Monday, November 14, 2011


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 (ישראל Yisra'el) by God in the book of Genesis, 32:28. The Israelites were a group of Hebrews, as described in the Hebrew Bible.

Israel's twelve male children were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Gad, Naphtali, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin. The twelve Tribes of Israel are listed in the Tanakh – the name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible.

In Biblical Israel, the tribes were collectively Hebrews and organized into a northern and a southern kingdoms. In 722 BC the Assyrians conquered the northern Kingdom of 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 the nation of Judah was conquered by Babylon. About 50 years later, in 539 BC, the Persians (who had recently 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.

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.


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