Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Israelite
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Israelite

Israelite (ישראל "Struggled with God", Standard Hebrew Yisraʾel, Tiberian Hebrew Yiśrāʾēl) a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, or Children of Israel (בני ישראל, Standard Hebrew Bəne Yisraʾel, Tiberian Hebrew Bən Yiśrāʾēl), the twelve sons of the Biblical patriarch Jacob who was renamed Israel by God in the book of Genesis, 32:28. They were a group of Hebrews, as described in the Bible. There are modern historical debates about the origins of the Hebrews/Israelites. Please read this entry in conjunction with the entry on the History of ancient Israel and Judah, Bnai Israel, Children of Israel, and the Bible and history.

Table of contents
1 Israelites in Biblical times
2 The Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Ten "Lost Tribes"
3 Jews as Israelites
4 Israelite Traditions Outside Mainstream Judaism
5 See also
6 External links

Israelites in Biblical times

According to the Bible, the Israelites were the descendants of the children of Jacob, later known as Israel. His twelve male children were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Gad, Naphtali, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin. Twelve tribes of Israel are listed in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament).

In Biblical Israel, the tribes were collectively Hebrews and organized into a northern and a southern kingdom. In 722 BC the Assyrians conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel Bnai Israel and sent it into exile. Many Israelites from the northern Kingdom of Israel fled to the southern Kingdom of Judah, and likewise portions of Judah went with Israel.

In 586 BC (this date is according to some secular historians only, as rabbinical scholars have a later date) the nation of Judah was conquered by Babylon. About 50 years later, in 537 BC the Persians (who conquered Babylon 2 years before) allowed Jews to move back to Jerusalem. By the end of this era, members of the tribes seem to have abandoned their individual identities.

Today's Jews are mostly descended from the Hebrews of the Kingdom of Judah. Note that over time people joined the Jews via conversion, and married with the descendants of the Judaic Hebrews. The number of converts is unknown, but not so large as to swamp out the original Jewish people. It is thus fair to say that Jews today are descendants of those Hebrews who lived in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, along with some converts who joined Judaism.

One should take note of the historical debate over the accuracy of the Bible's account of the origin of the Hebrews, discussed more fully in the entry on the History of ancient Israel and Judah. Secular Biblical theories are very controversial.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Ten "Lost Tribes"

The "ten lost tribes" are those from the northern Kingdom of Israel who were deported by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC to Khorason. In Jewish popular culture they disappeared from history, leaving only the tribes of Benjamin and Judah and the Levi who evolved into the modern day Jews. See Bnai Israel.

Most people believe that the southern Kingdom was only populated by the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, but this is not exactly so. Prior to King Saul, Israel was divided by its tribes with certain leaders from various tribes becoming judges of the tribe or surrounding tribes to fight the enemies of Israel. This is reflected in the book of Judges. Saul was selected as king, but after he acted rashly, the Bible says that God rejected his kingship and sought one who would replace him. David was then selected to be king, and his descendants were to rule over the House of Israel. For two generations, Israel had been united first under David for 33 years and remained so under Solomon for 40 more years.

Eventually, Israel suffered a civil war in 922 BC which split it into two parts. Jeroboam, Solomon's assistant, rejected the leadership of Solomon's son Rehoboam who wanted to tax the people heavily and this led to the revolt of the northern tribes and to the establishment of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel. It consisted of nine landed tribes: Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, Dan, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben and Gad, and some of Levi (which had no land allocation). This makes ten tribes, which later became known in the Jewish mind as "the lost ten tribes". However, Manasseh and Ephraim technically count as just one full tribe, so there were really eight full landed tribes, and part of one tribe without land. Samaria was its capital.

Judah, the southern Kingdom, had Jerusalem as its capital and was led by King Rehoboam. It was populated by the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon (and also some of Levi). Simeon and Judah later merged together, and Simeon lost its separate identity.

In 722 BC the Assyrians, under Shalmaneser, and then under Sargon II, conquered Israel (the northern Kingdom), destroyed its capital Samaria, and sent the Israelites into exile and captivity in Khorasan, which at the time was Eastern Iran and Western Afghanistan. However, what is less commonly known is that many people from the conquered northern kingdom fled south to safety in Judea, the Southern Kingdom, which maintained its independence.

Thus, Judah then was populated with Israelites from Judah, Benjamin, Shimeon, some of Levi, and many from all of the other tribes as well. Today's Jews are descended from the inhabitants of this kingdom.

Jews as Israelites

Whatever the historical origin of the Israelite tribes, each tribe had a distinct identity inherited from one's father as recently as 722 BC, when the Assyrians conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel and sent its populace into exile. Individual tribes intermarried extensively throughout history. Many Israelites from the northern kingdom fled to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. At this point in time the tribes living in the Kingdom of Judah melded into a single people from all the Israelite tribes. In 586 BC the nation of Judah was conquered by Babylon. About 50 years later, in 537 BC the Persians (who conquered Babylon 2 years before) allowed Jews to move back to Jerusalem. By the end of this era, members of the tribes seem to have abandoned their individual identities.

Today's Jews are mostly descended from the Israelites of Judah, and thus are often identified as Israelites. Note that over time many people married with the descendants of the Israelites. The number of converts is not trivial, but not so large as to swamp out the origin. It is thus fair to say that Jews today are descendants of those Israelites who lived in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, along with many converts who joined them.

One should take note of the historical debate over the accuracy of the Bible's account of the origin of the Israelites, discussed more fully in the entry on the History of ancient Israel and Judah.

Israelite Traditions Outside Mainstream Judaism

Some modern religions maintain that its followers are "Israelites" or "Jews" although the meaning of these claims differs widely.

Some outside traditional practice of the Law of Moses and with no proven historical connection to the Israelites believe themselves to the modern descendants and inheritors of the Israelites. Such groups include the Latter-day Saints, adherents of British Israelism and even some anti-semitic groups.

Samaritans

Samaritans are a very small ethnic group and religious sect living in the State of Israel and the West Bank with many beliefs in common with Judaism. They accept the canonization of the five books of the Torah and the Book of Joshua (but no other books), and that the only prophet is Moses. They also preserve their own unique form of Hebrew, and regard themselves as the descendants of Aphrime (Ephraim) and Manatch (Manasseh). Many regard them as a sect of Judaism, but they regard themselves as distinct from Jews, and do not refer to themselves as Jews.

Latter-day Saints

Latter-day Saints are a series of religious groups, of which the largest by far is the LDS Church of 12 million members. Almost half of them live in the United States, and the rest are scattered in countries on every continent all over the world. They believe that through baptism and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, they become "regathered" Israelites, either as recovered from the scattered seed of Israel, or as Gentiles adopted and grafted into Israel, and thus becoming among the chosen people of God. LDS Israelite belief is not strictly ethnic, and as such, Latter-day Saints don't consider themselves to be Jews, but rather as Israelites of many different cultures occasionally including Jews. (For more details, see Latter-day Saint theology and Judaism.)

Anti-Semitic Groups

There are a number of many anti-semitic groups which claim to be the only "true Israelites", a claim that Jews regard as ironic since these groups are openly hostile to Judaism. Such anti-semitic groups generally do not recognize the validity of Jews or any other group that claims Israelite descent.

See also: History of ancient Israel and Judah, Bible and The Bible and history.

See also

External links