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Are the Twelve Tribes of Israel a Myth?


Season 1: Episode 30
Are the Twelve Tribes of Israel a Myth?
Date Aired: 07/18/2023

The existence of the 12 tribes of Israel is central to the narrative of the Hebrew Bible. The tribes were named after the 12 sons of the patriarch Jacob and believed to be their direct descendants. As the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt, wandered the desert for 40 years, and eventually conquered and settled the “promised land” of Canaan, they did it all as members of these 12 named tribes. But do we have any evidence outside of the Bible that the 12 Tribes actually existed? Our guest, Andrew Tobolowsky, has studied the history of the 12 Tribes both within the biblical texts and beyond, and has some intriguing theories to how the idea of the 12 Tribes originally took form and why it’s endured to this day. 

Listen to the episode on the Biblical Time Machine website or wherever you get your podcasts.

Disclaimer: The Society of Biblical Literature is not responsible for the content of this podcast. The opinions expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect those of the Society of Biblical Literature, its members, or its staff.

  • The Biblical Time Machine Podcast is hosted by Helen Bond and Dave Roos. Helen Bond is professor of Christian origins at Edinburgh University. She is the author of Women Remembered: Jesus’s Female Disciples, The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel, and The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed. Her research focuses on the social and political history of first century Judaea, the historical Jesus and the canonical gospels. Dave Roos is a journalist and writer who contributes to, HowStuffWorks and the popular podcast Stuff You Should Know. Dave has a degree in religious studies from Duke University.