The 12 Tribes of Israel - and Some Info on the Lost Tribes...

As I mentioned in my History of Israel page, Jacob the biblical patriarch had 12 sons who became the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel. Actually it is a bit more complex than that, but first things first.

Jacob had 2 wives: Leah and Rachel. Each one of those wives had a servant: Zilpah - Leah’s servant and Bilha – Rachel’s servant. Jacob fathered kids from each one of those 4 women (what a man, what a man, what a man...).

Here are the names of the kids each woman had with Jacob:
Leah – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun and Dinah – who was the only girl.
Rachel – Joseph, Benjamin.
Bilha – Dan, Naphtali.
Zilpah – Gad, Asher.

Quite a few Ha?!

There are two important points to mention:

  1. There is no Joseph tribe. Instead his sons Ephraim and Menasseh got the status of independent tribes, and were given a piece of the land of Israel.

  2. The tribe of Levi did not occupy a specific territory in the land, but instead was dedicated to serving in the Temple.

After the Exodus – the tribes left slavery life in Egypt – the 12 tribes of Israel arrived to the promised land (not before wandering for 40 years in the desert). Each of the tribes got a piece of the land – known in Hebrew as “Nahala”, in which the tribe settled.

The land was divided between the tribes more or less as follows:

  • North: Dan, Asher and Naphtali.

  • South: Reuben, Simeon and Gad.

  • East: Judah, Issachar and Zebulun.

  • West: Benjamin, Menasseh and Ephraim.
israel tribe

Real Estate was always big...

Nowadays you can find the “tribes” of Judah and Benjamin – which you may know simply as the Jewish people that are living in modern Israel and around the world. However, many people in Israel and elsewhere carry the last name Levi and are most likely descendants from the Levi tribe.

As to the rest of the “lost” ten tribes there are many theories and speculation as to what happened to them. The Assyrians conquered the Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, and sent the Israelites into exile in a region which is today’s Iran and Afghanistan. This is the point in history in which the ten tribes were lost.

And that, in a nutshell, is the story of the 12 tribes of Israel.

The Promised Land for the Sons of Israel, c.1663
The Promised Land for the Sons of Israel, c.1663
Nicholas Visscher
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