The Tuatha de Danaan linked to the Biblical Tribe of Dan in the Bible, history and DNA
The Tribe of Dan in Northwestern Europe
by Pastor J.S. Brooks
An important group of sailors and colonists throughout the Mediterranean and Atlantic seaboard in ancient times were the Tuatha de Danaan. Although historians know all too little about them, these ancient “Sea Peoples” are well represented in the histories of Egypt, Palestine, Greece, Italy, Spain, the British Isles, and Denmark. Scholars have been divided through the years on whether these ancient mariners had any connection with the biblical tribe of Dan, especially since the word, “Tuath,” means “tribe” or “people.” However, a popular alternative theory is that the name “Tuatha de Danaan” actually means “people of the [goddess] Dana (or Danu).” This, we are told, proves that these people had nothing to do with the biblical Israelite tribe of Dan.
A divine being with a similar name is found both in Ireland in the west and in India in the east. For example, in India, it is interesting that in the Rigveda (I.32.9), a goddess “Danu” appears as a minor figure, although certainly not one of the main divinities of Hinduism. The Rigveda had a long history of compilation going back to 1500 B.C. or earlier, although final alterations were not completed until about 600 B.C.
Similarly, in Irish history a mythical being with a name variously written as Dana, Danu, Danona, and Don is found in writings such as the Lebor Gabala (Book of the Conquests of Ireland), a book of tales compiled between the ninth and twelfth centuries, A.D. She is variously said to be either the mother of all of the Tuatha de Danaan, or mother of the leader of that people. In addition, she was the mother of all the gods—a very important entity. She, however, was said to be a “he”—Donus or Danuvius—in Roman mythology.
The Irish myths are full of fantastical legends, filled with confusion and contradiction concerning their early history. For example, the Tuatha de Danaan were said to be deities in the Ulster Cycle of Irish tales, but in the Fenian Cycle were fairy folk or leprechauns who now inhabit invisible homes deep inside the earth. This much is recognized: the Tuatha de Danaan were a literal people who sailed from somewhere in the East to settle in lands throughout the Mediterranean, as well as lands beyond in Ireland, Britain, and Denmark. Scholars also seem to agree that the “Dana” or “Danu” represent a literal human ancestor who was later deified and turned into a fairy or goddess in Ireland. Many scholars also believe that there is some unknown connection between these similar European and Indian entities.
The important questions therefore are, firstly, who was the original human or eponymous ancestor of the Tuatha de Danaan? Secondly, how and why did his or her descendants travel to such far-opposite lands as India and Ireland in ancient times? Thirdly, in what land did this ancestor and his/her descendants originate? Scholars have not been able to definitively answer these questions, nor to agree on a probable answer.
Let us propose that the Tuatha de Danaan were in fact the biblical tribe of Dan, as several modern leading scholars believe. There are certainly some interesting similarities. In Irish legend the Tuatha de Danaan were said to be “wise ones” endowed with great wisdom. The Hebrew word, “Dan,” means “judge,” and scholars believe that the actual meaning is that this tribe was considered wise and fair, pointing out that that the Hebrew court system was never centered on Dan as literal judges.
The Tuatha de Danaan and/or the Irish Milesians are associated with a sacred banner with a coiled serpent and the rod of Moses (A.M. Sullivan, “The Story of Ireland,” p.12). Dr. Avraham Biran says, "The snake figures prominently in the Bible during the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert of Sinai (cf. Num. 21:9). A bronze snake was kept in the Temple of Jerusalem for many centuries, until in the days of King Hezekiah (2 Ki. 18:4)." (“Biblical Dan,” Israel Exploration Society, Hebrew Union College, 1994, p.177)
The Tuatha de Danaan were also associated in legend with stone cairns and mounds. The location of biblical Tel Dan today is known as Tell el-Qadi in Arabic ("Mound of the Judge") at the foot of Mount Hermon on one of the sources of the Jordan River. It is an artificial mound 18 meters above the surrounding plain. Benjamin Mazar and W.F. Albright stated that Tel Dan was one of the "earliest cities of the ancient Middle East sheltering behind earthen ramparts." In the middle of the mound was "a monumental stone structure, about 6.5 meters wide, that served as the core for the huge embankment." (“Biblical Dan,” ibid. p 23)
An even more significant connection existed between the biblical tribe and the Tuatha de Danaan, as detailed in the book, “The Story Of Celto-Saxon Israel,” by W.H. Bennett (available at: www.migrations.info): “A fascinating connection exists between the Greek Hercules and the Biblical Samson. The Hebrew Samson was born of the tribe of Dan (Judges 13:2-25). Greek history tells us that a people called ‘Danioi’ [or Danaan] came to trade and colonize Greece in ancient times, settling in a region called ‘Argos’. The word, ‘Hercules’, in Greek is ‘Heracles’, which is virtually identical with the Hebrew plural word for traders, ‘Heraclim,’ and Heracles is said to have come from Argos himself! The Greek myths tell that the Danioi were descended from a patriarch ‘Danaos’ who was the son of ‘Bela’, and sailed from Egypt. In the Bible, the Hebrew patriarch Dan was the son of the concubine ‘Bilhah’ (Gen. 30:3-6), and the Israelites were in Egypt at the time that Danaos set sail to Greece from there.” (p.158)
The original Hebrew historical ancestress, Bilhah, mother of Dan can also be seen in Welsh mythology, where she has been turned into Beli, the consort of Don, and parents of “the children of light.” This again is Hebrew biblical terminology (e.g. 1Kings 11:36).
The Israelites had access to the Mediterranean Sea, as verified by Dr. Baruch Halpern, Heidelburg and Penn State Universities, who states, "1Kings 4:11 places the coastlands of Dor in Solomon's hands...and it is the assumption...of 1Kings 5:23 that there were secure ports under Solomon's control." ("The Gate of Megiddo and the Debate on the Tenth Century," in Congress Volume Oslo, Brill 2000, p.106, n39).
Was the biblical tribe of Dan large and capable enough to have sailed and settled throughout the Mediterranean and beyond? Dr. Mark Bartusch has written, "Dan, too, was, at the time of the composition of this poem [Judges 5] from earlier traditions, a significant group." ("Understanding Dan: An Exegetical Study of a Biblical City, Tribe and Ancestor," JSOT-Supp 379, p.33)
Similarly, Professor Avraham Biran stated, "Some suggest that Dan had become an insignificant tribe in Israel since only the shortest possible list of descendants (a single son or clan) is preserved for its eponymous ancestor (Gen. 46; Num. 26). Yet according to the census figures in the book of Numbers, the tribe of Dan was second in size only to Judah." (“Biblical Dan,” ibid. p. 76)
Was the biblical tribe actually involved in seafaring? Again Dr. Avraham Biran says, “…the tribes of Dan and Asher are situated along the Mediterranean and are associated with maritime ventures." (ibid. p.125) Judges 5:17 says, "…and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches.” Dr. Biran says that Dan had "extra-Israelite economic relationships." (ibid. p.136) These were apparently overseas.
The events of Judges chapter 5, with the tribe of Dan turning to the sea, are dated to the thirteenth century, B.C. Noted professor W.H. Albright similarly dates the “eruption of the Sea Peoples toward the end of the thirteenth century…[it] began ca. 1225 B.C.” (“The Bible and the Ancient Near East,” pp.337, 340)
In fact, the biblical tribe has been definitely associated with the Danaan Sea Peoples. Speaking of archaeological work at Tel Dan, Dr. Itamar Singer of Tel Aviv University says, "The excavator attributed this eleventh century grave to the Danites, one of the Sea Peoples who allegedly settled on this coastal strip." ("Hittites and the Bible Revisited," pp. 742-3)
Dr. Johannes C. DeMoor also says the evidence, “…points to a historical association of the Proto-Israelites with certain Sea Peoples.” (“Ugarit and Israelite Origins,” Congress Volume Paris, Brill 1995, p.221) DeMoor adds, “The basic possibility of such a friendly connection between early Israel and certain Sea Peoples…would seem to be demonstrated.” (ibid. p.223) Other leading scholars who link the Tuatha de Danaan with the biblical Israelites include Cyrus H. Gordon, M.C. Astour, and Yigael Yadin. (Ref: C.H. Gordon, “The Mediterranean Factor in the Old Testament,” SVT9, p. 19-31; M.C. Astour, “Hellenosemitica: An Ethnic and Cultural Study in West Semitic Impact on Mycenaean Greek,” Leiden, 1967, pp. 1-112; Yigael Yadin, “And Dan, Why Did He Remain In Ships?—Judges 5:17)”.
Why would the tribe of Dan leave Canaan in Palestine for other lands? Judges 18:1 tells us, "About this time, the tribe of Dan was looking for a place to live. The other tribes had land, but the people of Dan did not really have any to call their own." It is fascinating that this large tribe seems to have disappeared completely from Palestine, and is left entirely out of the listing of tribes in the Book of Revelation. (Rev.7)
Is there an ethnic connection between the biblical Israelites and northwestern European peoples such as the Irish and Danes? Scholarly genetic DNA research confirms this: “Middle Eastern populations generally connect much closer to typical northwest European [DNA] samples such as the Irish and Danes…” (“Nuclear Genetic Variation of European Populations In A Global Context,” Kenneth K. Kidd, et al, p.109, in “Archaeogenetics: DNA and the Population Prehistory of Europe,” University of Cambridge, 2000)
What is the possible connection with India? It is well-known that the ten tribes of the House of Israel were taken into Assyrian captivity in the early eighth century, B.C., and some of them travelled eastward into Iran, Afghanistan and surrounding regions. The Rigveda was composed in northwest India not far from known locations of dispersed Israelites.
In this short article we have only been able to briefly discuss this interesting topic. The migrations of the tribe of Dan are described in more complete detail, with maps, illustrations, and quotations of noted authorities, in “The Story Of Celto-Saxon Israel.”