The phrase “Lost Ten Tribes of Israel” refers to the ancient Northern Kingdom of Israel, typically and/or traditionally thought to be composed by the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, and Manasseh (not including Judah, Levi, or Benjamin).
These tribes disappeared from the text of the Hebrew Scriptures after they were invaded, conquered, enslaved, and deported (numerous times) by the Neo-Assyrian Empire between 740 and 722 BCE. Several theories suggest many 10-Israelites fled voluntarily to less hostile European and African settlements before being caught and deported during the looming years of defeat.
Many Jewish groups (largely descending from the ancient Southern Kingdom of Judah) have Messianic hopes intimately woven into the continued hidden existence and future restoration of the lost ten tribes (Isa 11:11-12; Jer 3:6-18; Hos 1:1-3:5; Amos 9:8-10; Obad 1:15-21; Micah 2:12-13; 5:3-15; Zech 8:13; 9:1-10:12; Eze 34:1-37:28). Finding their modern descendants is a hotly debated subject, shrouded in much unnecessary mystery. Unnecessary in that there are many Biblical clues and historical way-marks which make finding the bulk of the so-called “lost” tribes a profoundly less complicated effort.
Background on the 12 Tribes of Israel
When the Land of Israel was apportioned among the tribes of Israel in the days of Joshua, the tribes of Levi and Simeon did not receive large land tracks because of their deceit and cruelty at Shechem (Genesis 49:5-7; Joshua 13:33, 14:3). However, they were given cities with surrounding open space to dwell (Numbers 35:1-5). Simeon was initially given many cities inside the tribe of Judah’s portion since Judah had more than what they needed at the time (Joshua 19:1-9).
Also, Jacob elevated his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph by his Egyptian wife Asenath (Genesis 41:50-52) to the status of full tribes (Genesis 48:1-6), in essence replacing and multiplying the single Tribe of Joseph (Joshua 14:4).
The two traditional listings of the Tribes of Israel
|List by Land Apportionment:
||List by birth-order:
The phrase “Ten Lost Tribes” does not appear in the Scriptures, leading some to questions the actual number of tribes involved. However, 1 Kings 11:31 states that will tear the kingdom out of the hand of King Solomon and give ten tribes to Jeroboam:
“But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand, and will give it unto thee, even ten tribes.” (1 Kings 11:35)
However, it is not clear to everyone which precise tribes are to be counted with the legendary “Lost 10”. The tribes of Reuben, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Ephraim and Manasseh are generally accepted, but with a total of just nine.
The Tribe of Simeon becomes the highlight of this numerical problem because it is traditionally “believed” they were never located in nor were they politically controlled by the Kings of the northern kingdom. It is true that Simeon was initially allotted the bulk of their dwelling cities within the land of Judah (Joshua 19:1), but later some of Simeon moved east of the Jordan River which was later controlled by the Northern Kingdom (1 Chronicles 4:38-43). Rabbinically, it is believed some of Simeon continued and were assimilated into Judah, but there is also a belief that the Assyrian king Sennacherib deported much of that remnant Simeonite population when Judah was invaded (2 Kings 18:13).
On another note, the “missing Simeonites” who never entered the Promised Land adds another mysterious variable to the equation… where it is believed they later rejoined some of the dispersed and migrating tribes of 10-Israel in Europe (see Steven M. Collin’s article: The Missing Simeonites).
It should also be noted that the numerical problem can also be solved by simply counting the two half-tribes of Manasseh, who were separated West and East by the Jordan River. The eastern half of Manasseh was actually deported by the Assyrians several years before the western half.
Brief history on the division of Israel and Judah
The ancient empire of Israel (largely expanded under King David), controlling lands from the Euphrates River to the Egyptian border, divided after King Solomon‘s reign passed unto his son Rehoboam in about 931 BCE. promised to tear the united kingdom from Solomon due to his Idolatry (1 Kings 11:1-13).
That promise was manifested when Rehoboam refused to grant the tribes relief from Solomon’s taxation and the ten tribes subsequently revolted and formed their own autonomous nation in the north, making Jeroboam I their king.
Many generations later, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was deported by the Assyrian Empire during several invasions starting in ~740 BCE and culminating in ~722 BCE with the sacking of the capital Samaria (2 Kings 17:1-18; Jeremiah 3:1-8).
One hundred fifty years later, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was taken into Babylonian Captivity between the years 597-586 BCE. Later still (about 70 years), the kings of Persia granted Judah permission to return to the Land and rebuild what became known as the Second Jewish Temple. Only a remnant of their former population returned from Babylon.
Approximately 600 years later, the Romans destroyed the second Jewish Temple in 70 CE, murdering and scattering the people of Judah for many decades following.
For greater detail, see History of Ancient Israel and Judah.
Primary Source for Continued Belief in the 10 Lost Tribes
The concept of the “Ten Lost Tribes” primarily finds it source in the Hebrew Scriptures, a body of texts which can be considered more than just an instrument of “Religion”, but a profoundly accurate instrument of History (see The Bible as History by Werner Keller).
Though the Hebrew Scriptures drive much of the discussion on the Ten Lost Tribes, non-religious archaeological evidence confirms their historic validity. Yet, the notion or belief that 10-Israel has some continued importance in modern times and in End-Time prophecy is something deeply rooted in the Scriptures and Jewish Tradition.
In Ezekiel 37:16-17, the prophet is told to write on one stick “For Judah…” and on the other, “For Joseph…”. The prophet is then told that these two “sticks” or “trees” (Hebrew: Etzim) shall someday be reunited under One Shepherd… echoing the days of King David who first successfully united all the tribes many generations before.
Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, ‘For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions’: then take another stick, and write upon it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions’: And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.
Talmudic sources discuss as to whether the Ten Lost Tribes will eventually be reunited with the House of Judah (i.e., the Jewish people).
Simple Biblical Clues for Finding the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel
- We should look for the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel being represented by large population bodies and/or large nations. We should not have a minimalist view of the Scriptures and thus search through the breadcrumbs of humanity in isolated and remote regions. Hosea 1:9-10 indicates 10-Israel will become as numerous “as the Sand of the Sea” AFTER their exile. Genesis 48:19 indicates Ephraim would become “the fullness of the nations“.
- We should look for migrating peoples who have name derivatives of Abraham and Isaak (e.g., Brahman, Saka, etc). Genesis 21:12 reads: But Elohim said to Abraham, “Let it not be evil in your eyes because of the boy and because of your female servant. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice, for in Isaak your seed is called.” Genesis 48:15-16 further clarifies this and applies the name of Isaak primary to Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh. It reads: And he blessed Joseph, and said, “The Elohim before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaak walked, the Elohim who has fed me all my life long to this day, (16) the Messenger who has redeemed me from all evil – bless the youths! And let my name be called upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaak. And let them increase to a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
- In spite of the traditional Christian belief and response to the subject, we should not consider 10-Israel forsaken or having died out from the earth or assimilated into oblivion. Jeremiah 51:5 reads: “For Israel is not forsaken, nor Judah, of his Elohim of hosts; though their land is full of guilt against the Holy One of Israel”.
- We should look for the nation or people who conquered the Neo-Assyrian Empire as being 10-Israel or at least hosting 10-Israel. Isaiah 14:2b reads, “And they shall make captives of their captors, and rule over their oppressors”. Between 627-605 BCE, Scythians, Cimmerians, and Medes ravaged the Assyrians as far as the Egyptian border. Remember, Assyria deported some Israelites to the region of the Medes. Eventually, much of Assyria’s former lands would be ruled by the Parthian Empire (of Scythian/Saka stock) for nearly 500 years. Its first king was crowned in the city of “Asaak” (note similarity to “Isaak”) in 247 BC.
- We should look for peoples who eventually migrate out of the Medio-Persian homeland, but we should also look for peoples who were “afar off” during the time of Daniel’s prophetic period who may have never been deported to Media or Persia. Daniel 9:7 reads, “O , to You is the righteousness, and to us the shame of face, as it is this day – to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Yerushalayim and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the lands to which You have driven them, because of their trespass which they have trespassed against You.”
- We should not necessarily look for a people of any particular color or so-called “race”, but instead should look for diverse peoples with “Many Colors” and many cultural customs and traditions. Genesis 37:3 reads,”Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors“.
- We should not necessarily look for Jewishness or Jewish “customs” within prospective cultures because 10-Israel no longer embraced Torah customs during the period just before their exile, but instead they embraced lives of idolatry and mixed pagan worship, which was the central impetus for removing them from the Land of Israel in the first place (Daniel 9:7). This is not to say that some 10-Israelites would not later return to some vestige of Judaism (e.g., Khazaria converting to Judaism), but finding the presence of Jewish customs in any particular group should not be the primary litmus test of identification (which is a method of many minimalists ).
- We should identify 10-Israel by identifying the nations which host Judah (the Jews) in the Last Days. Jeremiah 3:17-18 and Jeremiah 50:4,20,33-34 all indicate they (10-Israel and Judah) will be walking TOGETHER and will return to Zion TOGETHER from out of End-Time “Mystery” Babylon.
- We should look for peoples who have historically possessed “the Gate” of their enemies (e.g., major sea ports, narrow but significant sea channels, major trade routes). Genesis 24:60 reads, “And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Let our sister become the mother of thousands of ten thousands, and let your seed possess the gates of those who hate them.”
The first century Historian Flavius Josephus provides a non-biblical, but powerful clue (or historical way-mark) as to the mysterious presence of 10-Israel during his life time. He writes:
“…the entire body of the people of Israel remained in that country; wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers.”[ref]
The Scythian / Saka / Sacae / Cimmerian / Parthian Connection
Most of the Lost Ten Tribe theories which have some Eurasia migration basis setup way-marks or connections to the Scythians, a people who appeared north of the Black Sea and in the Caucasus-Persian-Median regions in a time very near to when the Assyrians deported the 10 tribe of Israel to the same general region. The Encyclopedia Americana says:
The Scythians… are those tribes that occupied this territory [the region north of the Black Sea] from about 700 B.C. and formed a single cohesive political entity until the 4th century B.C., when the nation was splintered into several groups.[ref]
It is fairly well-known among historians that the people known by the Greeks as the Scythians in the West was just a branch of many closely related tribes who dwelt further east in the interior of Asia. Stephen M. Collins adds:
That the Scythians had “related clans” living far to the east of the Black Sea Scythians is consistent with the fact that Israel was composed of many related tribes. Tamara Rice’s book [The Scythians] includes a map showing that “related clans” of the Scythians lived eastward far into Asia. Their burial sites have been found as far east as the Pazirik/Altai region of Russia where the Russian border meets the western edges of China and Mongolia. The appearance of the Scythians in Asia occurs in the reign of King Sargon of Assyria (722-705 B.C.). This is precisely the time period of the fall of the kingdom of Israel and the flight of Israelites out of Palestine into Asia.[ref]
We have reasonable grounds for regarding the Gimirri, or Cimmerians, who first appeared on the confines of Assyria and Media in the seventh century B.C., and the Sacae of the Behistun Rock, nearly two centuries later, as identical with the Beth-Khumree of Samaria, or the Ten Tribes of the House of Israel.[ref]
It should be made clear from the start that the terms ‘Cimmerian‘ and ‘Scythian‘ were interchangeable: in Akkadian the name Iskuzai (Asguzai) occurs only exceptionally. Gimirrai (Gamir) was the normal designation for ‘Cimmerians’ as well as ‘Scythians’ in Akkadian.[ref]
The archeologist E. Raymond Capt claimed similarities between the pointed headdress of King Jehu on the Black Obelisk to the right with the captive Saka/Scythian king depicted on the Behistun Rock Inscription above.[ref] He also posited that the Assyrian word for the House of Israel, “Khumri”, which was named after Israel’s King Omri of the 8th century BCE, is phonetically similar to “Gimirri.”[ref]
Notice the striking phonetic similarity between “Samarian” and “Cimmerian” (dictionaries confirm the “c” should be pronounced like an “s’). That these “Cimmerians” were recent arrivals in Media adds weight to the identification as Israelite captives from the city of Samaria. The transplanted Samarians of Israel would be anti-Assyrian, and would logically join an anti-Assyrian alliance.[ref]
Critics of the Israel-Scythian theory argue that the customs of the Scythians and Cimmerians contrast those of the Ancient Israelites [ref] [ref] , but authors like George Rawlinson and Steven M. Collins would refute those claims. Other suggest the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom had become estranged to their Torah-based culture and embraced the idolatry of surrounding peoples prior to being deported by the Assyrians. Also, 10-Israel was never exposed to many “Jewish customs” which developed many centuries later, thus using the absence of “Jewish customs” as a litmus test for Israelite origin is in significant error.
Christian traditions tends to argue that the Scythians were descendants of Noah’s son Japheth, not Shem. The answer offered to such criticism usually highlights Genesis 9:27, where it was prophesied that Japheth would dwell in the tents of Shem. Thus, it is believed the Japhetic tribes of the north mingled with or were pushed aside by the House of Joseph, for “he will push the peoples, all at once, to the ends of the earth” (Deuteronomy 33:17). The original and later Scyths were never really one pure ethnic group, nor were Israelites of the 10 Tribes ever truly “pure”, but were prone to mixing and even left Egypt originally with a mixed multitude. Note: Ephraim and Manasseh’s mother was an Egyptian.
Lost 10 Tribes and Jew-dah in Focus during the 17th to 20th Century
Since at least the 17th century both Jews and Christians have proposed theories concerning the lost 10 tribes. An Ashkenazi Jewish tradition speaks of the Lost Tribes as Die Roite Yiddelech, “The little red Jews”, cut off from the rest of Jewry by the legendary river Sambation “whose foaming waters raise high up into the sky a wall of fire and smoke that is impossible to pass through”.[ref]
On December 23, 1649, after Manasseh ben Israel, a noted rabbi of Amsterdam had been told by Antonio de Montezinos that some of the Lost Tribes were living among the Native Americans of the Andes in South America, he wrote:
“… I think that the Ten Tribes live not only there … but also in other lands scattered everywhere; these never did come back to the Second Temple and they keep till this day still the Jewish Religion …” [ref]
In 1655, Manasseh ben Israel petitioned Oliver Cromwell to allow the Jews to return to England. Since 1290, Jews had been prohibited by law from living in England. One of the reasons for Cromwell’s alleged interest in the return of the Jews to England was the abundance at the time of theories relating to the end of the world (some promoted and studied by Sir Isaac Newton). Many of these ideas were fixed upon the year 1666 and the Fifth Monarchy Men who were looking for the return of Jesus as the Messiah who would establish a final kingdom to rule the physical world for a thousand years. They supported Cromwell’s Republic in the expectation that it was a preparation for the fifth monarchy – that is, the monarchy which should follow on the hills of the Assyrian, the Persian, the Greek, and Roman world empires.
Groups claiming descent from a specific Lost Tribe
Many groups claim descent from specific Lost Tribes:
- Bene Ephraim (from southern India) – claim descent from the Tribe of Ephraim.
- Bnei Menashe (from northeast India) – claim descent from the lost Tribe of Manasseh.
- Persian Jews (especially the Bukharan Jews) claim descent from the Tribe of Ephraim.
- Beta Israel (from Ethiopia) known as Falashas or Ethiopian Jews – claim descent from the lost Tribe of Dan.
- Igbo Jews of Nigeria claim descent variously from the tribes of Ephraim, Menasseh, Levi, Zebulun and Gad.
- Samaritans numbering about 600 people – claim to be authentic descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
Groups claiming descent from a non-specific Lost Tribe
Some groups believe that they are descended from one of the Lost 10 Tribes, but do not know the specifics. Note: this is a common conundrum in the general Jewish population as well.
- The Lemba tribe (from Southern Africa) claims to be descended from a lost tribe which fled from modern Yemen and journeyed south.
- The House of Israel in Ghana claims to be one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.
- Pashtun people (from Afghanistan and Pakistan) traditionally claim descent from the Lost Tribes of Israel. Their large Yousafzai (Yusafzai) clan means “Sons of Joseph”.
- Chiang Min people (from northwestern China) claim to be descendants of Abraham. They have a tradition that their forefather had 12 descendants.
- Kaifeng Jews (China) According to historical records, a Jewish community with a synagogue built in 1163 existed at Kaifeng from at least the Southern Song Dynasty until the late nineteenth century. A stone monument in the city suggests that they were there since at least 231 BC.
- British Israelism, sometimes called Anglo-Israelism, claims that Anglo-Saxons are descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel.
- The Makuya sect of Japan believes that parallels between ancient Japanese culture and Biblical practice indicate a Lost Tribes origin for many aspects of Japanese religion and culture.
- The Nasranis of Malabar, India are of Israelite heritage (confirmed by DNA) but not much is known of their past.
- Maximalists (opposed to Minimalists) claim most all the various groups listed above have a legitimate claim to be from the Lost Tribes of Israel (noting Genesis 48:19).
List from “Pictorial History of the Jewish People” by Nathan Ausubel
In his 1953 work Pictorial History of the Jewish People, Nathan Ausubel wrote:
There are quite a number of peoples today who cling to the ancient tradition that they are descended from the Jewish Lost Tribes: the tribesmen of Afghanistan, the Mohammedan Berbers of West Africa, and the six million Christian Igbo people of Nigeria. Unquestionably, they all practice certain ancient Hebraic customs and beliefs, which lends some credibility to their fantastic-sounding claims.[ref]
He compiled the following list of peoples connected in one way or another to this legend:
- Mountain Jews
- Cochin Jews
- The Sahara
- Cave Dwellers = Atlas Mountains south of Tripolitania and Tunisia. Closely related to the Jews of the Sahara, they believe that their ancestors were brought as captives from Judea by Titus after 70 AD. They cut out tiny paper boats which decorate their synagogues where they pray: May a boat soon come and carry us to Jerusalem.
- The Falashas = Lake Tana, Ethiopia. Claim to have come with the Queen of Sheba to visit King Solomon.
- The Samaritans = Nablus (Shechem). Claim to be from the tribes of Ephraim, Menashe, and Levi, and built a rival Temple on Mount Gerizim in the days of Ezra.
- Babylonian Talmud (Mishnah) Sanhedrin 110b
- Flavius Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews (Book XI Ch.5 Sect.2)
- Moses Rosen (1987). “The Recipe” (published as epilogue to The Face of Survival).
- Tokayer, Rabbi Marvin. Mystery of the Ten Lost Tribes – Afghanistan (moshiach.com)
- Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 24, “Scythians,” p.471
- Rawlinson, George (1860). History of Herodotus, Book VII, p. 378
- Maurits Nanning Van Loon (1966). “Urartian Art. Its Distinctive Traits in the Light of New Excavations”, Istanbul, p. 16
- E. Raymond Capt (1985). Missing Links Discovered in Assyrian Tablets, Artisan Publishers
- Collins, Steven M. (1995). The Lost Ten Tribes of Israel… Found!, p.173-174
- Greer, Nick (2004). The British-Israel Myth. p. 55.
- Dimont, C (1933). The Legend of British-Israel,
- Ausubel, Nathan (1953). Pictorial History of the Jewish People, p. 217