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In Judges 5: 17, Deborah sang that Dan remained on ships. Did the Israelites have ships in the time of the judges? Is 'ships' the correct translation? Is there an explanation for this curious mention?

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Dvorah is calling out all the tribes that sat on their hands and refused to fight. Each tribe sat on its hands in its characteristic way. Dan is famous for trading in ships, so they stayed by their ships. As opposed to Reuben, who more or less stayed by their sheeps.

The nautical tendencies of Dan are mentioned in the old Jewish Encyclopedia. This verse is the only reference in the Hebrew Bible to the tribe of Dan as old salts, so if you were looking for other information about that, I don't think that there is any to find.

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Where did you find that Dan is famous for trading on ships? That is exactly what I am looking for. – gideon marx Oct 11 '13 at 7:53
I rechecked my World History of the Jewish People and found a small passage I had missed with an interesting view. Here it is said that Dan became involved with the Sidonians and became wealthy. I suppose Dan got involved with the shipping trade of Sidon. – gideon marx Oct 11 '13 at 17:27

Dan's tribal boundaries (prior to their migration north) was on the southern coast. Their location was very suited to marine activity so it should not be surprising if boats made up a significant part of their economy. Attached is my map showing Dan's original allotment as described in the book of Joshua 19:40-48

Relevant to this question is the invasion of the 'Sea People' known in the Bible as 'Philistines', and by the Egyptians as 'Sherden.' They partly dislodged Dan from about this period, and it is not a coincidence that the Philistine's forte was also ships. Unfortunately, the Hebrew people were squeezed back into the hill country until the time of David.

12 tribes of Israel showing pre-monarcal invasions

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