1. The elder of the two sons of Joseph. He and his brother Ephraim were afterwards adopted by Jacob as his own sons (Genesis 48:1). There is an account of his marriage to a Syrian (1 Chronicles 7:14); and the only thing afterwards recorded of him is, that his grandchildren were "brought up upon Joseph's knees" (Gen. 50:23; R.V., "born upon Joseph's knees") i.e., were from their birth adopted by Joseph as his own children.
The tribe of Manasseh was associated with that of Ephraim and Benjamin during the wanderings in the wilderness. They encamped on the west side of the tabernacle. According to the census taken at Mount Sinai, this tribe then numbered 32,200 (Numbers 1:10, 35; 2:20, 21). Forty years afterwards its numbers had increased to 52,700 (26:34, 37), and it was at this time the most distinguished of all the tribes.
The half of this tribe, along with Reuben and Gad, had their territory assigned them by Moses on the east of the Jordan (Joshua 13:7-14); but it was left for Joshua to define the limits of each tribe. This territory on the east of the River Jordan was more valuable and of larger extent than all that was allotted to the nine and a half tribes in the land of Palestine. It is sometimes called "the land of Gilead," and is also spoken of as "on the other side of Jordan." The portion given to the half tribe of Manasseh was the largest on the east of Jordan. It embraced the whole of Bashan. It was bounded on the south by Mahanaim, and extended north to the foot of Lebanon. Argob, with its sixty cities, that "ocean of basaltic rocks and boulders tossed about in the wildest confusion," lay in the midst of this territory.
The whole "land of Gilead" having been conquered, the two and a half tribes left their wives and families in the fortified cities there, and accompanied the other tribes across the Jordan, and took part with them in the wars of conquest. The allotment of the land having been completed, Joshua dismissed the two and a half tribes, commending them for their heroic service (Josh. 22:1-34). Thus dismissed, they returned over Jordan to their own inheritance.
On the west of Jordan the other half of the tribe of Manasseh was associated with Ephraim, and they had their portion in the very centre of Palestine, an area of about 1,300 square miles, the most valuable part of the whole country, abounding in springs of water. Manasseh's portion was immediately to the north of that of Ephraim (Josh. 16). Thus the western Manasseh defended the passes of Esdraelon as the eastern kept the passes of the Hauran.
2. The king of Judah and only son and successor of Hezekiah. He was twelve years old when he began to reign (2 Kings 21:1). Albright has dated his reign to 687 - 642 BC, while Thiele offers the dates 687 - 643 BC. Though he reigned so long, yet comparatively little is known of this king. His reign was a continuation of that of Ahaz, both in religion and national polity. He early fell under the influence of the anti-Jehovah court circle, and his reign was characterized by a relapse into idolatry with all its vices, showing that the reformation under his father had been to a large extent only superficial (Isaiah 7:10; 2 Kings 21:10-15).
A systematic and persistent attempt was made, and all too successfully, to banish the worship of Jehovah out of the land, which was opposed by faithful prophets (Isaiah, Micah). But their fidelity only aroused bitter hatred, and a period of cruel persecution against all the friends of the old religion began.
There is an old Jewish tradition that Isaiah was put to death at this time (2 Kings 21:16; 24:3, 4; Jeremiah 2:30), having been sawn asunder in the trunk of a tree. Psalms 49, 73, 77, 140, and 141 seem to express the feelings of the pious amid the fiery trials of this great persecution. Manasseh has been called the "Nero of Palestine."
Esarhaddon, Sennacherib's successor on the Assyrian throne, who had his residence in Babylon for thirteen years (the only Assyrian monarch who ever reigned in Babylon), took Manasseh prisoner (681 BC) to Babylon. (For a suggested modification of their chronologies refer to Esarhaddon and Hezekiah.) Such captive kings were usually treated with great cruelty. They were brought before the conqueror with a hook or ring passed through their lips or their jaws, having a cord attached to it, by which they were led. This is referred to in 2 Chr. 33:11, where the Authorized Version reads that Esarhaddon "took Manasseh among the thorns;" while the Revised Version renders the words, "took Manasseh in chains;" or literally, as in the margin, "with hooks." (Compare 2 Kings 19:28.)
The severity of Manasseh's imprisonment brought him to repentance. God heard his cry, and he was restored to his kingdom (2 Chr. 33:11-13). He abandoned his idolatrous ways, and enjoined the people to worship Jehovah; but there was no thorough reformation. After a lengthened reign extending through fifty-five years, the longest in the history of Judah, he died, and was buried in the garden of Uzza, the "garden of his own house" (2 Kings 21:17, 18; 2 Chr. 33:20), and not in the city of David, among his ancestors. He was succeeded by his son Amon.
In Judges 18:30 the correct reading is "Moses," and not "Manasseh." The name "Manasseh" is supposed to have been introduced by some transcriber to avoid the scandal of naming the grandson of Moses the great lawgiver as the founder of an idolatrous religion.
This article is adapted from the public domain Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897). Please update and revise as necessary.