The Tribe of Joseph was one of the Tribes of Israel, though since Ephraim and Manasseh together traditionally constituted the tribe of Joseph, it was often not listed as one of the tribes, in favour of Ephraim and Manasseh being listed in its place; consequently it was often termed the House of Joseph (Beit Yosef, בית יוסף), to avoid the use of the term tribe. According to the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, the ensign of the Tribe of Joseph, and the Tribe of Benjamin, was the figure of a boy, with the inscription: the cloud of the Lord rested on them until they went forth out of the camp (a reference to events in the Exodus). There were obvious linguistic differences between at least one portion of Joseph and the other Israelite tribes, since at a time when Ephraim were at war with the Israelites of Gilead, under the leadership of Jephthah, the pronunciation of shibboleth as sibboleth was considered sufficient evidence to single out individuals from Ephraim, so that they could be subjected to immediate death by the Israelites of Gilead.
At its height, the territory of Joseph spanned the Jordan River, the eastern portion being almost entirely discontiguous from the western portion, only slightly touching at one corner - north east of the western portion and the south west of the eastern portion. The western portion was at the centre of Canaan, west of the Jordan, between the Tribe of Issachar on the north, and Tribe of Benjamin on the south; the region which was later named Samaria (as distinguished from Judea or Galilee) mostly consisted of the western portion of Joseph. The eastern portion of Joseph was the northernmost Israelite group on the east of the Jordan, occupying the land north of the tribe of Gad, extending from the Mahanaim in the south to Mount Hermon in the north, and including within it the whole of Bashan. These territories abounded in water, a precious commodity in Canaan, and the mountainous portions not only afforded protection, but happened to be highly fertile; early centres of Israelite religion - Shechem and Shiloh - were additionally situated in the region. The territory of Joseph was thus one of the most valuable parts of the country, and the House of Joseph became the most dominant group in the Kingdom of Israel.
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