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The Israelites (//; Hebrew: בני ישראל Bnei Yisra'el) were a Semitic-speaking people of the ancient Near East, who inhabited a part of Canaan during the tribal and monarchic periods. The ancient Israelites are considered to be an outgrowth of the indigenous Canaanite populations that long inhabited the Southern Levant, Syria, ancient Israel and the Transjordan.
In the Hebrew Bible, the term Israelites refers to the direct descendants of any of the sons of the patriarch Jacob, or to the descendants of the people who are called Israel, and to a worshiper of the God of Israel, Yahweh. In the period of the divided monarchy it was only used to refer to the inhabitants of the northern kingdom, and it is only extended to cover the people of the southern kingdom in post-exilic usage. The Israelites were also known as the Hebrews and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
The Jews are named after and also descended from the southern Israelite Kingdom of Judah, particularly the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and partially Levi. The word "Jews" is found in 2 Kings (16:6),Chronicles (I, 4:18), and in numerous passages in the Book of Jeremiah, the Book of Zechariah and the Book of Esther. The Samaritans, whose religious texts consist of the five books of the Samaritan Torah (but which do not contain the books comprising the Jewish Tanakh), do not refer to themselves as Jews, although they do regard themselves as Israelites, in accordance with the Torah.
The Kingdom of Israel (Samaria), often called the Northern Kingdom of Israel, contained all the tribes except for the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Following its conquest by Assyria, these ten tribes were allegedly dispersed and lost to history, and they are henceforth known as the Ten Lost Tribes. Jewish tradition holds that Samaria was so named because the region's mountainous terrain was used to keep "Guard" (Shamer) for incoming enemy attacks. According to Samaritan tradition, however, the Samaritan ethnonym is not derived from the region of Samaria, but from the fact that they were the "Guardians" (Shamerim) of the true Israelite religion. Thus, according to Samaritan tradition, the region was named Samaria after them, not vice versa. In Modern Hebrew, the Samaritans are called Shomronim, while in Samaritan Hebrew they call themselves Shamerim.
In Judaism, an Israelite is, broadly speaking, a lay member of the Jewish ethnoreligious group, as opposed to the priestly orders of Kohanim and Levites. In texts of Jewish law such as the Mishnah and Gemara, the term יהודי (Yehudi), meaning Jew, is rarely used, and instead the ethnonym ישראלי (Yisraeli), or Israelite, is widely used to refer to Jews. Samaritans commonly refer to themselves and to Jews collectively as Israelites, and they describe themselves as the Israelite Samaritans.