Tribe of Ephraim

Tribe of Ephraim

The Tribe of Ephraim (Hebrew Name|אֶפְרַיִם / אֶפְרָיִם|Efráyim|ʾEp̄ráyim} / ʾEp̄rāyim|"double fruitfulness") was one of the Tribes of Israel; together with the Tribe of Manasseh, Ephraim also formed the "House of Joseph". At its height, the territory it occupied was at the center of Canaan, west of the Jordan, south of the territory of Manasseh, and north of the Tribe of Benjamin; the region which was later named Samaria (as distinguished from Judea or Galilee) mostly consisted of Ephraim's territory. The area was mountainous, giving it protection, but also highly fertile, giving prosperity, [Hosea 9:13] [Genesis 49:22] [Deuteronomy 33:13-16] [Isaiah 28:1] and contained the early centers of Israelite religion - Shechem and Shiloh."Jewish Encyclopedia"] These factors contributed to making Ephraim the most dominant of the tribes in the Kingdom of Israel, and led to "Ephraim" becoming a synonym for the entire kingdom.

Evidently there was an obvious linguistic difference between the Tribe of Ephraim and other Israelites, since at a time when the Israelites of Gilead, under the leadership of Jephthah, fought the Tribe of Ephraim, the pronunciation of "shibboleth" as "sibboleth" was considered sufficient evidence to single out individuals from Ephraim, so that they could be subjected to immediate death by the Israelites of Gilead.


According to the Torah, the tribe was founded by an individual, Ephraim a son of Joseph, from whom it took its name; [Genesis 30] however Biblical scholars view this also as postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation."Peake's commentary on the Bible"] In the Biblical account, Joseph is one of the two children of Rachel and Jacob, a brother to Benjamin, and father to both Ephraim, and his first son, Manasseh; Ephraim received the blessing of the firstborn [ Birthright] , although Manasseh was the eldest, because Jacob foresaw that Ephraim's descendants would be greater than his brother's. [Genesis 48:13-20] [Genesis 48:1]

Though the biblical descriptions of the geographic boundary of the House of Joseph are fairly consistent, the descriptions of the boundaries between Manasseh and Ephraim are not, and each is portrayed as having exclaves within the territory of the other. Furthermore, in the Blessing of Jacob, and elsewhere ascribed by textual scholars to a similar or earlier time period, [eg. Joshua 17:14-18] Ephraim and Manasseh are treated as a single tribe, with "Joseph" appearing in their place. From this it is regarded as obvious that originally Ephraim and Manasseh were considered one tribe — that of "Joseph". According to several biblical scholars, Benjamin was also originally part of the "house of Joseph", but the biblical account of this became lost; Benjamin being differentiated by being that part of Ephraim which joined the Kingdom of Judah rather than that of Israel.

A number of biblical scholars suspect that the "Joseph tribes" (including Benjamin) represent a second migration of Israelites to Israel, later than the main tribes, specifically that it was only the "Joseph tribes" which went to Egypt and returned, while the main Israelite tribes simply emerged as a subculture from the Canaanites and had remained in Canaan throughout; in the narrative in the Book of Joshua, which concerns the arrival in (and conquest of) Canaan by the Israelites from Egypt, the leader is Joshua, who was a member of the Ephraim tribe. According to this view, the story of Jacob's visit to Laban to obtain a wife began as a metaphor for the second migration, with Jacob's new family, possessions, and livestock, obtained from Laban, being representations of the new wave of migrants;


In the account of the deuteronomic history, Ephraim is portrayed as domineering, haughty, discontented, and jealous, but in classical rabbinical literature, the biblical founder of the tribe is described as being modest and not selfish. These rabbinical sources allege that it was on account of modesty and selflessness, and a prophetic vision of Joshua, that Jacob gave Ephraim precedence over Manasseh, the elder of the two; in these sources Jacob is regarded as sufficiently just that God upholds the blessing in his honour, and makes Ephraim the leading tribe. Nevertheless, other classical rabbinical texts mock the tribe for the character it has in the deuteronomic history, claiming that Ephraim, being headstrong, left Egypt 30 years prior to the Exodus, and on arrival in Canaan was subjected to a disastrous battle with the Philistines; in the Midrashic Jasher this is portrayed as a rebellion of Ephraim against God, resulting in the slaying of all but 10, and the bleached bones of the slaughtered being strewn across the roads, so much so that the circuitous route of the Exodus was simply an attempt by God to prevent the Israelites from having to suffer the sight of the remains.

Though from the point of view of an increasing majority of archaeologists, there were always two distinct cultures in Canaan, a strong and prosperous northern kingdom and a weaker and poorer southern one, [Israel Finkelstein, "The Bible Unearthed"] in the Biblical account the Israelite tribes were initially united in a single kingdom, but only later fractured into the northern and southern kingdoms; this fracture is blamed by the Bible on the jealousy of Ephraim over the growing power of Judah. In the Book of Chronicles, Ephraim's act of splintering from Judah is denounced as forsaking God, [2 Chronicles 15:8-11] and Ephraim is portrayed as becoming highly irreligious, particularly in their resistance to the reforms enacted by Hezekiah and Josiah. [2 Chronicles 30:1, 30:10, 30:18, 34:6, 34:9]


As part of the Kingdom of Israel, the territory of Ephraim was conquered by the Assyrians, and the tribe exiled; the manner of their exile led to their further history being lost. However, several modern day groups claim descent, with varying levels of academic and rabbinical support. The Samaritans claims that some of their adherents are descended from this tribe, and many Persian Jews claim to be descendants of Ephraim. Further afield, in South India the Telugu Jews claim descent from Ephraim, and call themselves "Bene Ephraim", relating similar traditions to those of the Mizo Jews, who the modern state of Israel regards as descendants of Manasseh.

Several western Christian groups, in particular those of the Church of God in Christ, claim that the whole UK is the direct descendant of Ephraim, and that the whole USA is the direct descendant of Manasseh, based on the interpretation that Jacob had said these two tribes would become the most supreme nations in the world.The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "Mormons") believes a significant portion of its members to be descended from Ephraim, arguing that they are charged with restoring the lost tribes in the "latter days" as prophesied by Isaiah, and that the tribes of both Ephraim and Judah will play important leadership roles for covenant Israel in the last days; some believe that this would be the fulfillment of part of the Blessing of Jacob, where it states that "Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall". [King James translation, Genesis 49:22]

Will of Grandfather

The descendants of Joseph (Hebrew Bible) formed two of the tribes of Israel, whereas each of the other sons of Jacob was the founder of only one tribe. Thus there were in reality thirteen tribes; but the number twelve was preserved by excluding that of Levi when Ephraim and Manasseh are mentioned separately (Num. 1:32-34; Josh. 17:14, 17; 1 Chr. 7:20).

It was not until the close of the first period of Jewish history that God 'refused the tabernacle of Joseph (Hebrew Bible), and chose not the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah, the Mount Zion which he loved' (Ps. 78:67, 68). When the Ark was removed from Shiloh to Zion the power of Ephraim was sequestered."

Many Persian Jews claim to be descendants of the tribe of Ephraim. In addition, the Telugu Jews, relating similar traditions to those of the Bnei Menashe (recognized as descendants of the Tribe of Menasseh), claim descent from the Tribe of Ephraim, and call themselves Bene Ephraim.

See also

* Two House Movement



* McConkie, Bruce R, The Millennial Messiah, 1982, Chapter 16.

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