The 12 Tribes of Israel and everything you need to know about them

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The 12 tribes of Israel are particularly important when studying the holy scriptures and the prophecies found therein. According to this sacred text, the patriarch “Israel” had 12 sons, and each of them in turn was the head of a tribe within the ancient nation of Israel.


Origin of the 12 tribes of Israel

The origin of these tribes is described in the Bible and according to it, Jacob (Israel) son of Isaac, who in turn was the son of Abraham, had twelve sons, all of whom were recognized by their origin. For this reason, Joshua distributed the land of Canaan or promised land among each of them after returning from Egypt.

The children of Israel is the name that all those descendants of Jacob acquired. It has not been possible, even today, to reveal in detail the history of ancient Israel. Although the findings and investigations place the Israelites in Canaan around the year 1220 BC

The united kingdom of Judah and Israel is how the populations descended from the patriarch Jacob are known. They remained established in the “promised land” between the fifteenth and sixth centuries before Christ.

As a result of the Babylonian exile of the 5th century BC, two large groups were formed with the rest of the tribes that remained, the Jews who lived in Judea and Galilee and the Samaritans in Samaria.

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The 12 sons of Jacob

The history around ancient Israel and the 12 sons of Jacob are quite difficult to study with the necessary scientific precision. For this reason, part of the information and knowledge that we have maintains a deep link with the religious belief of those who still transmit these teachings today.

According to the Bible, eleven sons of Jacob were born in Laban except for Benjamin who was born on the way from Bethel to Ephrat. His twelve sons were later known as Shivtei Kah because they were the fathers of the 12 Tribes of Israel. You may find it interesting to read this article about the myth of Hercules. 

There is a kind of scientific consensus regarding the study of the history of Israel, which places the twelve sons of Jacob and their establishment in the region of Canaan, around the 13th century BC. During this time, the 12 tribes of Israel were formed and developed.

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The twelve descendants of Jacob were:

  • Reuben.
  • Simeon.
  • Levi.
  • Judah.
  • Zebulun.
  • Issachar.
  • Dan.
  • Gad.
  • To be.
  • Naphtali.
  • Joseph.
  • Benjamin.

Ruben, the eldest son, is also believed to have outlived them all, although his story remains largely religious.


The 12 Tribes of Israel

On his deathbed, Jacob passed on to his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh (sons of Joseph) the “birthright blessings” thus making them two leaders among the 12 tribes of Israel.

For his part, Levi dedicated himself to the practice of the priesthood, which is why he did not receive any land at the time of the distribution, and his brother José was represented by his two sons. This is how the 12 tribes of Israel were constituted, 10 sons of Jacob and 2 grandsons.

Israel gave his descendants blessings and prophecies according to which they were to guide their life and work, in addition to guiding the 12 tribes of Israel.

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Reuben’s tribe

Reuben was the firstborn son of Jacob with his wife Leah, it is believed that he was the last to die. He had four sons, who in turn became the heads of the Reubenite families.

Traditionally, this tribe was characterized by being one of the most numerous and with the greatest military force, although over the years this has decreased. Therefore, the birthright passed into the hands of Joseph for being the firstborn of Jacob with his second wife and in turn to his sons Ephraim and Manasseh at the wish of Israel itself.

It stood out for being a livestock tribe along with that of Gad. For this reason, they asked Moses, Eleazar, and the other Israelite leaders to grant them the areas of Dibón, Atarot, Hasbón, Nimrá, Jazer, Elalé, Shebam, Nebo, and Beón since they were good for cattle.

This tribe was identified by the ruby, its symbol was the mandrake and its banner was red.

The Reubenites, after being expelled from their lands, settled in a territory that belonged to the Agarenes, so they might have maintained their identity for a long time before they were finally taken into captivity.

Blessings, characteristics, and responsibilities:
 it would be the tribe with the most dignity and power, although due to its impetuous character it lost its relevance to importance, and was finally relegated.

Tribe of Simeon

His name means to listen, he was the second son of Jacob with Leah and had 6 children, five of whom formed tribal families. His tribe is identified with the color green and was symbolized by the sword.

As a result of Simeon’s impetus and violence, his tribe was divided and scattered throughout Israel.

The members of this tribe lived for some periods within the kingdom of Judah, where they owned and dominated thirteen cities and villages, outside of this territory they dominated the cities of Ain, Rimmon, Ether, and Ashan, including the villages that were as far as Baalat-beer.

During the battle against the Canaanites, the tribes of Simeon and Judah fought together. Later they would be integrated into the armies of David. It was a population that was characterized by being combatant and warrior.

According to the studies carried out, it is possible that this tribe remained somewhat dispersed among various regions in search of suitable pastures. The remaining members of the tribe were taken into captivity by the Babylonians and progressively lost their tribal identity.

Blessings, characteristics, and responsibilities:
the use of the sword as an instrument of violence (Genesis 49:5).


Tribe of Levi

The meaning of their name is “together”. It is identified with a tabernacle. This tribe did not have land, however, they were entrusted with the sacred work of the priesthood. All his descendants were dedicated to the service of the “Lord.” The Levites received the right to receive alms from the people for their religious dedication.

Due to their dedication to the service of the sanctuary, they were divided into two classes: on the one hand, the priests who mediated before God were in charge of the sacrifices and other activities of the temple.

The other members of the tribe carried out pilgrimage tasks, protecting the tabernacle and providing support to the priests in their activities.

During the time of David, a reorganization of the ecclesiastical power was necessary and finally, the tribe of the Levites was divided into the following classes:

  • Priest assistants.
  • Singers and musicians.
  • Doormen and officials.
  • Judges and scribes.

In this way, each group knew and had defined its functions and responsibilities within the tribe and the nation. Although they had no land of their own, this tribe was located to the west on the map of Israel.

This tribe, having no territories or inheritance, was not the product of invasions. However, with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, they lost all their rights and responsibilities. His activities were limited to Torah study.

Blessings, characteristics, and responsibilities: the commitment to the sacred represented in the tabernacle and its priestly work. Moses and Aaron were descendants of this tribe.

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Tribe of Judah

Her name means “praise” and the symbol that represents her is a lion. Within the map of Israel, it was located towards the east. This tribe took over the reins once they settled in Canaan, rivaling that of Ephraim who had a lot of power and was eager to exercise it.

The tribe received the blessing of Moses, after the death of Solomon and as a result of internal conflicts, it was finally established as the kingdom of Judah together with the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, its capital was Jerusalem.

It was a town with greater density and power. In addition, it had a better geographical location than Israel, for which it could have existed for 135 years until it was taken captive to Babylon.

The tribe of Judah uses the symbolism of the Lion as a synonym of strength and praise towards God, as well as instilling fear in their enemies at the time of battle.

In the year 538 BC, Cyrus II granted the people of Judah permission to return to their homeland. Later, they managed to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem and since then they have become part of the history of Judaism and consequently of the Jews.

Blessings, characteristics, and responsibilities: respect, submission, and praise towards the tribe of Judah, by their brothers and enemies.


Zebulun tribe

Zebulun’s descendants played a critical role in defending and protecting the conquered lands in Canaan, supplying around 57,400 fit for battle.

This tribe was exiled after the Assyrians conquered the lands where they were settled, as a result of which a large part of their history was destroyed and lost. His territory was in the extreme south of Galilee.

The symbol that characterizes this tribe is the ship or a port and they performed a function-oriented to the skills of war and fighting.

Blessings, characteristics, and responsibilities: its main feature is oriented towards ports, the use of ships, and the protection of its people.


Tribe of Issachar

This tribe fulfilled functions that highlighted them as religious teachers. They devoted much of their time and effort to the study and teaching of the Torah. They had a mutually beneficial relationship with their Zebulun brothers, prominent merchants from whom they obtained financial support in exchange for spiritual teaching.

Its territory was equally conquered and razed by the Assyrians as happened with a large part of the tribes of Israel. Their region was extended by the Jordan River and they had a wide fertile plain.

Within its lands, there are also places and sites of great historical importance for the history of the people of Israel, such as Carmel, Megiddo, Jezreel, Nazareth, and Tabor.

The characteristic symbol for the members of this tribe was the sun, the moon, and the donkey. They settled to the east of the map of Israel.

Blessings, characteristics, and responsibilities: the settlement, rest, and the product of the land were some of the blessings they received.

Tribe of Dan

They were directly blessed by Moses and by Jacob. Although during the distribution of the land they received a small part, it was extremely fertile and productive. This caused problems due to the continuous invasion attempts by the Amorites and Philistines.

Finally, they had to leave this region and move to the north of Palestine, in the city of Laish which they renamed with the name of Dan.

In times of crisis for the people of Israel, the tribe of Dan was part of the kingdom of Israel after the death of Is-Bosheth, making David, king of Judah, the new King of the United Kingdom of Israel.

During these years there was a lot of instability between the different tribes, integrating alliances and breaking them. These internal disputes are believed to have favored the Assyrian conquest of the kingdom of Israel and their exile.

Blessings, Characteristics, and Responsibilities: You were given the wisdom to judge and know when to lead your people forcefully.


Tribe of Gad

After the exodus from Egypt, they settled east of the Jordan River. Within tribal relations there was no central government, so each one was free to decide their destiny.

Only in times of severe crisis did the judges intervene to bring order and calm the people.

When the central monarchy was established in the kingdom of Israel, to protect the territory against the threat of the Philistines, the tribe of Gad remained faithful until the death of Is-Bosheth, when he decided to join the kingdom of Judah.

After the Assyrian invasion in 723 BC, the Ammonites dominated the ancient lands of the Gad and since then this tribe became one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

Blessings, Characteristics, and Responsibilities: You have been given the blessing to endure and charge in the end. In addition to the impetus and temperament of the lion.


asher tribe

Asher’s descendants were known as the “chosen” and the “mighty.” He was the son of Jacob with Zilpah, Leah’s servant. He fathered four sons and one daughter. In the distribution of the lands, he received the coastal area from the north of Mount Carmel to Sidon, it was a very fertile region, especially for the cultivation of olive trees.

They partially conquered and occupied the region, they were never able to completely expel Canaanite and Phoenician cities from Aco, Tire, and Sidon. They managed to settle and prosper thanks to the blessings they obtained from the land.

Due to the great benefit, they obtained from the crop, they were identified with bread, wheat, or a tree.

Blessings, characteristics, and responsibilities: the prosperity and riches they achieved stand out among their characteristics.

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Tribe of Naphtali

He was Jacob’s sixth son and had him with Bilhah who was Rachel’s servant. Naftalí had four sons who would continue his descendants and expansion of the tribe. Joshua gave this tribe the eastern side of Galilee.

Its main city was Hazor where the political and economic power of the tribe was centralized. In general, all the lands of Canaan had quite a fertile potential, however, where Naphtali settled was seen as an earthly paradise.

Blessings, Characteristics, and Responsibilities: Their blessings relate precisely to how favorable their location is and how well they can benefit from resources.


Tribe of Benjamin

Jacob’s last son and had him with Rachel. Of all his brothers he was the only one to be born in the land of Canaan, his birth brought complications for his mother and he could not survive.

Being the youngest of the brothers, he was highly appreciated and loved by his father and his brother José. His name means the favorite son. The Benjamin tribe is identified with the jasper stone and the twelve colors are represented on its banner. His symbol is the wolf, a product of the blessing that his father gave him on his deathbed.

The main cities that were in the territories assigned to Benjamin were: Jericho, Bethel, Gibeon, Gibeah, and Jerusalem.

Each highlights that the city of Jerusalem, due to its proximity to Judah, was the first to invade it. However, neither Judah nor Benjamin was able to expel the Jebusites from this territory.

Only in the time of King David, it was possible to completely dominate the city of Jerusalem and make it the capital of Israel.

The descendants of this tribe were known for their fighting qualities. Even when she was the smallest, Saul the first King of Israel came out of her womb.

Once the captivity was over, many of the tribal identities, including that of Benjamin, had disappeared, to be integrated into that of Israel.

Blessings, characteristics, and responsibilities: his father Jacob blessed him with the spirit of the wolf, he and his descendants will be able to protect and conquer lands.


Tribe of joseph

In practical terms, Joseph did not have a tribe or a piece of land of his own. What he got in return was a double portion of the inheritance that belonged to him but for his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.

For this reason, many theorists divide the tribe of Joseph into two, that of Ephraim and that of Manasseh.

José stood out for being a calm man who made good decisions, could adapt to all kinds of situations and believed that the character of God accompanied him.

A symbol that identifies Joseph is the fruitful branch near the fountain, as a symbol of wisdom and prosperity.


Tribe of Manasseh

Manasseh was the grandson of Jacob and received his blessing to lead and form, like his brother, one of the tribes of God. When they leave for Egypt it was one of the smallest.

Upon returning to the “promised land” they settled to the west of the Jordan River although they also had villages to the east. They became known according to the location of their territories as Western and Eastern Manasseh.

He was a key support for the tribe of Ephraim during the process of uniting “scattered Israel.”

Its main symbols are the lion, the unicorn, and the horse. Within the map of Israel, they were located to the west.

Blessings, Characteristics, and Responsibilities: Jacob bestowed the blessing of greatness on the tribe of Manasseh and all their offspring, although it may not be greater than Ephraim’s.


Tribe of Ephraim

On Ephraim and Manasseh falls the blessing as firstborn for having been adopted by Jacob. Although this tribe gained prominence over that of his elder brother.

The territory assigned to the tribe of Ephraim corresponded to the central zone of Canaan. From there, lies much of its importance and relevance around the organization and unification of the kingdom of Israel.

They were in charge of transmitting the message of the Gospel, through the priesthood. Furthermore, the descendants of Ephraim were entrusted with the responsibility of uniting the scattered Israelite peoples.

Blessings, characteristics, and responsibilities: his main responsibility had to do with regrouping the tribes of Israel under the same kingdom. The blessing that Jacob granted them would be to constitute a great people capable of forming a multitude of nations.

The rise and fall of the 12 tribes of Israel

With the arrival of the tribes in the “Promised Land”, a nation was created that eventually bore the name of Israel, led under David and Solomon. After Solomon’s death, a civil war broke out that ended up dividing them.

The ten tribes that were to the north made up the kingdom of Israel, while the rest, Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, formed Judah. Since then, both kingdoms have faced each other in several wars and have never been united again.

In the year 722 BC, the kingdom of Israel was subjected to captivity, years later Judah suffered the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians between 604 and 586 BC. According to beliefs, it was the punishment for their sins and rebelling against God.

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The Diaspora of the 12 Tribes of Israel

After the Babylonian captivity, ten of their twelve tribes disappeared. Keep in mind that it would be almost impossible to deport all the inhabitants that made up Israel.

The theory that gains more strength is that their leaders and families were captured, thus leaving the rest of the members of the tribes without direction and protection. In this way, they would lose their identity, customs, and cultures by integrating with the surrounding towns. 

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The ten lost tribes of Israel

Those who belonged to the group of the 12 tribes of Israel are considered with this name. It is considered that they were expelled as a result of the invasion of the Neo-Assyrian Empire around the year 722 BC.

At present, it is possible to know certain groups that are considered descendants of them. The religious belief that one day they will return to fulfill their destiny is also preserved.

The birth

Ethnic groups claiming descent from the 12 tribes of Israel

Perhaps in search of historical recognition, or on the lands they once owned, there are currently some groups that claim to be descendants of one of these “lost tribes”. These groups are:

  • Bene-Israel: They are located in the region known today as Pakistan.
  • Bnei Menashe: they represent some tribes located in Mizoram and Manipur, in India. They claim to be the lost Israelites.
  • Beta Israel of Ethiopia: They are Ethiopian Jews. They consider themselves descendants of the tribe of Dan, a belief opposed to the tradition of their country.
  • Igbo Jews: Located in Nigeria, they claim to be descendants of the Ephraim, Naphtali, Manasseh, Levi, Zebulun, and Gad tribes. Although they do not have historical evidence for such a claim.
  • Pashtun of Afghanistan and Pakistan: Muslims native to these regions retain pre-Islamic religious codes. They lack historical evidence, and genetic studies reject any relationship to the Lost Tribes.

Other theories seek a relationship between the 12 tribes of Israel and the Scythians/Cimmerians, the Native Americans, the Japanese, and the Lemba located in southern Africa.

So far these theories lack historical or scientific evidence that can demonstrate any link between these groups.

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The 12 tribes of Israel today

As predicted, the 12 tribes of Israel became great nations and empires. They believe that with the arrival of the new testament these peoples and their identities have lost validity. However, according to their beliefs, there are still many plans for the descendants of Israel.

The truth is that in a world as globalized as the one that exists today, and as a result of the Diasporas that the Jews have suffered, it can be affirmed that the people of Israel are scattered throughout the world. Probably, according to religious belief, hoping to be unified under a single, united kingdom of Israel.