Sooner or later, one is bound to encounter the claim that certain of the tribes of Israel have been lost to history forever. The meaning of lost varies with the different claims. Some claim that the “lost tribes” completely died away without descendants. More often, the tribes are said to have been lost through assimilation with other non-Jewish people groups, having remained separated from the other tribes indefinitely. In other cases, the “lost tribes” are held to be temporarily lost. That is, they migrated to other locations, but retained their identity or even transmogrified into other people groups which one would not normally associate with the Jews (e.g., Anglo-Saxons, Native American Indians).The legend of the “lost tribes” maintains that after the civil war of Jeroboam and Rehoboam which separated Israel into a divided kingdom, the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom were captured by Assyria and deported from their land and either dwindled away or migrated elsewhere and remained separate from the other two tribes (Judah and Benjamin) in the Southern Kingdom. The continued promotion of this legend in our own day rests upon the following flawed elements:
- The idea of a precise “surgical” separation between the tribes of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.1
- The tribes of the Northern Kingdom, having been taken by Assyria, never intermixed or returned and are no longer are a part of the Jewish nation today.
- A desire to substitute some other group in the line of OT promises made to Israel.2
- Legends and speculation.
- The use of scriptural passages out-of-context.3
- An unwillingness to examine clear biblical evidence to the contrary.
As we shall see, the biblical record makes plain that none of the tribes were “lost” in the sense maintained by this legend. Instead, those tribes which are held to have been “lost” or located exclusively outside of Israel are seen to be in Israel in NT times.
As any careful student of Middle Eastern history knows, the “ten” tribes (scholars now doubt that there ever were exactly ten Northern tribes) are now extinct, and will never return.4 [emphasis added]
Following the conquest of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 721 BC, the 10 tribes were gradually assimilated by other peoples and thus disappeared from history. Nevertheless, a belief persisted that one day the Ten Lost Tribes would be found. . . . The descendants of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin have survived as Jews because they were allowed to return to their homeland after the Babylonian Exile of 586 BC. [emphasis added]5
[Regarding Revelation 7:4+], Walvoord accepts this passage as proving that the twelve tribes are still in existence. This interpretation seriously complicates the book of Revelation by bringing in racial distinctions which no longer exist in the NT purview. It disregards the historical fact that ten of the twelve tribes disappeared in Assyria and the remaining two list their separate identity when Jerusalem fell in A.D. 70. . . . The number is obviously symbolic. [emphasis added]6
The northern tribes had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians and have become known as “the lost tribes of Israel.” The sole surviving identifiable tribe was Judah, and when this was conquered by Nebuchadrezzar, the captives became known as “Jews”—a word that developed from “Judeans.” The returning exiles were henceforth known as Jews, and the name Judah was loosely used to refer to the region they occupied. [emphasis added]7
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.8
Peoples who at various times were said to be descendants of the lost tribes include the Nestorians, the Mormons, the Afghans, the Falashas of Ethiopia, the American Indians, and the Japanese. Among the numerous immigrants to the State of Israel since its establishment in 1948 were a few who likewise claimed to be remnants of the Ten Lost Tribes.9
Before looking at why the myth fails to measure up to Scripture, it is instructive to look at some of the theories connected with the so-called “lost tribes.” Providing the reader with an awareness of these theories and groups which promote them fits with our stated policy of inoculation.
One of the legends associated with the tribes is that they were deported to a mysterious land where they continue to live as a separated group maintaining their ethnic identity. This idea is often connected with a passage from the Apocryphal book of 2 Esdras.10 In 2 Esdras, the “lost tribes” are mentioned in the interpretation of the seer’s vision given by God:
“And whereas thou sawest that he [the Son of God] gathered another peaceable multitude unto him; Those are the ten tribes, which were carried away prisoners out of their own land in the time of Osea the king, whom Salmanasar the king of Assyria led away captive, and he carried them over the waters, and so came they into another land. But they took this counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a further country, where never mankind dwelt, That they might there keep their statutes, which they never kept in their own land. And they entered into Euphrates by the narrow places of the river. For the most High then shewed signs for them, and held still the flood, till they were passed over. For through that country there was a great way to go, namely, of a year and a half: and the same region is called Arsareth.” (2 Esdras 13:39-45).11
The mysterious land where they are thought to dwell is said to be beyond the “River Sambatyon:”
Their inability to rejoin their brethren was attributed to the fact that whereas the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (the Kingdom of Judah) were “scattered throughout the world,” the ten tribes were exiled beyond the mysterious river Sambatyon (Gen. R. 73:6), with its rolling waters or sand and rocks, which during the six days of the week prevented them from crossing it, and though it rested on the Sabbath, the laws of the Sabbath rendered the crossing equally impossible. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, however (Sanh. 10:6, 29c), the exiles were divided into three. Only one-third went beyond the Sambatyon, a second to “Daphne of Antioch,” and over the third “there descended a cloud which covered them”; but all three would eventually return.12
Also spelled Sanbation, or Sambatyon, legendary “Sabbath River” beyond which the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel were exiled in 721 BC by Shalmaneser V, king of Assyria. Legends describe it as a roaring torrent (often not of water but of stones), the turbulence of which ceases only on the Sabbath, when Jews are not allowed to travel. So firm was belief in the existence of the river that the ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus located it in Syria and Pliny asserted it was in Judaea, while the Spanish-Jewish scholar Nahmanides identified it with the River Habor (Al-Khabur River) of the Bible (2 Kings 17:6). Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph also saw fit to mention it, as did the 17th-century Jewish scholar Manasseh ben Israel, who carefully studied Eldad ha-Dani’s 9th-century account of his reputed discovery of the “sons of Moses” beyond the river.13
The fanciful legends which surround the lost tribes are typical of apocryphal writings:
The lost tribes live in a place (to the East; 4 Ezra 13, 2 Bar 77, Ant 11.5) which is not cold but pleasant (Ethiopic Acts of St. Matthew), and where a son does not die before his father (Ethiopic Acts of St. Matthew, Commodian), where the body suffers neither pain nor sores and dies after a long life and in a state of rest (Commodian). The people of the lost tribes fulfill the Law (4 Ezra 13: 42, Commodian), are hidden beyond a river (Commodian; it is called Sambatyon in some Jewish works, e.g. Tg. Ps.-J. on Ex. 34:10), and shall return to the Land of Israel in order “to rescue their captured mother [=Jerusalem]” (Hic tamen festinat matrem defendere captam. Commodian). They desire neither gold nor silver, neither eat flesh (Commodian, Ethiopic Acts of St. Matthew) nor drink wine; they are nourished by honey and dew, and drink water flowing from paradise (Ethiopic Acts of St. Matthew). A man has one wife, and each is free from sexual lust; they offer their first born to God (Ethiopic Acts of St. Matthew). They do not lie (Commodian, Ethiopic Acts of St. Matthew; cf. Hist. Rech.); and youths do not speak in the presence of adults (Ethiopic Acts of St. Matthew).14
Some say the Samaritans were the result of intermarriage of the Jews that were left in the land of Israel with the people that were deported by the King of Assyria from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim. Nehemiah separates the pure Jews from those that intermarried (Nehemiah 13:28-29). Josephus says that the “Samaritans” is their Greek name while “Cutheans” is their Hebrew name. They were brought out of the country of Cuthah which is in Persia. They continued to worship false gods until God sent a plague resulting in their worship of the God of Israel and His laws (Antiquities of the Jews Book IX, 14:3). According to Josephus during the Greek period Manasseh, the brother of Jaddua the high priest had married Nicaso, a foreign woman. The priests demanded that Manasseh divorce his wife or not approach the altar. Sanballat II (different from the one mentioned in Nehemiah) his father-in-law told Manasseh that he would build him a temple on Mount Gerizim just like the one at Jerusalem if he would not divorce his wife. Alexander the Great gave Sanballat, a general in his army, permission to build the temple (Antiquities of the Jews Book XI, 8:2-4). Some Two hundred years later Hyrcanus destroyed the temple on Mount Gerizim (Antiquities of the Jews Book XIII, 9:1).15
It is not entirely clear whether intermarriage with Jews was involved, or whether the Samaritans were actually Assyrians who adopted elements of the Jewish religion after being relocated to Syria:
At the final captivity of Israel by Shalmaneser, we may conclude that the cities of Samaria were not merely partially but wholly depopulated of their inhabitants in B.C. 721, and that they remained in this desolated state until, in the words of 2 Kings 17:24, “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava (Ivah, 2 Kings 18:34), and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.” Thus the new Samaritans were Assyrians by birth or subjugation. These strangers, whom we will now assume to have been placed in “the cities of Samaria” by Esar-haddon, were of course idolaters, and worshipped a strange medley of divinities. God’s displeasure was kindled, and they were annoyed by beasts of prey, which had probably increased to a great extent before their entrance upon the land. On their explaining their miserable condition to the king of Assyria, he dispatched one of the captive priests to teach them “how they should fear the Lord.” The priest came accordingly, and henceforth, in the language of the sacred historian they “feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children and their children’s children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day.” 2 Kings 17:41. A gap occurs in their history until Judah has returned from captivity. They then desire to be allowed to participate in the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem; but on being refused, the Samaritans throw off the mask, and become open enemies, frustrate the operations of the Jews through the reigns of two Persian kings, and are only effectually silenced in the reign of Darius Hystaspes, B.C. 519.16
The Samaritans had their own version of the Books of Moses, the Samaritan Pentateuch, which included modifications from the Jewish Torah placing the center of worship on Mount Gerizim rather than Jerusalem (cf. Deu. 11:29; 27:12; Jos. 8:33; John 4:20).17 There, in their own temple, their priesthood practiced a modified form of OT law.Their relationship to the Jews through belief and practice of common elements of the OT law, as well as their hatred by the Jewish, is recognized by the NT (Luke 10:33; John 4:9; 8:48). They were the second people group to receive the Holy Spirit, after the Jews, but prior to the Gentiles (Acts 1:8; 8:14-17 cf. Acts 10:15, 44-45).Although Samaritans have claimed descent from Israel,18 it seems unlikely that the Samaritans can be considered descendants of the “lost tribes”:
- Although there was undoubtedly some intermarriage with Jews, the Samaritan’s themselves indicated they were not of Israel, but from elsewhere: “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, ‘Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here’ ” [emphasis added] (Ezra 4:1-2). “The Samaritans of subsequent history and of the NT are the descendants of the colonists brought in by the king of Assyria. . . . The Samaritans were a mixed race with a pagan core (Ezra 4:2). Their blood would become more and more Hebraized by the addition of renegade Jews and by the intermarriage with surrounding Israelites, who would find among them the familiar worship of former times.”19
- The Samaritan woman who Jesus spoke with at the well differentiated between “our fathers” and “you Jews” (John 4:20).
- Jesus, in his divine knowledge, specifically excluded them from “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mat. 10:5-6).
Perhaps the most bizarre manifestation of Replacement Theology is found in what has come to be known as Anglo- or British-Israelism. This strange view holds that the peoples of Great Britain and the United States (those who are white and speak English) are the descendants of the “lost tribes:”
Very briefly the Anglo-Israel position is that the Anglo-Saxon peoples, especially Great Britain and the United States, are descended from the tribes of Israel of the Northern Kingdom, and therefore inherit the promises and responsibilities addressed in the Scriptures to Israel. “The National Message,” the official journal of the British-Israel World Federation, introduces its articles with these words: “The following should be read in the light of Israel Truth-namely, that the Anglo-Saxon nations are the continuation of the Israel nation; the inheritors of her Charters; the possessors of her guarantees and immunities from destruction; the executors of her commissions.” . . . Anglo-Israelism teaches that the ten tribes in Assyria migrated to South Russia about the year 650 B.C. . . . There in South Russia they became a gentile people by “associating with them (the gentiles) and absorbing them into their ranks” . . . As a matter of fact, we are told, they became the Scythians of history. These Scythians migrated by slow stages and during a period of about 1000 years to the British Isles.20
The principal belief of Anglo/British Israelism is that the British (and by extension Americans, Canadians, Australians, and others) are the spiritual and literal descendants of the ancient Israelites. Anglo-Israelism has a long history. The Puritan colonists in America also viewed themselves as spiritual descendants of the ancient Israelites. However, it was not until 1840 that John Wilson published “Lectures on our Israelitish Origin” and first proclaimed that the British people were the actual genetic descendants of God’s chosen people. . . . British Israel writers developed the belief that these “10 tribes” retained their identity, became lost to history, and wandered far from the Middle East. They stated that the stone used in the coronation of King David was transported to the British Isles where it exists today as the Stone of Scone. The latter stone is still used for the coronation of British queens and kings. The writers promoted the belief that divine authority was transferred from ancient Israel to England along with the stone. In reality, the origin of the Stone of Scone has been traced to rock outcroppings in Scotland using standard geological methods of analysis.21
The idea that Anglos are the “lost tribes” includes the transference of God’s election of Israel22 to these non-Jewish nations such that the royalty of Britain currently occupy the very “throne of David” (but see Mat. 25:31; Rev. 3:21+)!
Great Britain and the USA are believed to be the Anglo-Saxon ancestors of the tribes Ephraim and Manasseh (predominantly), so it may be inferred by British-Israelism that white, English speaking people are really the chosen people of God. . . . Because of this dispersal, it is believed that the Queen of England now sits on the throne of David. . . . “The kingly line of Judah (Genesis 49:10) reached Britain when a daughter of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah before the fall of Jerusalem, arrived with Jeremiah in 569 B.C. This princess, Tea-Tephi, married the king of Ireland, who also happened to be a descendant of Judah through Zarah, Judah’s younger son (Genesis 38:30), and so both branches of the kingly line were established as the Royal House of Ireland. This kingdom was transferred to Scotland and then to England with James I (James VI of Scotland) in 1603. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, therefore is a direct descendant of King David and recipient of his throne.” (D. Olinger, British Israelism, Bob Jones University Press) “Jeremiah also brought with him in 569 B.C. the liafail, or Jacob’s pillow-stone (Genesis 28:18) which had been used as the coronation stone of the kings of Judah (II Kings 11:14 - ‘pillar’). This stone now rests in the royal coronation chair of Great Britain in Westminster Abbey. All kings and queens of Great Britain are crowned while sitting on this chair.” (D. Olinger)23
This idea, as fanciful as it sounds, garnered considerable support among influential quarters in England in the early 1900s:
The idea that Britain was Israel grew with the Empire. The Metropolitan Anglo-Israel Association was founded in 1878 with the Bishop of Rangoon on the council. By the 1930s it could attract thousands to its annual meetings, many of them aristocrats. Its roll contained two duchesses, a marchioness, two earls, three countesses, barons, thirteen baronesses, nine baronets and a wide selection of knights, admirals and generals. All were convinced that the Briton was a lost tribe, ordained to rule the world. Dr Price, William Blake and the British Israelites were in a tradition of claims that biblical figures had visited the British Isles. Jose Arimathea planted the sacred thorn at Glastonbury; the Stone of which sits under the throne upon which English monarchs are crowned is the pillow upon which Joseph slept at Beth-El. It was taken to be carried by the exiled Children of Israel to Antrim, passed to Scotland, and thence to London in 1291 by Edward the First. In the 1950s it had a brief and ignoble trip back to Scotland when it was stolen by a group of Scottish Nationalists as a political stunt. The return of the Jews to England was itself tied to the story Lost Tribes.24
The founder of the Worldwide Church of God, Herbert W. Armstrong, was ordained in 1931 by the Oregon Conference of the Church of God (Seventh-Day). In 1934 Armstrong, while still associated with the Church of God, began a radio ministry called the Radio Church of God and began publishing a magazine entitled The Plain Truth. A devoted student of the Bible, Armstrong had by this time come to believe in British Israelism. This doctrine, which identifies the ten lost tribes of Israel with Anglo-Saxons, became part of his church’s larger complex of beliefs that includes an emphasis on Old Testament law and the observance of Jewish festivals. By 1937 Armstrong had withdrawn from the Church of God (Seventh-Day), which had distanced itself from British Israelism and the observance of Jewish feasts. His own following grew, and in 1947 he moved his headquarters to Pasadena, California, where he founded Ambassador College. There the movement continued to prosper, with the radio broadcast (renamed “The World Tomorrow” during the 1960s and hosted by Armstrong’s son, Garner Ted Armstrong), followed by a television ministry, reaching an ever-widening audience. By 1974 distribution of The Plain Truth had reached 2 million.25
This unusual idea that English-speaking whites are genetic descendants of the “lost tribes” is completely lacking in objective historical support:
A letter was sent by the writer to several of our leading institutions of higher education, addressed to the department of History. The letter contained this question: “Do you know of any historical evidence to support the theory that the Anglo-Saxon people are descended from the ten tribes of Israel?” Here are the answers received:
“So far as I am aware no reputable historian accepts the theories of the people known as the Anglo-Israelites. There is a considerable body of literature on this subject, largely originating in England, but none of it, I believe, contains much more than speculation on probabilities plus Biblical interpretations of questionable soundness. Professional historians are agreed that the people who are now called Anglo-Saxon are a mixture of Teutonic, Norman French, and some Celtic blood. Any good, modern text-book, such as W. E. Lunt’s History of England (Harpers), will give you this information. If the Anglo-Saxons are descended from the ten tribes, the Germans, Scandinavians, French, Scotch, and Irish must be also” (from the University of Chicago).
“As you doubtless know, there is a small group of English people who believe that they and all their fellow countrymen are descended from the ‘Ten Lost Tribes,’ but their assertion is based almost entirely upon their own peculiar interpretation of certain passages in the Bible, and has no smallest scrap of historical evidence to support it” (from Princeton University).
“I beg to state briefly that the last substantial publication on the Lost Ten Tribes is that of Professor Allen H. Godbey, entitled, The Lost Tribes, a Myth, 1930. There you will find an extensive bibliography on the subject. Incidentally the prevalent scholarly opinion shares Professor Godbey’s view that the ten tribes have not left behind them sufficient historical records which allow us to trace them down to the more recent periods” (from Columbia University).
“I am aware that this theory has been mooted by a certain class of people for sometime, and that an organization evidently well supplied with funds occasionally inserts full page propaganda articles in London newspapers in support of it. So far as I know, no reputable historian has ever taken it seriously” (from Michigan State College).
“To the best of my knowledge no reputable historian has ever even entertained the suggestion that there is any connection between the ten tribes of Israel and the Anglo-Saxons. The ten tribes, to the historian, were never ‘lost,’ except in the sense that they were absorbed into neighboring peoples of the Near East. There is a wide gap in space and time between the Israelites and the earliest known Anglo-Saxons, and there are no existing records that even suggest that this gap, can be filled” (from Wayne University, Detroit, Michigan).
It may be objected that these professors have given prejudiced answers, but this is hardly possible when the question is strictly an historical one. However, we do not rest our case upon authorities, and so will proceed to show from an actual examination of both sacred and secular history, that the opinion of the Anglo-Israel theory expressed by these students of history is correct.26
Special interest is attached to the fantastic traveler’s tale told by Aaron (Antonio) Levi de Montezinos who, on his return to Amsterdam from South America in 1644, told a remarkable story of having found Indians beyond the mountain passes of the Cordilleras who greeted him by reciting the Shema [Deu. 6:4]. Among those to whom Montezinos gave his affidavit was Manasseh Ben Israel, then rabbi of Amsterdam, who fully accepted the story, and to it devoted his Hope of Israel (1650, 16522) which he dedicated to the English Parliament. In section 37 he sums up his findings in the following words: “1. That the West Indies were anciently inhabited by a part of the ten Tribes, which passed thither out of Tartary, by the Straight of Anian. 2. That the Tribes are not in any one place, but in many; because the Prophets have fore-told their return shall be into their Country, out of divers places; Isaiah especially saith it shall be out of eight. 3. That they did not return to the Second Temple. 4. That at this day they keep the Jewish Religion. 5. That the prophecies concerning their return to their Country, are of necessity to be fulfilled. 6. That from all coasts of the World they shall meet in those two places, sc. Assyria and Egypt; God preparing an easier, pleasant way, and abounding with all things, as Isaiah saith, ch. 49, and from thence they shall flee to Jerusalem, as birds to their nests. 7. That their Kingdom shall be no more divided; but the twelve Tribes shall be joined together under one Prince, that is under Messiah, the Son of David; and that they shall never be driven out of their Land.” The Latin work was translated into English the same year it was published, and ran through three editions in as many years, and Manasseh Ben Israel used this “evidence” of the dispersal of the Jews throughout the world as an argument to Oliver Cromwell in his appeal to permit the return of the Jews to England, then the only country which had no Jews. As long as this situation existed, the fulfillment of the prophecy that the coming (or the second coming) of the Messiah would take place only when the Jews were scattered in the four quarters of the world (section 35). Both through the translation and the correspondence which the story initiated between Manasseh Ben Israel and theologians in England, it played a significant role in creating the atmosphere which eventually brought about the return of the Jews to England.27
The tribe of Gad are the Native American Indians found on reservations throughout America. Genesis 49:19 - ‘Gad, a troop shall overcome him, but he shall overcome at the last.’ The troop that overcame Gad was General Armstrong Custer and the 10th U.S. Cavalry. They defeated the Sioux Indians at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. Chief Sitting Bull surrendered during the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1891. [Notice that Reubenites NEVER surrendered]. This is when they began to be pushed onto reservations.28
Missionaries, such as John Eliot, who worked among the Indians of North America sought for evidence of their connection with the Hebrews.29 Numerous ‘artifacts’ have been claimed to support a connection, but none have withstood careful scrutiny. One such example is the Bat Creek Stone which, so it is claimed, contains a “Paleo-Hebrew” inscription referring to Judea. Although there are numerous problems with this claim, such artifacts are of particular interest to Mormons who desperately seek early American artifacts which would corroborate the record of the Book of Mormon.30
Enter Mormonism, and its belief that the “lost tribes” crossed the Atlantic prior to Columbus, an idea which attempts to shore up the creative historical account of the early Americas as found in The Book of Mormon.
Perhaps the most fantastical of all claimants to be Lost Tribes are in the Americas. The Indians’ supposed history as a lost tribe had saved them: in the early days of South American exploration there was debate as to whether they were human at all, or whether they could be killed like beasts. Only the belief in Indians as a remnant of the tribe of Reuben prevented an even more complete destruction. But how could a band of migrants from the Middle East have got there, two thousand years before Columbus? How could anyone believe anything quite so implausible? In fact, the story of the Lost Tribes is very much alive in the United States. Many Americans have pursued the belief to - or even beyond - its logical limits. The idea goes back to the early days of their nation. In 1837 Mordechai Manuel Noah published The Evidences of the American Indians being Descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. He planned to establish a Jewish State, Ararat, near Buffalo, New York. His state came to nothing, but the vision of America as the destiny of the exiles from Armageddon has gained a power that affects the lives of millions. The story is tied to the visions of Joseph Smith and the history revealed to him by the Angel Moroni. According to the Book of Nephi, after a century of captivity the ten tribes escaped to the North. They passed through the unknown region of Arsareth and were then lost to mankind. Some of the theories as to where they now live are frankly speculative. They may be on another planet (as is the City of Enoch, which ‘was translated or taken away from the earth ... is now held in reserve, in some part or portion of space ... not yet revealed’). In 1842 Philo Dibble preserved a drawing made by the Prophet Joseph Smith himself showing the earth joined by a narrow neck to another sphere, home of the Tribes. A more plausible idea had it that the earth was hollow, with the tribes within. This theory was popular in the early nineteenth century, when a Captain Symmes had applied, without success, to Congress and to the Government of Russia for funds to find the entrance. Other Mormons believe the Tribes to be scattered among the peoples of the earth, lost only in identity, not in location. Brigham Young himself felt that ‘The sons of Ephraim are wild and uncultivated, unruly, ungovernable. The spirit in them is turbulent and resolute; they are the Anglo-Saxon race.’ Saxon does sound suspiciously like Isaacson and many Mormons believe themselves, because of Brigham Young’s words, to belong to the Tribe of Ephraim. Wherever they are, at the Second Coming, the tribes will return to the New Jerusalem to be built in Jackson County, Missouri. The Mormon Church studies the monuments of the Aztecs and the Maya in the hope of establishing a link with the Hebrew peoples they suppose to have built them. They have a centre for Near Eastern Studies in Jerusalem, where attempts are made to search for a connection of the peoples of the ancient world with today’s Mormons.31
Gospel Principles, a manual published by the LDS Church for new members, says on page 263, “The Israelites are to be gathered first spiritually and then physically. They are gathered spiritually when they join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . . . Thousands of people all over the world are joining the Church each year. These converts are Israelites either by blood or adoption. . . The physical gathering of Israel means that the Israelites will be ‘gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and established in all their lands of promise’ (see 2 Nephi 9:2). The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh will be gathered to the land of America. The tribe of Judah will be returned to the city of Jerusalem and the area surrounding it. The ten lost tribes will receive from the tribe of Ephraim (in America) their promised blessings (see D. & C. 133).” . . . Mormons expect these “lost tribes” to return from the North because Joseph Smith said they would. On January 4, 1833, Smith said God commanded him to write the following: “And now I am prepared to say by the authority of Jesus Christ, that not many years shall pass away before the United States shall present such a scene of bloodshed as has not a parallel in the history of our nation: pestilence, hail, famine, and earthquake will sweep the wicked of this generation from off the face of the land, to open and prepare the way for the return of the lost tribes of Israel from the north country. . . there are those now living upon the earth whose eyes shall not be closed in death until they see all these things which I have spoken, fulfilled” (History of the Church by Joseph Smith, vol. I, pp. 315-316).32
Restoration of the Lost Tribes—From the scriptural passages already considered, it is plain that, while many of those belonging to the Ten Tribes were diffused among the nations, a sufficient number to justify the retention of the original name were led away as a body and are now in existence in some place where the Lord has hidden them. To them the resurrected Christ went to minister after His visit to the Nephites, as before stated. Their return constitutes a very important part of the gathering, characteristic of the dispensation of the fulness of times. (Talmage, James E. A Study of the Articles of Faith. 12th ed., rev. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1970. pp. 340-341.)33
18.104.22.168.2.1 - Book of Mormon
For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it. And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel;34 [emphasis added]
1 Ne. 22:4 many are already lost from knowledge of those at Jerusalem; 2 Ne. 29:12 the Lord will speak to Jews, Nephites, other tribes, and they shall write; 29:13 Jews, Nephites, and lost tribes shall have each others’ writings; 3 Ne. 15:15 Father has not commanded Christ to tell Jews about other tribes whom Father led away; 15:20 Father separated other tribes from Jews because of iniquity; 17:4 Christ will show himself to lost tribes; 21:26 gospel to be preached to lost tribes; 28:29 three Nephites shall minister unto all scattered tribes; Ether 13:11 they who were scattered and gathered from north countries are partakers of fulfilling of covenant.35
As has been well-documented elsewhere, there are serious discrepancies between the record of history in the Americas and the claims of the Book of Mormon. The disagreement between the Book of Mormon and what Scripture reveals concerning the “lost tribes” is another illustration of discrepancies between Mormon teaching and the Bible. DNA studies also provide evidence against the idea of Native American Indians descending from a lost tribe of Israel.36
As fascinating (and time-consuming) as the forgoing ideas may be, they all have a fundamental problem: they are opposed by the simple facts of history and inspired Scripture. History and the Bible indicate that although the tribes were separated during the civil war of Israel, the separation was neither complete nor ongoing. Passages in Scripture indicate that, in reaction to idolatry in the north, many from the Northern Kingdom migrated to the Southern Kingdom to join with Judah and Benjamin. Moreover, after the Northern Kingdom was taken by Assyria, the Assyrians themselves were overthrown by Babylon. This makes it likely that when the Southern Kingdom fell to Babylon, refugees from both Kingdoms intermingled in Babylonia. Thus, in the return of Israel following the Babylonian Captivity, all the tribes of Israel were involved. This fact is attested to by numerous passages in the NT which identify persons from among the supposed ten “lost tribes” who were not lost, but found in the land of Israel.
If you feel that Anglo-Saxons or any other gentile race makes up “the lost tribes,” may I say to you, you are very much lost in the maze of Scripture. You may be lost, but the ten tribes are not lost. . . . When anyone tries to say there are the ten lost tribes today, they must be on an Easter-egg hunt.37
The main thesis of the “lost tribes” myth is that ten of the tribes—the Northern Kingdom—disappeared when Assyria invaded and deported the Israelites from Syria. The myth requires that all the ten tribes were abducted in the fall of the Northern Kingdom. But the facts indicate otherwise. There was a significant mixing of the tribes prior to the fall of the Northern Kingdom and also probably during the Babylonian Captivity. A basic outline of the sequence of events concerning the captivity of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and the return of Israel to the land will be helpful in our discussion.
|931 B.C.38||1K. 11:26-40; 14:21-31;||Civil war results in the divided Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom under Jeroboam, the Southern Kingdom under Rehoboam.|
|931-910 B.C.39||2Chr. 11:13-14||The Levites were rejected as priests in favor of pagan worship in the Northern Kingdom. They left their possessions and lands in the north and relocated to Judah and Jerusalem.|
|811-870 B.C.40||2Chr. 15:8-9||In response to the reforms of King Asah of the Southern Kingdom, “great numbers” from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon relocated to the Southern Kingdom.|
|734-732 B.C.41||2K. 15:29||First invasion of the Northern Kingdom by Assyria under Tiglath-Pileser.|
|729-686 B.C.42||1Chr. 4:24-43||“The Simeonites continued to dwell in the Southern Kingdom and were there in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah. They were part of the Southern Kingdom when the Northern Kingdom was being carried away captive.”43|
|722 B.C.44||2K. 17:3-6||Second invasion of the Northern Kingdom by Assyria under Shalmaneser and Sargon in 721 B.C. Samaria fell at this time.|
|701 B.C.||Isa. 37||Assyrian incursion into Judah (Southern Kingdom) under Sennacherib in 701 B.C. Jerusalem was delivered, but Assyrian records indicate forty-six cities and 200,150 captives were taken.45|
|605 B.C.46||Dan. 1:1||Fall of Jerusalem to Babylon about 605 B.C. Some from Judah were carried to Babylon at that time. Note that Babylon had assimilated Assyria so those carried away from the Northern Kingdom were now joined by those from the Southern Kingdom under the same government.|
|537 B.C.47||Ezra 2:28; Ne. 12:44-47||Return under Zerubbabel mentions Judah, Levi, and “all Israel.” This included: Arah from the tribe of Asher (Ezra 2:5 cf. 1Chr. 7:39), Bani from the tribe of Gad (Ezra. 2:10 cf. Ne. 7:15); Bethlehem from the tribe of Zebulun (Ezra. 2:26 cf. Jos. 19:15-16), Ramah from the tribe of Naphtali (Ezra 2:26 cf. Jos. 19:32-39), men from Bethel and Ai, towns of the Northern Kingdom (Ezra. 2:28), and Nebo from the tribe of Reuben (Ezra 2:29 cf. 1Chr. 5:1-8).|
|458 B.C.48||1Chr. 9:1-3||Return under Ezra included Judah, Benjamin, Levi, and other tribes which had mixed with Judah prior to the captivity. All Israel was represented in the return, including Ephraim and Manasseh.|
After the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria, eventually the Southern Kingdom also fell to Babylon. By then, Assyria had also fallen to Babylonia and it is likely that among the captives in Babylon were to be found the offspring of some who had originally been taken in the fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria.
It is contended by Anglo-Israelites that these migrations were only temporary; that the Israelites came only to worship and later returned to the north. However, the Scriptures present positive evidence that the immigrants did not return. Immediately after the division of the Kingdom there was the threat of war between the two factions, and Rehoboam gathered an army of 180,000 men (1K. 12:21). Rehoboam must have mustered every available fighting man, as he anticipated war with a kingdom far outnumbering his in population. Just seventeen years later in the Southern Kingdom under the reign of Abijah another army was gathered, and this time it numbers 400,000. The increase of 220,000 in 17 years should be noted (2Chr. 13:3). Just three years later another army is mobilized under Asa and the size is given as 580,000 (2Chr. 14:8). Within a period of twenty years there has been an increase in the available army of Judah of 400,000 men. The only reasonable explanation of this phenomenal increase in population in the Southern Kingdom is the explanation given in the Word of God. The immigrants from the northern tribes strengthened the Kingdom of Judah.49
We should not be surprised that although we may not know who the offspring of the various tribes are today (with the possible exception of Levi), God knows. In fact, if one of the tribes were to somehow perish, then the Word of God would have effectively been broken. For God has specifically vowed to preserve His elect nation.
God has promised that so long as the sun and moon continue, so too will the seed of Israel as a nation. This does not speak of the spiritual offspring of Abraham (by faith), but of the physical nation (Rom. 11:25).50
Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name): “If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the LORD, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.” (Jer. 31:35-36) [emphasis added]
And now the LORD says, Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel is gathered to Him (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and My God shall be My strength), indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ (Isa. 49:5-6) [emphasis added]
Pay special attention to what has just been said lest we fall into the confusion of Replacement Theology: He promised to “raise up the tribes of Jacob” and “restore the preserved ones of Israel” which are a separate group from the Gentiles to whom the Messiah will also be given. This speaks of national Israel, not the spiritual seed of Abraham which includes Gentiles who also come to faith.
The future restoration of the whole house of Israel is seen in Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones. God promises the spiritual regeneration of all of Israel (a condition of the New Covenant, Jer. 31:31) and the joining of both Northern and Southern Kingdoms under the future reign of David:
Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ As for you, son of man, take a stick for yourself and write on it: ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel, his companions.’ Then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel, his companions.’ Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand. And when the children of your people speak to you, saying, ‘Will you not show us what you mean by these?’ - say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: ”Surely I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will join them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.“’ And the sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. Then say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God. David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” ’ ” (Eze. 37:11, 16-28) [emphasis added]
In verses 15-28 Ezekiel mentions two sticks. I will not go into any detail here other than to say that they typify the northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdoms which will again become one nation. This means, my friend, that there must not be any “ten lost tribes of Israel” at least, if there are, God knows where they are, and I am confident that it is not Great Britain which will be joined to them in that land!51
This same theme of tribal preservation continues into the NT with Gabriel’s message to Mary concerning her virgin birth:
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33) [emphasis added]
Nowhere in all of Scripture will you find the Church or Gentile believers in Messiah Jesus called “the house of Jacob.” This refers to the Jewish tribes—all of them descendants from the man Israel. These are the same tribes which Jesus will turn away ungodliness from when “all Israel” is saved (Rom. 11:25-16). Also note the significant distinction which Paul makes between “the fullness of the Gentiles” versus “all Israel.” Israel means Israel!! Yes, Gentiles will be saved (the Church), but Paul is speaking here about the physical seed of Abraham (Rom. 9:1-5; 10:1; 11:28).None of this surprises those who have studied the doctrine of the remnant which runs throughout the pages of Scripture like a golden lifeline. God has always had and will always have those who are physical descendants of Israel that also have faith in Him. It is clear from such passages that God will preserve all twelve tribes.52The preservation of the tribes is also attested by their mention throughout the NT and in conjunction with the Millennial Kingdom and eternal state yet to come.
|NT||Mat. 1:1-3; Luke 3:23-26; Heb. 7:14||Judah|
|NT||Rom. 11:1; Php. 3:5||Benjamin|
|NT||Mat. 19:28; Luke 22:30; Acts 26:7; Jas. 1:1; Rev. 7:4-8+||All twelve tribes.|
|Millennial Kingdom||Eze. 48:1-29; Mat. 19:28; Luke 22:30; Acts 1:6-7||All twelve tribes participate in the Millennial Kingdom.|
|Eternal State||Rev. 21:12+||All twelve tribes are memorialized on the gates of the New Jerusalem.|
“The fallacy inherent in all of the theories about the lost tribes is simply this: they were never lost, but continued as part of the main body of the Jewish people.”53 All twelve tribes of Israel are in the world. Although it may only be possible for us to identify the tribe of Levi, due to their names and genetic testing from known Levites, God knows their identity. The twelve tribes are to be found wherever one finds Jews today: they are in the land of Israel and also in the Diaspora, dispersed around the world.54 They are “lost” in the sense that mankind cannot identify them, but they are not lost from the perspective of our omniscient God nor His promises to preserve the nation and seal members from each tribe in the future time of tribulation (Rev. 7:4-8+).
The question may arise in the minds of some as to how the tribes will be discovered and identified since they are scattered today. They reckon, of course, without the power of God. Just as the Lord Jesus will be able to sort out all of the bodies that have gone back to the dust of the earth and raise them from the dead, “according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Php. 3:21), so God will know the tribal identities.55
When the time is right, God will send His Son to earth (Rev. 19:11+) to overthrow the governments of man and establish His Kingdom on earth. Then, He will rule from the throne of David (Isa. 9:6-7; Luke 1:32-33; Mat. 25:31; Rev. 3:21+) over the whole house of Israel (Eze. 37:11) and the apostles will co-rule over all twelve tribes of Israel (Mat. 19:28; Luke 22:30).
1“The entire tribe of Simeon was located within the boundaries of the Southern Kingdom, and continued to reside there after the division of the Kingdom of Solomon. Joshua 19:1 states clearly that the Simeonites had their inheritance within the boundaries or inheritance of Judah. From 1Chr. 4:24-43 we learn that the Simeonites continued to dwell in the Southern Kingdom and were there in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah.”—Roy L. Aldrich, “Anglo-Israelism Refuted,” in Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 93 no. 369 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, January-March 1936), 53.
2Many groups which promote the “lost tribes” idea are practitioners of Replacement Theology. “There are those who say that the ten tribes are lost; that is, the tribes have popped up in Great Britain from where they spread to the United States. This is a nice theory which ministers to the pride of many folk who would like to believe that they are members of the lost tribes, but this idea of ten lost tribes is entirely man-made. You will not find it in the Word of God.”—J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1981), 2K. 17:6. These groups are avid supporters of the idea that they are “Israel” and “Jews” so far as the promises are concerned. One can only expect they will be quick to distance themselves from their Jewish claims when the next wave of Anti-Semitism washes upon their shore!
3“The Scripture speaks of those who handle the Word of God deceitfully. Mr. David Baron in his book on the Anglo-Israel question, gives this advice: ‘When reading Anglo-Israel literature, always verify your reference and study the context and you will find that the Scriptures quoted in them are either misapplications or perversions of the true meaning of the text.’ ”—Aldrich, Anglo-Israelism Refuted, 45.
7W. S. Lasor, “Judah, Territory Of,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979, 1915), 2:1150.
10The apocryphal book of II Esdras describes a dream in chapter 13 in which there is a miraculous parting of the Euphrates River into Armenia where the 10 tribes seemingly remain. However, this evidence must be disregarded as Josephus records in Antiquities XI v2 that the ten tribes of the captivity were still in Mesopotamia in the first century AD after Esdras was written, and 750 years after British Israelists claim that they had left for the north and the east. [www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/5951/BI.html].
17Modifications included: “1. Emendations of passages and words of the Hebrew text which contain something objectionable in the eyes of the Samaritans, on account either of historical improbability or apparent want of dignity in the terms applied to the Creator. Thus in the Samaritan Pentateuch no one in the antediluvian times begets his first son after he has lived 150 years; but one hundred years are, where necessary, subtracted before, and added after, the birth of the first son. An exceedingly important and often-discussed emendation of this class is the passage in Ex. 12:40, which in our text reads, ‘Now the sojourning of the children of Israel who dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.’ The Samaritan has ‘The sojourning of the children of Israel [and their fathers who dwelt in the land of Canaan and in the land of Egypt] was four hundred and thirty years’; an interpolation of very late date indeed. Again, in Gen. 2:2, ‘And God [?] had finished on the seventh day,’ is altered into ‘the sixth,’ lest God’s rest on the Sabbath day might seem incomplete. 2. Alteration made in favor of or on behalf of Samaritan theology, hermeneutics and domestic worship.”—Ibid., s.v. “Samaritan Pentateuch.”
18“The Samaritans claim descendancy from the northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh following the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Since Assyrian documents record deporting a relatively small proportion of the Israelites (27,290), it is quite possible that a sizable population remained that could identify themselves as Israelites, the term that the Samaritans prefer for themselves, indicating their status as remnants of the northern kingdom.”—R. T. Anderson, “Samaritans,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979, 1915), 4:303.
22Concerning the election of Israel: Ex. 3:7, 15, 18; 6:6; 19:5-6; Lev. 20:26; Deu. 4:34, 37; 7:6-8; 10:15; 14:2; 26:18-19; 2S. 7:23; 1K. 8:53; 1Chr. 16:13; 17:21; Ps. 105:6; 106:6-7; 135:4; Isa. 41:8; 43:1, 10; 44:1; 45:4; Jer. 10:16; Mat. 24:22; Rom. 9:4; Rom. 11:5.
23[www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/5951/BI.html]. British Israelists make the claim that the stone under the coronation chair is the stone that the builders rejected. God strictly forbade the use of hewn stones in altars (Exodus 20:25). This stone was probably not the coronation altar of the Old Testament kings. Secondly, however, Professor A. C. Ramsey of the Geology Department of London University inspected the stone and identified it as red sandstone, probably of Scottish origin. The nearest red sandstone to Bethel, where Jacob found his stone is in Petra, nearly one hundred miles to the south; the stone around Bethel where Jacob slept is white limestone. [www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/5951/BI.html].
25Editors, “Worldwide Church of God,” in Daniel G. Reid, Robert Dean Linder, Bruce L. Shelly, and Harry S. Stout, eds., Dictionary of Christianity in America (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1997, c1990), s.v. “Worldwide Church of God.”
29“John Eliot, known as the ‘Apostle to the Indians,’ joined others in speculating about the connection between the American tribes and Israel’s ten lost tribes.”—H M Conn, “Missions, Evangelical Foreign,” in Daniel G. Reid, Robert Dean Linder, Bruce L. Shelly, and Harry S. Stout, eds., Dictionary of Christianity in America (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1997, c1990), s.v. “Missions, Evangelical Foreign.”
34Footnote 13b: Israel, Ten Lost Tribes of and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews. Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 29:12-13.
35Book of Mormon, ISRAEL, TEN LOST TRIBES OF.
36Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2004).
46With the final fall of the Southern Kingdom in 586 B.C., Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and many more captives deported to Babylon.
52Regarding the believing remnant of national Israel: 1K. 19:18; 2K. 19:4, 30; 21:14; 25:22; Isa. 1:9; 6:13; 7:3; 10:20-22; 28:5; 37:4, 31-32; 46:3; 59:21; 65:8; Jer. 5:10, 18; 23:3; 50:20; Eze. 5:3; 6:8-10; 9:8, 11; 11:13; Joel 2:32; Zec. 11:10; Mic. 2:12; 7:18; Zec. 13:8-9; Rom. 9:6, 9:27; 11:5, 17, 25; Gal. 6:16; 1Pe. 1:1; Rev. 12:17+.
53William Varner, Jacob’s Dozen: A Prophetic Look at the Tribes of Israel (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1987), 95.
54“ ‘I will sift the house of Israel among all nations.’ If you want to know where the so-called ‘lost tribes of Israel’ are, look in your phone book for the Cohens, the Goldbergs, etc. They are scattered throughout the world, but they are not ‘lost’ as far as God is concerned. ‘Yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.’ God will not lose one of them.”—McGee, Thru The Bible Commentary, Amos 9:9.