The Clans of Manasseh -- By: Bryant G. Wood

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 10:1 (Winter 1997)
Article: The Clans of Manasseh
Author: Bryant G. Wood

The Clans of Manasseh

Bryant G. Wood


When the Israelites divided the land following the Conquest, they did so by clan allotment (Nm 33:54). A clan (Hebrew mishpacha) is a subtribal unit characteristic of a nomadic or semi-nomadic society. The primary nature of the clan is that it is a unit of recognizable kinship. It is made up of a number of extended families, each ruled by an elder. In Israelite society, tribal and clan descent was determined through the male line (called patrilineal descent).

Israelite tribal designations can be traced back to the sons of Jacob (Gn 29:31–30:24; 49). Each of his 12 sons became the head of a tribe, with one exception - Joseph. Jacob adopted Joseph’s two eldest sons Ephraim and Manasseh as his own, so that they became tribes of equal status with Jacob’s other 11 sons. Technically, then, there were 13 tribes. However, since the tribe of Levi was devoted to religious service, it did not receive a land allotment (Jos 13:14). Thus, the land was divided among 12 tribes (12 original sons, less Levi and Joseph, plus Ephraim and Manasseh).

An Israelite was identified by his extended family (Hebrew, beth ab, “house of the father”), clan (mishpacha), and tribe (Hebrew shebet) (see

Jos 7:16–18). The name of each clan came from its patriarch, a descendant of one of the sons of Jacob. Each clan existed for the good of the constituent families and was governed by the elders, i.e., the heads of each of the families that made up the clan. Additionally, in time of war, clans apparently supplied a military unit of fighting men, an ‘eleph (Mendenhall 1958). The term ‘eleph has been incorectly translated “1,000” in many passages of the Old Testament, leading to a misunderstanding of some of the numbers quoted.

In this article, we will focus on the clans of the half-tribe of Manasseh that settled in Canaan. A very important archaeological discovery has been made relating to these clans.

At the time Joshua divided the land, half of the tribe of Manasseh received an inheritance in Transjordan east of the Jordan river (Jos 13:29–31), and the other half received an inheritance in Canaan west of the Jordan river (Jos 17:1–13). The half-tribe in Canaan received 10 tracts of land, one for each of Gilead’s ...

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