How many are the tribes of Israel?
Question: How many are the tribes of Israel?
Answer: In Egypt at the end of his life Jacob (Israel) adopted the sons of Joseph: Manasseh and Ephraim, thus Jacob’s sons became 14. And he told Joseph that if he would have other sons after that, they would be his own, but Manasseh and Ephraim would be Jacob’s. Joseph did not father any sons in Egypt. Therefore, at the time of the Exodus we see that 13 tribes left Egypt, as Manasseh and Ephraim replaced their father, since Joseph had sons no more. Had Joseph fathered other sons after the adoption of Menashsheh and Ephraim, a tribe of Joseph would have been counted and there would have been 14 tribes of Israel.
What is interesting is that whenever the tribes of Israel are listed in the Scripture, their number is always kept 12 per the original number of the sons of Israel, as one tribe is always omitted from the counting.
Genesis 35 Genesis 46 Genesis 49 Exodus 1
Reuben Reuben Reuben Reuben
Simeon Simeon Simeon Simeon
Levi Levi Levi Levi
Judah Judah Judah Judah
Issachar Issachar Zebulun Issachar
Zebulun Zebulun Issachar Zebulun
Joseph Gad Dan Benjamin
Benjamin Asher Gad Dan
Dan Joseph Asher Naphtali
Naphtali Benjamin Naphtali Gad
Gad Dan Joseph Asher
Asher Naphtali Benjamin (Joseph in Egypt)
Num1:1-15 Num 1:20-43 Numbers 2 Numbers 13 Numbers 26 Numbers 34
Reuben Rueben Judah Reuben Reuben Reuben
Simeon Simeon Issachar Simeon Simeon Gad
Judah Gad Zebulun Judah Gad Judah
Issachar Judah Reuben Issachar Judah Simeon
Zebulun Issachar Simeon Ephraim Issachar Benjamin
Ephraim Zebulun Gad Benjamin Zebulun Dan
Manasseh Ephraim Ephraim Zebulun Manasseh Manasseh
Benjamin Manasseh Manasseh Manasseh Ephraim Ephraim
Dan Benjamin Benjamin Dan Benjamin Zebulun
Asher Dan Dan Asher Dan Issachar
Gad Asher Asher Naphtali Asher Asher
Naphtali Naphtali Naphtali Gad Naphtali Naphtali
Deu 27 Deu 33 Rev 7:4-8 Eze 48:1-29 Eze 48:30-35
Simeon Reuben Judah Dan Reuben
Levi Judah Reuben Asher Yehudah
Judah Levi Gad Naphtali Levi
Issachar Benjamin Asher Manasseh Joseph
Joseph Joseph Naphtali Ephraim Benjamin
Benjamin Zebulun Manasseh Reuben Dan
Reuben Issachar Simeon Yehudah Simeon
Gad Gad Levi Binyamin Issachar
Asher Dan Issachar Shimon Zebulun
Zebulun Naphtali Zebulun Issachar Gad
Dan Asher Joseph Zebulun Asher
Naphtali (Simeon omitted) Benjamin Gad Naphtali
In spite of the adoption of Manasseh and Ephraim, the Tanak clearly states that the number of tribes of Israel remains twelve.
However, in Revelation 7, the tribe of Joseph is mentioned together with Manasseh, but Ephraim is omitted, with Manasseh replacing the tribe of Dan. This is very unusual because the two brothers always replace their father, so that Joseph can receive a double portion, as his father promised in Gen 48:22. But in this case Joseph would receive triple portion, not double, would he not?
What is also interesting is that in Rev 21:10-14 we are told that there will be 12 gates of the New Jerusalem corresponding to the 12 tribes of Israel. Their names are not given, but we can have the reason to believe that the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim will be merged in one tribe: the restored tribe of Joseph.
Read more in the article “Where are the Lost Tribes of Israel?“.