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Tribes of Israel

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Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North. (arround 1200-1050 B.C.)

The Twelve Tribes of Israel (Hebrew: ישראל, Yisrāʼēl) are the tribes that each descend from one of the twelve sons of the Biblical patriarch Jacob, who was renamed Israel by God in Genesis 32:28 .

Each tribe had its own symbol, its own gemstone (represented in the twelve-gem breastplate worn by the High Priest), its own place in camp, and its own place in the marching order.


Israel had a prophetic vision concerning the future condition of his sons in Genesis 49:3-28 . The Tribes of Israel were founded by the twelve sons of Jacob as the tribal fathers of the people.[1] While the Hebrews were in captivity in Egypt they where grouped according to their father's houses (Exodus 6:14 ). The entire encampment of the Israelites at Sinai was organized and to each tribe was given its place in which to march and in what place to camp.[2] At this time, the Levites were set apart for the service of the tabernacle so that the tribe of Joseph was splited and counted as two tribes: the tribe of Manasseh and the tribe of Ephraim.[3] When the Israelites entered the land of Canaan portions of the land where assigned to each of the twelve tribes.[4] The twelve tribes remained united as a state, one people, until the death of Solomon, when they revolted.[5] Under Rehoboam the United Kingdom of Israel was split into its Northern and Southern (Judah) halves.[6] The Kingdom of Israel gathered the ten northern tribes and the Kingdom of Judah included the tribes of Judah, a portion of Benjamin and Simeon.[6] After being taken captive by the Assyrians, the ten tribes of the Kingdom of Israel became known as the lost ten tribes.[7] According to rabbinic literature, some of the lost ten tribes are beyond the legendary river Sambatyon.[7] According to Pliny, the river runs rapidly for six days but its waters flow ceases in days of Shabbat and the Jews can not cross it because they are prevented from traveling on the Shabbat days.[8] Some traditions attribute Yemenite Jews and black Jews of Ethiopia as belonging to the remnants of the lost ten tribes.[9]

The Order of the Gemstones in the High Priest's Breastplate

Biblical Reference


  1. Unger, Merrill F (1988). Harrison, R. K.. ed. The New Unger´s Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Press. pp. 635. ISBN 0-8024-9037-9. 
  2. Douglas, J.D.; Tenney, Merril C, ed. (1987). The New International Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House. p. 1036. ISBN 0-310-33190-0. 
  3. Unger, Merril F (1987) (in spanish). Nuevo Manual Biblico de Unger [New Unger´s Bible Handbook]. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications. p. 96-97. ISBN 0-8254-1779-1. 
  4. Douglas, J. D., ed. (1980). The Illustrated Bible Dictionary. 3. Inter-Varsity Press/Tyndale House Publishers. p. 1594-1595. ISBN 0-8423-7525-2. 
  5. Smith, William (1979). Smith´s Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers. p. 316. ISBN 0-87981-033-5. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Pfeiffer, Charles F (1979). Baker´s Bible Atlas. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House. p. 149-150. ISBN 0-8010-6930-0. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Unterman, Alan (1997). Dictionary of Jewish Lore & Legend. Thames and Hudson. ISBN 978-0500279847. 
  8. Birnbaum, Philip (1979). Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts (Revised edition ed.). Brooklyn, New York: Hebrew Publishing Company. p. 493-495. ISBN 0-88482930-8. 
  9. Barnavi, Eli, ed. (1992). A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People. New York: Schocken Books. p. 256-266. ISBN 0-8052-4127-2.