I received a request to show where, in modern times, the 12 tribes of Israel are located. I was hoping to find a present-day map of Israel and its surrounding areas with the tribal areas superimposed on it, but no such luck. I’ve taken the following two maps from Wikipedia – the one on top obviously shows the tribes, the one on bottom is present-day. With words, I’ll try to further describe.
Reuben was the first-born son. His land allotment was to the east of the Dead Sea, in present-day Jordan. It included Mount Nebo, where Moses was given a view of the promised land -- "And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho." (Deuteronomy 34:1), although there is apparently some dispute among scholars of whether this is, in fact, the “same” Mount Nebo.
Simeon, the second-born son, had his allotment fully enclosed within his brother Judah’s to the west and heading south of the Dead Sea. Simeon is seen as one of the lesser tribes. However, the fairly well-known city of Beersheba is located within the territory. Today, Russian and Ethiopian Jews immigrate there, making it the 7th largest city in Israel.
The tribe of Levi was not allocated a specific territory as they were not allowed to own land due to their status of serving in the priesthood. The Jewish Encyclopedia includes the following cities as being those allocated to the Levites: Hebron, Libnah, Jattir, Eshtemoa, Holon, Debir, Ain, Juttah, and Beth-shemesh within Judah’s land; in the territory of Benjamin their cities were Gibeon, Geba, Anathoth, and Almon; from Ephraim they took Shechem, Gezer, Kibzaim, and Beth-horon; from Dan, Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Aijalon, and Gath-rimmon; from the tribe of Manasseh, Tanach, Gath-rimmon, Golan, and Beeshterah; from Issachar, Kishon, Dabareh, Jarmuth, and En-gannim; from Asher, Mishal, Abdon, Helkath, and Rehob; from Naphtali, Kedesh, Hammoth-dor, and Kartan; from Zebulun, Jokneam, Kartah, Dimnah, and Nahalal; from Reuben, Bezer, Jahazah, Kedemoth, and Mephaath; and from Gad, Ramoth in Gilead, Mahanaim, Heshbon, and Jazer.
Judah received a large portion of land in southern Israel, west of the Dead Sea. Bethlehem and Hebron are perhaps the most familiar city-names for us today.
The tribe of Dan received land in southern Israel along the Mediterranean Sea. The city of Jaffa (today incorporated into the city of Tel Aviv) is an ancient port associate with the story of Jonah. The port was also that in which the cedars for Solomon’s Temple were delivered.
Naphtali was allotted land in northern Israel, immediately west of the Sea of Galilee (not marked on either map, but the smaller blue body north of the Dead Sea). Today this area is known as the Upper and Lower Galilee. The most important city was Hazor (currently called “Tel Hazor” or “Tell el-Qedah”) which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 as one of the Biblical Tells (a type of archaeological mound created by human occupation and abandonment of a geographical site over many centuries).
Gad was allocated the land east of the River Jordan just north of the Dead Sea. The borders between Gad and Reuben were tenuous at best, but the cities of Ramoth, Jaezer, Aroer, and Dibon are usually associated with Gad. Today this area is located in the country of Jordan. Modern-day Dhibon is chiefly Islamic and a fairly prosperous Jordanian city.
Asher’s allotment was just west of Gad, in northern Israel along the Mediterranean Sea. The climate was such that the land was fertile and produced olives in such quantities that the tribe of Asher was fairly prosperous. The cities of Tyre and Sidon are today in Lebanon. They are perhaps best-known to us as being locations where Jesus went and healed a Gentile (Matthew 15:21 and Mark 7:24).
The tribe of Issachar was allotted land just south of the Sea of Galilee and west of the Jordan River. According to the books of Kings, the royal palace of King Ahab was located in the city of Jezreel, part of this territory. In modern times, this location is an archaeological site, having been excavated in 1987 when ruins were first discovered.
Zebulun’s land lies just west of Issachar and surrounded by his brothers’ Manassah, Naphtali, and Asher’s allotments. It is possible that the city of Nazareth was located within this area, although I’m certain others would claim it elsewhere. Nazareth is visited by many Christians today as Jesus resided there during his life.
Joseph, the allotter of the land, isn’t traditionally attributed with having a portion. Rather, the portions of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. These lands are west of the Jordan River and go west to the Mediterranean Sea. Ephraim’s portion was the southern part. Tel Aviv is probably the most-well-known current-day city in this region. It is the second largest city in Israel and is often considered the capital by foreign countries as Jerusalem is (sadly) in dispute.
Benjamin, the youngest son of Israel, received a portion of the land between Ephraim and Judah, just west of the Jordan. Within its small boundaries lie both Bethlehem and Jericho, with which we are quite familiar. Jericho is the lowest permanently inhabited site in the world and may be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. Bethlehem, of course, is where Jesus was born. Today the population is mostly Islamic, although it is also home to one of the largest Palestinian Christian communities. Tourists flock to the area at Christmas and Jews and Christians alike visit Rachel’s tomb which is located at the northern entrance to Bethlehem.
I would personally love to visit Israel some day and am certain that I would be overwhelmed both with awe and the amount of history surrounding me.