The Israelites (Hebrew: בני ישראל Bnai Yisraʾel) (Arabic: بني اسرائيل Bani Isra'il) which literally means "Children of Israel", were a Semitic Hebrew-speaking people of the Ancient Near East, who inhabited part of the Land of Canaan during the tribal and monarchic periods (15th to 6th centuries BCE). The Israelites are traditionally thought to have later evolved into the Jews and Samaritans, inhabiting the territories of Judea and Galilee, and Samaria respectively. In modern Hebrew usage, an Israelite is, broadly speaking, a lay member of the Jewish ethnoreligious group, as opposed to the priestly orders of Kohanim and Levites.
The biblical term "Israelites" (also the "Twelve Tribes" or "Children of Israel") means both the direct descendants of the patriarch Jacob (Israel) as well as the historical populations of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah. For the post-exilic period, beginning in the 5th century BCE, the remnants of the Israelite tribes came to be referred to as Jews (tribes of Judah, Simeon, Benjamin and partially Levi), named for the kingdom of Judah. This change is explicit in the Book of Esther (4th century BCE). On the other hand, Samaritans (tribes of Menasseh, Ephraim and partially Benjamin and Levi) became named for Samaria. It replaced the title Children of Israel.
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