Messianic Apologetics
18 September, 2019

Legitimate Groups Associated With the Ten Lost Tribes

Were the Lost Tribes really lost? How many were really deported to Assyria?

A Bible teacher, or a Bible reader, has to have a great deal of courage and fortitude when approaching the subject matter of the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel, because of the great number of abuses which have stigmatized the issue of the Ten Lost Tribes over the centuries. In a relatively conservative resource like the Archaeological Study Bible, for example, one finds the following remark issued on 2 Kings 17:3-6:

“Much mythology has been developed around the theme of the so-called ten lost tribes of Israel. A close examination of Assyrian records reveals that the deportations approximated only a limited percentage of the population…”[1]

No one can deny the fact that throughout history since the downfall of the Northern Kingdom, various sectarian associations have arisen—which to some degree or another have claimed that they are the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. Their views need to be significantly avoided. The liberal JPS Guide: The Jewish Bible is a bit fairer, though, in how it states “After the Assyrian conquest, the scattered northern tribes become known as the Ten Lost Tribes. They never return to Canaan, giving birth to numerous tales and legends about their history and whereabouts.”[2]

But what do we actually classify as “mythology” as it pertains to the Northern Kingdom of Israel? Claiming that this tribe “went here,” and that tribe “went there,” with no documentation or proof of substance? Or, affirming from the prophecies of Holy Scripture, that a larger restoration of Israel is to be anticipated and actually occur immediately prior to the return of the Messiah?

About as “mythological” as any of us should be allowed to get, is perhaps seen in John Milton’s 1671 work Paradise Regained, where it is asserted that the exiles of the Northern Kingdom will come back when the Messiah reigns over the world:

In David’s royal seat, his true successor,
Deliverance of thy brethren, those ten tribes
Whose offspring in his territory yet serve
In Habor, and among the Medes dispersed,
Ten sons of Jacob, two of Joseph lost
Thus long from Israel; serving as of old
Their fathers in the land of Egypt served,
This offer sets before thee to deliver.
These if from servitude thou shalt restore
To their inheritance, then, nor till then,
Thou on the throne of David in full glory,
From Egypt to Euphrates and beyond
Shalt reign, and Rome or Caesar need not fear.
To whom our savior answered thus unmoved.[3]

All Milton did was to paraphrase a selection of Tanach verses and prophecies on the matter.

A wide number of the contemporary evangelical Christian materials, which in some form or another mention what happened to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, tend to be concerned with refuting the abuses of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century British-Israelism, and figures like Herbert W. Armstrong, more than anything else.[4] This material, while brief, tends to completely sidestep or ignore Bible prophecies which indicate that a larger restoration of Israel—including the return of the descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom—is yet to occur. Author William Varner of the book Jacob’s Dozen, which is frequently encountered in many sectors of today’s Messianic community, is one of these people. He makes some statements about the numbers of people taken away by the Assyrians, concluding that there were actually no ten tribes of Israel ever taken into exile:

“Excavations have revealed that the population of Judah rapidly increased after the fall of the northern kingdom as a result of the many refugees mentioned in 2 Chronicles 11:14-16. Furthermore, archaeologists have uncovered the annals of the Assyrian Sargon, in which he tells that he carried away only 27,290 people and 50 chariots (Biblical Archaeologist, VI, 1943, p. 58). Since estimates of the population of the northern kingdom at that time range from 400,000 to 500,000, clearly less than one-twentieth of the population was deported, primarily the leaders from the area around Samaria. The ten tribes, therefore, were never lost because they were never deported! Their kingdom was destroyed and ceased to exist, but most of them stayed…”[5]

Is Varner at all correct with what he says here, especially given how God Himself said in Jeremiah 7:15, “I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim[6]” (NASU)? Surely, there were indeed people from the Northern Kingdom who became integrated into the Southern Kingdom. Varner’s claim is that there were really no people from the Northern Kingdom quantitatively taken into Assyrian captivity—“The ten tribes…were never lost because they were never deported,”[7] as he says—other than just 27,290 people. These statements from a fundamentalist Christian are notably contrary to my relatively liberal Hebrew civilization professor at the University of Oklahoma (2001), Dr. Daniel C. Snell, who believed in JEDP Pentateuchal source criticism and held to a rather low view of the reliability of the Tanach’s Historical Books. In his book Life in the Ancient Near East, he just asserts “…the northern kingdom succumbed earlier to Assyrian exile…”[8]

Most of the attention, regarding the exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, is understandably given to the final fall of its capital, Samaria, as summarized by 2 Kings 17:3-6:

“Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against him, and Hoshea became his servant and paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea, who had sent messengers to So king of Egypt and had offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year; so the king of Assyria shut him up and bound him in prison. Then the king of Assyria invaded the whole land and went up to Samaria and besieged it three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and settled them in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (NASU).

Following this, it is asserted in the narrative of the history, that by the time of the final composition of Samuel-Kings, these people taken into exile were still there (2 Kings 17:23). As Bible readers, this is where our ultimate loyalty must be found, as according to Scripture, those Northern Kingdom Israelites taken captive by Assyria from Samaria, did not return back home to the Land of Israel. But does this mean that only a small number of people were exiled by Assyria, thus implying that there were no Ten Lost Tribes of Israel? The number of 27,290 taken away, is frequently referenced in a wide array of study Bibles accessible to the normal layperson.[9] This number itself is a part of ancient, extant archaeological finds, which have been collected and translated into English by Ancient Near Eastern specialists. “The Fall of Samaria” from the reign of Sargon II (721-705 B.C.E.), paralleling 2 Kings 17:4ff, details,

“I besieged and conquered Samaria (Sa-me-ri-na), led away as booty 27,290 inhabitants of it. I formed from among them a contingent of 50 chariots and made remaining (inhabitants) assume their (social) positions. I installed over them an officer of mine and imposed upon them the tribute of the former king.”[10]

Many people just stop examining the issue of how many people were taken away from the Northern Kingdom by Assyria, but there is actually more Biblical data to be reckoned with. There was a previous assault recorded of how during the reign of King Pekah (737-732 B.C.E.) of the Northern Kingdom, Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria (745–727 B.C.E) carried a significant number away from the northern territories of Israel/Ephraim. In A Biblical History of Israel by Ian Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III, it is summarized how “During the reign of Pekahiah’s successor Pekah…we read in both Kings and Chronicles of the Assyrian annexation of much of Israel’s northern and eastern territory, and the deportation to Assyria of a significant percentage of her population (2 Kgs. 15:29-31; 1 Chr 5:26).”[11] Also to be considered is how during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (715-690 B.C.E.), Sennacherib of Assyria (704-681 B.C.E) launched an attack on the Southern Kingdom and on Jerusalem:

Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria: “In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon and Abel-beth-maacah and Janoah and Kedesh and Hazor and Gilead and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria. And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and struck him and put him to death and became king in his place, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah. Now the rest of the acts of Pekah and all that he did, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel” (2 Kings 15:29-31, NASU).

Sennacherib of Assyria: “Now in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them. Then Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, ‘I have done wrong. Withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me I will bear.’ So the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold” (2 Kings 18:13-14; cf. Isaiah 36:1ff, NASU).

When these Biblical accounts are taken into consideration, as well as the extant Assyrian historical records that confirm them—one finds that there were far more than just 27,290 people taken into Assyrian exile. K.A. Kitchen is compiler of the massive work On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), a definite powerhouse in conservative Biblical scholarship. This resource has put together a great deal of external data from Ancient Near Eastern civilizations contemporary to Ancient Israel, confirming the veracity of the Hebrew Tanach. This is what Kitchen has to say about those who were taken captive by the Assyrian Empire, factoring in the Biblical information seen in 2 Kings 15:29-31; 17:1-23; and 18:13-14:

“Tiglath-pileser III removed people from Galilee and environs in the 730s; Shalmaneser V and Sargon II between them sent away many Israelites to eastern lands in 722-720; and Sennacherib did this to Judah in 701. Tiglath-pileser III took 13,520 people (totaled from lesser amounts—226, 400 + x, 656, and [lost]). Then Sargon II boasts of having removed 27,290 (var. 27,280) people from Samaria. And in 701 Sennacherib claimed to have reduced forty-six of Hezekiah’s walled towns and to have taken 200,150 people from them. Such measures did not necessarily depopulate a region entirely, and some Assyrian kings brought in new populations from elsewhere (Sargon II and 2 Kings 17; contrast Tiglath-pileser III). But ‘the Assyrian exile’ of both Israelites and Judeans was considerable—and in the former case, permanent.”[12]

According to Kitchen and his sources, some 13,520 people were taken away by the Assyrians in the exile of 2 Kings 15:29-31 (cf. 1 Chronicles 5:26). Following this were the 27,290 people taken away after the fall of Samaria in 2 Kings 17:1-23. Unlike what William Varner has done in his book Jacob’s Dozen, K.A. Kitchen has referenced not only 13,520 more from the Northern Kingdom of Israel taken away into Assyrian exile—but he has perhaps most shockingly referenced that in the siege upon the Southern Kingdom of Judah seen in 2 Kings 18:13-14, some 200,150 people were taken away! “The Siege of Jerusalem” from the reign of Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.E.), details,

“As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well-stamped (earth-)ramps, and battering-rams brought (thus) near (to the walls) (combined with) the attack by foot soldiers, (using) mines, breeches as well as sapper work. I drove out (of them) 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered (them) booty.”[13]

If we were to only go by the numbers from extant Assyrian records—more people were presumably taken into exile from the Southern Kingdom of Judah than the Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim—in the course of Assyria’s expansion into the region. Recognizing how there were people from the Northern Kingdom who had migrated into the Southern Kingdom, since the time of the division, it would seem likely that among the 200,150 taken by Sennacherib were a large number not only of Southern Kingdom Israelites, but Northern Kingdom Israelites who had relocated south. Could there have been more taken away, than those just seen in the Assyrian records? Yes. But the ANE data currently available confirms that there was a substantial number taken away into Assyrian captivity, a wide number of whom then probably assimilated away and forgot its Israelite heritage after a few generations.

That a significant judgment would be issued by God upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel, especially for the opulence and oppression caused by the wealthy, is certain. Amos 4:1-3 decreed, “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring now, that we may drink!’ The Lord GOD has sworn by His holiness, ‘Behold, the days are coming upon you when they will take you away with meat hooks, and the last of you with fish hooks. You will go out through breaches in the walls, each one straight before her, and you will be cast to Harmon,’ declares the LORD” (NASU). Amos 5:3 follows this up with a very sobering word: “For thus says the Lord GOD, ‘The city which goes forth a thousand strong will have a hundred left, and the one which goes forth a hundred strong will have ten left to the house of Israel’” (NASU). What does this declaration imply regarding the Assyrian siege upon the Northern Kingdom? Amos 9:10 further states, “All the sinners of My people will die by the sword, those who say, ‘The calamity will not overtake or confront us’” (NASU).

During the Assyrian encroachment upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the subsequent battles that ensued, it is likely probable that a wide number of the civilian population became collateral damage, meeting the destiny of the sword.[14] The impression that we get from Amos 5:3, for example, is that as high as ninety-percent of some of its towns’ populations, or at least its fighting force, would be decimated by war. Of course in warfare, many civilians are able to escape as refugees—and surely many from the Northern Kingdom of Israel made it to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. It is also possible that other groups of civilians from the Northern Kingdom escaped elsewhere within the immediate Eastern Mediterranean. The word of Hosea 9:17, regarding those of Ephraim, is that “My God will cast them away because they have not listened to Him; and they will be wanderers among the nations [b’goyim]” (NASU). Thankfully, a major theme of the Prophets is that on a future day the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah will be formally reunited.

When someone in today’s Messianic community, who asks questions about what happened to the Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim—and is then handed a copy of a publication like Varner’s Jacob’s Dozen—one should wonder why no attention is expelled at all to various prophetic words that speak of a reunion of Judah and Ephraim subsequent to the eschaton. It is inappropriate, both Biblically and historically, to act as though there was only a small number of people taken into exile by Assyria. It might be “easier” to ignore or disregard sections of Scripture that speak of the future destiny of the descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel—given abuses that have transpired, per British-Israelism or Armstrongism. But ignoring the implications of Tanach prophecies like Isaiah 11:12-16; Jeremiah 31:6-10; Ezekiel 37:15-28; Zechariah 10:6-10, would be irresponsible for any Bible teacher to do. In fact, Christians ignoring Tanach prophecies that speak of a larger restoration of Israel, perhaps because others have abused them—is not too dissimilar from how many Jews in history have ignored the Messianic claims of Yeshua of Nazareth, because of the unfortunate fact of Christian anti-Semitism.

Where some of today’s conservative Christians do not want to consider the implications of what is to happen in the future, regarding the reunion of Judah and Ephraim—some liberal Bible scholars will stridently step in and correctly acknowledge that the Prophets indeed spoke of future activities of the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel. Those who would disregard Tanach prophecies that speak of a larger restoration of Israel to come, need to take serious notice of how liberals have often approached them.

A liberal Jewish scholar like Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, in his book The Ten Lost Tribes, is one who is marked by his commitment to be an historical minimalist, meaning that he has a very low estimation for the Tanach’s reliability. He is one who specifically believes that “the first book of Kings…is considered by biblical scholars to be almost entirely fictional,”[15] meaning that there really was no Kingdom of Israel ruled by a King David.[16] Ben-Dor Benite’s view of 2 Kings is that there is much pseudo-history interspersed within the text, and that its “biblical depiction exaggerates the totality of the deportations as part of a specifically Israelite narrative of loss and promised redemption.”[17] In terms of the future, though, Ben-Dor Benite honestly recognizes that the Prophets anticipate a regathering of the exiled Northern Kingdom back to the fold of Israel.[18] But, unlike a conservative who would treat such oracles as being Divinely inspired by God Himself, Ben-Dor Benite’s conclusion is that the Prophets were actually master manipulators. He summarizes his view as follows:

“Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos illustrate how the lens of divine punishment transformed the deportations of the Israelites into the exile of an entire people. They were the first to put their oracles into writing; as such, they were hugely influential in turning the exile of Israel into a historical paradigm. They elaborated the notion of exile as it appears in 2 Kings and transformed the kernel of actual history, the patchy narrative of deportations, into an invented Israelite history of sin and all-encompassing divine punishment. The mundane history of several small-scale Assyrian deportations was transformed into a large-scale forced migration enacted by Isaiah’s ‘Rod of God.’ So it is that, while Assyrian kings deported some Israelites for military and political purposes, the Judahite authors of the biblical narrative ‘exiled’ the entire Israelite kingdom for their own theological and ideological reasons.”[19]

Were the Prophets of the Tanach, at all promoting fantasy, in their depiction of a future restoration of Israel, involving the exiles of the Northern Kingdom? A conservative Bible reader would be aghast at the suggestion that what the Prophets communicated was anything less than Divine inspiration from the Holy One. Most of today’s Messianic Believers—especially those who affirm that the creation of the modern-day State of Israel was prophesied in Scripture (Isaiah 66:8)—would absolutely be horrified over the mere suggestion that the Tanach Scriptures are full of pseudo-histories and that the Prophets of Ancient Israel are essentially liars and deceivers. I, for one, certainly do not believe that the Prophets were just some sort of master manipulators.

Why have various conservative interpreters of the Bible ignored various prophecies about the reunion of Judah and Ephraim to come? Why are there various conservative interpreters, who actually cast their lot in with liberals, who claim that the idea of the Northern Kingdom being exiled is fallacious?

Is it really true that there are no Ten Lost Tribes of any kind “out there” in the world? Holding to a rigid “No!” is a position that some are realizing that they cannot take.

In his 1915 book The History of the Ten “Lost” Tribes: Anglo-Israelism Examined, Hebrew Christian David Baron—who while largely disregarding the idea that there were descendants from the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel “out there,” mostly in an effort to refute British-Israelism—had to at least be honest and admit that there could be people in remote regions of South Asia, descended from the Northern Kingdom exiles. Baron said, “It may be true that the Nestorians, and the Afghans, and some other Eastern tribes are descendants of the original Israelitish exiles in Assyria, but [have] more or less mixed themselves up by inter-marriage with the surrounding nations…”[20] Holding to a position of “no Lost Tribes in any form, anywhere,” is unsustainable. Even with all of Varner’s protestations, he still had to reluctantly refer to Ethiopian Jews possibly composing the tribe of Dan, and the Pashtu of Afghanistan as composing members of the exiled Northern Kingdom.[21]

The argument that there are no descendants of people, anywhere on Earth, from the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel and being separated from the Jewish community at large, is often found in teachings intended to refute British-Israelism, and its commonly associated anti-Semitism. In wanting to rightly affirm the legitimate place of the Jewish people, how God has blessed and preserved them in history, and how they are indeed true descendants of the Patriarchs—some Christians go too far, and they end up disregarding or nullifying Bible prophecies that speak of the return of scattered Israel/Ephraim.

Not dealing with the issue of the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim, is something which has, thankfully, started to slowly change. A liberal resource like JPS Guide: The Jewish Bible (2008), at least offers the general summary:

“The 10 tribes of Israel…disappeared from Biblical accounts after the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722/1 B.C.E. The tribes lost their separate identity during their exile and captivity and are thought by some to have intermarried with the Assyrians. Throughout history, various groups around the world have claimed that they are descendants of the lost tribes, pointing to their ancient Hebraic customs and beliefs as proof. Perhaps the best known of these are the Falashas of Ethiopia and the Samaritans of Nablus.”[22]

For our own Messianic faith community, evangelist Jonathan Bernis of Jewish Voice Ministries, wrote a short article in 2005 called “The Scattering of the Tribes of Israel.” He referenced 2 Kings 17:22-23 about the Northern Kingdom being taken into Assyria “until this day,” and appealed to Jeremiah 31:35-37[23] as evidence of future fulfillment regarding the return of the descendants of the Northern Kingdom. He was quite keen to assert how “Sadly exactly what happened to the 10 Northern Tribes is not known. There are many theories enough to fill a library. Some are bizarre and clearly false (like the British-Israel theory taught by one prominent American television Bible teacher until his death), while others are more feasible. In fact, where these descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob eventually ended up is so shrouded in mystery and intrigue that these ten Tribes have come to be known as the ‘Ten Lost Tribes of Israel!’”[24] Bernis actually concludes, “While the rest of the world might have lost these scattered ‘outcasts of Israel’—God certainly has not! In fact, I am convinced that in these Last Days He is now uncovering the descendants of these Tribes and gathering them back to Himself in order to fulfill His Word.”[25]

Similar sentiments are expressed by Sid Roth in his 2007 book The Incomplete Church, as he commented on the miracles that God has wrought in preserving the Jewish people throughout history. He observes, “The ancient rabbis believed that three things had to take place before the Messiah would appear. First, Israel had to be restored as a Jewish nation, which occurred in 1948. Second, the temple had to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. This could happen very quickly. And third, the ten lost tribes had to be restored to Israel (see Jer. 31:7-11). This seemed impossible—until now.”[26] Roth goes on to summarize,

“Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, a traditional Jew, read about the locations where the lost tribes were scattered in Isaiah 11:11. He set up an exploratory expedition to find and document the existence of these tribes. Not only did he find them exactly where God had scattered them, but he also discovered that they had not assimilated into their surrounding environments. {as seen in Quest for the Lost Tribes A&E, 1998, DVD 2006}

“For example, he found descendants from the tribe of Manasseh living in northeast India. They observe the Sabbath, the festivals, and the biblical Jewish laws. In 2000, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior granted citizenship to the first one hundred members of that tribe.

“All ten ‘lost’ tribes have been located. They say, ‘We are not lost!’ Many of the tribes practice an aberrant form of Judaism, but all have relics and customs proving their heritage. I agree with them and the Word of God—they are not lost.”[27]

It is most unfortunate, given the current controversies which have ensued from various leaders and teachers in the Two-House sub-movement, that the sentiments of those such as Bernis or Roth have not been given a bit more publicity to facilitate more reasonable and constructive discussion (as opposed to the over-statements and religious politics and posturing of the 1999 white paper, “The Ephraimite Error”). Roth was quite fair to acknowledge,

“Followers of the Two-House Theology love the Jewish people, but they take the spiritual truth of Jew and Gentile becoming One New Man [cf. Ephesians 2:15] too far. They are trying to physically become Israel, as though this would give them a special place in God’s Kingdom. They are wrong. The special place in the Kingdom is being a child of God.”[28]

Isaiah 11:11 communicates, “Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His hand the remnant of His people, who will remain, from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and from the islands of the sea” (NASU). Obviously, the first places which people must look for the descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom should be within the sphere of influence of the old Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Empires: the places where the original exiles were deported and/or immediately migrated.

The customary places where the descendants, of the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel, have been searched for, are often limited to remote and rural parts of the third world: in Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Central Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean basin. This would include various isolated groups, which to various degrees are monotheistic, who practice what appear to be some form of Jewish customs, and/or appear to have some odd oral traditions or customs which likely originate from Ancient Israel. The New Encyclopedia of Judaism has a fair summation:

“Today, legends of descent from the ‘lost’ ten tribes abound. Jewish communities of Kurdish, Bokharan, and Indian (the BENÉ ISRAEL) origin claim their forefathers were exiled from the Kingdom of Israel, while the Israel Chief Rabbinate has taken the position that the Jews of Ethiopia come from the tribe of Dan. In addition, a wide range of non-Jewish tribes and groups claim descent from the Israelites, ranging from sections of the Nigerian Yoruba tribe to the ‘Manipur Jews’ from northeast India, who claim to belong to the tribe of Manasseh. Fifteen million Pathans spread over Afghanistan and Pakistan (now Kashmir) are divided into sub-tribal groupings with names like Reubeni (Reuben), Efridar (Ephraim), and Ashuri (Asher), leading to the suggestion that they come from the lost tribes.”[29]

Tibor Krausz wrote an article in 1999 for The Jerusalem Report, in which he summarized some of the groups which claimed to have descent from the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel. The more legitimate groups to be considered, included:

  • Shinlung: A group of tribes in northeastern India, Burma, Thailand and Bangladesh boast 1.5 million members and trace their ancestry to the biblical tribe of Menashe. They call their deity Y’wa, have their own Exodus story and feast days corresponding to the Jewish holidays, and many say they want to immigrate to Israel, in the footsteps of the few dozen who already have.
  • Telugu: Some 30 families of the Indian village of Kottareddipalem, who have converted to Judaism, believe that their ancestors belonged to the lost tribe of Ephraim.
  • Iddao Ishaak: This small tribe, which claims to be of Jewish origin, lives in Nigeria’s Asakrei Valley.
  • Kaifeng: Distant descendants of the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng, they still mark “Jew” as their ethnic identity in the government census. Some believe their ancestors were descendants of a lost tribe of Israel that settled between Tibet and Szechuan.
  • Pathans: The 15 million Pathans, Sunni Muslims, comprise about 40 percent of Afghans and also live in Pakistan. Some call themselves “Bani Israel” and consider themselves descendants of the Israelites who found a home in ancient Hindustan.[30]

Another group to be added to Krausz’ list can be the Lemba people, a small group of people living in Zimbabwe and South Africa. A BBC article from 2010 details,

“The Lemba people of Zimbabwe and South Africa may look like their compatriots, but they follow a very different set of customs and traditions.

“They do not eat pork, they practise male circumcision, they ritually slaughter their animals, some of their men wear skull caps and they put the Star of David on their gravestones.

“Their oral traditions claim that their ancestors were Jews who fled the Holy Land about 2,500 years ago.

“It may sound like another myth of a lost tribe of Israel, but British scientists have carried out DNA tests which have confirmed their Semitic origin.”[31]

These are the sorts of small groups of people, who practice what appear to be some kind of Jewish customs, and who have an oral tradition tracing their origins back to Ancient Israel, who are likely to be true descendants of the Lost Tribes. In some cases, they might even have some DNA evidence to back up their claims.

When I took Ancient Hebrew Civilization at the University of Oklahoma in 2001, Dr. Daniel Snell told our class that he believed that the Lost Tribes of the Northern Kingdom were basically constrained to a belt of people in what is today Southern Turkey, Northern Iraq, Northern Iran, and into Afghanistan—and now they were all likely Muslim. Kitchen would confirm how Bible readers can at least be assured, “the exiled Hebrews were progressively assimilated into the Assyrian-Aramean amalgam of peoples inhabiting northern Mesopotamia.”[32]

Another small group to consider could be how in 1 Maccabees 12:21, as the Jews were trying to elicit the support of allies against the Seleucid-Greeks, a letter was sent to the Spartans with the statement, “It has been found in writing concerning the Spartans and the Jews that they are brethren and are of the family of Abraham [ek genous Abraam]” (RSV). Lee I. Levine, a professor of Jewish history and archaeology at Hebrew University, states, “According to 1 Maccabees (12:5-23)…a bond was forged between the citizens of Jerusalem and the people of Sparta, who saw themselves as descendants of Abraham and who sought to forge an alliance with Jerusalem.”[33] Alas, though, Ancient Sparta, a part of the Greek Peloponnesus, sat within the sphere of influence of the old Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Empires—as opposed to tall tales like escapees from the Northern Kingdom migrating to the British Isles (or even the Americas!).

It is highly problematic, though, that when most people in today’s Two-House sub-movement have considered where the exiles of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were deported—that they tend to look entirely outside of the Ancient Near East, and the places actually listed by the Holy Scriptures themselves. This is a serious issue which has been rightly noted by Boaz Michael & Jacob Fronczak in their publication, Twelve Gates:

“Many of those who were deported from the Northern Kingdom did not return; those who lost their identity as Israelites would have assimilated into Assyrian society and culture. Their descendants would be found today among the Syrian people, many of whom are Christian and belong to various Oriental churches (the Assyrian Church of the East and the Syriac Orthodox Church among others) which split off from Catholicism after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE. This is one case in which a non-Jewish people group might have some claim to significant Israelite ancestry. Yet one rarely (if ever) hears Two-House proponents single the Syrian people out as potential ‘Ephraimites.’”[34]

The great irony of the whole issue, of the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim, is that most of the controversy has been caused by searching for groups of descendants well outside of people groups native to the Ancient Near East and immediately surrounding areas. If one were to propose that a wide number of Assyrian, Lebanese, Iraqi, Iranian, or Armenian Christians, among others, for example, were descended from the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel, there were hardly be any problems, as these people groups largely sit within the confines of the Ancient Near East. It is when groups well outside what was legitimately feasible in ancient times, are posited, that problems ensue.

Many of today’s popular/populist Two-House proponents have essentially advocated that there are descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom represented in every ethnicity, country, and corner of Planet Earth, from far Northwestern Europe to the South Seas, and possibly also to the ancient Americas. The traditional areas where the Lost Tribes have been searched for—are actually the last places where Two-House people tend to look. While it is true that in the course of two-and-a-half millennia, people from the Ancient Near East have migrated across the Earth, a substantial amount of that migration has actually only taken place in the past two centuries with European colonialism and de-colonization following the end of World War II.

A non-Jewish Believer of Northwestern European ancestry, who has been led by the Lord into today’s Messianic movement, is actually going to have a far better chance at finding a Jewish ancestor or two who assimilated into Christianity during the Middle Ages—than being a descendant of the deported Northern Kingdom, which was largely spread eastward.

The need for Bible readers to stay away from unwarranted speculation—and widely let God’s Word and prophecy take care of themselves—is quite imperative. This is something that far too many people who make up the Two-House sub-movement have utterly failed to do. As the Encyclopaedia Judaica entry on the “Ten Lost Tribes” rightly directs, “Various theories, one more farfetched than the other, have been adduced, on the flimsiest of evidence, to identify different peoples with the ten lost tribes. There is hardly a people, from the Japanese to the British, and from the Red Indians to the Afghans, who have not been suggested, and hardly a place, among them Africa, India, China, Persia, Kurdistan, Caucasia, the U.S., and Great Britain.”[35] More often than not, theories about where Tribe XYZ have gone have not proven useful.


NOTES

[1] Duane A. Garrett, ed., et. al., NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 555.

[2] JPS Guide: The Jewish Bible (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2008), 182.

[3] John Milton, The Major Works (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 652.

[4] Cf. William Varner, Jacob’s Dozen: A Prophetic Look at the Tribes of Israel (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1987), pp 94-95.

[5] Varner, pp 96-97.

[6] Heb. et-kol-achei’khem et kol-zera Efraim.

[7] Ibid., 97.

[8] Daniel C. Snell, Life in the Ancient Near East (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997), 133.

[9] These include, but are not limited to: Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, eds., The New Oxford Annotated Bible With the Apocrypha, RSV (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 478; Kenneth L. Barker, ed., et. al., NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), pp 555-556; Claude F. Mariottini, “2 Kings,” in Walter J. Harrelson, ed., et. al., New Interpreter’s Study Bible, NRSV (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 553; Archaeological Study Bible, 554.

[10] A. Leo Oppenheim, trans., “Assyrian and Babylonian Historical Texts,” in James B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East Volume I: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1958), 195.

[11] Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 270.

[12] K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 65.

[13] The Ancient Near East Volume I, 200.

This is actually noted in the Archaeological Study Bible, 558 in its notes on 2 Kings 18:13-14.

[14] K.A. Kitchen, The Bible In Its World: The Bible & Archaeology Today (Exeter: Paternoster, 1977), pp 112-113 details how brutal some of this was:

“Tiglath-pileser III devastated northern Israel, including Hazor (2 Kings 15:29) where have been found eloquent traces of the ferocity of that destruction in a layer of ashes a metre thick over the ruined buildings.”

[15] Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 8.

The two books previously referenced in this chapter, A Biblical History of Israel and On the Reliability of the Old Testament, both directly refute the presuppositions of minimalism.

[16] And of course, if this is true of King David, what of the other Biblical accounts preceding 1 Kings? Such minimalists deny that figures such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses ever existed, and that there was no Exodus or Conquest.

[17] Ben-Dor Benite, 35.

[18] Ibid., 53 references Amos 5:5, 27; Hosea 8:8; Isaiah 11:11-12.

[19] Ibid., 50.

Tudor Parfitt, The Lost Tribes of Israel: The History of a Myth (London: Phoenix, 2002), pp 4-5 referencing Ezekiel 37:16; Isaiah 11:11-12; and Jeremiah 31:7 is even more direct, as he states, “The fate of the ten tribes as an imagined mythical community started to assume great importance in the prophecies…where the final redemption of Israel was linked to the reunion of the Lost Tribes…”

[20] David Baron, The History of the Ten “Lost” Tribes: Anglo-Israelism Examined reprint (London: Morgan & Scott Ld., 1915), pp 47-48.

[21] Varner, pp 91-92.

[22] JPS Guide: The Jewish Bible, 231.

[23] “Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the LORD of hosts is His name: ‘If this fixed order departs From before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.’ Thus says the LORD, ‘If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:35-37, NASU).

[24] Jonathan Bernis (2005). The Scattering of the Tribes of Israel, March/April 2005. Jewish Voice Today. Retrieved 17 April, 2011 from <http://www.jewishvoice.org>.

[25] Ibid.

There are also some concurrent thoughts offered about this in Bernis’ book, A Rabbi Looks at the Last Days: Surprising Insights on Israel, the End Times and Popular Misconceptions (Bloomington, MN: Chosen Books, 2013).

[26] Sid Roth, The Incomplete Church: Bridging the Gap Between God’s Children (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2007), 17.

[27] Ibid., pp 17-18.

[28] Ibid., pp 41-42.

[29] “Tribes, Ten Lost,” in Geoffrey Wigoder, ed. et. al., The New Encyclopedia of Judaism (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Publishing House, 2002), 784.

[30] Tibor Krausz (1999). Report Card, 10 May, 1999. The Jerusalem Report. Retrieved 11 April, 2011 from <http://jpost.com/JerusalemReport>.

[31] Steve Vickers (2010). Lost Jewish tribe ‘found in Zimbabwe, 08 March, 2010. BBC News. Retrived 08 April, 2012 from <http://news.bbc.co.uk>.

[32] Kitchen, The Bible In Its World, 113.

[33] Lee I. Levine, “The Age of Hellenism,” in Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Destruction of the Temple, 233.

[34] Boaz Michael, with Jacob Fronczak, Twelve Gates: Where Do the Nations Enter? (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2012), 26.

[35] Louis Isaac Rabinowitz, “Ten Lost Tribes,” in EJ.