Tribe of Simeon

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According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Simeon (/ˈsɪmiən/; Hebrew: שִׁמְעוֹן Šīm‘ōn, "hearkening/listening/understanding/empathizing") was one of the twelve tribes of Israel.[1] The Book of Judges locates its territory inside the boundaries of the Tribe of Judah. It is usually counted as one of the ten lost tribes, but as its territory was south of Judah and gradually being absorbed by Judah, it cannot be considered one of the tribes of the Kingdom of Israel and would certainly not have been affected by the Assyrian sack of the kingdom.

The biblical narrative has it coming into the land of Israel following the Exodus, while scholarly reconstructions have offered a variety of opinions as to its origins and early history. From the Book of Genesis until the Babylonian captivity, the Bible provides various details about its history, after which point it disappears from the record. A variety of extrabiblical traditional Jewish sources also provide additional material on the tribe.


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.[2] Simeon was one of the less significant tribes in the Kingdom of Judah.

Attempts to reconstruct the territory of Simeon work with three biblical lists: Book of Joshua 19:2-9, 1 Chronicles 4:28-32, which list towns belonging to Simeon, and Joshua 15:20-30, which lists these same towns as part of the territory of Judah.[3] Nadav Na'aman divides scholarly work on the subject into two "schools of thought," which he calls "the Alt school" (following Albrecht Alt) and the "other school."[3] The Alt school takes the list in Joshua 15 as reflecting the historical situation during the reign of Josiah, and sees the other two as later, and less reliable, attempts by editors to work out the earlier Simeonite territory. The "other school" sees the first two lists as reflecting the actual historical situation in the time of David (compare 1 Chronicles 4:31), and Joshua 15 as reflecting the situation at a later date.[3] According to Na'aman, Simeonites settled in a pattern which overlapped Judah: while maintaining a distinct tribal identity and organization throughout the First Temple period (until 586 BC), Simeonites and Judahites lived in some of the same areas.[3]


Map of the twelve tribes of Israel; Simeon is shaded gold, in the south
Map of Simeon's territory (east is on the top of the map)

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.[4] However, Arthur Peake (1919) suggested that the narratives about the twelve sons of Jacob in Genesis might include later tribal history "disguised as personal history," in which the later histories of these tribal groups are recast in the form of narratives about supposed ancestors.[5] Likewise, the consensus position of contemporary scholarship is that "there is little or no historical memory of pre-Israelite events or circumstances in Genesis."[6]

In the biblical account, following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes. Kenneth Kitchen, a well-known conservative biblical scholar, dates this event to slightly after 1200 BCE.[7] However, the consensus view of modern scholars is that the conquest of Joshua as described in the Book of Joshua never occurred.[8][9][10]

Martin Noth argued that the six tribes that the Bible traces to Leah, including Simeon, were once part of an amphictyony prior to the later coalition of twelve tribes.[11][12] According to Niels Peter Lemche, "Noth's amphictyonic hypothesis determined a whole generation of Old Testament scholars' way of thinking."[13] However, more recently a large number of scholars have dissented from Noth's theory.[14]

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.[15] 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, generally considered one of the earliest-written parts of the Hebrew Bible,[16][17] and the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) claims that Simeon was probably "not always counted as a tribe."[18] 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.[19][page needed] Another possibility is that Simeon, along with Judah, had simply not joined the Israelite confederacy at this point,[20][21] or that they had seceded.[22]

Family tree[edit]


Biblical narrative[edit]

Towns belonging to Simeon are listed in the Book of Joshua;[23] elsewhere in Joshua these towns are ascribed to Judah.[18][24] Most modern 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.[25][3][26]

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.[27] Although the Bible places these censuses during the Exodus, some textual scholars place their authorship in the period of Priestly Source, which Richard Elliot Freedman dates to between 722 and 609 BC.[28][29] Other scholars usually place the Priestly Source in the post-exilic period, and some deny its existence altogether.[30][31] The tribe is included in the Blessing of Moses (DEU 33:6) as found in the Septuagint, whereas the name is omitted from the Masoretic Text.

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.[32] In the following verse, which may or may not be related,[18] 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.[33] Further verses state that about 500 men from the tribe migrated to Mount Seir, slaughtering the Amalekites who had previously settled there.[34]

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.

In Revelation 7:7, the Tribe of Simeon is once again listed among the Twelve Tribes of Israel with 12,000 of the sons of Israel from the tribe sealed on the forehead.

Extrabiblical sources[edit]

According to a Midrash, many Simeonite widows were married into other Israelite tribes, after the death of 24,000 Simeonite men following the scandal involving Zimri.[18]

A 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.[18] Conversely, Eldad ha-Dani held 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).


  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. ^ Joshua 19:1–9
  3. ^ a b c d e Na'aman, Nadav (1980). "The Inheritance of the Sons of Simeon". Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins. 96 (2): 136–152. JSTOR 27931137.
  4. ^ See for example Genesis 29, Exodus 1, Numbers 1
  5. ^ Peake, Arthur. (1919). Peake's Commentary on the Bible, Introduction to Genesis.
  6. ^ Ronald Hendel (20 March 2012). "Historical Context". In Craig A. Evans; Joel N. Lohr; David L. Petersen (eds.). The Book of Genesis: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation. BRILL. p. 64. ISBN 978-90-04-22653-1.
  7. ^ Kitchen, Kenneth A. (2003), On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)(ISBN 0-8028-4960-1)[page needed]
  8. ^ “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 (eds.). The Face of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches. Baker Academic. p. 200. ISBN 978-0-8010-2871-7.
  9. ^ ”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.
  10. ^ "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.
  11. ^ Donald G. Schley (1 May 1989). Shiloh: A Biblical City in Tradition and History. A&C Black. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-567-06639-8.
  12. ^ John H. Hayes (7 June 2013). Interpreting Ancient Israelite History, Prophecy, and Law. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-63087-440-7.
  13. ^ Niels Peter Lemche (19 September 2014). Biblical Studies and the Failure of History: Changing Perspectives 3. Taylor & Francis. p. 164. ISBN 978-1-317-54494-4.
  14. ^ George W. Ramsey (30 August 1999). The Quest for the Historical Israel. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 89. ISBN 978-1-57910-271-5.
  15. ^ Judges 1:1–2
  16. ^ For the age of the Song of Deborah see David Noel Freedman (1980). Pottery, Poetry, and Prophecy: Studies in Early Hebrew Poetry. Eisenbrauns. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-931464-04-1.
  17. ^ Wong, Gregory T.K. (2007). "Song of Deborah as Polemic". Biblica. 88 (1): 1–22. JSTOR 42614746.
  18. ^ a b c d e Public Domain Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Simeon, Tribe of". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  19. ^ Finkelstein, I., The Bible Unearthed
  20. ^ Baruch Halpern (1981). "The Uneasy Compromise: Israel between League and Monarchy". In Baruch Halpern; Jon D. Levenson (eds.). Traditions in Transformation: Turning Points in Biblical Faith. Eisenbrauns. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-931464-06-5.
  21. ^ Norman K. Gottwald (18 August 2009). A Light to the Nations: An Introduction to the Old Testament. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 175. ISBN 978-1-60608-980-4.
  22. ^ John H. Hayes (7 June 2013). Interpreting Ancient Israelite History, Prophecy, and Law. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-63087-440-7.
  23. ^ Joshua 19:2-6
  24. ^ Joshua 15:26-32, 15:42
  25. ^ Public Domain Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Joshua, Book of". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  26. ^ On the authorship of Joshua in general, see Thomas B. Dozeman (25 August 2015). Joshua 1-12: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Yale University Press. p. 441. ISBN 978-0-300-17273-7.
  27. ^ From 59,300 in Numbers 1:23 to 22,200 in Numbers 26:14.
  28. ^ Public Domain Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Priestly Code". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  29. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (Harper San Francisco) (1987) ISBN 0-06-063035-3. For the census accounts being priestly material, see pp. 252, 254. On the dating of the priestly source, see p. 210.
  30. ^ Susan Niditch (26 January 2016). The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Ancient Israel. John Wiley & Sons. p. 407. ISBN 978-0-470-65677-8.
  31. ^ Propp, William H. C. (1996). "The Priestly Source Recovered Intact?". Vetus Testamentum. 46 (4): 458–478. doi:10.1163/1568533962581783. JSTOR 1584959.
  32. ^ 1 Chronicles 4:38-40
  33. ^ 1 Chronicles 4:41
  34. ^ 1 Chronicles 4:42-43