Produced by TheMediaDesk, ©2022
Posted on CCPC's website 2022
The Minor Prophets Study Index page.
There's a popular myth that there are ten missing tribes from the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Some have gone as far as to identify them as some of the people in the Steppes of Russia, or even in North America, or the Lemba of Zimbabwe (the people that may have built an enormous ruin in southern Africa- see link below to Media Desk article) who have Jewish DNA in them, and then there's others that maintain that the ten tribes ceased to exist.
Let's not forget the nearly forgotten news item of the airlift of the “Tribe of Dan” from Ethiopia to Jerusalem a few years ago, see link below.
And then, there's people like the Desk that will point out that those theories are not mutually exclusive.
So let's go through from where and when they were last seen, and see where a trail that has been growing cold for the better part of three thousand years leads us. If anywhere.
And, of course, this being a Media Desk Mystery Series outing, we'll have a couple of obscure references, wander down the Silk Road, then check in with our old buddy Josephus, and finally see if we can come to a conclusion.
But first we need to explain who we're talking about:
Israel has always been a confederation of twelve groups with a common history. Together, to the rest of the world anyway, they were "the Jews" (the religion) or "the Nation of Israel" (the political entity). They themselves would say they were "the Chosen People". But they had only been a single united nation for a very short time under the three kings of Israel: Saul, David, and Solomon, for about a hundred years, depending on whose timeline you look at.
To an individual Israelite from the period of the Prophets, they would first identify themselves as a member of their tribe before they would say they were from Israel. Which, if you were from the tribe of Dan, and counted the hero Samson as one of your distant cousins, that was a good thing. They probably wouldn't mention that Amos condemned the tribe of Dan by name for being one of the worst of the idolaters of the Northern kingdom (8:14).
After the death of Solomon in 930 (about / approximately / give or take) BC ...
A Tangent About Dates
When you are dealing with the Old Testament, there are NO firm dates. Even the when you ask which decade a major incident occurred involving an outside power such as Egypt or Babylon, or in the case of the Northern Kingdom- Assyria, the date is a 'ballpark' figure, and you will see date ranges in academic papers that sometimes cover a century even when there is good hard archaeological evidence.
Take, for example, the Babylonian invasion of the Southern Kingdom. The date 586 BC is generally accepted as 'close enough', there are reasonable theories that will move that event one way or the other a score of years at a time, and do so based on inscriptions or tablets discovered here or there. And then a year later somebody will move it the other way a score years because of other evidence. So if you say "595 BC", nobody gets overly upset. Or they shouldn't.
As for the events in the North, the Assyrian king got tired of the petty tributes that they had been getting from the northern capital of Samaria and sent an army to take everything. When did that happen? Well, it probably WASN'T in 722 BC, because, according to 2 Kings 16 and other related texts, this deportation, like the exile in the South, happened in stages and was never absolute, with a remnant staying behind to farm and raise sheep to feed and clothe their conquerors, so, again, somewhere within a human lifetime of 722 is probably close enough.
Back to what happened after Solomon.
... after the last king of united Israel 'slept with his fathers' there was a firestorm in the land as documented in 1 Kings 11 and the Northern ten tribes broke away from the southern two. The Northern ten are: Asher, Dan, Ephraim, Gad, Issachar, Manasseh, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, and Zebulun. The south was Judah and Benjamin.
Even the Bible says that not every member of every tribe from the North was lost. Remember in our introduction with the W's when we mentioned the Prophetess Anna from Luke 2? She was of the tribe of Asher as per the Gospel.
A quick "Oh, by the way":
It is interesting to note in this discussion that the tribe of Levi, which was dedicated to the temple, and several of "cities of refuge" here and there (see Numbers 35), aren't mentioned in this list. Why? The majority of them went with the temple (as priests and musicians, and, probably, janitors as well), the temple was in Jerusalem, the city was in Judah. So in reality, there were 13 tribes, ten (mostly) in the north, three-ish in the south. Oh well.
The North, NEVER had a 'good king', according to the prophets anyway. But even so, some of the greatest stories along the lines of the lives and times of the prophets of old deal with the actual war between those bad kings, and assorted bad queens, and Prophets like Elijah and Elisha. It was as if GOD used the disbelief and corruption in the palace to make the statement that He was Still God. Well, OK, HE did use their disbelief to make the statement....
To be fair about it, there was plenty of intrigue and impropriety in the palace in Jerusalem as well, but it was minor league compared to the likes of Jezebel in the north.
Which is why a handful of people from a couple of the tribes fled south BEFORE Assyria came to town in force, something which is marked in 2 Chronicles 15, they had a problem with King Asa, and left. Others scattered during the invasion, and still others, as we mentioned, stayed behind in small villages to herd and farm, and send the profits back to Assur, the capital city over 600 miles to the northeast.
But still, enough of the population was exported as labor back to the center of the empire that Josephus, some seven centuries later, stated that an uncountable multitude of Jews lived beyond the Euphrates, and implied that they were still there, see quote below. As to what they were doing there, we'll come back to that in a moment.
There is also the issue of forced resettlement into what was Israel by the kings in Assur, and later Nimrud, another Assyrian city on the Tigris who sent various other conquered peoples into the area to fill in any holes left by the deportation of the bulk of the Jews. Some of them adapted and intermarried with those that were left, and other locals that were there, and, after a few generations, became the Samaritans. A pedigree that explains that while mainstream Jews considered them only slightly better than your run of the mill Gentile Pagans, they were, in the end, Jews.
The "Woman at the Well" told Jesus that her ancestors worshiped on "this mountain', which may have been Mount Tabor, or one of the other local notable hills, but the Priests told them they had to do so in Jerusalem, where they would be relegated to the Court of the Gentiles. Yet she recognized Jesus as a Jewish prophet and believed what He said.
There is also Christ's story about the "Good Samaritan" and how he demonstrated true compassion for a total stranger. Jesus's point was that somebody that was discounted by the Chosen People understood what that second "greatest commandment" actually meant. See Matthew 22.
So while the Samaritans were "half-breeds", they were, more or less, what was left of at least some of the Northern Tribes.
Back to Assyria. Let's move from the North way down stream on the Tigris and it's sister river, the Euphrates, to the ancient city of Babylon. Which, by way, carried off whatever was worth carrying off from the Southern Kingdom in, more or less, 600 BC.
At various times in its history, Babylon was one of the largest and most important cities in the region, if not the world. And then, at other times, most notably, in somewhere around 1550 BC (give or take a century) the Hittites sacked the place because it could not defend itself. But, Babylon, being Babylon, didn't stay down for long, and in a century or so it was once again a center of commerce, although it never really regained its former prominence, being subject to outside rule by various ones interspersed with periods of home rule before another invader showed up. And then in 539 BC, the army of the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great came to town from the East, and changed everything, including allowing some / most / whatever of the Jews that were still there to go home, even if their home wasn't where it had been when they left. There are also reports the Cyrus took a few of them, most likely skilled laborers and scribes, back east when he left town.
But the image of Babylon in its glory is one that has stuck in the human memory to the point where it is used in the Revelation of John, and everybody understands what it means.
In any case, a good body of Jews stayed in Babylon, from both the South (Judah) and those that were already there from the North (Israel), even after Cyrus told them to turn off the lights and go. They stayed, and they flourished, and they completed the Babylonian Talmud. See link below to the work.
Those who had been 'residents' of Assyria, and later in Babylon, had a couple of choices if they had any choice at all when it came time to move on, south, north, or east. West, into the other half of Alexander's empire was not a good choice, especially later when Rome marched in. So those that didn't go downstream, and then eventually maybe even back to Israel, had to pick another direction. As as is the way with the tribes, some of them hated each other more than they hated whatever Gentile group was in charge. It was truly a case of “if the Danites are going south, we'll go north.”
As we saw earlier, Dan did go south, and ended up in Ethiopia. There's reasonable evidence that the Bukhara Jews of Uzbekastan and the Mizoram in the northeastern part of India right on the border with what used to be called Burma are the descendants of the ten tribes. Although it is quite likely that direct tribal affiliations have been lost in the mean time. There's a link to a full documentary that claims to have gone out and found the 'lost tribes'.
Part of the proof of the modern identification of the claims is the locations of where the tribes were sent from the Biblical account in 2 Kings 17 and 18 describes some of the lands the various tribes were sent to. While the text does not list a ZIP code, it does name cities and rivers, and known archaeological regions like the “kingdom of the Medes”.
There's a link below to a couple of resources, one of them is a video that overtly suggests that they have identified all ten of the 'missing tribes' in various places.
And then you run across a report from long ago that Prester John reported to some Western contacts that his kingdom was “continually at war” with the Tribe of Dan, see reference at: jewishwikipedia.info link below.
And as if this all wasn't complicated enough, think about this: when Rome leveled Jerusalem, and most of the rest of Judea to boot, many of those Jews (or at least their families) that had come back when Cyrus sent them home, were now scattered all over, again.
Eventually, complete DNA studies may prove or disprove the various links to the historic Tribes, but, as has been said in other forums, being a Jew is more than just a bloodline, it is a belief and a practice. Remember what Christ said about “children of Abraham” in Matthew 3: 9 and Luke 3: 8. Also, there is a long history of converts to Judaism coming to prominence, from the Book we can have Ruth and Rahab stand up and take a bow, both of whom are ancestors of “Jews of note”. And of course with our study of the Minor Prophets, we're going to look at another convert, Obadiah. And then, of course, there are some notable ones in the New Testament as well, but looking at those would take us way off track.
Time to wrap this one and get back to Hosea.
A Conclusion, of sorts.
There's several parts to this. We'll go from what is known to what is supposed.
There are Jewish communities all over the world. Literally. There's an active Jewish community in Indonesia, in spite of active suppression in the world's largest Islamic country, and well over one hundred thousand Jews that call Brazil home, as well as some in Alaska. See links below to articles about all three examples.
And now we have to look at which 'tribe' these Jews are from. In reality, other than those tribes in the places mentioned as being resettled in specific places in the Old Testament, and those groups that have some historic, if not objectively verifiable, tie to one of the Tribes, there's really no way to know. The ones in Anchorage might be from the tribes of the North that filtered through the Russian Steppes and moved 'northeast', or worked their way west from Egypt and spent some time trying to speak Spanish only to get thrown out of Spain in the expulsion of 1492, see link below.
And really, if some small group comes out and says they are what's left of the tribe of Gad or Asher, so what? If they feel some need to identify as such, sure, have at it. And while you're at it, maybe we can tell you where to get some nice amethyst or agate stones to put in your tribal symbol over the door to your synagogue.
While the Apocalypse of John states that the Twelve Tribes will be represented at various points of the drama at the end times, there is no indication that those will necessarily be people who are alive at the time. And if they are alive in this world at the time, then God can sort out who's who better than anybody else, and He knows who is of the tribe of Manasseh, and can say whether anybody with an Indian passport has any claim to the name than some committee in Jerusalem.
There is no doubt that there are living descendants of the "lost tribes of Israel", however diluted that bloodline may be, it is still there.
Remember, according to those that claim to know this kind of thing, one out of every 200 men worldwide are descended from Genghis Khan. See Discovery link below. So, really, nobody would have to raise up 'sons of Abraham' from a bunch of rocks, just go out and sort through the crowd at a ball game and you're liable to find at least a few.
In any case, while "the lost tribes" are, as individual entities, lost, the people that came from those tribes are still with us.
Perhaps a good New World example would be the "Lost Mayan Empire". Yes, the regional trading power and military might of the empire was in decline when the Spanish arrived in the 1520s, we actually have a hard date for when the Spanish conquered various Mayan cities, such as the one that fell in 1524 in Guatemala, see link below. But the people, the People, are still in the Yucatan and the surrounding area. In fact, some of the locals still worship the old gods and speak the old language. See link below for a discussion along those lines.
As anybody that has gone ashore from a cruise ship and then gotten away from the tourist areas in Belize has seen, the people whose ancestors ruled the Empire are still alive and well, and in some ways, flourishing. And they've only been part of the "lost empire of the Maya" for five hundred years. With Israel, it's been four or five times that.
We'll close by just restating what we said earlier. The "Lost Tribes of Israel" are only lost, until God decides they're not.
References and Links.
All links were working as of date of posting.
Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, ch 5, part 2
"When Esdras had received this epistle, he was very joyful; and began to worship God, and confessed, that He had been the cause of the King’s great favour to him; and that for the same reason he gave all the thanks to God. So he read the epistle at Babylon, to those Jews that were there: but he kept the epistle it self, and sent a copy of it to all those of his own nation that were in Media. And when these Jews had understood what piety the King had towards God, and what kindness he had for Esdras, they were all greatly pleased. Nay many of them took their effects with them, and came to Babylon; as very desirous of going down to Jerusalem. But then, the intire body of the people of Israel remained in that countrey. Wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe, subject to the Romans: while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now; and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers. Now there came a great number of priests, and Levites, and porters, and sacred singers, and sacred servants, to Esdras ..."
https://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-11.html https://www.sefaria.org/Yoma.26a.6?ven=William_Davidson_Edition_-_English&vhe=William_Davidson_Edition_-_Vocalized_Aramaic&lang=bi" target="_blank">
The Babylonian Talmud daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/~db/bsb00003409/images/index.html
ANU - Museum of the Jewish People: "The myth of the ten lost tribes" https://www.anumuseum.org.il
An article from 2021 about the return of the:Ethiopian Jews https://www.jpost.com/diaspora/the-beta-israel-the-return-of-a-lost-tribe-688940
Israel's Lost Tribes might be found: Full Documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R11p5Lk1MxQ
The Prester John connection is mentioned in the “Middle Ages” at: http://www.jewishwikipedia.info/losttribes_myth.html
The New York Times looks at the Uzbek Jews. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/07/world/asia/uzbekistan-bukhara-jews.html
"Thousands of Bnei Menashe in northeast India began coming back to their ancestors’ homeland in the 1980s. About 6,000 more are waiting to join them." https://www.israel21c.org/the-return-of-a-lost-tribe-of-israel-27-centuries-later/"Mizoram is currently home to around 20,000 Jews who claim to be descendants of one of the ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Some 20,000 others had migrated to Israel over the years. The community has three synagogues, one at the house of Sailo."
1 out of 200 men descended from Genghis Khan, from: Discover Magazine https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/1-in-200-men-direct-descendants-of-genghis-khan
"After 522 years Spain seeks to make amends for expulsion of Jews" https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/12/25/371866778/after-522-years-spain-seeks-to-make-amends-for-expulsion-of-jews
1524: The Spanish conquest of Guatemala https://www.thoughtco.com/the-maya-conquest-of-the-kiche-2136556
The Maya Today https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/civil/maya/mmc08eng.html
Great Zimbabwe, the Lemba, and even Prester John: from TheMediaDesk: http://themediadesk.com/files8/zimbabwe.htm
The Minor Prophets Study Index page.
NOTE: The Bible Study Lesson presented above is posted as a reference document to begin a conversation of the topic. And that's it. Please accept it at such.
With the assistance and cooperation of The Media Desk.