According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Manasseh (/məˈnæsə/; Hebrew: שבט מְנַשֶּׁה, Modern Shevat Menashe, Tiberian Shevaṭ Mənaššé; “who makes to forget”) was one of the Tribes of Israel. Together with the Tribe of Ephraim, Manasseh also formed the House of Joseph.
In the biblical narrative, the Tribe of Manasseh was a part of a loose confederation of Israelite tribes from after the conquest of the land by Joshua until the formation of the first Kingdom of Israel in c. 1050 BC. No central government existed, and in times of crisis the people were led by ad hoc leaders known as Judges. (see the Book of Judges) With the growth of the threat from Philistine incursions, the Israelite tribes decided to form a strong centralised monarchy to meet the challenge, and the Tribe of Manasseh joined the new kingdom with Saul as the first king. After the death of Saul, all the tribes other than Judah remained loyal to the House of Saul, but after the death of Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son and successor to the throne of Israel, the Tribe of Manasseh joined the other northern Israelite tribes in making David, who was then the king of Judah, king of a re-united Kingdom of Israel. However, on the accession of Rehoboam, David’s grandson, in c. 930 BC the northern tribes split from the House of David to reform a Kingdom of Israel as the Northern Kingdom. Manasseh was a member of the kingdom until the kingdom was conquered by Assyria in c. 723 BC and the population deported.
From that time, the Tribe of Manasseh has been counted as one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, though some groups claim descent from the tribe.
The Bible records that following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite tribes, Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes. According to biblical scholar Kenneth Kitchen, this conquest should be dated slightly after 1200 BCE. However, the consensus of modern scholars is that the conquest of Joshua as described in the Book of Joshua never occurred.
At its height, the territory Manasseh occupied spanned the Jordan River, forming two “half-tribes”, one on each side; the eastern half-tribe was almost entirely discontiguous with the western half-tribe, only slightly touching at one corner – the south west of the eastern half-tribe and north east of the western half-tribe.
The western half-tribe occupied the land to the immediate north of Ephraim, in the centre of western Canaan, between the Jordan and the coast, with the Tribe of Issachar to the north, the north west corner being at Mount Carmel; the eastern half-tribe was the northernmost Israelite group on the east of the Jordan, occupying the land north of the tribe of Gad, extending from the Mahanaim in the south to Mount Hermon in the north, and including within it the whole of Bashan. These territories abounded in water, a precious commodity in Canaan, and thus constituted one of the most valuable parts of the country; additionally, Manasseh’s geographic situation enabled it to defend two important mountain passes – Esdraelon on the west of the Jordan and Hauran on the east.
In c. 732 BCE, Pekah, king of Israel allied with Rezin, king of Aram, and threatened Jerusalem. Ahaz, king of Judah, appealed to Tiglath-Pileser III, the king of Assyria, for help. After Ahaz paid tribute to Tiglath-Pileser Tiglath-Pileser sacked Damascus and Israel, annexing Aram and territory of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh in Gilead (east of the Jordan River) including the desert outposts of Jetur, Naphish and Nodab. The population of these territories were taken captive and resettled in Assyria, in the region of the Khabur River system. (2 Kings 16:9 and 15:29) The diminished kingdom of Israel was again invaded by Assyria in 723 BCE and the rest of the population deported.
The riverine gulch, naḥal Ḳanah (Joshua 17:9), divided Ephraim’s territory in the south from Manasseh’s territory in the north. The modern Israeli town of Karnei Shomron is built near this gulch, which runs in an easterly-westerly direction.
According to the Torah, the tribe consisted of descendants of Manasseh, a son of Joseph, from whom it took its name. Some critics, however, view this as a postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation In the Biblical account, Joseph is one of the two children of Rachel and Jacob, a brother to Benjamin, and father to both Ephraim, and his first son, Manasseh; Ephraim received the blessing of the firstborn, although Manasseh was the eldest, because Jacob foresaw that Ephraim’s descendants would be greater than his brother’s. Here the blessing of the first son was conferred by a grandfather rather than by the father, despite prevailing custom (great patriarchs supersede custom).
Though the biblical descriptions of the geographic boundary of the House of Joseph are fairly consistent, the descriptions of the boundaries between Manasseh and Ephraim are not, and each is portrayed as having exclaves within the territory of the other. Furthermore, in the Blessing of Jacob, and elsewhere ascribed by textual scholars to a similar or earlier time period, (e.g., Joshua 17:14-18) Ephraim and Manasseh are treated as a single tribe, with Joseph appearing in their place. From this it is regarded that originally Ephraim and Manasseh were considered one tribe – that of Joseph.
As part of the Kingdom of Israel, the territory of Manasseh was conquered by the Assyrians, and the tribe exiled; the manner of their exile lead to their further history being lost. However, several modern day groups claim descent, with varying levels of academic and rabbinical support. The Samaritans claim that some of their adherents are descended from this tribe. Further afield, in northeast India, the Kuki-Chin-Mizo Jews claim descent from Manasseh, and call themselves Bnei Menashe; in 2005 Shlomo Amar, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, announced that he regarded this claim to be true, which under the Law of Return allows them to migrate to Israel, as long as they formally convert to Judaism in accordance with halachic standards. From 2006 to 2012 Richard Hewitt presented several essays at academic conferences in Kyrgyzstan linking the Kyrgyz hero Manas son of Jakyp to biblical Manasseh son of Jacob. Hewitt also visited Dr. Milui Lenthang Khuplam (Khuplam Milui Lenthang) of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo and found several links between the bene Menashe of NE India and ethnic Kyrgyz.