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Catholic Dictionary




The social units of the Jewish nation descended from Jacob through his twelve sons (Genesis 49). Strictly speaking there were thirteen tribes: Rueben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulum, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, and Benjamin, along with the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, whom Jacob adopted as his own (Genesis 48), and who therefore also became founders of tribes. But in the distribution of territory in the Promised Land, the tribe of Levi received no possession (joshua 13) and perhaps for that reason is not counted as a tribe. Each tribe in turn was divided into clans, named after the grandsons of Jacob, and these in turn were subdivided into houses (Numbers 1, 26; Joshua 7) and the houses into families. In the family the father had complete authority over his wife (or wives) and children. The fathers, in turn, were elected or accepted by common consent, heads of families, or heads of houses whose directives they were to obey. The clan was subject to the prince of the tribe, also called a prince of Israel (Numbers 1, 7). Later, under the monarchy, the tribes became mere social units.