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Tribes of Israel: 5 Questions and Answers

By Morgan Chilson   |   Thursday, 28 Aug 2014 06:23 PM

The 12 tribes of Israel were the sons and grandsons of Jacob, according to biblical tradition, who inherited the Promised Land.

Although there is some disagreement among biblical scholars about how the 12 tribes were formed, biblical tradition says they were designated from Jacob’s sons – Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher – and his grandsons – Ephraim and Manasseh.

What else do we know— or disagree — about regarding Israel’s 12 tribes?

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Was land given to all of Jacob’s sons and grandsons?
No. Jacob had 12 sons and numerous grandsons. But of his sons, Levi and Joseph did not get land; it was Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were included in the 12 tribes, the Jewish Virtual Library said.

Christianity Stack Exchange, a website where experts answer questions about the Bible, said that three places in the Bible list the 12 tribes differently; in two, Levi is included and others are dropped out. In Numbers 1, Dan was included, although he was not in the list of 12 in Genesis and Revelations.

One expert answering the question said "Dan fell into idolatry in Judges 17 and 18," and pointed out that Ephraim was also off one of the lists, and that in Hosea, he was reported to be "joined to idols."

Did all of the 12 tribes actually receive land in the Promised Land?
The answer to this question is inconsistent. Some maps show the land divided into 12 sections, while others show only 11.

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What are the 10 lost tribes of Israel?
According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, 10 of Israel’s 12 tribes “were gradually assimilated by other peoples and thus disappeared from history. Nevertheless, a belief persisted that one day the Ten Lost Tribes would be found.”

Numerous reports of finding lost Hebrew tribes have surfaced over the years, and recently, DNA testing of a tribe of people in Zimbabwe determined that their origins were Semitic, the BBC reported. The tribe follows many Jewish customs, including male circumcision, ritual slaughter of animals, wearing skull caps and a Star of David is put on tombstones.

Can Jewish people today identify which tribe they are descended from?
Probably not. According to Chabad.org, most “tribal identities were lost” over the years. A few people in families that are Kohanim (Priests) or Levities, know they are descended from Levi’s tribe, the site said.

“There are also a handful of non-Levite families who can trace their ancestry to a particular tribe, but these are few and far between,” Chabad.org said.

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