I have a question that I have a hard time answering. Did a remnant of Northern Kingdom return to the land after the Babylonian captivity and if so, did their tribal allotment originally in the book of Joshua still apply to them? The reason I ask is because it seems like tribal distinctions had not disappeared. For example:

When the Jews settled in their own land, they began to rebuild the temple. When completed, it was formally dedicated. At the dedication, sacrifices were offered “according to the number of the tribes of Israel” (Ezra 6:17,Numbers 7:87). Even when Jesus was born, and was brought to Jerusalem to fulfill certain requirements of the law, there was a Hebrew woman, a prophetess of the tribe of Asher (one of the supposedly “lost” tribes), who was praising God in the temple. The prophet Zechariah talked about Ephraim and Judah fighting the Greeks referring to the time of the Maccabees.

My question is did the tribal allotments of northern kingdom still apply to them after Babylonian captivity ended?

6 Answers 6


The tribal "allotment" was a one-time division of the land by which it was assigned to individual owners that were members of a given tribe. It was not something that "applied" throughout a period of time. It was an event, not a policy. Think of it as an army dividing the spoils of war.

In theory, the jubilee year should mark the return of the land to the ancestral owner, which would tend to tie those who owned land to their land, but in practice the jubilees were often not honored and many were landless. So over the 900 years from the division until the Babylonian captivity there would be quite a bit of mixing, especially as refugees moved back and forth, and especially refugees from the Assyrian conquest.

But only captives from the Southern Kingdom returned from Persia, and we're only talking about roughly 40,000 people total returning, although admittedly this may just be counting men - the counts are in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7. But as there was mixing, I'm sure some representatives of all tribes were taken captive, and it could be that some representatives of all tribes returned.

Ezra 6:17 just says that 12 goats were offered for the 12 tribes. That's it. No tribal "allotments" nothing about sacrifices based on the number of members of each tribe, but 12 goats for 12 tribes, wherever they may be.

This sacrifice of 12 goats is completely different from the seventh chapter of Numbers which lists the offerings given by the princes of each of the 12 tribes.


When Cyrus allowed the Jews to return, Ezra 2:70 tells us

“Now the priests and the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers and the temple servants lived in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.”


I'll take a stab at the first question in the OP: "Did a remnant of Northern Kingdom return to the land after the Babylonian captivity and if so, did their tribal allotment originally in the book of Joshua still apply to them?"

If we go by the biblical account, the northern tribes did not participate in the Babylonian captivity but were taken to Assyria a few generations earlier. Also, we should not think of this as a complete emptying of the inhabitants of either kingdom. The new rulers only needed to exile the high-class types: royalty, bureaucrats, priests, influential businessmen known to be hostile etc. The vast majority would have remained in place tending subsistence farms, herding sheep, fishing, marketing, or doing semi-skilled construction. About the northern exile, there an interesting passage that speaks to the question, in 1 Kings 17

''the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharva′im, and placed them in the cities of Samar′ia instead of the people of Israel; and they took possession of Samar′ia, and dwelt in its cities. 25 And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations which you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samar′ia do not know the law of the god of the land; therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away thence; and let him[c] go and dwell there, and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samar′ia came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord.''

So at least ONE person returned during the exile, and probably many more. The Assyrians did not have the bureaucratic capacity to prevent "illegal immigration." Nor would they have a reason to prevent it unless it posed a serious threat. Apparently, they actually wanted the worship of Israel's God to continue, too.

Finally, a word about the Samaritans. While the "lost tribes" narrative generally prevails, IMO we should think of the northern tribes as evolving into the nation of Samaria, similar to the southern tribes [and some immigrants from the north] becoming Judea. They seem not to have retained strong tribal identities, but neither did those of various tribes who settled in Judea as Jews.


Ephraim became gentile Samaria. There were still people in the land that were not taken prisoner to Babylon. Babylon retained them to farm the land, or estates such as Ramat Rahel which has recently been discovered as a Babylonian managed estate of grapes and olive tees.

The last verse in Jeremiah tells how many priests were taken to Babylon.

Archaeology digs managed by the University of Tel Aviv have proven that about 20,000 to 30,000 Jews returned from Babylon, not the millions that has been assumed. There were 3 deportations.

Ezekiel was taken in the first deportation, Daniel in the second deportation, then the masses in the third.


Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews speaks of Ephraim / deported Israel as being a vast nation, uncountable for number, beyond the Euphrates....they were asked to defend Jerusalem from the Greeks, but declined to return south.

  • Also note that the Babylonian Captivity was of the Jews (and some Levites and the remnant of Benjamin). The rest of Israel had been taken into Captivity by the Assyrians and as Josephus said near the end of the first century, their location was still known and they hadn't returned to the Holy Land. Commented Apr 18 at 12:15

The tribal allotments did not strictly segregate the settlement of tribes within their designated lands. During the initial division of the kingdom, northern tribes found themselves settled in Judah as minorities. This is evidenced by;

1 Kings 12:17 NIV

But as for the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah, Rehoboam still ruled over them.

2 Chronicles 11:16 NIV

Those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the Lord, the God of their ancestors.

The exiles from Babylonia undoubtedly included members of the northern tribes who had settled in Jerusalem. This hasn't included those who sought refuge in Jerusalem when Samaria was destroyed by the Assyrian in 712BC.

Furthermore, the tribal allotments lost their significance as the number of returned exiles was minimal, and they all chose to settled in the vicinity of Jerusalem. With Ezra the priest enforcing marriage within tribe (Ezra 10), it becomes understandable that by the time of Jesus, remnants of the northern tribes still retained recognition of their identities.

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