How many are the tribes of Israel?

Posted by on Nov 17, 2018

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?“.