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The tribes

Territorial groups and primary social organizational units in Israel’s social structure before the establishment of the monarchy (late eleventh century BCE). The tribes can be viewed as distributive parts of one larger entity, Israel, whose identity is traced to an eponymous ancestor, Jacob (Israel). The lists of tribes in the OT, of which there are more than twenty, differ from one another in several respects (Gen 49; Num 1:20-43; Num 26:5-50; Deut 33; Judg 5). The listing in (Gen 49) is the one maintained in most of the other lists in the OT (Gen 35:22-26; Deut 27:12-13; 1Chr 2:1-2; Ezek 48:1-7). In any case, the ideal of twelve remained long after the tribal organization disappeared, even into the NT, where it provides incentive for Jesus to have twelve disciples, who he said would judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30). Paul also refers to the twelve tribes (Acts 26:7), and the book of James is addressed to Jewish Christians called “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (Jas 1:1).