My other answer to this question focuses specifically on the tribes engraved on the breastplate as mentioned in Exodus 28:21.
This answer is on the more general question of which tribes were on the list of twelve tribes, since with Ephraim and Manasseh, there were thirteen tribes total.
First, the Bible consistently refers to twelve tribes, never thirteen. This has less to do with history than it does with cultural patterns. Here is an explanation from Ancient Jewish History: The Twelve Tribes of Israel at the Jewish Virtual Library:
The number twelve is neither fictitious nor the result of an actual
genealogical development in patriarchal history. It is an
institutionalized and conventionalized figure which is found among
other tribes as well, such as the sons of Ishmael, of Nahor, of
Joktan, and Esau. Similar organizational patterns built about groups
of twelve, or even six, tribes, are known from Asia Minor, Greece and
Italy. . . . [T]here can be little doubt that this pattern of twelve
attributed to the Hebrew tribes is very real and historically rooted.
Thus, if one tribe were to withdraw from the union or to be absorbed
into another, the number twelve would be preserved, either by
splitting one of the remaining tribes into two or by accepting a new
tribe into the union. For example, when the tribe of Levi is
considered among the twelve tribes, the Joseph tribes are counted as
one. However, when Levi is not mentioned, the Joseph tribes are
counted separately as Manasseh and Ephraim. For the same duodecimal
considerations, Simeon is counted as a tribe even after having been
absorbed into Judah, and Manasseh even after having split in two, is
In the Bible narrative this principle can be seen being established in the book of Joshua. In the course of Joshua chapters 13-19, where the tribal inheritances (lands) are delineated, Levi is still referred as a tribe (see Joshua 13:14, 33) along with all of the twelve tribes that received tribal inheritances. But after that point in the Bible narrative, Levi is no longer called "the tribe of Levi" but rather "the Levites."
The one exception to this shows that Levi was still thought of as a tribe. In 1 Chronicles 23, which is inserted into the narrative at the time of David and Solomon, which is well after the tribal inheritances were established, in a genealogy of the Levites it says:
As to Moses, the man of God, his sons are called after the tribe of
Levi. (1 Chronicles 23:14)
Even though historically there were thirteen tribes due to the split of the tribe of Joseph into two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, they were always called twelve tribes, and the various lists generally include twelve names--or if they do include thirteen, Levi is distinguished from the rest.
So which tribes are on the list?
(Note: the lists below are not exhaustive. For a fuller account of places in the Bible where the tribes are listed, including a visual chart, see: The Twelve Tribes of Israel, by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.)
Here are some of lists in the Old Testament in which they are specifically referred to as "tribes." None of them is in birth order:
- Genesis 49:1-28: Jacob blesses his sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi,
Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph,
Benjamin. This list includes the twelve original sons of Jacob. They are referred to as
"the twelve tribes of Israel" in verse 28.
- Numbers 1: The census taken a month after the Exodus from Egypt.
This is a particularly interesting and relevant chapter in which all
thirteen tribes are mentioned, and Joseph is included as well, as the
father of Ephraim and Manasseh, but the list is still kept to twelve.
There are two listings. The first is in Numbers 1:5-15: Reuben,
Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin, Dan,
Asher, Gad, Naphtali. The second is in Numbers 1:20-43:
Reuben, Simeon, Gad, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin, Dan, Asher, Naphtali. In both lists Ephraim and Manasseh
are included as tribes, and Levi is not.
- Numbers 2: A listing of the arrangement of the tribes when
encamped around the Tabernacle in the desert, and their order of
marching when on the move. This is another fascinating list that
includes all thirteen names. However, Levi is called "the Levites"
rather than "the tribe of Levi." (The head tribe of each division of
three tribes is also not specifically called a "tribe" in this
listing, however.) Here is the order, with all thirteen names:
Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Reuben, Simeon, Gad, Levi, Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin, Dan, Asher, Naphtali.
- Numbers 13:1-16: At the Lord's command, Moses sent a leader from
each of the twelve tribes to explore the land of Canaan. The tribes
represented were: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Ephraim,
Benjamin, Zebulun, Manasseh, Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Gad. This list
does not include Levi, and instead of Joseph it includes his sons
Ephraim and Manasseh.
- Ezekiel 48:1-29: The division of the land into tribal
inheritances, as told in Ezekiel. Here is the list: Dan, Asher,
Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, Judah, Benjamin, Simeon,
Issachar, Zebulun, Gad. In this listing, as in the listing in
Numbers 2, Levi is included in the middle, but is called "the
Levites" rather than being called a tribe.
- Ezekiel 48:30-35: The gates of the city will be named after the
tribes of Israel: Reuben, Judah, Levi, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan,
Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Naphtali. In contrast to the
previous listing, also in Ezekiel 48, this list includes the twelve
original sons of Jacob.
This does not include lists in the Old Testament where they are not referred to as "tribes" but rather as as "sons" (of Jacob, or Israel), such as:
Finally, here are two listings in the Old Testament that use neither the word "tribe" nor the word "son," though they are clearly referring to the people belonging to each tribe:
- Deuteronomy 27:9-13: Blessings from Mt. Gerizim and curses from
Mt. Ebal just before entering the Holy Land to conquer it. Here is
the list: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, Benjamin, Reuben,
Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali. This list includes the original
twelve sons of Jacob, and does not include Ephraim and Manasseh.
- Deuteronomy 33: Moses blesses the Israelites before his death.
The word "tribes" occurs in verse 5, but it is not specifically
applied to the names. Here is the list: Reuben, Judah, Levi,
Benjamin, Joseph, Zebulun, Issachar, Gad, Dan, Naphtali, Asher. This
list includes only eleven names. It is based on the twelve original sons of
Jacob, but Simeon is left out.
Turning to the New Testament, there is one more list of the tribes that demonstrates the rule that there must always be twelve tribes. It does this by breaking the rule that the list will include either the tribes of Joseph and Levi or the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, but still sticking to the number twelve:
- Revelation 7:1-8: 144,000 sealed, 12,000 from each tribe:
Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin. This list includes Manasseh,
Levi, and Joseph, and does not include Dan and Ephraim.
As you can see from these examples, though the number associated with the tribes is always twelve, there is much variety in which tribes are included in the list, and especially in the order in which they are listed, throughout the Bible.
Whenever the subject is the tribal inheritances, the list of twelve always excludes Levi and Joseph and includes Ephraim and Manasseh. However, in other contexts, such as blessings, it is common to list the original twelve sons of Jacob, including Levi and Joseph.