BACKGROUND THOUGHTS ON TRIBES & GUILDS
Discussing the possibility of the Rechabites and the Levites
being organized along guild lines, I began to ponder the nature
of the Hebrew tribal structure. I presume that most of the
participants on this list do not believe in the LITERAL truth
of Jacob/Israel having 12 sons. Below is an excerpt from
even a very church-oriented article about the likelihood that
the 12 tribes were not LITERALLY related to each other:
Sermon for Recommitment Sunday
at Seekers Church
October 20, 1996
by Deborah Sokolove
"But however exclusive that story may appear at times, in fact many
individuals -- and sometimes whole groups -- were adopted into the
Covenant. One theory regarding the origin of the 12 tribes is that they
were not, in fact, literally descended from Jacob and the small
band that went down to Egypt. Rather, at least some of the tribes
were peasant groups that had continued to live in Canaan, and joined up
with the refugees under Moses and Joshua, taking on their story of
liberation and defiance of their Egyptian overlords. The Bible's own
testimony records that Moses' own wife, Zipporah, was the daughter
of a Midianite priest, and that both she and her father Jethro traveled
with those who escaped from Egypt."
[END OF TEXT]
There is considerable discussion about the Tribe of Dan being a
descendant of the "Sea People" who were ship-born intruders into
the land of Palestine. Some explain the "12 tribes" as being
a Palestinian form of amphictyony:
Many scholars see the biblical story of the tribes as a mythical
The idea of 12 tribes confederating around a central shrine
was common in ancient Asia Minor and Greece. Whatever the
truth, the legend of the 12 endures as a strong theme in Jewish lore.
[END OF TEXT]
By Samuel Kurinsky
Hebrew History Federation
The Infiltration Model of Israelite Settlement
"The "Infiltration Model" of Israelite settlement derives from a theory
launched by Albrecht Alt in a set of essays published in 1925. Alt
argued that the twelve-tribe confederacy (or "Amphictyony," a
sacral league of tribes formed during the period of Judges), was
not the one detailed in Exodus and in Numbers but a Canaanite
confederacy that predated Israel....
The Alt theory was revised
and expanded by his student, Martin Noth (and was henceforth
referred to as the Alt-North theory), who considered Israelite
occupation an essentially peaceful process in which pastoral
peoples separately and independently took root in the
occupied areas between agricultural Canaanite communities to
which they had traditionally dispersed seasonally. According to
this view, the twelve-tribe amphictyony came into being after and
not prior to the settlement.
With further modifications, the Alt-North theory found a sympathetic
acceptance by a number of archeologists, including Prof. Benjamin
Mazar, the dean of modern Israeli archaeologists.
He held that the early Israelites were generally stock-breeders
(some archeologists persist in terming them "nomads"), originating
from Transjordan and the Negev, who, after coming to terms, by
war or alliance with the Canaanite population composed of three
ethnic strains (Hivites based in Shehem, Hittites in Hebron, and
Jebusites in Jerusalem), gradually adapted to village life.
Footnote 3 "
"Footnote 3: Benjamin Mazar, The Early Biblical Period, Historical
Studies (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1986). The first three
of fifteen articles relate to Israelite settlement."
[END OF CLIP]
But if we do accept the idea that the twelve tribes were not literally
related to each other as descendants of a single man (Jacob/Israel),
then we are left in the dark as to when the first formulations of
"twelve" were put together. Is it purely coincidental that the
tribes of Jacob and the tribes of Ishmael BOTH represented 12?
Or was the number 12 an astronomical or religious idea that was
to be supported by notion of exactly 12 tribes.... aggregating the
multiple families and clans and guilds of the known groups
from the region into a somewhat arbitrary collection of 12
"units" or "tribes". The fact that some of the O.T. lists of the
12 tribes sometimes adds some names, while skipping others,
would show that there is some "flex" in the notion of what
constituted THE 12 tribes.
Perhaps the best indication of this flexible notion of tribes comes
from Deborah's song (Judges 5:14-18). The tribes mentioned are:
The tribe of Levi is also missing from mention. This would
make 12. But there is also no mention of: Gad, Simeon,
Judah or the other half-tribe of Joseph.
We also find the names Machir and Gilead is mentioned, but
these two don't conform to any of the typical references to a tribe.
Naturally, a more old-fashioned audience can make a nice string of
"special pleadings" for why Joseph or Levi isn't mentioned.... and
why Machir and Gilead should be used as "stand ins" for the
normal tribal names. But the absence of Judah and Simeon seems
irredeemable no matter how you look at it.... except that Deborah
didn't consider this battle to be part of Judah's and Simeon's
scope of interest.
But on this list, we are used to taking a more jaundiced view to such
pleadings. Typically, the lack of Simeon and Judah from Deborah's
text is used to support the idea that Judah and Simeon are a later
addition to the Hebrew confederation. And that bible texts that
describe 12 tribes coming from the loins of Jacob are where poetic
license has *really* been employed....to get to the nice round
number of 12... and to provide a mythical ancestry that joins all
the confederation members together.
Having reached this kind of perspective regarding the relative
recency of the "Twelve Tribes", we are still left with the question
as to who WERE these 12 tribes? We are tempted to wonder
if they represented 12 groupings of clans or tribes during the
Persian Period... but this creates the awkwardness of the 10
Tribes of the North..... who theoretically shouldn't have
influenced the writings of post-captivity texts... since
there really wasn't an Israel with 10 intact tribes at the time.
So the next level of analysis might be to wonder if the 12
tribes is a rather artificial treatment of various clan and
even **guild** groupings - - as they would be known to
the pre-exiliic or post-exilic writers. And once we are able
to consider that the "tribes of Jacob" might not represent a
full 12 ethnic or clan groups, we are free to entertain other
If the "twelve tribes" comes from a re-juggling and re-combining
of FEWER (or greater) than 12 tribes, we are compelled to look
at the texts for "fossils" for where various lists might have come
Since the combination of the tribe of Benjamin and Judah are
frequently found together... and since we know that the priestly
class represents yet ANOTHER full tribe (the tribe of Levi)....
it is tempting to wonder if the term "Benjamin" might refer to
the "Levite" class of the House of Levi. This is just an example
of how from ONE group we might get more than ONE "reference"
or "term". I'm not going to try to prove or disprove this
thesis right now, but I wanted to list an example of how a
clear-eyed view regarding the mythology of "twelve tribes"
might affect how we analyze Old Testament texts and
their references to the Levites, the Priests, and other tribes
and guilds that interact with these groups.
If you think this is an unusually speculative approach, I should
remind the reader that if those tribes coming back from Babylonian
captivity represented Judah, Benjamin AND the Levites (which
represents 3 tribes).... how is it that the "lost tribes" of Israel
are referred to as TEN.... instead of as NINE?
There is clearly something out of kilter with the O.T. treatment
of clans and tribes.... and I believe I will be able to make some
suggestions as to how to understand these sometimes arbitrary
tribal conventions in a completely in a new and informative
For private reply, e-mail to George Brooks <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
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