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According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Zebulun (alternatively rendered as Zabulon, Zabulin, Zabulun, Zebulon; Hebrew: זְבוּלֻן / זְבוּלֹן, Modern Zəvulun / Zəvulon Tiberian Zəḇûlun / Zəḇûlōn ; "Dwelling; habitation") was one of the Tribes of Israel.

Following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite tribes after about 1200 BCE[1], Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes. The territory which it was allocated was at the southern end of the Galilee, with its eastern border being the Sea of Galilee, the western border being the Mediterranean Sea, the south being bordered by the Tribe of Issachar, and the north by Asher on the western side and Naphtali on the eastern. (Joshua 19:10-16)


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According to the Torah, the tribe consisted of descendants of Zebulun, the sixth son of Jacob and Leah, from whom it took its name. Some Biblical scholars, however, view this as postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation.[2] With Leah as a matriarch, Biblical scholars believe the tribe to have been regarded by the text's authors as a part of the original Israelite confederation.


In the ancient Song of Deborah, Zebulun are described as sending to the battle those which handle the sopher shebet. Traditionally this has been translated and interpreted as referring to the rod of the scribe, an object which in regard to Assyrian monuments was a stylus of wood or metal used to inscribe clay tablets, or to write on papyrus; as such, the ones who wielded it would have been the associates/assistants of lawgivers[3]. Consequently, in Jewish tradition, the tribe of Zebulun was considered to have a symbiotic relationship with the tribe of Issachar, its neighbour and a tribe which traditionally was seen as being heavily composed of scholars, whereby Zebulun would financially support Issachar's devotion to study and teaching of the Torah, in exchange for a share of the spiritual reward from such learning; the terms Issachar and Zebulun came to be used by Jews for anyone engaged in such a relationship. More recent scholarship, as expressed for example in translations such as the Revised Standard Version, instead render the description in the Song of Deborah of the people sent to battle by Zebulun as those who handle the marshal's staff; in other words, Zebulun had simply sent military officers.

History of the tribe

The Tribe of Zebulun plays an important part in the early history of Israel. At the census of the tribes in the Desert of Sinai during the second year of the Exodus, the tribe of Zebulun numbered 57,400 men fit for war (Numbers 1:31). This army, under the command of Eliab the son of Helon, encamped with Judah and Issachar east of the Tabernacle and with them made up the vanguard of the line of march (Numbers 2:3-9). Among the spies sent by Moses to view the land of Canaan, Gaddiel the son of Sodi represented Zebulun (Numbers 13:10).

At Shittim, in the land of Moab, after 24,000 men were slain for their crime, a second census was taken; Zabulon numbered 60,500 fighting men (Numbers 26:27). Elizaphan the son of Parnach was chosen to represent Zebulun at the division of the Promised Land (Numbers 34:25).

During the rule of Joshua it received no special mention. In the Song of Deborah, the tribe is specially singled out as having "offered their lives to death in the region of Merom," (Judges 5:18); and praised because there came "out of Zebulun they that led the army to fight," as in Hebrew, "they that carry the pen of the writer," i.e., such as recruiting and inspecting officers (Judges 5:14).

The reference is to Barak's campaign against Sisera, the commander of the forces of Jabin, King of Canaan (Judges 4:10). They answered the call of Gideon and joined in battle against Madian (Judges 6:35); and gave to Israel Elon, who judged it ten years (Judges 12:11). Among those that followed David to Hebron to make him king were 50,000 fully armed men of Zebulun with no double heart (I Chronicles 12:33), who brought with them, as sign of their hearty allegiance, bounteous supplies of meat and drink to celebrate the accession of their new ruler (I Chronicles 12:41). When Hezekiah made reparation for the abominations of his father Ahaz, he invited all Israel to keep the Passover in the house of the Lord. Mockery and ridicule met the emissaries of the reformer; yet some were true to the religion of their fathers, and, even from far away Zebulun, went up to Jerusalem, destroyed the idols, and kept the feast of the unleavened bread (II Chronicles 30:10-23).

Division of the land

At the division of the land of Israel between the seven tribes not yet provided for, the lot of Zabulun was third. The tribe's territory started with Sarid (Joshua 19:10), which is supposed to have been Tel Shadud,[4] some five miles southwest of Nazareth. Zebulun's boundaries have not been made out. Of the nineteen proper names that the book of Joshua gives to guide us, only Bethlehem (Beit lahm, seven miles northwest of Nazareth) can be identified with certainty, although the archaeological site Tel Hanaton is associated with the city Hanaton listed as the boundary with Asher. The historian Josephus assigns to Zebulun the land near to Carmel and the sea, as far as the Lake of Genesareth.[5] To its northwest lay Asher, to the southeast Issachar. It included a part of the Jezreel Valley, and the great highway from the sea to the lake. Within the territory of Zebulun, Jesus was raised, and did and said much that is narrated in the Gospels, especially in the Synoptics, about his Galilean ministry.


As part of the Kingdom of Israel, the territory of Zebulun was conquered by the Assyrians, and the tribe exiled; the manner of their exile lead to their further history being lost. However, some modern day groups claim descent, with varying levels of academic and rabbinical support. The Igbo Jews of Nigeria claim to descend from the tribe, as well as from the tribes of Ephraim, of Manasseh, of Levi, and of Gad.

See also

External Links


  1. Kitchen, Kenneth A. (2003), "On the Reliability of the Old Testament" (Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)(ISBN 0-8028-4960-1)
  2. Peake's commentary on the Bible
  3. Archibald Sayce
  4. Zabulon: entry at the Catholic Encyclopedia
  5. Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities of The Jews, Book V, Chapter 1, Par. 22, at Early Jewish Writings

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