Israel (ĭzˈrēəl, ĭzˈrāəl) [key] [as understood by Hebrews, = he strives with God], according to the book of Genesis, name given to Jacob as eponymous ancestor of the Hebrews, the chosen people of God. In the story, Jacob finds himself struggling with a being who, by the end of the narrative, is sometimes taken to be revealed as God. The story highlights the theme of Jacob's conflict and alienation from people (Isaac, Laban, and Esau) and God. The struggle marks a critical stage in the psychological development of Jacob.
The 12 tribes of Israel were named for 10 sons of Jacob (Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, and Benjamin) and the two sons of Jacob's son Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh); the 13th tribe, Levi (the third of Jacob's sons), was set apart and had no one portion of land of its own. A break in the Hebrew kingdom was precipitated by Rehoboam, a son of Solomon. An independent southern kingdom, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin as well as a portion of the Levites, was called Judah; the northern kingdom, which consisted of the rest of what had been the larger Hebrew nation, was called Israel.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.