Did You Know?

At Ephesians 2:11-15, was the apostle Paul referring to a physical barrier when he spoke of a wall separating the Jews from the Gentiles?

In writing the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul contrasts the Israelites with “strangers.” There was a “wall,” he said, that “fenced” the two groups off from each other. (Ephesians 2:11-15) Paul was referring to “the Law of commandments” given through Moses, but his use of the word “wall” might have reminded readers of a stone barrier that really existed.

In the first century C.E., Jehovah’s temple in Jerusalem had a number of courtyards with restricted access. Anyone could enter the Court of the Gentiles, but entry into any of the temple’s courtyards was restricted to Jews and proselytes. Separating the reserved areas from those accessible to all was the Soreg, an elaborate stone balustrade, said to be about four feet [1.3 m] high. According to first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, inscriptions in Greek and Latin were posted on this barrier, warning Gentiles not to cross it so as not to set foot within the holy precincts.

One complete Greek inscription from this partition wall has been recovered. It reads: “Let no foreigner enter inside of the barrier and the fence around the sanctuary. Whosoever is caught will be responsible for his death which will ensue.”

Paul apparently used the Soreg to represent the Mosaic Law covenant, which had long separated Jews and Gentiles. The sacrificial death of Jesus abolished the Law covenant and thus “destroyed the wall in between.”

Why is reference generally made to the 12 tribes of Israel when there were actually 13 tribes?

The tribes, or families, of Israel descended from the sons of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. This patriarch had 12 sons​—Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. (Genesis 29:32–30:24; 35:16-18) Eleven of these brothers had tribes named after them, but no tribe was named after Joseph. Instead, two tribes were named after his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who received full status as tribal heads. So the number of tribes in Israel amounted to 13. Why, then, does the Bible usually speak of 12 tribes?

Among the Israelites, the men of the tribe of Levi were set apart for service at Jehovah’s tabernacle and later at the temple. Hence, they were exempted from military service. Jehovah told Moses: “Only the tribe of Levi you must not register, and the sum of them you must not take in among the sons of Israel. And you yourself appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the Testimony and over all its utensils and over everything that belongs to it.”​—Numbers 1:49, 50.

The Levites did not receive a territorial allotment in the Promised Land either. Rather, they were assigned 48 cities scattered throughout the territory of Israel.​—Numbers 18:20-24; Joshua 21:41.

For these two reasons, the tribe of Levi was not generally included when the tribes were listed. The tribes of Israel were thus usually numbered as 12.​—Numbers 1:1-15.

[Picture Credit Line on page 21]

Archaeological Museum of Istanbul