This article proposes a new solution to an old problem: Why is the tribe of Reuben first in so many descriptions of the tribes? This question, which was routinely debated in the middle of the twentieth century, has not often been explored in recent years even as the assumptions on which earlier solutions were based have fundamentally changed. Here, I lay out the dimensions of a necessary paradigm shift in dealing with details of this sort very generally and suggest that the tribe of Reuben specifically gained its elevation as a tool of Judahite authors seeking to rewrite the history of tribal Israel on Judahite terms. This is not because Reuben itself was a southern tribe, but quite the opposite—because it could give an Israelite imprimatur to a new version of tribal traditions that otherwise emphasized the importance of the south.


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pp. 27-45
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