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Jonathan (Hebrew יהֹונָתָן, Jehovah-given) (fl. ca. 2599 AM/1405 BC) was a Levite, probably the grandson of Moses, who hired himself out as a private priest for an idol-worshipping Ephraimite and then to a renegade community of Danites.
The Bible gives his full name as Jonathan, son of Gershom, son of Manasseh, or in Hebrew, יהֹונָתָן בֶּן־גֵּרְשֹׁ֨ם בֶּן־מְנַשֶּׁ֜ה. (Judges 18:30 ) Modern Biblical scholars, and ancient Hebrew tradition, identify this "Manasseh" as Moses, on account of the spelling of the two names. Moses is spelled מֹשֶׁה in Hebrew, and Manasseh is spelled מְנַשֶּׁ֜ה. The difference in the two names is a single letter nun (נַ). In the original manuscripts, this nun is suspended above the line and inserted between the mem and the shin, thus: מנשה. This supports the idea that the Hebrew scribes, mortified that Moses should have had so unworthy a grandson, inserted the extra letter to disguise Jonathan's actual patrimony.
If this theory is correct, then the scribes might have had an additional motive. The name Manasseh connotes forgetfulness. Perhaps the scribes wanted people to forget that Moses had a grandson who disgraced his name.
The year of the establishment of the Jonathan "priesthood" is estimated to be 2599 AM, or 1405 BC It occurred long after Joshua had died, and after the elders who succeeded Joshua had died and their council disbanded, but before King Cushan of Assyria oppressed the Israelites for eight years. The primary clue is this verse:
In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 17:6 (NASB)
In other words, Israel was then in anarchy.
The first hire
Jonathan lived originally in Bethlehem, in the territory of Judah. The Bible does not say why he did not stay in one of the reserved Levite cities in Judah-ite territory, or why he abruptly left Bethlehem and became a vagabond. Eventually he came to the hill country in Ephraimite territory and to the house of Micah.
This Micah had established his own idolatrous cult. He had a graven image and a cast image of silver, and an ephod-like garment, and had previously "consecrated" one of his sons to act as priest of this cult. But when Jonathan arrived, Micah decided that he would be a more suitable priest, because he was a Levite (though he was not an Aaronid and therefore not qualified to be "priest" of anything). Micah hired Jonathan for ten pieces of silver, a suit of clothes, and room and board. (Judges 17:7-13 )
At that time, the inheritance of the Danites was unsettled, because they had failed to displace the Amorites from their assigned territory. Five Danite spies from the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol walked through the territories of Judah and Ephraim to seek out another place to settle. These five men came to Micah's house and recognized Jonathan. They asked him how he had come to be in the territory of Ephraim, and not Judah, and Jonathan told them of his arrangement with Micah. They then asked him to "inquire of God" whether their enterprise would prosper, and Jonathan said that it would.
The next time that Jonathan saw these men, they were accompanied by about six hundred other men, all well-armed. They proposed that Jonathan should be the priest of their clan, rather than priest for one man alone. Jonathan willingly cooperated. When Micah discovered the theft and Jonathan's desertion, he overtook the Danites and demanded the return of his property. The Danites scornfully told him to keep his mouth shut if he didn't want to be killed. Micah returned to his house empty-handed.
The Danites then continued to the city of Laish, which they sacked and burned, killing everyone living in it. They then rebuilt the city and renamed it Dan. Jonathan remained as their "high priest," and his line continued to be "priests" of the city of Dan until Tiglath-pileser III captured it.
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