If you think the Earth's Age is tough - - how many tribes were there?

Continuing the discussion from What biblical reasons are there to accept the scientific view of the earth as billions of years old?:

[Which was already. . . ] Continuing the discussion from The Problems with Bill_II's Idiosyncratic View:

I thought I would start this thread to show that there’s really a lot more to resolve than simply Genesis 1 & 2, or the Firmament, or even God’s speech about his storehouses of Snow and Hail orbiting the Earth.

We still haven’t resolved how many tribes went to the Northern Kingdom. 10 right? I don’t know …

But @Mike_Gantt, before I launch into that issue, are you sure you want to go on record as saying God spoke, in the vacuum of outerspace, to create the Earth (if not the whole Universe)?

You write:
Actually, I take “God said” to be a central point of Gen 1. When people say that their only important takeaway from Gen 1 is “God did it,” I scratch my head. I wonder how they divorce the saying from the doing, given how the text repeatedly emphasizes this connection - and all the more so when you consider everything else the Bible says about God speaking. I would expect the minimum meaning any reader would glean from Gen 1 - if he were looking for a minimum - would be “God did it by speaking.”

As to your point about “nobody with ears were around to hear,” I don’t consider human beings to be the only beings. Therefore, just because there were no human beings around to hear God’s words does not mean that no beings heard them. What the equivalent of “verbalized literal audible words” is in the spiritual realm, I do not know; but it’s clear from the Scriptures that angels hear God speak."
End of Quote from Mike’s Post

Okay, yeah, I’m pretty sure angels have ears. But how do they hear something when there is no air to carry the sound to their ears? Further below I touch on telephathic communication, and speaking even if you don’t have a mouth…

Mike, have you stopped to consider what your words (highlighted above) sound like to modern generations quite familiar with the nature of vaccuum in outerspace?

  1. Does God have a body with a mouth and lips to form words?
  2. Does God have any aspect of a body to form words?
  3. Was God in the vacuum of space when he sounded those words? Or was
    he in a barcalounger, enjoying an air-conditioned atmosphere at some
    remote location when he spoke the words to create?
  4. If he spoke the words in front of His Creation, can there be words if there
    is no sound? How can there be sound in a vacuum?
  5. If God could “utter” words in some telepathic way, isn’t it true that
    telepathic communication still not speaking?

This is some kind of fringe hermeneutics … probably only one notch away from the communion wafer becoming a slice of God’s arm once it enters your body, and the wine becoming his blood.

I don’t know how you expect to resolve the questions you yourself are raising.
So take a break from it for a bit … Help me figure out how many tribes belonged to the Northern Tribe of Israel - - 10 tribes, right?

So how does Simeon serve as the 10th tribe of the Northern Kingdom?
Have you ever once seen a map of Simeon placing it in the North?

Voila … I have a chart where I try to add the tribes up for both Israel and Judah …



Twelve, of course! … to answer your opening question. Although I don’t offhand know the answer to your challenge about Simeon being considered in the northern Kingdom. I’ll look forward to seeing other answers here on that. But meanwhile, twelve (3 x 4) just like the seven days in a week (3 + 4) is definitive even if the actual identities of those twelve tribes are somewhat fluid. But the number is quite important to all the ancient cultures in ways we probably still struggle to appreciate.

Surely you’ve noticed that the twelve tribes aren’t always listed in the same way throughout the Bible. I first noticed this when I wondered what happened to Dan, which is missing from the list in Revelation 7. While looking up that, one might notice that the original tribe of Joseph is eventually split into the two different tribes (Joseph’s two boys) of Ephraim and Manasseh. And then later in Revelation 7, we see Joseph back again with Manasseh but not Ephraim. And Dan is missing from that list too. Some tribes apparently actually are missing or merged into others. Historians here can probably speak more to that. Generally, though, you can probably think of it this way. Twelve disciples are always listed in an obviously significant symbolism. Does that mean there are only twelve? Can you imagine a prospective believer saying they want to become one of Jesus’ disciples and being told: “sorry we already have twelve right now … but we’ll put you on the list; just hold that thought.” No. No No. Bollocks! There was obviously quite a large pool of disciples around, but it was also obviously important to have twelve leading disciples (ones who were actually taught by Jesus himself). Important enough that when one like Judas drops away, they use a special process to draw a replacement for him from the remaining pool of disciples. I’m sure it was important that they get the right leaders, and hence their seeking the Spirit’s guidance. But it seems to have been an unquestioned presupposition that there will always be twelve – even if they aren’t always the same twelve.


It goes without saying that 12 is key.

But if you look at all the foolishness in the detail, frankly it seems impossible to think that The Book of Joshua is any more reliable than Genesis!

But I do think I have an answer behind the 10 + 2 rhetoric!

If you do a survey on the various explanations for the name of Israel, you will find at least Two (2) rival explanations.

In the story of wrestling with God, the word play assert is that Jacob is named Israel because in his wrestling he show vigorous “contending”… which in Hebrew sounds like “Isra” (of Isra- El).

Dang… I just forgot what the other etymological reason usually is! Ill come back with an edit when i get a chance.

Of course, for these scriptural assertions to succeed, you have to convince the reader that the stories he has heard are not as relevant!

My proposal (for non-YECs anyway) is that Judah has to be two tribes… because Israel has to be 10 tribes! Why? Because prior to the wrestling story being published, I believe the peasantry genuinely thought “Israel” was a reference to Ten/10!

Aser- EL … The “God of Ten”… or better yet, the “Ten of God”! If you read the texts on David, an interesting pattern emerges: there are frequent references to Ten… but the tribal references for the Ten are almost always Geographical in nature … not really explicitly a tribal name.

And there is certainly no explanation for Simeon being deep in Judah territory while serving allegiance to the calf cult of the Northern Kingdom!

If Israel is a veiled reference to Ten tribes… then obviously Judah can only have 2! But even here the logic gets pretty messy: The remnant of Benjamin becomes integrated into the legends of Jebus/Jerusalem.

So that’s two. But what to do with the Tribe of Levi? If they are scattered North and South… (if they are) we nod our heads and say, ok, they are a tribe of Israel, even though they are no doubt most numerous and organized in Judah!

Otherwise, Judah has three! But, because of Simeon, Judah actually possess four!!!

Well… that just won’t do! So, let’s not talk about the Levites OR the Simeonites!

Which frankly, is sounding more and more like the convoluted apologia offered for Gen 1 & 2!

First of all, the Levites were a non-territorial tribe. They are the priests and others who work with the religious structure of Israel. They were then no longer counted as a tribe.

The place of the Levites was taken by the two sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob gave them a special blessing in place of Joseph and crossed his arms so the younger received the elder’s blessing. This gives us 12 tribes plus 1.

There is no good explanation for the loss of the status of Smeon, except his tribe was cursed by God to lose its cohesiveness and be scattered amongst the other tribes.

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@Relates, aka Roger,

Everything you say is reasonable and worthy of consideration.

But what you say doesn’t actually resolve the question of the terminology: the “Ten Tribes of Israel” - - or when they use the phrase “Ten Tribes” all by itself without reference to “Israel”. . . which seems especially awkward!:

1 Kings 11:31
And he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces: for thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee:

1 Kings 11:35
But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand, and will give it unto thee, even ten tribes.


Joshua 22:14
And with him ten princes, of each chief house a prince throughout all the tribes of Israel; and each one was an head of the house of their fathers among the thousands of Israel.

2 Sam 19:43
And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, and said, We have ten parts in the king, and we have also more right in David than ye: why then did ye despise us, that our advice should not be first had in bringing back our king?

2Sam 15:16
And the king went forth, and all his household after him. And the king left ten women, which were concubines, to keep the house.

2 Sam 20:3
And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood.

One last footnote on the Tribe of Levi:

Jos 14:3-4
**For Moses had given the inheritance of two tribes and an half tribe on the other side Jordan: but unto the Levites he gave none inheritance among them. **

For the children of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim: therefore they gave no part unto the Levites in the land, save cities to dwell in, with their suburbs for their cattle and for their substance.

This clearly talks about the disposition of property (or the lack of disposition) to the Levites.

But that’s really beside the point, right?

I’m not asking about the “X Number of Landowning Tribes of Israel” – I was investigating the whole practice of referring to Israel as “The Ten”!

Was it a literal ten tribes? Frankly, it doesn’t really look or act like a real ten tribes. The Levites are headquartered at the Temple in Judah … but they are not assigned to Judah as the “Third Tribe of Judah”. And Simeon doesn’t appear to be the “Fourth Tribe of Judah”.

Not a very clever way to run a kingdom - - even if you are the Chosen People…

So what???


I suppose, Roger, that I was too oblique.

The tradition that the Northern Kingdom was composed of Ten Tribes was a true “Legal Fiction” even before the last book of the Old Testament was written!

Let us be sure to note that “Legal Fictions” are real (And legal!) even to this say! When I use the term it is not intended as a slur; it is a realistic assessment about how references to Ten Tribes appear to be used from some point in time - variously estimated as sometime before Exodus was written, to sometime before the Book of Judges was written (obviously even YECs cannot attribute Judges to the hand of Moses!).

[Edit note:
@Mike_Gantt, a legal fiction like the 10 tribes of Israel might be a thought experiment to consider? Would Jesus have believed that Israel ended its existence as a literal union of Ten tribes? Or would he have said: “it doesn’t really matter” ]


It seems that you do not understand history, and thus the Bible, which is a history whether you know it or not.

The 10 Tribes are not a legal fiction, they were a confederation of ten tribes or family groups. Please note that at the time of Saul and David the 10 Tribes were represented by elders who met with Saul, David, and Reoboam. The 10 tribes may be a historical convention, but not a legal fiction.

The 10 Northern tribes recognized a kinship to the 2 southern tribes, but had a separate identity. David conquered Jerusalem in the hope that this would bring the two groups closer together, but this had only limited success.

Then again if anything this indicates that the history is real, not invented.


I don’t believe you understand what I mean by legal fiction.

The pattern of use for the term “Ten Tribes” indicates that literally, the Northern Kingdom was no longer composed of the Ten Tribes they started with (assuming they started with 10 tribes … or 12 tribes with Judah).

There seem to be several references invested in the tradition of using the term or a reference to “the Ten”.

But clearly Simeon was only part of the Ten when in fact the alliance was “The Twelve” (not the Ten).

Whenever Simeon no longer existed as a distinct entity (sometime between the schism of “the Ten” from “the Twelve” and the extinction of the Northern Kingdom) it became conventional to refer to the Northern Kingdom as “the Ten” – even when there wasn’t 10.

How do we know? Well, I suppose we don’t know anything for sure … except that if Simeon did exist within or south of Judah, it is obviously not one of the so-called Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom…

… right, Roger?

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