Twelve Tribes of Israel

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Map of the Twelve Tribes of Israel

The Twelve Tribes of Israel or Tribes of Israel (Hebrew: שבטי ישראל‎‎) were the tribes said by the Hebrew Bible to have descended from the patriarch Jacob (who was later named Israel.[1] Jacob had 12 sons and at least one daughter (Dinah) by two wives and two concubines. According to the biblical tradition, the twelve sons fathered the twelve tribes of Israel.


Before his death, Jacob blessed or foretold the destiny of each of his sons, the editor concluding: All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.[2][3]

The tribes were:[4]

  1. Tribe of Reuben
  2. Tribe of Simeon
  3. Tribe of Levi
  4. Tribe of Judah
  5. Tribe of Issachar
  6. Tribe of Zebulun
  7. Tribe of Dan
  8. Tribe of Naphtali
  9. Tribe of Gad
  10. Tribe of Asher
  11. Tribe of Joseph
  12. Tribe of Benjamin

Jacob elevated the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh (the two sons of Joseph and his Egyptian wife Asenath)[5] to the status of full tribes in their own right, replacing the tribe of Joseph.[6]

From after the conquest of the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, until the formation of the first Kingdom of Israel in around 1050 BC, the tribes formed a loose confederation living in the midst of the other nationalities who retained occupation of Canaan and its surrounding areas. In Judges, the "tribes of Israel" refers to the eleven confederated tribes who fought against the Tribe of Benjamin at the Battle of Gibeah.[7]

Living in exile in the sixth century BC, the prophet Ezekiel has a vision for the restoration of Israel [8] which will include "the ideal reallotment of the land to the twelve tribes of Israel".[9]

New Testament[edit]

In the Christian New Testament, the twelve tribes of Israel are referred to twice in the gospels and twice in the Book of Revelation. In Matthew, paralled by Luke, Jesus anticipates that in the Kingdom of God, His followers will "sit on [twelve] thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel".[10][11] In the vision of the writer of the Book of Revelation, 144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel were "sealed" (marked and protected), 12,000 from each tribe [12] and in his vision of the New or Heavenly Jerusalem, the tribes' names were written on the city gates: The names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west [13]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]