12 Tribes of Israel
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In the Old Testament, the Israelites are often referred to as the 12 Tribes of Israel. Originally, these twelve tribes were said to be the 12 descendants of the Patriarch Jacob. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob wrestles an angel, who then renames him "Israel," meaning, "to struggle with God."
Jacob's 12 Sons
In Genesis, Jacob has four wives and twelve sons.
The sons of his wife Leah are:
The sons of Rachel are:
The sons of Bilhah, Rachel's maid, are:
The sons of Zilpah, Leah's maid, are:
According to the Bible, the elder sons of Jacob were jealous of Joseph, and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Later, Jacob and his clan are forced to go to Egypt because of a family, setting up the events of the Book of Exodus.
Modern archaeological theory holds that the Israelites were an outgrowth of the Canaanite people of the Near East. The earliest non-Biblical reference to the name "Israel" dates to 1209 BCE from an Egyptian Stele erected by the Pharaoh Mernaptah.
Beginning in the 5th century BCE, the 12 tribes of Israel split into Jews and Samaritans. This was about the time that the United Kingdom of David split into Israel and Judah. Both of these kingdoms were eventually conquered by the Empire of Babylon, and many claimed to be members of the Ten Lost Tribes, those carried off into captivity.