Multi-generational non-descendants of Abraham were living
among the future Israelite nation.
Abraham’s household received another infusion of foreign
blood when Abimelech, king of the Philistine city of Gerar
(Genesis 20: 2; 26: 8), gave him additional servants (Genesis
20: 14) after Abraham tried the same trick he pulled with
Pharaoh. 15 When God made his covenant with Abraham
(Genesis 17), all males in the household, including Abraham,
his son Ishmael and all the servants, had to be circumcised
(Genesis 17: 23–27). But once a male was circumcised, he
would be considered under the covenant. Even though there
would certainly have been issues of ‘status’ and ‘place’, what
would have prevented intermarriage between the sons and
grandsons of Abraham and the servants? It would have been
more difficult (but not necessarily impossible) for a male to
marry in, but the women would have been fair game, so to
speak. Over time, therefore, the direct lineage of the Hebrews
would have become more and more mixed in its genetics.
But there remains an open question: What happened to
the ‘households’ of Abraham and Isaac? Upon his return,
Jacob initially lived separately from his brother and father
(Genesis 35: 1; 37: 1). Later, he went south to Hebron before
Isaac died (Genesis 35: 27–28). This was where Sarah had
died (Genesis 23: 2), and probably Abraham (Genesis 23: 19,
25: 9). Jacob was living in Hebron when he sent Joseph to
find his brothers (Gen 37: 12–17), so he clearly settled there.
The ancient process for the division of property upon
death of the owner was straightforward. There was no
difficulty for Isaac, for his inheritance was never in dispute.
But since Jacob was Isaac’s heir (Genesis 27), and since
Jacob was in Hebron when Isaac died, and afterwards, there
should have been no legal dispute (and there is no evidence
that Esau attempted one). Jacob would have received the
lion’s share of the wealth, goods, and servants from his
father’s house upon his death.
The starting point of Israel
An ‘Israelite’ is narrowly defined as a descendant
of Jacob. They started off with a significant amount of
inbreeding (Genesis 20: 12; 24: 24; 29: 10, 27). We do not
know the full ancestry of Leah and Rachel, and we know
nothing of Bilhah and Zilpah other than their names, nor
do we know the genealogy of most of the wives of the 12
Patriarchs. But, based on the parts of the family tree we have
been given, the 12 Patriarchs would have inherited between
17% and 22% of Terah’s genome, instead of the 1. 6–6.3%
expected after that many generations. 16
Inbred populations have less genetic diversity. Yet, this
would not have produced any ‘new’ genes, only changed
the frequencies of the genes already there. And despite this
starting point, it would not take much ‘outbreeding’ to get
the diversity back up.
Even though ‘ 70 souls’ went to Egypt during the famine
(Genesis 46: 26–27; Acts 7: 14), these are specifically listed
as ‘descendants of Israel’. Nothing is mentioned about the
others, but note that Genesis 46: 1 says that Jacob took “all
that he had” to Egypt. This does not specifically say they
took the servants with them, but they were a major part
of the household economy, were becoming more closely
related over time through natural intermixing, and leaving
them behind would almost certainly have consigned them
to death by starvation.
Whom did the sons of Jacob marry? We have little
information. Joseph married an Egyptian woman, Asenath
(Genesis 41: 45). Thus, two of the major Israelite tribes
(Manasseh and Ephraim) had an Egyptian matriarch. Joseph
had other children who became part of the general population
(Genesis 48: 6), and any daughters of Joseph would have
also added North African mitochondrial DNA into Israel.
Simeon had a son, Shaul, by a Canaanite woman (Exodus
Ramot de Galaad
THE TWELVE TRIBES
Around 1200-1050 B. C.
(according to the Book of Joshua) ARAMEANS
GAD EPHRAIM DAN
Figure 2. A map of the land allotted to the 12 Tribes and the surrounding
nations. This is not the actual land occupied by the Israelites, for the
Conquest was incomplete and many of the original peoples continued to
live among them afterward.