|Tribes of Israel|
The Twelve Tribes of Israel (Hebrew: שִׁבְטֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל, romanized: Šīḇṭēy Yīsrāʾēl, lit. 'Tribes of Israel') are, according to Hebrew scriptures, the descendants of the biblical patriarch Jacob, also known as Israel, through his twelve sons through his wives, Leah and Rachel, and his concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, who collectively form the Israelite nation. In modern scholarship, there is skepticism as to whether there ever were twelve Israelite tribes, with the use of the number 12 thought more likely to signify a symbolic tradition as part of a national founding myth.
Jacob, later called Israel, was the second-born son of Isaac and Rebecca, the younger twin brother of Esau, and the grandson of Abraham and Sarah. According to biblical texts, he was chosen by God to be the patriarch of the Israelite nation. From what is known of Jacob, he had two wives, sisters Leah and Rachel, and two concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, by whom he had thirteen children. The twelve sons form the basis for the twelve tribes of Israel, listed in the order from oldest to youngest: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. Jacob was known to display favoritism among his children, particularly for Joseph and Benjamin, the sons of his favorite wife, Rachel, and so the tribes themselves were not treated equally in a divine sense. Joseph, despite being the second-youngest son, received double the inheritance of his brothers, treated as if he were the firstborn son instead of Reuben, and so his tribe was later split into two tribes, named after his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
The Israelites were the descendants of twelve sons of the biblical patriarch Jacob. Jacob also had at least one daughter, Dinah, whose descendants were not recognized as a tribe. The sons of Jacob were born in Padan-aram from different mothers, as follows:
Deuteronomy 27:12–13 lists the twelve tribes:
Jacob elevated the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh (the two sons of Joseph and his Egyptian wife Asenath) to the status of full tribes in their own right due to Joseph receiving a double portion after Reuben lost his birth right because of his transgression with Bilhah.
In the biblical narrative the period from the conquest of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua until the formation of the United Kingdom of Israel passed with the tribes forming a loose confederation, described in the Book of Judges. Modern scholarship has called into question the beginning, middle, and end of this picture and the account of the conquest under Joshua has largely been abandoned. The Bible's depiction of the 'period of the Judges' is widely considered doubtful. The extent to which a united Kingdom of Israel ever existed is also a matter of ongoing dispute.
Living in exile in the sixth century BCE, the prophet Ezekiel has a vision for the restoration of Israel, of a future in which the twelve tribes of Israel are living in their land again.
See also: Judges 1 § List of cities
According to Joshua 13–19, the Land of Israel was divided into twelve sections corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. However, the tribes receiving land differed from the biblical tribes. The Tribe of Levi had no land appropriation but had six Cities of Refuge under their administration as well as the Temple in Jerusalem. There was no land allotment for the Tribe of Joseph, but Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, received their father's land portion.
Thus the tribes receiving an allotment were:
The twelve tribes of Israel are referred to in the New Testament. In the gospels of Matthew (19:28) and Luke (22:30), Jesus anticipates that in the Kingdom of God his disciples will "sit on [twelve] thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel". The Epistle of James (1:1) addresses his audience as "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad".
The Book of Revelation (7:1–8) gives a list of the twelve tribes. However, the Tribe of Dan is omitted while Joseph is mentioned alongside Manasseh. In the vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem, the tribes' names (the names of the twelve sons of Jacob) are written on the city gates (Ezekiel 48:30–35 & Revelation 21:12–13).
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a patriarchal blessing usually contains a declaration of the lineage of the recipient of blessing in relation to the twelve tribes of Israel.
The Quran (7th century CE) states that the people of Moses were split into twelve tribes. Surah 7 (Al-A'raf) verse 160 says:
"We split them up into twelve tribal communities, and We revealed to Moses, when his people asked him for water, [saying], ‘Strike the rock with your cane,’ whereat twelve fountains gushed forth from it. Every tribe came to know its drinking-place. And We shaded them with clouds, and We sent down to them manna and quails: ‘Eat of the good things We have provided you.’ And they did not wrong Us, but they used to wrong [only] themselves."
For thousands of years, Christians and Jews have accepted the history of the twelve tribes as fact. Since the 19th century, however, historical criticism has examined the veracity of the historical account; whether the twelve tribes ever existed as they are described, the historicity of the eponymous ancestors, and even whether the earliest version of this tradition assumes the existence of twelve tribes.
Biblical lists of tribes, not all of which number 12, include the following:
Scholars such as Max Weber (in Ancient Judaism) and Ronald M. Glassman (2017) concluded that there never was a fixed number of tribes. Instead, the idea that there were always twelve tribes should be regarded as part of the Israelite national founding myth: the number 12 was not a real number, but an ideal number, which had symbolic significance in Near Eastern cultures with duodecimal counting systems, from which, among other things, the modern 12-hour clock is derived.
Biblical scholar Arthur Peake saw the tribes originating as postdiction, as eponymous metaphor giving an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation.
Translator Paul Davidson argued: "The stories of Jacob and his children, then, are not accounts of historical Bronze Age people. Rather, they tell us how much later Jews and Israelites understood themselves, their origins, and their relationship to the land, within the context of folktales that had evolved over time." He goes on to argue that most of the tribal names are "not personal names, but the names of ethnic groups, geographical regions, and local deities. E.g. Benjamin, meaning "son of the south" (the location of its territory relative to Samaria), or Asher, a Phoenician territory whose name may be an allusion to the goddess Asherah."
Historian Immanuel Lewy in Commentary mentions "the Biblical habit of representing clans as persons. In the Bible, the twelve tribes of Israel are sons of a man called Jacob or Israel, as Edom or Esau is the brother of Jacob, and Ishmael and Isaac are the sons of Abraham. Elam and Ashur, names of two ancient nations, are sons of a man called Shem. Sidon, a Phoenician town, is the first-born of Canaan; the lands of Egypt and Abyssinia are the sons of Ham. This kind of mythological geography is widely known among all ancient peoples. Archaeology has found that many of these personal names of ancestors originally were the names of clans, tribes, localities, or nations. […] if the names of the twelve tribes of Israel are those of mythological ancestors and not of historical persons, then many stories of the patriarchal and Mosaic age lose their historic validity. They may indeed partly reflect dim reminiscences of the Hebrews' tribal past, but in their specific detail they are fiction." On the same subject, Gijsbert J.B. Sulman[who?] wrote that the idea of common ancestry should be seen as "an expression of solidarity of different ethnic groups, who merged over time to form one nation", and that the practice of inventing common ancestry is also known among the Bedouin.
Norman Gottwald argued that the division into twelve tribes originated as an administrative scheme under King David.
Additionally, the Mesha Stele (carved c. 840 BCE) mentions Omri as King of Israel and also mentions "the men of Gad".
See also: Attributed arms
Attributed arms are Western European coats of arms given retrospectively to persons real or fictitious who died before the start of the age of heraldry in the latter half of the 12th century.
Attributed arms of the Twelve Tribes from the Portuguese Thesouro de Nobreza, 1675