The “Other Tribes”: Which Are They?


Although mention is often made of the Lord’s “other tribes” which were taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., the exact identity of the names of the ten “other tribes” is much less well known.

Since an understanding of the ten tribes must begin with a knowledge of the original twelve, let us review the names of the sons of Jacob (Israel) for whom the twelve tribes of Israel are named:

  • Reuben

  • Simeon

  • Levi

  • Judah

  • Dan

  • Naphtali

  • Gad

  • Asher

  • Issachar

  • Zebulun

  • Joseph

  • Benjamin

Throughout the period of the exodus from Egypt, however, thirteen tribes are generally listed instead of twelve. This is because Jacob adopted the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, in order that they might have the double inheritance due to the birthright son. (See Gen. 48:5, 16.) Thus, when the Israelites returned from Egypt to Canaan, each of the two tribes descended from Joseph was given a share of land.

Moreover, the tribe of Manasseh was further divided into two land groups in the settlement of the promised land, one half preferring to settle in the territory east of the Jordan, and the other taking up its inheritance in Canaan. (See map.) These two land divisions are mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament as distinct “half-tribes,” and so we often read of the “nine tribes, and the half tribe” that settled in Canaan and the “two tribes and the half tribe” that settled in trans-Jordan. (See Josh. 13:7 and Num. 34:15.) The latter half-tribe was also referred to as “Machir,” after the son of Manasseh whose descendants comprised that half-tribe. (See Num. 32:40; Josh. 17:1.)

Map of lands of twelve tribes of Israel(click to view larger)

The term “Blood Israel” refers only to the original twelve tribes of Israel: Reuben, Simeon, Levi (refuge cities located within green areas), Judah, Dan (migration route indicated in red), Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph (entire inheritance area indicated in gray), and Benjamin. “Land Israel” refers to fourteen tribal units: eleven tribes plus the three sub-tribes of Joseph (Ephraim and the two half-tribes of Manasseh) considered separately.

In effect, then, the subdividing of the land inheritance of Joseph into three allotments (Ephraim, Manasseh, Machir), plus the other eleven sons of Israel, brought the total number of distinct tribal groups mentioned to fourteen. Thereafter we must always be aware of the difference between “blood Israel” (the tribes descended from the twelve sons of Jacob) and what might be called “land Israel” (the tribal groups that received distinct land inheritances in Canaan). As one can see, the one blood-Israel tribe of Joseph resulted in three land-Israel inheritances.

To further complicate the matter, one of these fourteen groups—Levi—was given no land inheritance per se. Instead, the Levites were allotted cities throughout all of the various tribes, in order that they might serve the nation through the Aaronic Priesthood which they held. (See Num. 18:23–24; Num. 35:6–8; Josh. 13:33.)

Also, one of the tribes—Dan—had to forego its original allotted portion bordering on the west of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim because of its inability to cope with Philistine invasions. The struggle between the Danites and the Philistines is partially chronicled in the story of Samson. (See Judg. 13–16.) Ultimately, however, the tribe of Dan left its seacoast inheritance and migrated to the north, where they settled in the Hulah valley. (See Judg. 18.) Had they not done so, they would perhaps not have been taken captive by the Assyrians centuries later.

By the time the period of the judges ended (about 1050 B.C.), all the land and blood tribes of Israel were at last united into a kingdom under Saul and later David. In the time of Solomon, however, the prophet Ahijah informed Jeroboam, an Ephraimite, that it was the Lord’s intention to give him ten of the tribes, while Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, would retain but one tribe. (See 1 Kgs. 11:29–37; 1 Kgs. 12:20.) Thus it was that Jeroboam became king of Israel while Rehoboam remained king of Judah.

The first question is, if ten tribes went to Jeroboam and one (Judah) to Rehoboam, what of the remaining tribal groups? And what tribal grouping was it—land groups or blood groups? Or a combination of both?

One of the land groups not accounted for in Ahijah’s prophecy is Simeon, whose inheritance was in the Negev region around Beer-sheba. Jacob had prophesied of the people of Simeon (and Levi as well) that the Lord would “scatter them in Israel.” (Gen. 49:7.) Moses, too, when he blessed the tribes of Israel (Deut. 33), omitted the name of Simeon; and after the time of the initial settlement of the promised land, there are no further historical records concerning the land group of Simeon, though the blood group is listed in prophecy. Simeon was the only tribe of Israel to be completely surrounded by one other tribe—by Judah. Consequently, it is likely that as a distinct land and even blood group that Simeon became assimilated largely into the tribe of Judah by the time of Rehoboam, and that the term “Judah” always included Simeon.

Benjamin, too, is mentioned as part of Judah at the time of Rehoboam (see 1 Kgs. 12:20–21, 23; also 2 Chr. 11:3, 23), although a portion of Benjamin was initially retained by Jeroboam. But by the time of Asa, king of Judah (955 B.C.), all the territory of Benjamin had been captured by the kingdom of Judah and Benjamin remained thereafter a land part of Judah only. This is confirmed by the numerous passages listing the two tribes together. (See, for example, 2 Chr. 15:2, 8–9; 2 Chr. 25:5; 2 Chr. 31:1; 2 Chr. 34:9, 32.)

The Levites, who had no major land inheritance, owed much of their allegiance and service to the temple in Judah’s Jerusalem. Jeroboam therefore expelled most of the Levites from his kingdom and appointed non-Levites as priests to serve in his apostate temples. (See 1 Kgs. 12:26–33; 2 Chr. 11:13–16; 2 Chr. 13:9–11.) Thus the blood tribe of Levi, having “resorted to him [Rehoboam] out of all their coasts” and having “left their suburbs and their possession and [come] to Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chr. 11:13–14) also ended up, for the most part, in the land kingdom of Judah.

In time, however, both the northern and southern kingdoms were to suffer the fate of exile. The kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., while Judah fell to the Assyrians’ conquerors, the Babylonians, in 586 B.C. The people of the northern kingdom that were taken away never returned to reclaim their land, and eventually they became the “lost tribes”—that is, lost to the record-keepers of Judah. The people of land Judah were more fortunate. In 537 B.C., Cyrus II of Persia, who had conquered Babylon, issued a decree allowing the people of Judah to return home and rebuild Jerusalem and their temple.

The genealogies of the returnees from Babylon inform us of the major blood composition of the kingdom of Judah. They were of the blood tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi. (See Ezra 1:5; Ezra 4:1; Ezra 10:9; Neh. 11:4ff., Neh. 11:36; Neh. 12:34ff.) If we include Simeon, which appears to have been absorbed as a blood group by Judah, we have four of the blood tribes of Israel accounted for in the southern kingdom of Judah, and they have endured with Judah all that has befallen the Jews the past 2,000 years. However, this means that only eight of the original twelve tribes of “blood Israel” were living in the north at the time of the Assyrian captivity. But these eight tribes of “blood Israel” accounted for ten tribal groups of “land Israel.”

We count ten “lost” tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel by remembering that the tribe of Joseph was divided into three land and people elements for the purpose of land inheritance—Ephraim and the two subdivisions of Manasseh. Hence, the “ten lost tribes” are ten lost land groups and are accounted for as follows:

Reuben

Asher

Ephraim

Dan

Issachar

Half-tribe of Manasseh

Naphtali

Zebulun

Gad

Half-tribe of Manasseh (Machir)

As is well known, there is clear evidence that not all members of the tribes listed above were taken captive. Some members of these tribes were left behind on the land, while others fled to the kingdom of Judah for refuge. (See, for example, 2 Chr. 11:16–17; 2 Chr. 15:9; 2 Chr. 30:1, 5–6, 10–11, 25.) Consequently, descendants of these “lost” tribal groups remained among the Jews and have thus been spread throughout the world today. As a result, some of each of the Twelve blood tribes have been gathered in this last dispensation to reassemble under the banner of the One King who is destined to reunite all Israel in these last days. The promise is that we shall yet have the joy of helping all of Israel—blood-tribe Israel and land-tribe Israel—to gather under the gospel banner from the four quarters of the earth as a result of the last days gathering of the dispersed and outcasts of Israel. It is a promise in which we all have great faith and confidence.

John A. Tvedtnes, now working toward a doctorate in Egyptian and Semitic languages, teaches Sunday School in his Salt Lake City ward.