The Twelve Tribes Of Israel

Moses strikes water from the stone, by Francesco Bacchiacca.
Moses strikes water from the stone, by Francesco Bacchiacca.

The Twelve Tribes of Israel

The twelve tribes of Israel represent the biblical division of the Jewish population. As stated in the bible, they descend from Abraham and his grandson Jacob. Their names are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin.

Biblical History

According to the story in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible, Jacob had so many sons because God had promised his grandfather, Abraham, that he would have many descendants and that they would lead many nations. Previously-mentioned Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, a fact that led his many brothers to sell him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph rose to become the second most powerful person in Egypt where he worked to secure food supplies. When the Seven-Year Famine began, his brothers were forced to leave Canaan and buy food in Egypt. They did not recognize their brother, Joseph, and after some time, he told them who he was. Joseph invited them to come live in Egypt for the remainder of the famine. When they arrived, their entire family numbered 70.

After several generations, the original 70 family members multiplied to around 600,000 military-aged men. The pharaoh, nervous because of such a great quantity, placed them all into slavery and then demanded the death of all Hebrew, male babies. One woman, from the nation of Levi, placed her son in a basket and sent him down the Nile River for saving his life. That baby was Moses.

Moses went on save the Israelites from slavery and took the twelve tribes of Israel into the land of Canaan. During their escape, Moses parted the Red Sea and climbed a mountain where he wrote the Torah and the Ten Commandments over a period of 40 days. The tribes refused to conquer the land of Canaan and were punished by God. Joshua became the leader after the death of Moses and took the Israelites into the Land of Canaan where they divided the territory.

Academic History

Most academic researchers dismiss the notion that the twelve tribes of Israel developed from the same patriarchal ancestry. Instead, they believe that the twelve tribes of Israel were independent of one another and that they were forced together by historical events. Given that some of the ancient sites in Canaan hold the names of the twelve tribes, historians believe that people who inhabited those particular sites eventually took on their names. Other scholars believe that Canaan was conquered over time by separate tribes. They theorize that as different tribes moved into the territory, they eventually took control of certain sections of the land. These separate tribes shared a common history and faith which brought them together as one nation.

Significance Today

Today, the land of Canaan called Israel, is the Holy Land for the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The majority of the population is Jewish, nearly 75%. Sunni Muslims make up the second largest group. Israel was formed after World War II when a large number of Jewish migrants wanted to come back to their ancestral home. At that time, it was called Palestine and was largely populated by Muslims. The two groups went to war, creating the Gaza Strip and Israel. Muslims fled Israel for the Gaza Strip. The two have been in conflict for decades with Israeli forces occupying the area and controlling its borders.


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