The Israelites is the English name for the nation of Israel who were the dominant cultural and ethnic group living in the southern Levant in Biblical times between (1273 and 423 BCE), composing the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah after 797 BCE. According to the Tanakh, they were divided in twelve tribes, each descending from one of the twelve sons and grandsons of Jacob. Modern Jews share this common descent.
The Israelites were traditionally divided into family lines each called a shevet or mateh in Hebrew meaning literally a staff or rod. The term is conventionally translated as "tribe" in English although the divisions were not small isolated distinct ethnic groups in the modern sense of the term.
In the Jewish tradition, a Levite (Hebrew for "Attached") is a member of the Hebrew tribe of Levi. When Joshua led the Israelites into the land of Canaan, the Levites were the only Israelite tribe who received cities but no tribal land "because the Lord the God of Israel himself is their possession". The Tribe of Levi served particular religious duties for the Israelites and had political responsibilities as well. In return, the landed tribes were expected to give tithe to the Levites, particularly the tithe known as the Maaser Rishon or Levite Tithe. (from: Wikipedia)
The Tribe of Zebulun (Hebrew for: "Dwelling; habitation") was one of the Tribes of Israel. At its height, the territory it occupied was at the southern end of the Galilee, with its eastern border being the Sea of Galilee, the western border being the Mediterranean Sea, the south being bordered by the Tribe of Issachar, and the north by Asher on the western side and Naphtali on the eastern. (from: Wikipedia)
The Tribe of Gad (Hebrew for "soldier" or "luck") was one of the Tribes of Israel. At its height, Gad occupied a region to the east of the River Jordan, though the exact location is ambiguous; among the cities mentioned by the Bible as having at some point been part of Gad were Ramoth, Jaezer, Aroer, and Dibon, though some of these are marked elsewhere as belonging to Reuben. The location was never secure from invasion and attacks, since to the south it was exposed to the Moabites, and like the other tribes east of the Jordan was exposed on the north and east to Aram-Damascus and later the Assyrians. (from: Wikipedia)
The Tribe of Benjamin (Hebrew for "youngest son") was one of the Tribes of Israel. At its height, the territory it occupied was sandwiched between that of Ephraim to the north and Judah to the south, with the Jordan River as the eastern border, and included many historically important cities, such as Bethel, Gibeah, and encroached on the northern hills of Jerusalem. Its situation, between the leading tribe of the Kingdom of Israel (Ephraim), and the leading tribe of the Kingdom of Judah (Judah), is seemingly prophesied in the Blessing of Moses, where it is described as dwelling between YHWH's shoulders, though textual scholars view this as postdiction - the poem being written long after the tribe had settled there. (from: Wikipedia)
The Tribe of Simeon (Hebrew for "Hearkening; listening") was one of the Tribes of Israel. At its height, the territory it occupied 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. Simeon was one of the less significant tribes in the Kingdom of Judah. (from: Wikipedia)
The Tribe of Issachar was one of the Tribes of Israel. At its height, the territory it occupied was immediately north of (the western half of) Manasseh, and south of Zebulun and Naphtali, stretching from the Jordan River in the east, to the coast in the west; this region included the fertile Esdraelon plain. (from: Wikipedia)
The Tribe of Naphtali (Hebrew for "my struggle") was one of the Tribes of Israel. At its height, Naphtali occupied the eastern side of the Galilee (on the immediate west of the Sea of Galilee), in the areas now known as the Lower Galilee, and Upper Galilee, and was bordered on the west by Asher, in the north by Dan, in the south by Zebulun, and by the Jordan River on the east; the most significant city was Hazor. In this region, bordering the Sea of Galilee, was the highly fertile plain of Gennesaret, characterised by Josephus as the ambition of nature, an earthly paradise, and with the southern portion of the region acting as a natural pass between the highlands of Canaan, several major roads (such as those from Damascus to Tyre and Acre) ran through it. The prosperity this situation brought is seemingly prophesied in the Blessing of Moses, though textual scholars view this as a clear case of postdiction, dating the poem to well after the tribe had been established in the land. (from: Wikipedia)
The Tribe of Joseph was one of the Tribes of Israel, though since Ephraim and Manasseh together traditionally constituted the tribe of Joseph, it was often not listed as one of the tribes, in favour of Ephraim and Manasseh being listed in its place; consequently it was often termed the House of Joseph, to avoid the use of the term tribe. According to the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, the ensign of the Tribe of Joseph, and the Tribe of Benjamin, was the figure of a boy, with the inscription: the cloud of the Lord rested on them until they went forth out of the camp (a reference to events in the Exodus). There were obvious linguistic differences between at least one portion of Joseph and the other Israelite tribes, since at a time when Ephraim were at war with the Israelites of Gilead, under the leadership of Jephthah, 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.
At its height, the territory of Joseph spanned the Jordan River, the eastern portion being almost entirely discontinuous from the western portion, only slightly touching at one corner - north east of the western portion and the south west of the eastern portion. The western portion was at the centre of Canaan, west of the Jordan, between the Tribe of Issachar on the north, and Tribe of Benjamin on the south; the region which was later named Samaria (as distinguished from Judea or Galilee) mostly consisted of the western portion of Joseph. The eastern portion of Joseph was the northernmost Israelite group on the east of the Jordan, occupying the land north of the tribe of Gad, extending from the Mahanaim in the south to Mount Hermon in the north, and including within it the whole of Bashan. These territories abounded in water, a precious commodity in Canaan, and the mountainous portions not only afforded protection, but happened to be highly fertile; early centres of Israelite religion - Shechem and Shiloh - were additionally situated in the region. The territory of Joseph was thus one of the most valuable parts of the country, and the House of Joseph became the most dominant group in the Kingdom of Israel. (from: Wikipedia)
The Tribe of Reuben was one of the Tribes of Israel. At its height, the territory it occupied was on the immediate east of the Dead Sea, reaching from the Arnon river in the south, and as far north as the Dead Sea stretched, with an eastern border vaguely defined by the land dissolving into desert; the territory included the plain of Madaba. The exact border between Reuben and the Tribe of Gad, generally considered to have been situated to the south of Reuben, is somewhat vague in the Bible, with Dibon and Aroer being part of Gad according to the Book of Numbers, but part of Reuben according to the Book of Joshua; this seems to suggest that the territory of Reuben was an enclave in the territory of Gad. (from: Wikipedia)
The Tribe of Judah (Hebrew for: "Praise") was one of the Tribes of Israel. At its height, it was the leading tribe of the Kingdom of Judah, and occupied most of the territory of the kingdom, except for a small region in the north east occupied by Benjamin, and an enclave towards the south west which was occupied by Simeon.
The size of the territory of the tribe of Judah meant that in practice it had four distinct regions:
The Tribe of Dan (Hebrew for: "Judge") was one of the Tribes of Israel. At its height, the territory it occupied was the most northerly region occupied by the Israelite tribes, and was situated to the north of the Galilee, and west of the Jordan, stretching north as far as Laish, Dan's main city (which became known as Dan in consequence).
In the Biblical census of the Book of Numbers, the tribe of Dan is portrayed as the largest Israelite tribe. Some textual scholars regard the census as being from the Priestly Source, dating it to around the 7th century BC, and more likely to reflect the biases of its authors, though this still implies that Dan was one of the largest tribes at a point fresh to the memories of the 7th century BC. In the Blessing of Moses, which some textual scholars regard as dating from only slightly earlier than the deuteronomist, Dan is seemingly prophesied to leap from Bashan; scholars are uncertain why this should be since the tribe are not recorded as having ever been resident in the Bashan plain, which lies to the east of the Jordan. (from: Wikipedia)
The Tribe of Asher (Hebrew for: "happy") was one of the Tribes of Israel. At its height, Asher dwelled in western Galilee, a region with comparatively low temperature, and much rainfall, making it some of the most fertile land in Canaan, with rich pasture, wooded hills, and orchards; as such Asher was particularly prosperous, and known for its olive oil. The Blessing of Moses appears to prophecy this, though textual scholars view this as a clear case of postdiction. (from: Wikipedia)
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