Israelite Nation can refer to the Ten Tribes of Israel exiled from the Kingdom of Israel. An Israelite is a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, descended from the twelve sons of the Biblical patriarch Jacob who was renamed Israel by God in the book of Genesis, 32:28. The Israelites were a group of Hebrews, as described in the Hebrew Bible. There are modern historical debates about the origins of the Hebrews/Israelites.
The English word Israelite derives from ישראל ("Upright (with) God", Standard Hebrew Yisraʾel); see the article Israel for details on the word's definition.
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Israelites in Biblical times
According to the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites were the descendants of the sons of Jacob, later known as Israel. His twelve male children were Reuben (Bible), Simeon, Levi, Judah (Biblical figure), Issachar, Zebulun, Dan (biblical figure), Gad, Naphtali, Asher, Joseph (dreamer), and Benjamin.
Twelve tribes of Israel are listed in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament).
The twelve sons comprise the Twelve Tribes of Israel. These tribes were recorded on the vestments of the Kohen (high priest). However, when the land of Israel was apportioned among the tribes in the days of Joshua, the Levite, being priests, did not receive land. Therefore, when the tribes are listed in reference to their receipt of land, as well as to their encampments during the 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Tribe of Joseph is replaced by the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (the two sons of Joseph by his Egyptian wife Asenath, whom Jacob elevated to the status of full tribes).
Thus, the two divisions of the tribes are:
Division according to apportionment of land in Israel:
The Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Ten Lost Tribes
According to the Hebrew Bible, after the civil war in the time of Solomon's son Rehoboam, ten tribes split off the United Monarchy to create the northern kingdom of Israel.
These were the nine landed tribes Tribe of Zebulun, Tribe of Issachar, Tribe of Asher, Tribe of Naphtali, Tribe of Dan, Tribe of Manasseh, Tribe of Ephraim, Tribe of Reuben and Tribe of Gad, and some of Levi which had no land allocation. The Bible makes no reference at this point to the tribe of Simeon, and we might conjecture the author had in mind that that tribe had already disappeared due to the Tribe of Simeon.
Kingdom of Judah, the southern kingdom, had Jerusalem as its capital and was led by King Rehoboam. It was populated by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (and also some of Levi and remnants of Simeon).
In 722 BCE the Assyrian people under Shalmaneser V and then under Sargon II conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel, destroyed its capital Samaria and sent the Israelites into exile and captivity in Turanian Khorason, now part of eastern Iran and western Afghanistan. The Ten Lost Tribes are those who were deported. In Jewish popular culture, the ten tribes disappeared from history, leaving only the Tribe of Benjamin and Tribe of Judah and the Tribe of Levi who eventually became the modern day Jews. See also Bnai Israel. In fact however, the Ten tribes evolved into the Huns.
In 586 BCE the nation of Judah was conquered by Babylon. About 50 years later, in 539 BCE, the Persians (who had recently conquered Babylon) allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. By the end of this era, members of the tribes seem to have abandoned their individual identities in favor of a common one.
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 BCE, 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 BCE the nation of Judah was conquered by Babylon. About 50 years later, in 539 BCE the Persians (who conquered Babylon) allowed Jews to move back to Jerusalem. By the end of this era, members of the tribes seem to have abandoned their individual identities.
Jewish religious texts from the first century BCE to the present time consistently refer to Jews as "Yisrael", or "Israelites", rather than "Yehudi", the more specific Hebrew language term for "Jew". This usage was adopted in secular Jewish writing of Hungary in the 1920s and 1930s; Stephen Roth writes, "The word 'Israelite' denoted only religious affiliation and was free from the ethnic or national connotation attached to the word 'Jew', which History of the Jews in Hungary therefore regarded almost as a derogatory term."
Today's Jews are mostly descended from the Hebrews of the Kingdom of Judah, as well as those who joined them via Giur and married with the descendants of the Judaic Hebrews.
- Roth, 1992, 132
- Roth, Stephen, "Memories of Hungary", in Riff, Michael, The Face of Survival: Jewish Life in Eastern Europe Past and Present. Valentine Mithcell, London, 1992, 125-141, ISBN 0-85303-220-3.