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Who is Jewish, the answers

Before I throw the answers out at you, let's look at some important figures here, to get a better sense of everything:

  • Israelites: descendants of a guy named Jacob, who's name was later changed by God to "Israel". Yisrael, as it's pronounced in Hebrew, means "one who fights/prevails with God". Jews are a subset of Israel; about 1/3 of all of Israel.

  • Hebrews: those who "crosses over". This includes all the people who came out of Egyptian slavery, which later founded the nation of Israel; they all assumingly descend from Jacob (and thus, are all Israelites). One could say all Hebrews are Israelites and all Israelites are Hebrews. However, since Jews are only a subset of Israelites, only some Hebrews are Jews.

  • Jews: a member of a subset of Israelites. Jews descend from a total of 4 of Israel's sons. The term wasn't likely invented until a few hundred before Christ. The term meant anyone who came from the southern nation of Judah, which was comprised of 4 of Jacob's 12 sons: Judah, Benjamin, Levi, and Simeon.

Now, where some things might start to fall in place for some of you. Abraham and Isaac. Abraham is a central figure in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and here's why: Abraham's first son is the father of modern Arabs, his second son is the father of modern Jews, thus making Jesus (a Jew) a direct descendant. So the 3 major religions all have Abraham as a crux figure.

So we have


Abraham is the granddaddy, Isaac is the dad, and Jacob is the son. Still, no Jews existed at this point.

Jacob had 12 sons. You might remember the story about Joseph and the coat of many colors (or at very least, seen the Broadway musical!)

Here are Jacob/Israel's 12 sons, in order from oldest to youngest:

Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphthali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulon, Joseph, Benjamin

You might remember parts of the story: Joseph, the technicolored dreamcoat guy, his 10 older brothers hated him, because he was daddy's favorite. His younger brother Benjamin liked him, but that was about it. One day his brothers sold him into slavery, where he eventually ended up in Egypt. He and his brothers later reunite, say their sorry, and live all peachy in Egypt.

Here's the important bit: Jacob/Israel's 12 sons are Israel, the people group and the nation of the same name. Jews are modern descendants of 4 of those 12 sons of Jacob/Israel: Jacob's 4th son, Judah, is whom modern Jews primarily decend. Judah was one of the biggest, most powerful tribes in Israel. Jews also descend from Benjamin, Jacob's youngest son. Also, modern Jews also claim descend through parts of Levi, Jacob's 3nd son, and parts of Simeon, Jacob's 2nd son.

With that in mind, we'll define a Jew as any of those 4 sons of Jacob/Israel: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Benjamin, and their descendants. Anyone falling into these categories is Jewish.

To sum up, Jews are Judahites + Benjaminites + Levites + Simeonites.

What's more, "Jews" (though they were not called Jews at that time) became a seperate nation from Israel several hundred years before Christ, after the reign of King David (yes, the same one from "David & Goliath"). So there were 2 nations: the Jewish nation called "Judah" in the south, and the non-Jewish nation called Israel in the north. Israel eventually gets conquered, carried into captivity, never to return. No one knows where the people from the nation of "Israel" are to this day. The other nation, Judah, also was conquered, many times in fact, and also dispersed & persecuted (the Holocaust, the Crusades, and general anti-semitism, even in Christianity!) for the last 2000 years, only to return back in 1947 to renew their nation. IMO, it's really miraculous that Jews exist; no other people has been outside their native land for so long, yet remained their culture, langauge, and belief in God; most cultures lose these things after a 100 years or so; not so for the people of God, apparently.

So we know that Jews are a portion of Israel. Now that we have that knowledge, let's look at who is Jewish!

[ ] Adam: No. Israel doesn't even exist yet, let alone Jews.

[ ] Noah: No. Still no Israel.

[ ] Abraham: Nope, still no Israel.

[ ] Isaac: Isaac is Abraham's 2nd son. He is the progenitor of both modern Jews and Arabs, but Israel still doesn't exist yet. His brother Ishmael is the father of all modern Arabs. By the way, Christians and Jews believe that God's blessing to Abraham was passed down to this man, Isaac (as Scripture says). 2000 years after the fact, Islam is invented, and to no surprise, asserts that Isaac's brother, Ishamel (father of all Arabs) got the blessing instead of Isaac.

[ ] Jacob: Nope. Jacob, who is also called Israel, is the father of all Israelites, including Jews, but still, Jews do not exist at this point.

[ ] Joseph (the coat-of-many-colors guy, not the bio dad of Jesus): Nope. This son of Jacob, though the favorite of Jacob/Israel, was not Jewish.

[X] Benjamin: Yes, Jewish! Well at least, a progenitor of some Jews. If we define Jews as Judah, Benjamin, Levi, & Simeon, and their descendants, then we can say that Benjamin is Jewish; he is the father of all Benjaminite Jews.

[X] Judah (not included in the quiz): Yes, Jewish! Jews primarily descend through Judah, as it was one of the largest, most powerful tribes in Israel. Also, they were handed the 'scepter', meaning the rulers of tha nation should be Judahites. In fact, many were: David, Solomon, Jesus, to name a few, all descended from Judah. Many of the prime ministers of Israel to this day are Judahites.

[X] Moses: Yes, Moses was a descendant of Levi, so following our definition, Moses is also Jewish. Now, not all Levites went to the southern kingdom of Judah; they were, like Simeonites, largely scattered between the 2 nations of Israel and Judah. Levites were the priests in the Temple at Jerusalem. To this day, there are Jews who bear the last name "Cohen", which means "priest" in Hebrew. It is often presumed Cohens are descended from Levi. Also valid are the spellings Kohen, Kohn, & Kuhn; Jews were persecuted so much throughout history that they've had to modify their last names to mask their Jewish identities. This was especially true during the 20th century's Great Depression in America, where Jews had to change their names and hide their identity in order to find work.

[X] David: Yes, a descedant of Judah, definitely Jewish. One of the greatest Jews in history; this is the same guy that is believed to have written most of the Psalms, as well as the Goliath conqueror and eventual King of the united nation of Israel before it split into 2 Judah & Israel.

[X] Solomon: David's son, so he is also Jewish, descending from Judah. Also a great Jew in history, he is the author of the book of Proverbs. It was during his reign as king that Israel grew to its greatest size and prominence.

[X] Matthew: Very likely Jewish. Historians typically consider all of the gospel writers Jewish, with the exception of Luke, who was believed to be a gentile. The belief in the Jewishness of Matthew comes from the fact that early church fathers, Jerome, Eusebius, & Origen, for instance, all record Matthew composing his gospel originally in his native tongue, Hebrew.

[X] Mark: Yes, also very likely a Jew.

[ ] Luke: No. Most historians place Luke as a non-Jewish physician who believed in Christ.

[X] John: Yes, widely known to be Jewish, thought to be a descendant of Judah.

[ ] All the kings of Israel: No. This is somewhat of a trick question, because "Israel" was the name of the whole united nation before it split into the 2 nations of Israel & Judah. Either way though, not all of the kings here are Jewish; the kings up until the time of the split were all Jewish (Saul, David, Solomon), but after the split, several of the kings of Israel did not descend from Judah, Benjamin, Levi, or Simeon.

[X] All the kings of Judah: Yes, since this is the southern nation of Jews, the records I've looked at all indicate, at least during Biblical times, that all kings of Judah were Jews.

[X] All 12 disciples of Jesus: Yes, Jewish! By the time Jesus came around, the non-Jewish nation of Israel was largely absorbed into the nations, gone into captivity and lost to this very day. In other words, almost all Israelites living in Jesus' time were Jews, just as it is to this day.

[X] Jesus: Yes, Jewish! Jesus descended from Judah. Matthew records Jesus' descend all the way from Abraham, check it out here, pretty cool to see. Not only was he a Jew, but he kept the Law and fulfilled a few hundred prophecies spoken of him in the Old Testament. He is basicallly the point of the Law, the Prophets, and the writings.

[X] Paul: Yes, also Jewish. Paul writes of himself several times in the New Testament as a Jew descended from Benjamin. Not only was Paul a Jew himself, but he was very well learned in the religion of Judaism, learning under one of the great rabbis, Gamaliel. He was extremely -- some would say, overly -- zealous: his first thought about believers in Christ was that it was a cult, wrong in the eyes of the God of Israel. He was a major persecutor of the early church, responsible for rounding up, jailing, and the eventual execution of many early followers of Christ. That is, until, God intervened and, according to the New Testament, showed himself to Paul. From there on, Paul became an extremely zealous believer in Christ, trading in persecution for spreading the news of Jesus; he is responsible for writing a majority of the books in the New Testament and spreading the news of Jesus outside Israel into the gentile world.

And for the $100 (or 55.2028705 UK£) question, who was the first Jew? With our definition of a Jew as Simeon, Levi, Judah, Benjamin or their descendants, the first Jew would be the oldest of those 4 brothers. The oldest brother is Simeon, so you could say Simeon was the first Jew, Levi was the 2nd, Judah was the 3rd, and Benjamin was the 4th Jew progenitor.

So, there we have it! Did anyone get all of them right? Nope!

Jdavid came really close, only missing on Benjamin. If you were to say Benjaminites were not Jews, then both Paul and the first King of the united Israel, Saul, could not be called Jews. But jdavid has some interesting insight: if one defined Jew as a descendant of any of the Jewish progenitors, then you could say one of the children of Judah, Benjamin, Levi, or Simeon would be the first. Or since Judah's firstborn was struck down by God, you could argue Judah's second child since he was the first surviving descendant of Judah. Just because
of these in-depth and thought-provoking questions, we'll all pretend you aced it. :-)

Michelle, you did pretty well. You missed Benjamin, Matthew, Mark, and John as gentiles, and all the kings of Israel were not Jewish. So you got 14/19. Judah was the 3rd Jewish progenitor, so you almost had the $100 question right. His older brother Simeon was the answer I was looking for, though not everyone agrees that Simeonites are Jewish, yet Judah was definitively the a Jew, so that answer could be valid still.

Volcimaster got 14 of 19 right as well, pretty good! You incorrectly indentified Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph as Jews. They were Hebrews, and Jacob and Jospeph were Israelites, but they were not Jewish. Like Michelle, you missed on the kings of Israel question as well.

JasonH, you did good, 15 of 19 correct! You missed on Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, all of whom were Hebrews and some (Jacob and Joseph) were Israelites, but none of which were Jews. Abraham, one could say, was the first Hebrew, but not the first Jew, which we attribute to Simeon, as he was the oldest of the Jewish progenitor brothers.

Gary did excellent (I knew he would!): he got 16 of 19 correct. You incorrectly identified Benjamin and Moses as not Jewish, when Benjamin was one of the Jewish progenitors and Moses was a Levite (where Levi was also a Jewish progenitor). You also marked Luke as Jewish when most historians believe him to be a gentile.

Ash, the English rose, did pretty good considering he's not as well versed in Scripture as jdavid or Gary. You got 10 of 19 correct! As a little for-your-info, Benjamin was the younger brother of Joseph (coat of many colours [you British people and your weird spellings!]). Abraham was the daddy of Isaac, who was the daddy of Jacob, who had all those sons, including coat of many colors guy, Joseph. Also, being a blood born Jew has nothing to do with religion; maybe you're thinking Judaism? There are lots of secular Jews in modern Israel, for example. Thanks for trying, I got a good laugh out of your not-so-serious reasoning behind your answers!

Aaron, my younger brother, stole his answers from jdavid like the scheming little website traffic stealer & horrible AOM player nice guy that he is. ;-) So he got one wrong, Benjamin.

Thanks for playing everybody, hope you all enjoyed it!


  1. ... I am disappointed in your comments about me Judah... :D

    I disagree that Jews are 1/4 of Israel, because not all of Simeon and only half of Levi were apart of the Kingdom of Judah. Remember, Levi were scattered throughout all of Israel.

  2. Hey, I just thought of something. Benjamin WASN'T Jewish. His ancestors became associated with Judah, and therefore are considered Jewish, but at the time of his life, Benjamin was not Jewish.

  3. Yep, and I mentioned that in the blog posting, how Levi and Simeon weren't fully contained in the southern kingdom, but some Jews throughout history have descended through them, yet they are still considered Jewish. As far as 1/3rd number, I meant that more as a "of all 12 sons of Jacob/Israel, 4 of them account for the Jewish people" 4/12 = 1/3.

    You're also right that Benjamin wasn't Jewish at that time in his life. But if you go by that, nobody was Jewish (not even Judah!) since the word Jew wasn't invented yet.

    For this fun little quiz, I considered Benjamin and his descendants as Jewish, because there are instances of Benjaminites throughout Scripture (King Saul, Mordecai, Paul) that are identified as Jewish.

  4. Oh yeah. Feel the power of my reasoning. I should do these things late at night all the time.
    Even though I got the least, I did a hellava lot better than I figured. I almost look respectable. I blame Doomtrain.

  5. Hi Warren,

    Yeah, Christ fulfilled the Law. Agreed! He didn't end it (Mat 5:17), so he claims.

    Jimmy made a good point in the other thread: you can't pick and choose which laws to follow; yet throwing out the whole law isn't an option either, since that would then allow us to, for example, commit murder.

    I think Jesus was about confirming O.T. laws, only getting more to the point. The Law tells us not to commit adultery, for instace. Jesus said don't commit adultery, but don't even look at another woman in lust, otherwise you're committing adultery in your heart.

    Really, the two are in agreement. Jesus was just focusing on applying the commandments to your heart, instead of just your outward actions, as the orthodox Jews were at that point.

  6. Just because
    of these in-depth and thought-provoking questions, we'll all pretend you aced it.

    Heh; works for me. :) Thanks; enjoyed it! :)

  7. "2000 years after the fact, Islam is invented, and to no surprise, asserts that Isaac's brother, Ishamel (father of all Arabs) got the blessing instead of Isaac."

    You think all the religions have been "invented" or its just your statment for ISLAM

  8. I'd say all religions have been invented at one time or another. I believe the initial faith in God has always been around though.

    For example, the religion of Christianity was invented, thanks in part to a political move by a Roman Emperor; the religion of Christianity certainly wasn't around at the time of Jesus, nor was Jesus' intent to create a new religion.

    Also, the religion of Judaism has been formed over the ages around Moses' faith in God, men polluting the faith with man-made rituals, rules, and other cruft.

    Islam is unique in that respect: at least when the founder invented the religion, Muhammad was knowingly inventing a new religion and forcing it upon others at the time of its inception.

  9. To classify a person as Jewish is wrong. Yes, Jewish people did come from a certain region of the earth, but a religion does not defy race. We do not refer to Italians as a different race. Italians are white also. However you have some Italians with darker skin. What makes someone Jew in my opinion is if you practice Judaism. Jewish is not a race. Period. We always want to put people into classifications. For example we consider a person from Latin America is Latino. The language that you speak also does not define your race either. We consider people who speak french, French. That, is their nationality. However, they are still considered white. There should by a separation of the two words Judaism and Jewish. A person not native to Israel who practices Judaism is Jew. However a person native to Israel who practices Judaism is JewISH. Hear the difference. It can be complicated at first; however this mends the disagreement that people have dealt with for centuries. Jew- person who practices Judaism (not native to Israel). Jewish- (nationality) - a person who practices Judaism (native to Israel)

  10. Then what of the majority of Israelis who are secular Jews? Surely they are Jews too?


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