Kenaz, the Kenizzites, Othniel, and Caleb…

“And Caleb said, ‘Who will attak Qiryath-Sepher and conquer it? I will give him Aksah, my daughter, as a wife. And Othniyel, the son of Qenaz (Caleb’s brother), conquered it.”

(Judges 1:12-13)

Again we find ourselves with overlap (see Joshua 15:13-19). Much of the theme of the book of Judges has to do with the people not remembering what God had done for them in the past and of their turning into themselves to govern their morality in the land…so, we ought not find ourselves with much of a surprise when we find reminders like this in the introduction, not only summarizing the final settlement in the land, but reminding future generations of the blessings associated with faithfulness and the chastisement that is associated with disobedience.

What we do find here, is the introduction of Othniel, who will become the paradigm of the judges as this book moves forward (chapter 3). What we are told about Othniel, though, creates a bit of a conundrum. Literally, the text reads “Othniel, the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb.” Thus, the question arises. Is Othniel the younger (Judges 3:9) brother of Caleb or is Kenaz the brother of Caleb. In other words, what is the relationship between these two men, is Caleb Othniel’s brother or Uncle? The text can be read either way, though it seems that the majority of commentators render the relationship as Othniel being Caleb’s brother.

The problem with the interpretation is compounded because we do not have a clear genealogy that links these men together in a meaningful way. Caleb is described as the son of Jephunneh but Othniel is described as the son of Kenaz. If we further examine the relationships, though, some scholars have suggested that “the son of Kenaz” is the equivalent of saying “Kenizzite.” The land of the Kenizzites was part of God’s promise to Israel (Genesis 15:19) and we are further told that Jephunneh was a Kenizzite (Numbers 32:12). This is the first connection that we have (in terms of genealogies) between Othniel and Caleb.

If one reads the phrase “son of Kenaz” as Kenizzite, then one naturally reads the text as speaking of Othniel as Caleb’s brother — “Othniel, the Kenizzite, Caleb’s brother, conquered it.” This seems to be the reading that many will take with this particular text.

One difficulty with this reading is in the timetable. Caleb is introduced to us as one of the two faithful spies that entered the Promised Land and who returned and encouraged the people to trust God and to take the land. The people, though, listened to the voice of the majority and rejected the counsel of Caleb and Joshua. As a result, God placed his judgment on the people that no one who had come out of Egypt would survive to enter the promised land — that is, except Joshua and Caleb (see Numbers 14:30,38; 26:65). What followed, of course, was the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

That said, the reading that Othniel is Caleb’s brother is still possible; he just is a brother that would have been born in the wilderness — a brother who was born when Caleb was already an adult. Again, this is not unfeasible, and even makes sense given that he will be taking Caleb’s daughter as a wife.

A second difficulty with this reading is that Kenaz is not an uncommon name in the ancient Jewish genealogies, so to assume it as a reference to the Kenizzite clan is not a necessary position to take. Further, in the genealogy found in 1 Chronicles 4:13, we find the “sons of Kenaz” listed as Othniel and Seraiah (further noting that in 1 Chronicles 4:15, Caleb had a grandson named Kenaz, though no one is suggesting that Othniel is Caleb’s great-grandson!). Of course, as mentioned above, counting backwards in this genealogy does not connect these men any further. That said, remembering that Jewish genealogies do not mention every descendent explicitly, that should not be seen as a stumbling block.

Thus, while both readings are possible (hence many of our English translations leave the wording loose, allowing for either reading), the more natural explanation (based on Chronicles) seems to be that Caleb is Othniel’s uncle — Kenaz being Caleb’s brother…a brother who died in the wilderness, but whose son has entered the Promised Land. Is it necessary to draw a hard line-in-the sand over this interpretation? No, it is not, but our God has given us minds to explore the Biblical text wherever the puzzle-pieces will lead us and as important as it is to recognize the structure and theme of individual books and narratives, it is also valuable to see how the whole is unified together — a whole that ultimately finds its unity in Christ.

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