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The Sources abound with references to Zebulon being a maritime tribe engaged in trading by sea. The Torah says:

Zebulun shall dwell by the seashore. He shall be a haven for ships and his flank shall rest on Sidon. [Genesis 49:13]

Yet the standard maps for the areas assigned to the tribes show that Zebulon was landlocked. Why so? Why didn't it get access to the sea? Did it have to depend on the goodwill of Asher and Manasseh?

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This is discussed in Chapter 7 of "Tribal Lands: The Twelve Tribes of Israel" by Tamar Weissman

Sefaria Link

How to reconcile the discrepancy between the territory that actually was allotted to Zebulun, and that which was all but promised to them in the Torah? The Vilna Gaon extrapolated that lots were cast twice: once in Gilgal and then seven years later in Shiloh. He interpreted Joshua 14 and the territorial allotments there as the first lottery divvying up the naĥalot of Judah and Benjamin that happened seven years after the Israelites entered the Land of Israel. Seven years after that lottery, when the Tabernacle was moved to Shiloh, lots were cast again – this time for the seven remaining tribes, as delineated in Joshua 18.

Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun refined this interpretation by positing that all of the tribes received their naĥalot in Gilgal, back in Joshua 14, but some were dissatisfied with their allotments and therefore neglected to pursue conquering their territories. After the move to Shiloh, Joshua lamented, “For how long will you be negligent in rising to inherit that land that the Lord, God of your fathers, has given to you?!” Understood thus, Zebulun indeed inherited the coastal region in the initial lottery. We noted above how the midrash commented on their dissatisfaction with this region, a difficult tract of “mountains and hills, seas and rivers.” Rabbi Bin-Nun suggested that this midrash served to explain the discrepancy between what Zebulun was initially allotted and that which they received later at Shiloh – a portion cut off from the sea, with the ample fields and agricultural tracts that they had so coveted.

Was it therefore acceptable to be dissatisfied with a God-given lot? Don’t we teach our children that “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset”? Why did God humor Zebulun and change their naĥalah to suit the tribe’s whims? I believe that another approach to this presumed textual discrepancy is to acknowledge that there really wasn’t much of a discrepancy to comment on. Nowhere was Zebulun explicitly promised the coast (with the possible exception of the midrash in Bava Batra 122a). What was essential to the tribal makeup was not their territory, but their profession. And their profession was on the seas, fluid and amorphous, impossible to allot to any one tribe. The major coastal cities may have belonged to Asher, but Zebulun’s personality dominated the trading ports. Their territory was not essential to their character, but their avocation was.

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I've seen other versions of the map where they are on the Galilee or have a strip that goes to the coast. In any case, Israel never controlled Tyre or Sidon.

It's possible that they also had some non contiguous territory, possible a small area around a port, or just operated out of another tribe's territory (for tax purposes)

It's also possible that they could get some small boats or barges up the Kishon river, which enters the sea just north of Mount Carmel/Haifa

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  • Even on that map, though, the 'seafaring tribe' has a tiny sliver of coastline while olive-grove tending Asher has miles and miles. Pretty weird Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 16:54
  • The little strip corresponds to the port of Haifa. And not all coast is suitable for seafaring. Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 18:06
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The Biblical Hermenutics site has the same question. They think the prophecy is approximate and loose or that river access to the see counts, or the prophecy is just a metaphor for trading in general.

https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/49213/jacobs-blessing-on-zebulon-how-did-it-come-to-pass#:~:text=Genesis%2049%3A13%20(ESV),and%20division%20by%20lot%20aligned.

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