Though no longer well-known, the symbol of the pre-state Jewish underground group, the Irgun, included a map of what is now both Israel and Jordan. This was designed to highlight the Jews’ ancestral claim to both sides of the Jordan River. Yet correct as this claim may have been, Transjordan – a territory known by its relationship to Israel (Transjordan means across the Jordan) – has always had a problematic place in Jewish history.

The territory east of the Jordan was not designated as part of the original Promised Land. It was not where the forefathers sojourned, nor was it inhabited by the seven nations that God wanted to expel. Rather, it became part of the Jewish homeland through a rather unusual turn of events. The land’s inhabitants were vanquished after trying to attack the Jews. The default expectation was that the Jews would continue to their own homeland to the west and leave this territory to other nations. Instead, the tribes of Gad and Reuben requested that it be given to them, ostensibly to find ample grazing for their numerous livestock.

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