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A reconstructed Israelite house, Monarchy period, 10th-7th BCE. Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel.

The Biblical Israelites (also referred to as the Twelve Tribes or Children of Israel) were the descendants of the Biblical patriarch Jacob, who also bore the name Israel.

The term Israelite is derived from Israel (Hebrew: ישראל - Standard: Yisraʾel; Tiberian: Yiśrāʾēl, meaning "persevere with God"), the name given to Jacob after the death of Isaac. (Genesis 32:28-29). His descendants are called the House of Jacob, the Children of Israel, the People of Israel, or the Israelites.

The Hebrew Bible is mainly concerned with the Israelites. According to it, the Land of Israel was promised to them by God. Jerusalem was their capital and the site of the temple at the center of their religion.

The Israelites became a local political power with the United Monarchy of Kings Saul, David and Solomon, from c. 1025 BCE. Zedekiah, king of Judah (597-586 BCE), is considered the last king from the House of David.


The term Israelite in English was first used in the King James translation of the Bible to refer to those people who in the Hebrew are referred to as Bnei Yisrael (literally "Sons of Israel" or "Children of Israel"). Similarly, the singular "Israelite" is an adaptation of the adjective Yisraeli that in Biblical Hebrew refers to a member of the Bnei Yisrael (e.g. Leviticus 24:10). Other terms used to refer to the Bnei Yisrael include "House of Jacob", "House of Israel", or simply "Israel".

Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel. From a synagogue wall in Jerusalem.

"Israelites" as used in the Bible refers to the descendants of Jacob including those loyal to the Jewish faith as well as apostates. In contrast the term Jew is used in English (though not necessarily by a Jew for self-identification) to refer to an individual of the Jewish faith, regardless of the historical period, ancestry or conversion from other faiths.

In modern Hebrew Bnei Yisrael can denote the Jewish people at any time in history and is typically used to emphasize Jewish religious identity and thus does not include apostates.

From the period of Mishna (but probably used before that period) the term Yisraeli acquired an additional narrower meaning of Jews of legitimate birth other than Levites and Aaronite priests (kohanim). In modern usage, the term Yisrael ("an Israel") is used in a non-adjectival form to refer to such a person. In modern Hebrew, the term Yisraeli is used to refer to a citizen of the modern State of Israel, regardless of religion or ethnicity and is translated into English as "Israeli".

Another term sometimes used to refer to Jews is Hebrews, which was a term first used to refer to the Jews (and probably other peoples as well) by the ancient Egyptians. The term continues to be used at times to refer to Jews or things associated with them, such as "Hebrew Bible" and "Hebrew calendar".

It should be noted that these three names, "Israelites", "Hebrews", and "Jews", are historically related and often used in modern English as synonyms although there are substantial differences in meaning when applied to earlier periods of history.



In the Hebrew Bible the Israelites are referred to as the children of Israel, and by other, similar expressions. The Hebrew Bible traces the historic and spiritual progress of this family. The family's forefather was Israel, whose name originally was Jacob. Jacob had twelve sons and an unknown number of daughters. His twelve sons were: Reuben (Genesis 29:32), Simeon (Genesis 29:33), Levi (Genesis 29:34), Judah (Genesis 29:35), Dan (Genesis 30:5), Naphtali (Genesis 30:7), Gad (Genesis 30:10), Asher (Genesis 30:12), Issachar (Genesis 30:17), Zebulun (Genesis 30:19), Joseph (Genesis 30:23), and Benjamin (Genesis 35:18). The first eleven of Jacob's sons were born in Haran before the return of the family to Canaan, where Benjamin was born. When Joseph was 17 years old, some of his brothers sold him into slavery, and he ended up being viceroy of Egypt. Then, some 20 years later, when famine had ravaged Canaan, Joseph persuaded his father, Jacob, to come with his entire family, which then numbered 70, and settle in Egypt.

The Tribes of Israel

In Egypt, the children of Israel (or Hebrews, as the Egyptians called them) prospered and grew in numbers. They maintained strong family and clan affiliations, described as "houses". These family affiliations were traced to one of the sons of Israel. These "houses" are translated into English as "tribes", although the divisions were not small isolated distinct ethnic groups in the modern sense of the term. In Hebrew, they are called a shevet or a mateh, meaning literally a "staff" or "rod".

Although the popular convention is to refer to the Israelites as comprising twelve tribes, by reference to Jacob's twelve sons, in fact the number of tribes was thirteen. This is because the two children of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, were adopted by Jacob (Israel) as his own, and their descendants are counted as separate tribes. (Genesis 48:5-6)

Some English-speaking Jewish groups regard the pronunciation, English transcription and Hebrew spelling of the tribal names as extremely important. The transcriptions and spellings are as follows:

English Hebrew Standard Hebrew Tiberian Hebrew Annotation
Reuben ראובן Rəʾuven Rəʾûḇēn
Simeon שמעון Šimʿon Šimʿôn
Levi לוי Levi Lēwî Levi did not share in the apportionment of the Land.
Judah יהודה Yəhuda Yəhûḏāh
Dan דן Dan Dān
Naphtali נפתלי Naftali Nap̄tālî
Gad גד Gad Gāḏ
Asher אשר Ašer ʾĀšēr
Issachar יששכר Yissaḫar Yiśśâḵār
Zebulun זבולן Zəvúlun Zəḇûlun
Joseph יוסף Yosef Yôsēp̄
Benjamin בנימין Binyamin Binyāmîn
Joseph contains the tribes
English Hebrew Standard Hebrew Tiberian Hebrew Samaritan Annotation
Manasseh מנשה Mənašše Mənaššeh Manatch
Ephraim אפרים Efráyim ʾEp̄ráyim / ʾEp̄rāyim Afrime

Camps following the exodus

Following the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were divided into thirteen camps (Hebrew: machanot) according to importance[1] with Levi in the center of the encampment around the Tabernacle and its furnishings surrounded by other tribes arranged in four groups: Judah, Issachar and Zebulun; Reuben, Simeon and Gad; Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin; Dan, Asher and Naphtali.[2] Thus additionally Aaron and his descendants although descended from Levi were appointed as priests (kohanim) and came to be considered a separate division to the Levites.

During this period, the Kenizzites (thought by some to be identical to the Edomite clan of Kenaz [3]) are seen to form part of Judah. The Kenites (the Midianite clan headed by Moses' father in law, Jethro) also joined the Israelites.

Land apportionment

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Following the conquest of Canaan by Moses and Joshua, the Israelite tribes were allotted tribal territories. Moses allotted territories on land east of the Jordan to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and a portion of Manasseh, which they had requested. (Numbers 32:5) As the conquest continued, Joshua allotted territories to the tribes of Judah, Ephraim and the rest of Manasseh on land west of the Jordan, which they had conquered. The tribe of Manasseh was considered as two half-tribes (chatzi-shevet), separated by the Jordan, with the part laying east of the Jordan being referred to as the half-tribe of Manasseh in Gilead.

After the conquest of the remainder of Canaan, Joshua assigned territories to the tribes of Asher, Benjamin, Dan, Issacher, Naphtali, Simeon and Zebulun. The land of Judah was considered too large for that tribe alone and Simeon was assigned a portion within the land of Judah instead of its own territory in the newly conquered land. The Kenites also settled in the territory of Judah and their descendants were subsequently incorporated into that tribe. Because the Levites, and kohanim (descendants of Aaron) played a special religious role of service at the Tabernacle to the people, they were not given territories, but were instead assigned cities within the other territories.

Joshua had made a pact with the Canaanite inhabitants of Gibeon who instead of being conquered in battle became a separate ethnic group called the Nethinim, being given the role of maintenance of the tabernacle and in later centuries the Temple.

The tribes of Dan had originally been assigned territory laying between the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh but during the period of the Judges they were displaced by a war with the Amorites and subsequently settled in territory to the north of the tribes of Naphtali.

Israelite confederation

From after the conquest of the land by Joshua until the formation of the first Kingdom of Israel in c. 1050 BCE, the Israelite tribes formed a loose confederation. No central government existed, and in times of crisis the people were led by ad hoc leaders known as Judges. (see the Book of Judges) With the growth of the threat from Philistine incursions, the Israelite tribes decided to form a strong centralised monarchy to meet the challenge. The first king of this new entity was Saul, who came from the Tribe of Benjamin, (1 Samuel 9:1-2) which at the time was the smallest of the tribes.

United monarchy

The Israelites united in about 1050 BCE to form the united Kingdom of Israel under Saul. At this time the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh in Gilead expanded their territory eastwards, conquering and absorbing the Hagrites (the people of Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab who were an offshoot of the Ishmaelites). Under Solomon the remaining Canaanites in the land became the division known as the Avdei Shlomo (Servants of Solomon) and were counted as part of the Nethinim.

During David's and Solomon's reigns, the Kingdom of Israel is considered to have reached the limits of the borders of the Land of Israel promised to Abraham's, Isaac's, and Jacob's descendants in Genesis; however, David and Solomon maintained actual government jurisdiction only over the Israelite tribes, although they received tribute from the vaster region defined by these borders.

Northern and southern kingdoms

The Kingdom of Israel split in c. 930 BCE to form the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel:

  • The southern Kingdom of Judah comprised the tribes of Judah, Simeon and Benjamin together with the Aaronite kohanim, Levites and Nethinim who lived amongst them.
  • The northern Kingdom of Israel comprised the tribes of Reuben, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, both divisions of Manasseh and the remainder of the Levites.

The territory of Simeon had from the start fallen within the territory of Judah (see above) and with inclusion of Benjamin in the southern kingdom the designation "Judah" came to include Benjamin as well.

As the Levites and kohanim did not have their own territories, the Book of Kings describes the southern kingdom as consisting of one tribe (i.e. Judah, but including Simeon and Benjamin) and the northern kingdom as consisting of ten tribes (i.e. Reuben, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, (western) Manasseh and (eastern) Manasseh in Gilead).

Later after Jeroboam attempted to establish rival centers of worship to Jerusalem with lay priests, the Levites of the northern kingdom abandoned the northern kingdom and came to Judah (2 Chronicles 11:14 [4]).


Northern kingdom

The Assyrian king Tiglath-Pilesar attacked the northern kingdom of Israel, driving the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh in Gilead out of the desert outposts of Jetur, Naphish and Nodab and conquering their territories. People from these tribes, including the Reubenite leader, were taken captive and resettled in the region of the Habor river system. Tiglath-Pilesar also captured the territory of Naphtali and the city of Janoah in Ephraim, and an Assyrian governor was placed over the region of Naphtali.

The remainder of the northern kingdom was conquered by Sargon II, who captured the capital city Samaria in the territory of Ephraim. He took 27,290 people captive from the city of Samaria resettling some with the Israelites in the Habor region and the rest in the land of the Medes thus establishing Israelite communities in Ecbatana and Rages.

The Book of Tobit additionally records that Sargon had taken other captives from the northern kingdom to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, in particular Tobit from the town of Thisbe in Naphtali.

In medieval Rabbinic stories, the concept of the ten tribes who were taken away from the House of David (who continued the rule of the southern kingdom of Judah) becomes confounded with accounts of the Assyrian deportations, leading to the teaching of the "Ten Lost Tribes". The recorded history differs from this teaching: No record exists of the Assyrians having exiled people from Dan, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, or western Manasseh. Descriptions of the deportation of people from Reuben, Gad, Manasseh in Gilead, Ephraim, and Naphtali indicate that only a portion of these tribes were deported, and the places to which they were deported are known locations given in the accounts. The deported communities are mentioned as still existing at the time of the composition of the books of Kings and Chronicles and did not disappear by assimilation. 2 Chr 30:1-11 explicitly mentions northern Israelites who had been spared by the Assyrians, in particular the people of Dan, Ephraim, Manasseh, Asher, and Zebulun, and how members of the latter three tribes returned to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah.

With the Kingdom of Judah remaining as the sole Israelite kingdom, the term Yehudi (Jew), originally the adjective of the name Yehudah (Judah), came to include all the Israelite people.

Southern kingdom

In 597 BCE the Babylonian king Nebuchanezzar sacked Jerusalem and exiled 3,023 Jews to Babylon (Jeremiah 52:28). He additionally exiled many (non-Jewish) workers, taking a total of around 10,000 people captive (2 Kings 24:14).

In 586 BCE he conquered the southern kingdom, deposing the king, destroyed the Temple and left Jerusalem in ruins. He took a further 832 Jews captive from Jerusalem (Jeremiah 52:29). Although ending the kingdom he allowed Judah a measure of self-rule, appointing Gedaliah as Jewish governor of the region.

Gedaliah was later assassinated by members of the royal family who saw him as a usurper, which resulted in punitive action by Nebuchadnezzar in which a further 745 Jews were exiled to Babylon. In total 4600 Jews had been exiled to Babylon (Jeremiah 52:30).

Towns in Judah from which people had fled or been taken captive during the invasions of the Babylonians were resettled by Jews from the former northern kingdom of Israel, as well as Levites, Aaronite kohanim and Nethinim (1 Chronicles 9:2). Jerusalem was resettled by members of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh (1 Chronicles 9:3).

Second Temple period

The exiles were allowed to return in 538 BCE, after the fall of Babylon to the Persians and Medes. Substantial returns of descendants of exiles took place in 444 BCE under Nehemiah and in c. 400 BCE under Ezra.

Genealogy after the exile

As a result of the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions most Israelites lost written records tracing their ancestry. Those who could still prove their ancestry included Levites, Aaronite kohanim, Nethinim including Avdei Shlomo and members of clans that had been part of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. With time, knowledge of descent from these clans of Judah and Benjamin was also lost although there are descendants of the royal House of David (part of Judah) who have maintained knowledge of their ancestry to modern times.

The Jewish community following the Babylonian captivity was divided into ten lineages and Ezra established strict rules concerning permissible marriages between the lineages:

People Description
Kohanim the descendants of Aaron who formed the priesthood
Levites the tribe of Levi (other than the Aaronite priests)
Israelites used here in a narrower sense to mean the Israelite tribes other than the Levites and kohanim
Chalalim children of a kohen and woman that a kohen was forbidden to marry
Proselytes converts to Judaism
Freedmen bondmen of Jews who had been freed
Mamzerim descendants of forbidden marriages other than Chalalim
Nethinim descendants of the Canaanites who were the Temple servants
Shetukim those whose mother was known but whose father was unknown
Foundlings those whose parents were unknown

Kohanim, Levites and Israelites were allowed to intermarry. Levites, Israelites, chalalim, proselytes and freedmen were allowed to intermarry. Mamzerim, Nethinim, shetukim and foundlings were allowed to intermarry. In the case of intermarriage between kohanim, Levites and Israelites, the children took the father's lineage, more complex rules governed the lineage of other intermarriages. With time some of these lineages disappeared: for example the descendants of the original freedmen became part of the other lineages according to the rules of intermarriage; the Nethinim are no longer found after the persecutions and massacres carried out by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Loss of proof of descent also affected neighbouring peoples, such as the Moabite]s and Ammonites, and resulted in renunciation of the ancient prohibitions on the conversions of these people to Judaism as well as of the Edomites. Under the Hasmonean dynasty all were forcibly converted to Judaism. Arabian (Nabatean) groups, such as the Zabadeans and Itureans, were also conquered and forcefully converted, as were the mixed peoples of the former Philistine cities. Under the Hasmonean kings, the Israelites were reunited with their closest relatives, the remnants of the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites after thousands of years of separation.

The large proselyte groups were assimilated into the Israelite lineage by the second half of the second century CE. The chalalim, mamzerim, shetukim, and foundlings were by their nature small groups of people. The major divisions thus became:

  • Kohanim
  • Levites
  • Israelites

This threefold division of the Jewish people persists to this day. To avoid confusion with the broader use of the term Israelite or the modern term Israeli, a member of the Israelite, as opposed to Levite or Aaronite, lineage is usually referred to as a Yisrael (an Israel) and not a Yisraeli (which could mean Israelite in the broader sense or in modern Hebrew, an Israeli).

Archeological record

Archeological record of Israelites is usually sought in the hill country of Israel/Palestine, in strata corresponding to the Iron Age I (Judges, 1200 - 1000 BCE), Iron Age IIA (United Monarchy, 1000-925 BCE) and Iron Age IIB-C (Divided Monarchy, 925-586 BCE).

The first appearance of the name Israel in archeological records as a personal name is in Ebla and Ugarit (c. 2500 BCE). It appears on the Merneptah stele (c. 1200 BCE). A group of eight records dated between c. 850-722 BCE mentions a kingdom in the same area called variously Israel or, and more frequently, either Beit Omri or Humri ("House of Omri") or Samaria, the three clearly referring to the same political entity. One of these makes reference to "Ahab the Israelite", the only occurrence of this form of the word in the ancient epigraphy. The name is found again on 1st and 2nd century CE coins from the Jewish revolts against the Romans.

A number of elements of material culture has been linked to the Israelites, notably the absence of pig bones.[5][6][7][8]

The accuracy of the Hebrew Bible as a historical document is the subject of much debate among archeologists. The debate is usually articulated between Biblical maximalists, the assumption that the Bible is historically correct, and Biblical minimalists, the assumption that the Bible is mostly myth.

Modern groups claiming descent from Israelites


Jews (Hebrew: יְהוּדִים‎, Yehudim), also known as the Jewish people, are an ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation. Converts to Judaism, whose status as Jews within the Jewish ethnos is equal to those born into it, have been absorbed into the Jewish people throughout the millennia. There are distinct ethnic divisions among Jews, most of which are primarily the result of geographic branching from an originating Israelite population, and subsequent independent evolutions.

Ashkenazi Jews

Ashkenazim are the descendants of Jews who migrated into northern France and Germany around 800-1000 AD, and later into Eastern Europe. Ashkenazim comprise the overwhelming majority of Jews, with approximately 80 percent of the Jewish total (prior to the Holocaust, they were an even greater percentage of world Jewry).

Sephardic Jews

Sephardim are Jews whose ancestors lived in Spain or Portugal, where they lived for possibly as much as two millennia before being expelled in 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs (see Alhambra Decree); they subsequently migrated to the Islamic North African Maghreb and Ottoman Empire (both at the time considered safe havens for Jews). In the Ottoman Empire the Sephardim mostly settled in the European portion of the Empire, and mainly in the major cities such as: Constantinople, Thessaloniki and Bursa. Thessaloniki, which today is to be found in modern-day Greece, had a large and flourishing Sephardic community as was the community of Maltese Jews in Malta. Others settled in Italy, the Netherlands and Latin America. Among those who settled in the Netherlands, some would again relocate to the United States, establishing the countries first organized community of Jews and erecting the United States' first synagogue. Other Sephardim remained in Spain and Portugal as anusim (forced converts to Catholicism), which would also be the fate for those who had migrated to Spanish and Portuguese ruled Latin America.

Mizrachi Jews

Mizrahim are Jews descended from the Jewish communities of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus. The term Mizrahi is used in Israel in the language of politics, media and some social scientists for Jews from the Arab world and adjacent, primarily Muslim-majority countries. This includes Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Lebanese Jews, Yemenite Jews, Persian Jews, Afghan Jews, Bukharian Jews, Maghrebi Jews, Berber Jews, Kurdish Jews, Mountain Jews, Georgian Jews and Ethiopian Jews.

Yemenite Jews

Temanim are Oriental Jews whose geographic and social isolation from the rest of the Jewish community allowed them to develop a liturgy and set of practices that are significantly distinct from other Oriental Jewish groups; they themselves comprise three distinctly different groups, though the distinction is one of religious law and liturgy rather than of ethnicity.

Karaite Jews

Karaim are Jews living mostly in Egypt, Iraq, Crimea and Israel. They are distinguished by the form of Judaism they observe. Rabbinic Jews of varying ethnicities have affiliated with the Karaite community throughout the millennia. As such, Karaite Jews are less a Jewish ethnic division, than they are members of a particular branch of Judaism. Karaite Judaism recognizes the Tanakh as the single religious authority of the Jewish people. Linguistic principles and contextual exegesis are used in arriving at the correct meaning of the Torah. Karaite Jews strive to adhere to the plain or most obvious understanding of the text when interpreting the Tanakh. By contrast, Rabbinical Judaism regards an Oral Law (codified and recorded in the Mishnah and Talmuds) as being equally binding on Jews, and mandated by God. In Rabbinical Judaism, the Oral Law forms the basis of religion, morality, and Jewish life. Karaite Jews rely on the use of sound reasoning and the application of linguistic tools to determine the correct meaning of the Tanakh; while Rabbinical Judaism looks toward the Oral law codified in the Talmud, to provide the Jewish community with an accurate understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.

There are approximately 50,000 adherents of Karaite Judaism, most of whom live in Israel, but exact numbers are not known, as most Karaites have not participated in any religious censuses. The differences between Karaite and Rabbinic Judaism go back more than a thousand years. Rabbinical Judaism originates from the Pharisees of the Second Temple period. Karaite Judaism may have its origins in the Sadducees of the same era. Unlike the Sadducees who recognized only the Torah as binding, Karaite Jews hold the entire Hebrew Bible to be a religious authority. As such, the vast majority of Karaites believe in the resurrection of the dead.[9] Karaite Jews are widely regarded as being halachically Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate. Similarly, members of the rabbinic community are considered to be Jews by the Moetzet Hakhamim, if they are patrilineally Jewish.


The Samaritans, who were once a comparatively large group but are now a very small ethnic and religious group of not more than about 700 people[10] who live in Israel and the West Bank, regard themselves as descendants of the tribes of Ephraim (named by them as Aphrime) and Manasseh (named by them as Manatch). Samaritans adhere to a version of the Torah, known as the Samaritan Pentateuch, which differs in some respects from the Masoretic text, sometimes in important ways, and less so from the Septuagint.

Samaritans do not regard the Tanakh as an accurate or truthful history, and regard only Moses as a prophet. They have their own version of Hebrew and their own script for writing Hebrew, which, in actuality, is descended directly from the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, unlike the Jewish script for writing Hebrew which is a stylized form of the Aramaic alphabet the Jews adopted during their captivity in Babylonia (prior to this, the Jewish Torah was written in the same script as the Samaritan Torah).

The Samaritans consider themselves Bnei Yisrael ("Children of Israel" or "Israelites"), but do not regard themselves to be Yehudim (Jews). They view this term "Jews" as a designation for followers of Judaism, which they assert is a related but altered and amended religion brought back by the exiled Israelite returnees which is not the true religion of the ancient Israelites, which according to them, Samaritanism is.

Since 539 BCE, when Jews began returning from Babylonian captivity, many Jews have rejected the Samaritan claim of descent from the Israelite tribes, though some regard them as a sect of Judaism.

Modern DNA evidence has proven both most of the world's Jews and the Samaritans have a common ancestral lineage to the Israelites, largely on the paternal lines in both cases. Maternally, both Jews and Samaritans are respectively admixed with local host (for Jews, local populations in their host diaspora regions) or alien (for Samaritans, foreigners resettled in their midst in attempts by ruling foreign elites to obliterate national identities) populations.

Minor groups claiming Israelite descent

Beta Israel

The Beta Israel, otherwise known as the Falasha, is a group from Ethiopia, most of whom now live in Israel. They have a tradition of descent from the lost tribe of Dan. They have a long history of practicing such Jewish traditions as kashrut, Shabbat and Passover. For this reason, their Jewishness was accepted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Israeli government in 1975. They emigrated to Israel en masse during the 1980s and 1990s, as Jews, under the Law of Return. Some who claim to be Beta Israel still live in Ethiopia.

Bnei Menashe

The Bnei Menashe is a group of people in India who claim to be descendants of the half-tribe of Manasseh. As of 2005, members who have studied Hebrew, observe the Sabbath, and adhere to other Jewish laws, received the support of the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel in arranging formal conversion to Judaism. Some have converted and emigrated to Israel under the Law of Return.

Hebrew Israelites

The Hebrew Israelites, or Black Hebrews, believe that the biblical Israelites were actually of a dark skin, and that they are their ethnic descendants. They also believe that modern Jews are actually descendants of both the Edomites and Khazarians intermarriages. The Hebrew Israelites claim that the word "Jewish" merely pertains to Judah and that the use of the term is the result of a mistranslation of "Judah" in the King James Bible.

The presumption that the Israelites were black is based on a historical ethnic view of Egyptians. It is based on the premise that ancient Egyptians were a dark skinned people, and asserts that Moses and Joseph must have been dark-skinned because they were mistaken for Egyptians. Commentators have noted, however, that contemporary ancient Egyptian iconography (for example, the images on the thrones of Tutankhamun and grave images) shows a people of olive brown complexions and Hamito-Semitic features.

Ancient historians disputed the origin of the Israelites. The ancient Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote in Book 5 of his Histories, "Some say that the Jews were fugitives from the island of Crete, who settled on the nearest coast of Africa.... There is a famous mountain in Crete called Ida; the neighboring tribe, the Idaei, came to be called Judeaia by a ... lengthening of the name. Others assert that the overflowing population of Egypt ... discharged itself into the neighboring countries.... Many, again, say that [the Israelites] were a race of Ethiopian origin.... Others describe them as an Assyrian horde who, not having sufficient territory, took possession of part of Egypt and founded cities of their own ... on the borders of Syria.... Others, again, [allege] that they were the Solymi, a nation celebrated in the poems of Homer, who called the city which they founded Hierosolyma after their own name.” (Histories (Tacitus)]], Book 5, Paragraph 2).[11]


Some Rastas believe that the black races are the lost Israelites – literally or spiritually.[12] They interpret the Bible as implying that Haile Selassie was the returned Messiah, who would lead the world's peoples of African descent into a promised land of full emancipation and divine justice. There are some Rastafarians that believe they are Jews by descent through Ras Tafari (Haile Salassie), Ras Tafari being a descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba via Menelik I. One Rastafari order named The Twelve Tribes of Israel, imposes a metaphysical astrology whereby Aries is Reuben, Aquarius is Joseph, etc. The Twelve Tribes of Israel differ from most Rastafari Mansions (sects) because they believe that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior, while other Mansions claim that Haile Selassie I is the true God. With his famous early reggae song The Israelites, Desmond Dekker immortalised the Rastafari concept of themselves as the Lost Children of Israel. However, sometimes people native to Africa are identified with descendants of Ham, whereas the Old Testament of the Bible states that Abraham is descended from Shem.

Bnai Israel

There is an ethnic-religious group in Pakistan and Afghanistan which refers to itself as the Bnai Israel, "House of Israel", or Beit Israel. In English, the group is called the Pashtuns. Some Pashtuns claim to be the patriarchal historical descendants of the "ten lost tribes" of the northern Kingdom of Israel which were taken into captivity by Assyria. Additionally, certain groups of Jews in India are referred to as Bene Israel.

Christian theology

Latter-day Saints

The Latter Day Saint movement (commonly termed Mormons), believe that through baptism and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, they become "regathered" as Israelites, either as recovered from the scattered tribes of Israel, or as Gentiles adopted and grafted into Israel, thus becoming part of the chosen people of God.[13] These religious denominations derive from a movement started by Joseph Smith, Jr., and almost half of all members live in the United States; the movement does not strictly believe that they are ethnic Jews as such, but rather that Israelites can refer to many different cultures, on occasion including Jews.[14] They believe that certain Old Testament passages[15] are prophecies implying that the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) will take a prominent role in the spread of the gospel to all scattered Israelites in the last days, and that the tribe of Judah (i.e. Judah) also has a prominent role in the last days and during the Millennium.[16]

Christian Identity

The Christian Identity movement comprises a number of groups with a racialized theology. They claim to be the only true Israelites on the basis that white Europeans are, in their belief, the literal descendants of the Israelites through the ten tribes, and who are, accordingly, still God's Chosen People. These groups generally claim that present-day Jews are not descended from the Israelites nor from the Hebrews (who were in Egypt and the Exodus), but are instead descended from Turco-Mongolian blood, or Khazars, and of the Biblical Esau. Esau was also referred to as Edom, who traded his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup.(Genesis 25:29-34)[17]

New Israel

Based on passages in the New Testament, some Christians believe that Christians are the "new Israel" that replaced the "Children of Israel" after the Jews rejected Jesus. This view is part of Supersessionism. Many European settlers in the New World saw themselves as the heirs of those ancient tribes, hence the reason why they named their children and many towns they settled with names connected to the figures in the Bible.

On the other hand, other Christians believe that the Jews are still the original children of Israel, and that Christians are adopted children of God but are not the new Israel. This view is a part of dispensationalist theology.

Islamic theology

In the Qur'an

In the Qur'an there are forty-three references to "Banū Isrāʾīl", the Islamic term for the Israelites, which means "Children of Israel".[18] Also, starting from verse 40 in Surah Al-Baqara[19] (Arabic: سورة البقرة, "The Cow") is the story of Bani Israel. Finally, there is a Qur'anic verse, in which Moses addresses his followers as "Muslims" (Arabic: مُّسۡلِمِينَ Muslimïn)[20] meaning, in English, "those who submit to God".[21]

The Muslim belief that the righteous of the “Children of Israel” were Muslims is further emphasized in the same Surah Al-Baqara, verses 130-134, where the patriarchs of the “Children of Israel”- including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons- testify to being Muslims and following Islam, through the use of various forms of the words Islam and Muslim:

(130) And who turns away from the religion of Abraham except him who befools himself? Truly, We chose him in this world and verily, in the Hereafter he will be among the righteous. (131) When his Lord said to him, "Submit (Arabic: Uslim)!" He said, "I have submitted (Arabic: Uslumtu) myself to the Lord of the 'Alamin (i.e. mankind, jinns and all that exists)." (132) And this was enjoined by Abraham upon his sons and by Jacob, (saying), "O my sons! Allah has chosen for you the (true) religion, then die not except as Muslims (Arabic: Muslimuun)." (133) Or were you witnesses when death approached Jacob? When he said unto his sons, "What will you worship after me?" They said, "We shall worship your Ilah (i.e. God), the Ilah (God) of your fathers, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, One Ilah (God), and to Him we submit (Arabic: Muslimuun)." (134) That was a nation who has passed away. They shall receive the reward of what they earned and you of what you earn. And you will not be asked of what they used to do.[22]

In Surah Al-Araf Verses 158 and 159, there was also mention of the twelve tribes.

(158) "And of Moses' folk there is a community who lead with truth and establish justice therewith." (159) "We divided them into twelve tribes, nations; and We inspired Moses, when his people asked him for water, saying: Smite with thy staff the rock! And there gushed forth therefrom twelve springs, so that each tribe knew their drinking-place. And we caused the white cloud to overshadow them and sent down for them the manna and the quails (saying): 'Eat of the good things wherewith we have provided you. They wronged Us not, but they were wont to wrong themselves'."[23][24]

In the Ahadeeth

Bani lsra'il is also mentioned many times in the Ahadeeth (recorded sayings and actions of Muhammad).

According to an authentic narration of Sunni Muslims, some members of Bani lsra'il will play an important role in future Islamic history. The narration states:

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Apostle saying: “You have heard about a city the one side of which is in the land and the other is in the sea.” They said: “Allah's Messenger, yes.” Thereupon he said: “The Last Hour would not come unless 70,000 persons from Bani lsra'il would attack it. When they would land there, they will neither fight with weapons nor would shower arrows but would only say: “There is no god but Allah and Allah is the Greatest," that one side of it would fall.” Thaur (one of the narrators) said: “I think that he said: The part by the side of the ocean.” “Then they would say for the second time: “There is no god but Allah and Allah is the Greatest," that the second side would also fall, and they would say: “There is no god but Allah and Allah is the Greatest," that the gates would be opened for them and they would enter therein and, they would be collecting spoils of war and distributing them amongst themselves that a noise would be heard and It would be said: “Verily, Dajjal has come.” And thus they would leave everything there and would turn to him.”[25]

See also

References and notes

  1. "How Fair Are Your Tents, O Jacob", Dr. Gabriel H. Cohen, Bar-Ilan University
  2. Numbers 10:12-28
  3. Butler, Trent C. Editor, Holman Bible Dictionary, Broadman & Holman, 1991, entry Kenizzite
  4. 2 Chronicles 11:14
  5. Bunimovitz, Schlomo; Avraham Faust (2003). "The four room house: Embodying Iron Age israelite society". Near Eastern archaeology (Scholars Press, Atlanta, GA) 66 (1-2): 22–31. doi:10.2307/3210929. 
  6. Rainey, Anson (2008-11). "Inside Outside: where did the early Israelites come from?". Biblical Archeology Review (Biblical Archeology Society) 34 (6): 45–50. 
  7. Elizabeth Bloch-Smith and Beth Alpert Nakhai, "A Landscape Comes to Life: The Iron Age I", Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 62, No. 2 (Jun., 1999), pp. 62-92
  8. Abercrombie, John R. "Material Culture of the Ancient Canaanites, Israelites and Related Peoples: An Information DataBase from Excavations". Boston University. Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
  10. as of 2006
  11. Tacitus: History: Book 5
  12. Article Twelve Tribes on website Words of Wisdom
  13. Guide to LDS scriptural references on Israel
  14. ibid
  15. Isaiah 2:2-4, 11:10-13
  16. ibid
  18. Yahud, Encyclopedia of Islam
  22. Online Quran Project: Al-Baqara, verses 130-134
  24. Quran Explorer - [Sura : 7, Verse : 158 - 206]
  25. Sahih Muslim, Book 41, Hadith 6979: The Book Pertaining to the Turmoil and Portents of the Last Hour

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Israelites. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.