The 12 Tribes of Israel and Judah
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The Israelites divided themselves into twelve tribes, based on their supposed common descent from the patriarch Israel (Jacob), son of ISaac and grandson of Abraham. The Bible has numerous lists of the tribes, which diverge at many points. .
The Tribe of Levi
Sometimes the tribe of Levi is listed as three sub-clans: Gershon, Merari, and Kohath. Levi was never allocated land, so in some lists it is not mentioned at all.
The Joseph Tribes
Some lists count Joseph as a tribe, others divide it into two: Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh.
Manasseh is often refered to as two half-tribes to distinguish the half that lived in the Promised land (west of the Jordan), from the half that stayed east of the river Jordan.
The Tribe of Simeon
Simeon is an interesting case. Joshua 19:1 lists the few towns allocated to the tribe of Simeon. But Joshua 15:20 lists all of these towns as allocated to Judah. By the time that the book of Joshua was written, the tribe of Simeon had disappeared from history, and was recorded only as a fiction to make up the sacred number of twelve.
The Tribe of Reuben
The lists also justify why Jacob's eldest son, Reuben, never led the Israelites, and was overtaken by Judah. In Genesis 49 Jacob pulls no punches:
3 Reuben, you are my first-born
My might and first fruit of my vigour
Exceeding in rank
And in exceeding honor.
4 Unstable as water, you shall excel no longer
For when you mounted your father's bed,
You brought disgrace— my couch he mounted!
A few generations later, in Deuteronomy 33:6 Moses whacks Reuben over the head big-time in a curt two lines:
6 May Reuben live and not die
Though few be his numbers.
Lists of the 12 Tribes
- ✡ Listed as a tribe
- – Not listed
|Mother||Tribe||Seniority||Gen 35:23, Gen 46:8, Exod 1:1, Chr 2:1||Gen 49:1 (Blessing of Jacob)||Num 1:5, Num 1:20, Num 13:4, Num 34:13||Num 2:3, Num 26:5|
|Leah's slave, Zilpah||Gad||7||✡||Blessed||✡||✡|
|Rachel, through her son Joseph||Ephraim||N/A||–||–||✡||✡|
|Rachel's slave, Bilhah||Dan||5||✡||Neutral||✡||✡|
|Jacob's Wife||Tribe||Seniority||Num 7:1||Num 10:11||Deut 27:12 (Blessing of Moses 1)||Deut 33:1 (Blessing of Moses 2)|
|Levi||3||Levi (with clans of Gershon, Merari, and Kohath)||No mention of Levi. Clans of Gershon, Merari, and Kohath||Blessed||Fulsomely praised|
|Leah's slave, Zilpah||Gad||7||✡||✡||Cursed||Praised|
|Rachel, through her son Joseph||Ephraim||N/A||✡||✡||–||–|
|Rachel's slave, Bilhah||Dan||5||✡||✡||Cursed||Barely mentioned|
|Mother||Tribe||Seniority||Judg 5:12 (Song of Deborah)||1 Chr 2:3||1 Chr 27:16||1 Chr 12:24, Ezek 48:1, Josh 13:8, Josh 21:4|
|Leah's slave, Zilpah||Gad||7||Censured||✡||–||✡|
|Rachel, through her son Joseph||Ephraim||–||Praised||✡||✡||✡|
|Rachel's slave, Bilhah||Dan||5||Censured||–||✡||✡|