegyptus had been settled.
In conclusion, it seems fair to say that there is a possible connection to the Biblical accounts mentioned. So, let us back track briefly. Danaus=Dan, Aegyptius=Jacob, Greek law and Hebrew law on marriage and land grants are nearly the same, Hypermnestra and Lynceus are a metaphor for a people and a city allowed to live, and the women who murdered their husbands are a metaphor for Jael and her actions. It is worth looking into further as there are more scraps and tidbits of information throughout the famed Greek story. However, it will require further investigation, but what has been presented should be considered and weighed – for behind ever myth is a general truth.
If interested in such proposals concerning the Greek-Hebrew connections, see the writings of John R. Salverda.
By Cam Rea
Anonymous. The Wesleyan Sunday-School Magazine [Afterw.] the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School Magazine. London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1873.
Cairns, Ian. Word and presence: a commentary on the book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.
Cheyne, Thomas Kelly. Black, John Sutherland. Encyclopaedia biblica : a critical dictionary of the literary political and religious history, the archaeology, geography, and natural history of the Bible. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1899-1903.
Davidiy, Yair. Lost Israelite Identity: The Hebrew Ancestory of Celtic Races. Shiloh-Hebron-Susia-Jerusalem: Russel-Davis Publishers, 1996.
—. The Tribes. Jerusalem: Russell-Davis, 2004.
Gabriel, Richard A. The Military History of Ancient Israel (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969.
Hard, Robin. he Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on H.J. Rose’s Handbook of Greek Mythology. London & New York: Routledge, 2004.
Hathom, Richmond Yancey. Greek Mythology. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1977.
Haubrich, William S. Medical meanings: a glossary of word origins. Philadelphia: American College Of Physicians, 2003.
Killebrew, Ann and Gunnar Lehmann, The Philistines and Other “Sea Peoples” in Text and Archaeology (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.
Pritchard, James B. The Ancient Near East Vol 1: An Anthology of Text and Pictures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.
Rose, Herbert Jennings. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Routledge, 2005.
Salverda, John R. “The Danaans” [Online] Available at: http://ensignmessage.com/articles/the-danaans/ (accessed 3 March 2010).