Finding the "Lost" Tribes of Israel
The mystery of the "Lost Ten Tribes" of Israel has intrigued people for centuries. Who are they? Where are they? Even U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, in his instructions to the Lewis and Clark expedition, asked the explorers to look for affinities between the lost tribes and the American Indians of the Great Plains. Syndicated writer Charles Krauthammer, recounting this story in a column marking the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel, noted that Lewis and Clark did not find the lost tribes among the Indians—and then adds his own aside, expressing a common view on the subject: "They aren't anywhere" (Washington Post, May 16, 2008). Krauthammer, like many others, assumes that the "Lost Ten Tribes" simply disappeared into the mists of history.
A few months later, news reports described the Bnei Menashe—a group of people living in India who want to immigrate en masse to Israel, claiming "to descend from the lost tribe of Menasche (Manasseh), one of the ten tribes that were exiled from the land of Israel by the Assyrian empire more than 27 centuries ago." The Bnei Menashe keep the Sabbath, the kosher dietary laws and worship in synagogues (New Jersey Jewish Standard, August 13, 2008).
Over the years, other alleged remnants of the "Lost Ten Tribes" have been reported in remote parts of the world. Most scholars today dismiss these reports as myths, and condescendingly point to what they consider the lack of solid evidence that these tribes exist today. What of the idea that the peoples of Western Europe and the British Isles are part of the Lost Ten Tribes? Professor Tudor Parfitt of the University of London says the notion is "unblessed with even a scintilla of evidence" and reflects the "ignorance" of "poorly educated disciples of the movement" (The Lost Tribes of Israel: The History of a Myth, pp. 53, 62).
However, the views of Professor Parfitt and his colleagues overlook key biblical clues, and ignore considerable historical evidence that make it possible to discover the identity and modern locations of the tribes of Israel. Few seem to understand that dozens of prophecies related to this important subject are coming alive today!
Though many modern scholars have lost track of the Israelite tribes, the identity and location of the tribes of Israel have not really been lost! Jesus told His disciples to go "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:6). The "house of Israel" refers to all twelve tribes of Israel, which descended from the twelve sons of Jacob (Genesis 35:23–26). Both the Bible and history indicate that Christ's disciples carried out their mission. James addressed his epistle to "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" (James 1:1). Josephus, a Jew writing in the first century ad, recorded that "the ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude" (Antiquities of the Jews, 11:5:2). The phrase "beyond the Euphrates" reveals that the ten tribes were in Parthia—an area south of the Caspian Sea—where the Israelites had gone into captivity centuries earlier. Oxford Professor George Rawlinson noted that the Parthians were part of the Scythians, that their name "Parthi" meant "exiles" and that they had been under the dominion of the Assyrians and the Medes (The Sixth Great Oriental Monarchy, pp. 19, 26)—a description that fits the Israelites! Parthians heard Peter speak in Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2:9). The early church historian Eusebius (263–339ad) relates that Christ's disciple Andrew went to Scythia, and that Thomas went to Parthia (The History of the Church, 3:1:1). Early traditions also link Bartholomew and Philip with these same areas—which shows that the Apostles knew the location of the Israelite tribes in their day.
Historians connect the Scythians with a people called the Sacae. In his translation of Herodotus' The Histories, Rawlinson connected the Sacae—mentioned in inscriptions that Darius commissioned ca. 500bc on the Behistun Rock in northwestern Iran—"with the Beth-Khumree of Samaria, or the Ten Tribes of the House of Israel" (p. 378). In the Apocrypha, the book of 2 Esdras states that (after the fall of the Assyrian empire) "the ten tribes… took this counsel among themselves… [to] go forth into a further country… and they entered into the Euphrates by the narrow passages of the river" (2 Esdras 13:40–45)—they headed north through the gorges to the Crimea. Nineteenth century London historian Sharon Turner wrote, "The emigrating Scythians crossed the Araxes [a river between the Black and Caspian Sea], passed out of Asia, and invading the Kimmerians, suddenly appeared in Europe, in the seventh century before the Christian era" (The History of the Anglo-Saxons, vol. 1, p. 98). Turner also described how the Scythians and a related people, the Kimmerians (Kimbri or Kumri or Cymry), eventually reached Britain, and that "The Welsh, who are their descendants, have always called themselves Cymry" (ibid., p. 34)—indeed, that name is on their postcards today!
Critics are unconvinced; Professor Parfitt says the idea of finding the Lost Ten Tribes among America, Britain and the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic peoples that stem from northwestern Europe is "bizarre" and does not make the "slightest sense" in terms of history (Parfitt, pp. 53, 64). He further asserts that some of the earliest "expressions of an invented Israelite genealogy for the British" come from individuals of questionable reputation and scholarship in the 1600s and 1700s (The Lost Tribes of Israel, pp. 41–61). But this perspective simply ignores important facts of history. For example, the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320ad—the Scottish "Declaration of Independence"—stated that the ancestors of the Scots came from Scythia by way of Spain about 500ad —some 1,200 years after the Assyrian conquest of Samaria in 721bc (see The Story of Celto-Saxon Israel, Bennett, pp. 96–99). Gildas, a Briton writing in the early 500s ad, describes the Anglo-Saxon invasion as God's punishment on "these His Israelites"—the Britons (De Excidio Britanniae). The early annals of Ireland call some of the Emerald Isle's first inhabitants the "Tuatha de Danann" (The Story of the Irish Race, MacManus, pp. 2–6; The Flowering of Ireland, Scherman, pp. 51–55), which easily translates as "tribe of Dan"—one of the tribes of Israel. The Tuatha de Danann of Ireland appear to be the same peoples as the Danoi of Greece, who according to local legends came from Egypt around 1500bc—about the time of the Exodus of the Israelites. One of the traits of the tribe of Dan was to rename places where they settled or traveled (Joshua 19:40–48; Judges 18:11–12, 26–29). The Danites were seafaring people (Judges 5:17) who were prophesied to leave their mark in place names: Cyprus was called the Ia-Dnan (Island of Dan), the Danube, the Dardanelles, Danzig and Denmark (see Bennett, pp. 76–79).
Additionally, in the 17th century, Vatican librarian Cardinal Baroneous and Archbishop Ussher of Ireland—one of the greatest scholars of his day—both presented evidence that the Apostles James, Paul, Simon Peter, Simon Zelotes, along with Joseph of Arimathea, preached the gospel in the British Isles (see The Whole Works of James Ussher, vol. 5, chap. 1). This gives further credence to the understanding that the Apostles did heed Jesus' instruction to "go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But why is it important, today, to know the identity and location of the tribes of Israel? Bible prophecies record traits of the tribes of Israel that will become obvious and recognizable "in the last days" (Genesis 49:1). Moses prophesied that the descendants of the Israelites would become utterly corrupt and face difficult times "in the latter days" (Deuteronomy 4:27–30; 28:26–29). Jeremiah warns of a coming period of tribulation and chastisement for sinful Israelite nations that he calls a time of "Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:1–15). God's servants have the duty to warn His people of dangers that lie ahead (Isaiah 58:1; Amos 3:7). Understanding the location and identity of modern Israelite nations is a key to understanding Bible prophecies about their future, and it helps to target our message as these prophecies come alive today!