Tribe of Simeon

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According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Simeon (/ˈsɪmiən/; Hebrew: שִׁמְעוֹן, Modern Shim'on, Tiberian Šimʻôn; "Hearkening; listening") was one of the twelve tribes of Israel.[1]

In the biblical account, following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes. Kenneth Kitchen, a well-known conservative biblical scholar, dates this event to slightly after 1200 BCE.[2] However, the consensus view of modern scholars is that the conquest of Joshua as described in the Book of Joshua never occurred.[3][4][5]

At its height, the territory occupied by the Tribe of Simeon was in the southwest of Canaan, bordered on the east and south by the tribe of Judah; the boundaries with the tribe of Judah are vague, and it seems that Simeon may have been an enclave within the west of the territory of the tribe of Judah.[6] Simeon was one of the less significant tribes in the Kingdom of Judah.


Map of the twelve tribes of Israel

According to the Hebrew Bible, the tribe consisted of descendants of Simeon, the second son of Jacob and of Leah, from whom it took its name; however some Biblical scholars view this as a postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation.[7] With Leah as a matriarch, scholars believe the tribe to have been regarded by the text's authors to have been part of the original Israelite confederation. In the opening words of the Book of Judges, following the death of Joshua, the Israelites "asked the Lord" which tribe should be first to go to occupy its allotted territory, and the tribe of Judah was identified as the first tribe.[8] According to this narrative, the tribe of Judah invited the tribe of Simeon to fight with them in alliance to secure each of their allotted territories. However, the tribe of Simeon is not mentioned in the ancient Song of Deborah, and some scholars think that Simeon was not originally regarded as a distinct tribe;[9] according to Israel Finkelstein, the south of Canaan, in which Simeon was situated, was simply an insignificant rural backwater at the time the poem was written.[10]


The impression gained from the Books of Chronicles is that the tribe was not entirely fixed in location; at one point it is mentioned that some members of the tribe migrated southwards to Gedor, so as to find suitable pasture for their sheep.[11] In the following verse, which may or may not be related,[12] it is mentioned that during the reign of Hezekiah, part of the tribe came to the land of some Meunim, and slaughtered them, taking the land in their place.[13] Further verses state that about 500 men from the tribe migrated to Mount Seir, slaughtering the Amalekites who had previously settled there.[14]

According to the Midrash, many families in the other Israelite tribes were descended from women from Simeon, which had been widowed from their original Simeonite husbands.[12]

Simeon was one of the strongest tribes during the wandering in the desert. Its symbol is that of a gate representing the city of Shechem.


Simeon is listed in the Book of Joshua,[15] elsewhere in the same Book these towns are ascribed to Judah;[12][16] some textual scholars view the Book of Joshua as being spliced together from several different source texts, in this particular case, the lists of towns being different documents, from different periods to each other.[17][18] This seeming contradiction can be explained in the following way. The tribe of Simeon, like Levi, was decreed to be scattered throughout as punishment for massacring Shechem. Levi was scattered throughout all of Israel whereas Simeon was scattered in towns only within Judah.

The tribe seems to have dwindled in size, and the size of the tribe dramatically drops by over half between the two censuses recorded in the Book of Numbers; although the Bible places these censuses during the Exodus, textual scholars place them in the period of priestly source, roughly 700-600 BC.[19][20] The tribe is completely absent from the Blessing of Moses, which textual scholars date to near the time of the Deuteronomist, after the dates of these censuses;[20] some Septuagint manuscripts appear to have attempted to correct this, adding the name of Simeon to the latter half of verse 6, which some scholars view as unwarranted based on the Hebrew manuscripts.[12]

In the Bible, the dwindling of Simeon is portrayed as being a divine punishment for their reaction to the Rape of Dinah, although many biblical scholars[who?] view the episode, and Dinah herself, as an etiological myth which developed to explain Simeon's misfortune, after it had occurred.[17] In the Blessing of Jacob, this punishment appears to be prophesied, with the tribe being predicted to become divided and scattered. Some textual scholars view this as a postdiction, believing that the Blessing of Jacob was written in a period around the 9th or 8th centuries (900-701 BC), the same period in which the tribe was actually dwindling.[20]

As part of the kingdom of Judah, whatever remained of Simeon was ultimately subjected to the Babylonian captivity; when the captivity ended, all remaining distinctions between Simeon and the other tribes in the kingdom of Judah had been lost in favour of a common identity as Jews. Nevertheless, an apocryphal midrash claims that the tribe was deported by the Babylonians to the Kingdom of Aksum (in what is now Ethiopia), to a place behind the dark mountains.[12] Conversely, Eldad ha-Dani argued that the tribe of Simeon had become quite powerful, taking tribute from 25 other kingdoms, some of which were Arabians; though he names their location, surviving versions of his manuscripts differ as to whether it was the land of the Khazars or of the Chaldeans (Chaldeans would be an anachronism, though it could possibly refer to Buyid Dynasty Persia). A few modern-day groups claim descent from the tribe of Simeon, with varying levels of academic and rabbinical support; some Christian Identity followers believe themselves to be descendants of the tribe.


  1. ^ See Genesis 29:33, Genesis 46:10, Numbers 26:12-14, Joshua 15:21-32, Joshua 19:1-9, Judges 1:3,17.
  2. ^ Kitchen, Kenneth A. (2003), "On the Reliability of the Old Testament" (Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)(ISBN 0-8028-4960-1)
  3. ^ “Besides the rejection of the Albrightian ‘conquest' model, the general consensus among OT scholars is that the Book of Joshua has no value in the historical reconstruction. They see the book as an ideological retrojection from a later period — either as early as the reign of Josiah or as late as the Hasmonean period.” K. Lawson Younger, Jr. (1 October 2004). "Early Israel in Recent Biblical Scholarship". In David W. Baker; Bill T. Arnold. The Face of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches. Baker Academic. p. 200. ISBN 978-0-8010-2871-7. 
  4. ^ ”It behooves us to ask, in spite of the fact that the overwhelming consensus of modern scholarship is that Joshua is a pious fiction composed by the deuteronomistic school, how does and how has the Jewish community dealt with these foundational narratives, saturated as they are with acts of violence against others?" Carl S. Ehrlich (1999). "Joshua, Judaism and Genocide". Jewish Studies at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, Volume 1: Biblical, Rabbinical, and Medieval Studies. BRILL. p. 117. ISBN 90-04-11554-4. 
  5. ^ ”Recent decades, for example, have seen a remarkable reevaluation of evidence concerning the conquest of the land of Canaan by Joshua. As more sites have been excavated, there has been a growing consensus that the main story of Joshua, that of a speedy and complete conquest (e.g. Josh. 11.23: 'Thus Joshua conquered the whole country, just as the LORD had promised Moses') is contradicted by the archaeological record, though there are indications of some destruction and conquest at the appropriate time.Adele Berlin; Marc Zvi Brettler (17 October 2014). The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition. Oxford University Press. p. 951. ISBN 978-0-19-939387-9. 
  6. ^ Joshua 19:1-9
  7. ^ Peake's Commentary on the Bible
  8. ^ Judges 1:1-2
  9. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Simeon, Tribe of". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. 
  10. ^ Finkelstein, I., The Bible Unearthed
  11. ^ 1 Chronicles 4:38-40
  12. ^ a b c d e Jewish Encyclopedia
  13. ^ 1 Chronicles 4:41
  14. ^ 1 Chronicles 4:42-43
  15. ^ Joshua 19:2-6
  16. ^ Joshua 15:26-32, 15:42
  17. ^ a b Peake's Commentary on the Bible
  18. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Book of Joshua
  19. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Priestly Source
  20. ^ a b c Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (Harper San Francisco) (1987) ISBN 0-06-063035-3