1. Son of Joseph:
Following the Biblical account of Manasseh (patriarch, tribe, and territory) we find that he was the eider of Joseph's two sons by Asenath, the daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On (Ge 41:51). The birth of a son marked the climax of Joseph's happiness after the long bitterness of his experience. In the joy of the moment, the dark years past could be forgotten; therefore he called the name of the firstborn Manasseh ("causing to forget"), for, said he, God hath made me to forget all my toil. When Jacob was near his end, Joseph brought his two sons to his father who blessed them. Himself the younger son who had received the blessing of the firstborn, Jacob preferred Ephraim, the second son of Joseph, to Manasseh his elder brother, thus indicating the relative positions of their descendants (Ge 48:1-22). Before Joseph died he saw the children of Machir the son of Manasseh (Ge 50:23). Machir was born to Manasseh by his concubine, an Aramitess (1Ch 7:14). Whether he married Maacah before leaving for Egypt is not said. She was the sister of Huppim and Shuppim. Of Manasseh's personal life no details are recorded in Scripture. Acccording to Jewish tradition he became steward of his father's house, and acted as interpreter between Joseph and his brethren.
2. The Tribes in the Wilderness and Portion in Palestine:
At the beginning of the desert march the number of Manasseh's men of war is given at 32,200 (Nu 1:34 f). At the 2nd census they had increased to 52,700 (Nu 26:34). Their position in the wilderness was with the tribe of Benjamin, by the standard of the tribe of Ephraim, on the West of the tabernacle. According to Targum Pseudojon, the standard was the figure of a boy, with the inscription "The cloud of Yahweh rested on them until they went forth out of the camp." At Sinai the prince of the tribe was Gamaliel, son of Pedahzur (Nu 2:20). The tribe was represented among the spies by Gaddi, son of Susi (Nu 13:11, where the name "tribe of Joseph" seems to be used as an alternative). At the census in the plains of Moab, Manasseh is named before Ephraim, and appears as much the stronger tribe (Nu 26:28 ff). The main military exploits in the conquest of Eastern Palestine were performed by Manassites. Machir, son of Manasseh, conquered the Amorites and Gilead (Nu 32:39). Jair, son of Manasseh, took all the region of Argob, containing three score cities; these he called by his own name, "Havvoth-jair" (Nu 32:41; De 3:4,14). Nobah captured Kenath and the villages thereof (Nu 32:42; Jos 17:1,5). Land for half the tribe was thus provided, their territory stretching from the northern boundary of Gad to an undetermined frontier in the North, marching with Geshur and Maacah on the West, and with the desert on the East. The warriors of this half-tribe passed over with those of Reuben and Gad before the host of Israel, and took their share in the conquest of Western Palestine (Jos 22:1-34). They helped to raise the great altar in the Jordan valley, which so nearly led to disastrous consequences (Jos 22:10 ff). Golan, the city of refuge, lay within their territory.
The possession of Ephraim and Manasseh West of the Jordan appears to have been undivided at first (Jos 17:16 ff). The portion which ultimately fell to Manasseh marched with Ephraim on the South, with Asher and Issachar on the North, running out to the sea on the West, and falling into the Jordan valley on the East (Jos 17:7 ff). The long dwindling slopes to westward and the fiat reaches of the plain included much excellent soil. Within the territory of Issachar and Asher, Beth-shean, Ibleam, Dor, Endor, Taanach and Megiddo, with their villages, were assigned to Manasseh. Perhaps the men of the West lacked the energy and enterprise of their eastern brethren. They failed, in any case, to expel the Canaanites from these cities, and for long this grim chain of fortresses seemed to mock the strength of Israel (Jos 17:11 ff)
Ten cities West of the Jordan, in the portion of Manasseh, were given to the Levites, and 13 in the eastern portion (Jos 21:5-6).
Manasseh took part in the glorious conflict with the host of Sisera (Jg 5:14). Two famous judges, Gideon and Jephthah, belonged to this tribe. The men of the half-tribe East of Jordan were noted for skill and valor as warriors (1Ch 5:18,23 f). Some men of Manasseh had joined David before the battle of Gilboa (1Ch 12:19).
3. Its Place in Later History:
Others, all mighty men of valor, and captains in the host, fell to him on the way to Ziklag, and helped him against the band of rovers (1Ch 12:20 ff). From the half-tribe West of the Jordan 18,000 men, expressed by name, came to David at Hebron to make him king (1Ch 12:31); while those who came from the East numbered, along with the men of Reuben and Gad, 120,000 (1Ch 12:37). David organized the eastern tribes under 2,700 overseers for every matter pertaining to God and for the affairs of the king (1Ch 26:32). The rulers of Manasseh were, in the West, Joel, son of Pedaiah, and in the East, Iddo, son of Zechariah (1Ch 27:20-21). Divers of Manasseh humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem at the invitation of Hezekiah to celebrate the Passover (2Ch 30:11). Although not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary, they ate the Passover. Pardon was successfully sought for them by the king, because they set their hearts to seek God (2Ch 30:18 ff).
Of the eastern half-tribe it is said that they went a-whoring after the gods of the land, and in consequence they were overwhelmed and expatriated by Pul and Tiglath-pileser, kings of Assyria (1Ch 5:25 f). Reference to the idolatries of the western half-tribe are also found in 2Ch 31:1; 34:6.
There is a portion for Manasseh in Ezekiel's ideal picture (Eze 48:4), and the tribe appears in the list in Rev (Eze 7:6).
The genealogies in Jos 17:1 ff; Nu 26:28-34; 1Ch 2:21-23; 7:14-19 have fallen into confusion. As they stand, they are mutually contradictory, and it is impossible to harmonize them.
The theories of certain modern scholars who reject the Biblical account are themselves beset with difficulties: e.g. the name is derived from the Arabic, nasa, "to injure a tendon of the leg." Manasseh, the Piel part., would thus be the name of a supernatural being, of whom the infliction of such an injury was characteristic. It is not clear which of the wrestlers at the Jabbok suffered the injury. As Jacob is said to have prevailed with gods and men, the suggestion is that it was his antagonist who was lamed. "It would appear therefore that in the original story the epithet Manasseh was a fitting title of Jacob himself, which might be borne by his worshippers, as in the case of Gad" (EB, under the word, par. 4).
It is assumed that the mention of Machir in Jg 5:14 definitely locates the Manassites at that time on the West of the Jordan. The raids by members of the tribe on Eastern Palestine must therefore have taken place long after the days of Moses. The reasoning is precarious. After the mention of Reuben (Jg 5:15-16), Gilead (Jg 5:17) may refer to Gad. It would be strange if this warlike tribe were passed over (Guthe). Machir, then probably the strongest clan, stands for the whole tribe, and may be supposed to indicate particularly the noted fighters of the eastern half.
In dealing with the genealogies, "the difficult name" Zelophehad must be got rid of. Among the suggestions made is one by Dr. Cheyne, which first supposes the existence of a name Salhad, and then makes Zelophehad a corruption of this.
The genealogies certainly present difficulties, but otherwise the narrative is intelligible and self-consistent without resort to such questionable expedients as those referred to above.