LOST TRIBES OF ISRAEL
The northern kingdom of Israel was occupied by 12 tribes, who were said to have descended from the Patriarch Jacob. Ten of these tribes — the Reuben, Gad, Zebulon, Simeon, Dan, Asher, Ephraim, Manasseh, Naphtali and Isaachar — became known as the Lost Tribes of Israel when they disappeared after northern Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in the 8th century B.C.
In accord with Assyrian policy of deporting the local population to prevent rebellions, the 200,000 Jews living in the northern kingdom of Israel were exiled. After that nothing was heard from them again. The only clues in the Bible were from II Kings 17:6: "...the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes." This puts them in northern Mesopotamia.
The fate of Israel’s 10 lost tribes, which were driven from ancient Palestine, ranks among history’s biggest mysteries. Some Israeli rabbis believe descendants of the lost tribes number more than 35 million around the world and could help offset the sharply increasing Palestinian population. Amos 9:9 reads: “I will sift the house of Ephraim among all nations, as grain is sifted in a sieve; yet shall not the least kernel fall upon the earth. [Source: Newsweek, Oct. 21, 2002]
Quotes from the Bible that refers to the Lost trobes include: “And he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces: for thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee.” from 1 Kings 11:31 and “But I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand, and will give it unto thee, even ten tribes.” from Kings 11:35 In the A.D. 7th and 8th centuries, the return of the lost tribes was associated with the concept of the coming of the messiah. The Roman-erea Jewish historian Josephus (37–100 CE) wrote that "the ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude and not to be estimated in numbers." Historian Tudor Parfitt said that "the Lost Tribes are indeed nothing but a myth" and that "this myth is a vital feature of colonial discourse throughout the long period of European overseas empires, from the beginning of the fifteenth century, until the later half of the twentieth". [Source: Wikipedia]
Websites and Resources: Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org ; Judaism Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah.org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; BBC - Religion: Judaism bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica, britannica.com/topic/Judaism; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish History.org jewishhistory.org ; Christianity and Christians Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Christianity.com christianity.com ; BBC - Religion: Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/ ; Christianity Today christianitytoday.com
Searching for the Lost Tribes of Israel
In the first century A.D., when wrote the "10 tribes are beyond the Euphrates until now, and are an immense multitude", a Greek chronicler wrote the 10 tribes decided to "go forth into a land farther distant in a place" called Azareth. Where Azareth was nobody knew. The word itself means "another place." In the A.D. 9th century a traveler named Eldad Ha-Dani appeared in Tunisia, saying he was a member of the tribe Dan, which now lived in Ethiopia with three other Lost Tribes. During the Crusades, Christian Europeans became obsessed with located the Lost Tribes, who they believed would help them fight against the Muslims and retake Jerusalem. During a period of end of the world prophecies in the Middle Ages, the desire to find the lost tribes became particularly intense, because the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke of the reunion of the House of Israel and the House of Judah before the end of the world.
Over the years there were other reports of sightings of the Lost tribes, sometimes in associations with the mythical Prester John, a miracle-performing priest-king that was said to live in a distant land in Africa or Asia. Expeditions were launched to search for the Lost Tribes. When the New World was discovered, it was thought that the Lost Tribes would be discovered there. For a time various Indian tribes found in America where thought tot be the Lost Tribes.
The search for the Lost Tribes continues today. Africa, India, Afghanistan, Japan, Peru and Samoa are among the places where it said that the wandering Jews settled. Many fundamentalist Christians believe that tribes must be found before Jesus will return.Some members of the Lembaa, a South African tribe that claims to be a Lost Tribe of Israel, have the genetic Cohan marker. Some Afghans believe they are descendants of lost tribes.
Veteran Israeli journalist Hillel Halkin began hunting for the Lost Tribes of Israel in 1998. At that time he thought the claim that a community of Indians on the Burmese border descended from one of the tribes was either a fantasy or a hoax. Newsweek reported: “On his third trip to the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram, Halkin was shown texts that convinced him that the community, which calls itself the Bnei Menashe, has roots in the lost tribe of Menashe. The documents included a will and words to a song about the Red Sea. The argument, made in his new book ‘Across the Sabbath River‘ (Houghton Mifflin), is not just academic. [Source: Newsweek, Oct. 21, 2002]
As founder of the organization Amishav (My People Return), Eliyahu Avichail trots the globe in search of lost Jews, in order to bring them back to their religion through conversation and direct them to Israel. He’s even hoping to make it to Afghanistan later this year. “I believe that groups like the Bnei Menashe are part of the solution to Israel’s demographic problems,” says Amishav director Michael Freund.
Pathans of Pakistan and Afghanistan: One of the Lost Tribes of Israel?
Some claim the Pathans — an ethnic group that live in western and southern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan and whose homeland is in the valleys of Hindu Kush — descended from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Some Pathan legends trace the origin of the Pathan people back to Afghana, a supposed grandson of Israel’s King Saul and a commander of King Solomon’s army not mentioned in Jewish scriptures or the Bible. Under Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century B.C. some of the banished Israeli tribes headed east, settling near Esfahan in Iran, in a city called Yahudia, and later moved to the Afghan region of Hazarajat.
In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Pathans have a reputation for being fierce tribesmen who thumb their large noses at authorities and follow their own customs and codes of honor. Pathans consider themselves the true Afghans and the true rulers of Afghanistan. Also known as Pasthuns, Afghans, Pukhtun, Rohilla, they are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and by some accounts the largest tribal society in the world. There are about 11 million of them (making up 40 percent of the population) in Afghanistan.
Links with Afghans and the Lost Tribes of Israel first appeared in 1612 in a book in Delhi written by enemies of the Afghans. Historians have said the legend is “great fun” but has no basis in history and is full or inconsistencies. The linguistic evidence points to Indo-European ancestry, perhaps Aryans, for the Pasthans, who are likely a heterogenous group made up of invaders who have passed through their territory: Persians, Greeks, Hindus, Turks, Mongols, Uzbeks, Sikhs, British and Russians.
Lost Tribe “Found in Zimbabwe”
Some members of the Lemba, a South African tribe that claims to be a Lost Tribe of Israel, have the genetic Cohan marker. Cohanim are members of priestly clan that trace their paternal lineage back to the original cohen, Aaron, the brother of Moses and a high Jewish priest. Cohanim have certain duties and restrictions. Cynics have long wondered if such a diverse looking group of people could all be descendants of the same person, Aaron. Dr. Karl Skorecki, a Jew from a Cohan family, and geneticist Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona found genetic markers on the Y chromosome among Cohanim that appear to have been passed down through a common male ancestor for 84 to 130 generations, which goes back more than 3,000 years, roughly the time of Exodus and Aaron.
Steve Vickers of the BBC wrote: In many ways, the Lemba tribe of Zimbabwe and South Africa are just like their neighbours. But in other ways their customs are remarkably similar to Jewish ones. They do not eat pork and food with animal blood, they practise male circumcision [not a tradition for most Zimbabweans], they ritually slaughter their animals, some of their men wear skull caps and they put the Star of David on their gravestones. They have 12 tribes and their oral traditions claim that their ancestors were Jews who fled the Holy Land about 2,500 years ago. [Source: Steve Vickers, BBC News |::|]
“It may sound like another myth of a lost tribe of Israel, but British scientists have carried out DNA tests which confirm their Semitic origin. These tests back up the group's belief that a group of perhaps seven men married African women and settled on the continent. The Lemba, who number perhaps 80,000, live in central Zimbabwe and the north of South Africa. And they also have a prized religious artefact that they say connects them to their Jewish ancestry- a replica of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant known as the ngoma lungundu, meaning "the drum that thunders". The object went on display recently at a Harare museum to much fanfare, and instilled pride in many of the Lemba. |::|
"For me it's the starting point," religious singer Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave told the BBC. "Very few people knew about us and this is the time to come out. I'm very proud to realise that we have a rich culture and I'm proud to be a Lemba."We have been a very secretive people, because we believe we are a special people."
According to ancient Jewish rituals the redemption of the firstborn son requires payment to a Cohen. Only the Cohanim in prayer shawls are allowed to bless suppliants at Jerusalem's Western Wall. This is an inherited duty. The Cohan marker is found in half of the Cohanim studied in both Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities and among Jews of European ancestry and African ancestry. The marker as also been found in some Christians that have no knowledge of any Jewish ancestry.
Lost Tribes in India
Lost Tribes marker in Bombay In India there are a million or so Indians who believe that they descended from the Israelite tribe of Manasseh, which was expelled by the Assyrians 2,700 years ago. About of 5,000 of these follow religious rules listed in the Bible—including animal sacrifices.
Several hundred lost tribe members have come to Israel as immigrants and have been allowed to become Israeli citizens if they converted to Judaism. One Indian tribe member interviewed by the Wall Street Journal was a university graduate with a degree political science who came from Manipur, near the Burmese border. He said he came to Israel so he could follow his religious commandments. After his arrival he got a job working on a farm and spent much is his free time studying Hebrew, Judaism and Jewish customs.
The Mizo — an ethnic group that lives mainly in the small northeastern Indian states of Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura — claim to be one of the lost tribes of Israel. They have a tradition of songs with stories that are similar to those found in the Bible. Also known as the Lushai and Zomi, the Mizo are a colorful tribe with a code of ethics that requires them to be hospitable, kind, unselfish and courageous. They are closely related to the Chin people of Myanmar. Their name means “people of the high land.” [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: South Asia, edited by Paul Hockings, C.K. Hall & Company, 1992]
The Mizo have traditionally been slash-and-burn agriculturists who hunted birds with catapults. Their main cash crop is ginger. Their language belong to the Kuki-Chin Subgroup of the Kuki-Naga Group of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. These language are all tonal and monosyllabic and had no written form until missionaries gave them the Roman alphabets in the 1800s. The Mizo and Chin share a similar history (See Chin). The Mizos have been in rebellion against Indian rule since 1966. They are allied with the Nagas and the Razakars, a non-Bengali Muslim group from Bangladesh."
Nearly all the Mizos in northeastern India converted to Christianity due to the pioneering efforts of an obscure Welsh mission. Most are Protestants and belong to the Welsh Presbyterian, United Pentecostal, Salvation Army or Seventh-Day Adventist sects. Mizo villages are usually set up around churches. Pre-marital sex is common even though it is discouraged. The bride-price process is complicated and often includes the ritual sharing of a killed animal. Mizo women produce lovely textiles with geometric designs. They like Western-style music and use guitars and big Mizo drums and traditional bamboo dances to accompany church hymns.
Bnei Menashe: Indian Jews from 'Lost Tribe'
The Bnei Menashe ("Sons of Menasseh") are a small group with about 10,000 members within the indigenous people of India's North-Eastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram near India's border with Myanmar. They say they are descended from Jews banished from ancient Israel by the Assyrians to India in the eighth century B.C. Over the centuries they became animists, and in the 19th century, British missionaries converted many to Christianity. Even so, the group says they continued to practice ancient Jewish rituals, including animal sacrifices, which they say were passed down from generation to generation. Jews in the Holy Land stopped animal sacrifices after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. [Source: Lauren E. Bohn, Associated Press, December 25, 2012]
The Bnei Menashe are made up of Mizo, Kuki and Chin peoples, who all speak Tibeto-Burman languages, and whose ancestors migrated into northeast India from Burma mostly in the 17th and 18th centuries. They are called Chin in Burma. Prior to conversion in the 19th century to Christianity by Welsh Baptist missionaries, the Chin, Kuki, and Mizo peoples were animists; among their practices was ritual headhunting. Since the late 20th century, some of these peoples have begun following Messianic Judaism. The Bnei Menashe are a small group who started studying and practicing Judaism since the 1970s in a desire to return to what they believe is the religion of their ancestors. The total population of Manipur and Mizoram is more than 3.7 million. The Bnei Menashe number around 10,000; close to 3,000 have emigrated to Israel. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Today there around 7,000 Bnei Menashe in India and 3,000 in Israel. In 2003–2004 DNA testing showed that several hundred men of this group had no evidence of Middle Eastern ancestry. A Kolkata study in 2005, which has been criticised, suggested that a small number of women sampled may have some Middle Eastern ancestry, but this may also have resulted from intermarriage during the thousands of years of migration. In the late 20th century, Israeli Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail of the group Amishav named them Bnei Menashe, based on their account of descent from Menasseh. Most of the peoples in these two northeast states, who number more than 3.7 million, do not identify with these claims. +
Greg Myre wrote in The New York Times: “There is no proof, though, of historical links to the Manasseh, one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel driven into exile by the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C. ...The Bnei Menashe did not practice Judaism before British missionaries converted them to Christianity about a century ago. They followed an animist religion typical of Southeast Asian hill tribes. But that religion did seem to include some practices that were similar to Bible stories, said Hillel Halkin, an Israeli journalist who has written a book about them, "Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel." [Source: Greg Myre, The New York Times, December 22, 2003 <>]
“It is not clear what prompted the Bnei Menashe to begin practicing Judaism. In the 1950's they were still Christians, but they began adopting Old Testament laws, like observing the Sabbath and Jewish dietary laws. By the 1970's, they were practicing Judaism, Mr. Halkin said. There was no sign of any outside influence. The Bnei Menashe wrote letters to Israeli officials in the late 1970's seeking more information on Judaism. Then Amishav contacted them, and the group began bringing the Beni Menashe to Israel in the early 1990s. <>
Bnei Menashe Move to Israel
After an Israeli chief rabbi recognized the Bnei Menashe as a lost tribe in 2005, allowing aliyah after formal conversion. about 1,700 moved to Israel over the next two years after that before the government stopped giving them visas. In the early 21st century, Israel halted immigration by Bnei Menashe; it resumed after a change in government.” [Source: Wikipedia, Associated Press]
In 2012, dozens of Jews were allowed to emigrate to Israel from their village in northeastern India after struggling for five years to get in. Lauren E. Bohn of Associated Press wrote: “Israel recently reversed that policy, agreeing to let the remaining 7,200 Bnei Menashe immigrate. Fifty-three arrived on a flight... Michael Freund, an Israel-based activist on their behalf, said nearly 300 others will arrive in the coming weeks. "After waiting for thousands of years, our dream came true," said Lhing Lenchonz, 26, who arrived with her husband and 8-month-old daughter. "We are now in our land." [Source: Lauren E. Bohn, Associated Press, December 25, 2012 >]
“Not all Israelis think Bnei Menashe qualify as Jews, and some suspect they are simply fleeing poverty in India. Avraham Poraz, a former interior minister, said they were not linked to the Jewish people. He also charged that Israeli settlers were using them to strengthen Israel's claims to the West Bank. When Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognized the Bnei Menashe as a lost tribe in 2005, he insisted they undergo conversion to be recognized as Jews. He sent a rabbinical team to India that converted 218 Bnei Menashe, until Indian authorities stepped in and stopped it.” >
'Lost Tribe' Finds Itself in Hostile Lands in the West Bank
As of 2002, Amishav (My People Return) brought 700 of the Bnei Menashe to Israel. Most were placed in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — the main arena of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Newsweek reported: “In October 2002, Utniel, a hilltop settlement south of Hebron, a few of the recent Indian immigrants brought back by Amishav sat on the grass during a break from their Jewish studies, singing songs they learned in Manipur about redemption in Jerusalem. A day earlier, Palestinians had shot two Israelis in an ambush a few miles up the road from the settlement. “We feel good here; we’re not scared,” says one of the students, Yosef Thangjom. At another settlement in the area, Kiryat Arba, Manipur native Odelia Khongsai explains why she chose to leave India two years ago, where she had family and a good job. “I had everything a person could want, but I still felt some-thing spiritual was missing.” [Source: Newsweek, Oct. 21, 2002]
Reporting from Shavei Shomron in the West Bank, Greg Myre wrote in The New York Times: “Sharon Palian and his fellow immigrants from India are still struggling with the Hebrew language and remain partial to homemade kosher curry rather than Israeli cuisine. But the 71 immigrants, who arrived in June with the firm conviction that they were descended from one of the biblical lost tribes of Israel, feel they have completed a spiritual homecoming. "This is my land," said Mr. Palian, a 45-year-old widower who left a lush rice farm and brought his three children with him from the Bnei Menashe community in northeastern India. "I am coming home." [Source: Greg Myre, The New York Times, December 22, 2003 ><]
“Yet by making their home here, over the hill from the Palestinian city of Nablus, they have thrust themselves onto the front lines of the Middle East conflict. "Israel can bring lost tribes from India, Alaska or Mars, as long as they put them inside Israel," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. "But to bring a lost person from India and have him find his land in Nablus is just outrageous." A lasting Middle East peace plan might require Israel to abandon some settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. That could affect communities like the Bnei Menashe. ><
“The immigrants, many of them farmers at home, wear Western clothes, and the men wear skullcaps. The married women cover their hair with knitted caps and wear long skirts, as they did in India. They live a spartan existence in mobile homes, with much of their day devoted to language lessons. Some stay in the nearby settlement of Enav and commute to their classes in an armored bus. They receive a monthly stipend from Amishav, an Israeli group that seeks out "lost Jews" and has been bringing in immigrants from Bnei Menashe for more than a decade. But the immigrants do not yet have jobs, and with no sizable Israeli towns close by, they meet few Israelis and leave the small settlements infrequently. ><
“On a sunny day here, they received their Hebrew lesson in a classroom that also serves as a community shelter in case of an attack."What do you want to study?" the teacher asked. One young woman replied, "I want to become a doctor." But most of the Bnei Menashe never graduated from high school in India. Most of the immigrants have recently completed a religion course and are now recognized as Jewish by the state, permitting them to become citizens. In the coming months, most are expected to leave Shavei Shomron, but they are likely to land in other settlements where they have relatives or friends. ><
“The local Bnei Menashe now number about 800, with most of them clustered in three West Bank settlements and one in Gaza. Michael Menashe, who was among the early arrivals from India in 1994, now works with the new Indian immigrants and is a shining example of successful assimilation. His Hebrew is fluent. He has served in the military, worked as a computer technician and married an American immigrant to Israel. He is one of 11 siblings, 10 of whom have now immigrated. "We begin at zero when we arrive," said Mr. Menashe, 31. "It is difficult to go out and live a normal life. But we don't have a choice. This is where we want to be." ><
“Amishav, the group that champions the Bnei Menashe, wants to bring all 6,000 of them to Israel. "They work hard, serve in the army and raise good families," said Michael Freund, director of Amishav, which means "my people return" in Hebrew. "They are a blessing to this country." “Mr. Freund said he would gladly settle the immigrants wherever they could be accommodated. They gravitate to settlements because housing is cheaper, and the tightly knit settlement communities are prepared to absorb the newcomers. ><
“But Peace Now, an Israeli group that monitors settlements, says the recruitment of far-flung groups with questionable Jewish ancestry is part of an effort to raise the number of settlers and to increase the Jewish population relative to the Arabs. "This definitely contradicts the spirit, if not the letter" of the peace plan, "because these people will live in the settlements," said Dror Etkes, a Peace Now spokesman. “Mr. Freund acknowledges that his group wants immigrants for demographic reasons. But he also insists that the commitment of the Bnei Menashe to Judaism is deep-rooted and predated plans to immigrate to Israel.” ><
Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860
Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018