No Certain Answer
Commentators have tended to phrase the question differently than here, in that they tend to acknowledge no doubt on the fact that Caleb is considered of the tribe of Judah (Num 13:6; cf. ), what they question is the precise meaning of him being called a Kenizzite in Num 32:12 (and Josh 14:6, 14).
But however one phrases it, there does seem to be unknowns and speculation within Caleb's ancestry in relation to the tribe of Judah and the Kenizzite statement.
Surveying various Bible Dictionaries and commentaries (which will be parenthetically referenced by abbreviations here)
1, and remembering the term Kenizzite simply means "son of Kenaz" (NAC:J), the following theories are put forth:
Related to Esau: Caleb had some ancestral relation to the Edomites through Esau's son Epliphaz who had a son named Kenaz (Gen 36:11) who was a chief (Gen 36:15), and one possible ancestor of the Canaanite people group known as the Kenizzites (Gen 15:19), who may be part of the mixed-multitude that joined Israel (Ex 12:38; Num 11:4), and lived in the southern part of what would become Judah's territory (1 Sam 27:10, 30:29; cf. 1 Chr 2:42), and so joined specifically into Judah (EBD; ISBE; BEB).
Related to Moses by Marriage/Adopted by tribe of Judah: Caleb had some relation to the Kenite that was the father-in-law of Moses, and that man's children, who are noted to have specifically joined the tribe of Judah (Jdg 1:16)(ISBE); this may or may not still be related to ancestry in #1.
Purely Judhite Ancestor: Caleb had a younger brother named Kenaz who was father to Othniel (Josh 15:17, Jdg 1:13, et al.; though some believe this is not a parentage, but simply a statement that Othniel was also Kenizzite [NBD]); Othniel became Caleb's son-in-law (EBD); this association of the name, coupled with name reappearing in the later descendants of Caleb (1 Chr 4:15) may mean that the term is simply a family name among the Judhites such that one of Caleb's ancestors was also named Kenaz (the term in relation to Caleb is always associated to Jephunneh, so either Caleb's grandfather or further ancestor), and therefore with no relation to the other Kenizzites found in Scripture (NAC:J; LBD).
Whichever one is the proper ancestral lineage, it is generally held that Hezron (son of Perez, son of Judah, Gen 46:12) is either the actual ancestor of Caleb (#3) or the particular family branch of Judah in which the Kenizzite people (#1 or 2) were adopted into (EBD, LBD), per 1 Chronicles chapters 2-4 (along with Num 13:6); though some argue that Caleb descended from Hezron in 1 Chronicles is someone different from Caleb, son of Jephunneh (LBD).
If #1 or #2 are true, then a quote from LBD makes an interesting comment:
Butler points out that Caleb’s story does not hide his Kenizzite status, so Caleb’s blessings were clearly not due to solid family connections to Judah but instead were a result of his choice to follow God fully. Thus Caleb was a faithful example for the mixed Jewish people returning from exile to reclaim the land of Israel ([Trent C.] Butler, Joshua, [Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 7 (Dallas: Word Books, 1984),] 97).
Evidence does not appear to lead to any certainty on a resolution to the complex nature of the references to Caleb with respect to Judah and some (distant?) Kenaz relative in his past, and thus whether he was purely Judhite or not.
1 The following sources were consulted in making this summary:
- BEB = Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988).
- EBD = Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), s.v. KENAZ.
- ISBE = E. W. G. Masterman in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, James Orr, John L. Nuelsen, Edgar Y. Mullins, and Morris O. Evans, eds. (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), s.v. Judah, Territory Of.
- LBD =Meredith Faubel Nyberg's article in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, eds. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), s.v. Caleb, Israelite Spy, Son of Jephunneh.
- NAC:J = David M. Howard, Jr., Joshua, Vol. 5, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), Joshua 14:6.
- NBD = J. P. U. Lilley' article in New Bible Dictionary, D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, and D. J. Wiseman, eds. (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1996), s.v. Kenizzites.