MANASSEH, TRIBE OF

Among the tribes of Israel there were two, Ephraim and Manasseh, that took their names not from Jacob’s sons but from his grandsons. Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph. When Jacob determined to give the firstborn’s blessing to Joseph instead of to Reuben (for Reuben had disqualified himself by raping one of his father’s concubines; Gen 35:22; 49:3-4; 1 Chron 5:1-2), he raised Joseph’s two sons to the same status as Joseph’s brothers (Gen 48:5-6). As a result Joseph, through his two sons, received two tribes, but each of his brothers received only one. Though Manasseh was born before Ephraim, Ephraim’s tribe was senior to Manasseh’s (Gen 48:12-20). Manasseh differed from all other tribes in Israel in that it was divided into two portions. Half the tribe lived in Canaan (the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea) and the other half lived in the area east of Jordan (Josh 22:7). In all there were nine and a half tribes in Canaan and two and a half east of Jordan.

The two tribes that settled east of Jordan with half of Manasseh were Reuben and Gad (Num 32:1- 5,33; Josh 13:8-33). (For an outline of the settlement and history of the eastern tribes see REUBEN.) The land occupied by the eastern half of Manasseh was the most northern of these three tribal areas. Its northern part was commonly known as Bashan, and included the towns Golan and Edrei (Josh 13:29-31; 22:7; see BASHAN). Its southern part was sometimes known as Gilead, a name commonly applied to the neighbouring tribe Gad, and even to the entire region east of Jordan. Ramoth-gilead was an important frontier town where Gilead bordered Gentile territory to the east (1 Kings 22:3; see GILEAD; RAMOTH-GILEAD). West of Jordan the other half of Manasseh occupied good land to the north of the tribe of Ephraim (Josh 17:1-12). Although Ephraim and Manasseh between them received one of the largest and best portions of Canaan, they still complained that they had not enough land. Joshua gave them no more, but told them to make better use of the land they already had. They could do this by clearing the forest and driving out the remaining Canaanites (Josh 17:14-18). Within the northern part of this territory was part of the Plain of Esdraelon, site of many of Israel’s battles (see PALESTINE). (For the important towns of West Manasseh see BETHSHAN; JEZREEL; MEGIDDO.)

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