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The Tribe of Manasseh

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Christians wonder why the tribe of Manasseh is usually called a ‘half tribe’, as compared to the ‘full’, other, nine tribes. We have a number of these references. Really, it is called a ‘half tribe’ not because it was not a full tribe, but in reference to certain matters concerning them:

Numbers 34:13

“And Moses commanded the children of Israel, saying, This is the land which ye shall inherit by lot, which the LORD commanded to give unto the nine tribes, and to the half tribe:”

“Half”, chetsiy, means ‘half, or middle, or part’ (thus, it can also mean midnight), from the root verb, chatsah, meaning cut in two, part or divide (usually into two parts). ‘Tribe’, or matteh, means a (full) tribe. Allied meanings are a staff or rod, because a tribe was led by a chief with an honorary staff or rod of office. There are other less obvious meanings, but all related. In this context, then, Moses gave an inheritance to nine tribes plus half a tribe (though the tribe itself was a full tribe).

Reference to the half-tribe is also found in, say, Numbers 34:15, where  “two tribes and the half tribe have received their inheritance...”. Later, in Deuteronomy 3:13, we find that the ‘half tribe’ is named Manasseh, who inherited the land of Argob and Bashan, formerly belonging to a tribe of giants. Later, after the victory over the Canaanites, the tribe had two territories, one each side of the Jordan.


Manasseh (‘causing to forget’) was the eldest son of Joseph, and so grandson of Jacob. The name was given by Joseph because his firstborn caused him to forget his previous troubles and woes. Joseph’s other son was Ephraim. Both were blessed by their grandfather, Israel/Jacob (Genesis 48:20).

“And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house.” (Genesis 41:51)

In Numbers (e.g. 32:33, 34:14, Joshua 1:12; 4:12, 18:7) further define “half tribe” as “half the tribe”. Joshua 22:7 adds light to this situation:

“Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given possession in Bashan: but unto the other half thereof gave Joshua among their brethren on this side Jordan westward. And when Joshua sent them away also unto their tents, then he blessed them,”

Thus, Moses promised one half of the tribe Bashan, and Joshua gave the other half the land west of Jordan, with a blessing.

Why ‘Half Tribe’? (Or “half the tribe”)

Manasseh and Ephraim were both sons of Joseph, and so grandsons of Jacob. Thus both were ‘of the house of Joseph’. The tribe of Manasseh comprised of a loose combination of Israelite tribes after the conquest of Canaan.

Half of the tribe of Manasseh, together with the tribes of Gad and Reuben, settled on the east of Jordon. Later, the other half of the tribe settled west of the Jordon. The Reubenites and Gadites asked God for the east, as a special favour. When they settled east of the Jordon following the defeat of the Amorite kings, half of the tribe of Manasseh joined them (hence the ‘half [of the] tribe of Manasseh’). If you look at a map of the ancient allocations of land, you will see that between them, the families of Manasseh owned a very large portion of Canaan.

The Tribal Divisions of the Land of Israel

So, the ‘problem’ does not exist. Just read as ‘Half of the tribe of Manasseh’.

© September 2017

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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom