The City of Dan

According to Genesis 14, Lot, the nephew of Abraham, was captured by certain kings of the east. The Genesis record states that Abraham pursued the abductors “as far as Dan” (Genesis 14:14). Some writers claim that this city was not named “Dan” until the time of the judges (Judges 18:29), and thus this section of the book of Genesis must be dated at that time. Is such a charge correct?

We certainly are aware of this liberal approach to the authorship of the book of Genesis. One writer, commenting upon Genesis 14:14, has stated: “ Therefore, the date of the present final form of the book of Genesis cannot be earlier than that time [period of the Judges—WJ], although the events that it relates and the oral or written sources from which it was composed are much earlier” (Willis, 1979, p. 229).

The Mosaic authorship should not be repudiated upon such a flimsy basis. There are several ways of resolving the alleged difficulty.

(1) It is possible that the name was given by inspiration in anticipation of later historical developments (Thornton, 1887; Judges 18:29). Although this is not a popular view of this circumstance, who can absolutely prove that it is incorrect? Must the supernatural always be eliminated from the divine record?

(2) Some maintain that the name “Dan” actually was in use at the time of Abraham, but that it later was called Laish by the Sidonians, into whose hands it fell (Judges 18). Subsequently, it is suggested, in the time of the judges it received its original name again (Jacobus, 1:253).

(3) Another view is that there was another “Dan”—different from Laish Dan—(possibly referred to in 2 Samuel 24:6; 1 Kings 15:20; cf. 2 Chronicles 16:4), which was situated near the sources of the Jordan. It is, therefore, “in the highest degree probable that the Dan mentioned in Genesis 14:14 was a Phoenician town already existing in the time of Abraham, or at least in the Mosaic age.” The narrative in which the remark about Dan occurs “bears every mark of antiquity and accuracy, and such a blunder as making Abraham pursue the kings to a Dan that was not so called until five or eight centuries later is not to be thought of in such a connection” (Harman, 1878, p. 160).

(4) Finally, we must note that even some of the most liberal scholars have surrendered their argument on “Dan.” Cheyne concedes, with reference to Genesis 14:14, that “one of the supposed arguments for the late date of Genesis 14 must therefore be abandoned” (1899, 1:997).


Cheyne, T.K., ed. (1899), Encyclopedia Biblica (London: A & C Black).

Harman, Henry M. (1878), Introduction to the Holy Scriptures (New York: Eaton and Mains).

Jacobus, Melancthon W. (1864), Notes on Genesis (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Publication).

Thornton, R. (1887), Commentary on the Old Testament—Historical Books (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge).

Willis, John T. (1979), Genesis (Austin, TX: Sweet).


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