EPHRAIM, a tribe of Israel, called after the younger son of Joseph, who in his benediction exalted Ephraim over the elder brother Manasseh (Gen. xlviii.). These two divisions were often known as the “house of Joseph” (Josh. xvii. 14 sqq.; Judg. i. 22; 2 Sam. xix. 20; 1 Kings xi. 28). The relations between them are obscure; conflicts are referred to in Is. ix. 21,[1] and Ephraim’s proud and ambitious character is indicated in its demands as narrated in Josh. xvii. 14; Judg. viii. 1-3, xii. 1-6. throughout, Ephraim played a distinctive and prominent part; it probably excelled Manasseh in numerical strength, and the name became a synonym for the northern kingdom of Israel. Originally the name may have been a geographical term for the central portion of Palestine. Regarded as a tribe, it lay to the north of Benjamin, which traditionally belongs to it; but whether the young “brother” (see Benjamin) sprang from it, or grew up separately, is uncertain. Northwards, Ephraim lost itself in Manasseh, even if it did not actually include it (Judg. i. 27; 1 Chron. vii. 29); the boundaries between them can hardly be recovered. Ephraim’s strength lay in the possession of famous sites: Shechem, with the tomb of the tribal ancestor, also one of the capitals; Shiloh, at one period the home of the ark; Timnath-Serah (or Heres), the burial-place of Joshua; and Samaria, whose name was afterwards extended to the whole district (see Samaria).

Shechem itself was visited by Abraham and Jacob, and the latter bought from the sons of Hamor a burial-place (Gen. xxxiii. 19). The story of Dinah may imply some early settlement of tribes in its vicinity (but see Simeon), and the reference in Gen. xlviii. 22 (see R.V. marg.) alludes to its having been forcibly captured. But how this part of Palestine came into the hands of the Israelites is not definitely related in the story of the invasion (see Joshua).

A careful discussion of the Biblical data referring to Ephraim is given by H. W. Hogg, Ency. Bib., s.v. On the characteristic narratives which appear to have originated in Ephraim (viz. the Ephraimite or Elohist source, E), see Genesis and Bible: Old Testament Criticism. See further Abimelech; Gideon; Manasseh; and Jews: History.

  1. Inter-tribal feuds during the period of the monarchy may underlie the events mentioned in 1 Kings xvi. 9 sq., 21 sq.; 2 Kings xv. 10, 14.