One of the great mysteries of world history is the subject of the “Lost Tribes of Israel.” The disappearance from recorded history of roughly 80 percent of the Jewish population of ancient Israel – in 722 BC – has captivated biblical scholars, historians, rabbis and Christians for centuries.
What happened, where did they go – and is there anyone left in the world who can trace their genealogy to these people who seem to have vanished?
How did the “Lost Tribes of Israel” become lost?
After King David’s son Solomon died, the Israelites divided their kingdom in two. The north became Israel and the south, Judah. The Northern Kingdom comprised 10 tribes: Reuben, Simeon, Manasseh, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Dan, Asher, Naphtali and Gad. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin lived to the south in Judah.
Who are the “Lost Tribes of Israel”?
As Jewish people came to reside throughout the world, certain clans have maintained their Jewish identity outside of and relatively hidden from the mainstream Jewish population. The “Lost Tribes of Israel” are the physical descendants of Israel (Jacob) who, through expulsion, captivity or migration have become disassociated from the generally recognized worldwide Jewish community.
How did the “Lost Tribes of Israel” get lost?
After King David’s son Solomon died, the Israelites divided their one kingdom into two, Israel to the north and Judah in the south. The Northern Kingdom was made up of 10 tribes: Reuben, Simeon, Manasseh, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Dan, Asher, Naphtali, and Gad. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin lived south in Judah.
In 722 BC, Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Members of these 10 tribes fled, were taken captive or deported to other lands. One of Assyria’s tactics was to remove their prisoners of war from their homelands and bring in other captives to live there. As they conquered an area, they relocated the people to other regions of the empire to speed their assimilation and quash any spark of national identity or hope of return.
In approximately 586 BC, Babylon conquered Judah, destroying the Temple and making prisoners of the southern tribes. Some eventually returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but more than 500 years later, in 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and, again, Jewish people dispersed into the world at large.
Where did the “Lost Tribes of Israel” go?
Captives from the Ten Tribes were taken north, south, and east. Some who fled captivity went south into Egypt while others followed trade routes eastward into the Orient, some continuing their migration across the millennia.
A remnant of the Northern Tribes had migrated to Judah before the Assyrian invasion and escaped only to have their descendants taken captive to Babylon in 586 BC with the two Southern Tribes. These members of Israel either eventually returned with Judah or settled elsewhere in the world.
As Jewish people came to reside throughout the world, certain clans have maintained their Jewish identity outside of and relatively hidden from the mainstream Jewish population. The “Lost Tribes of Israel” are the physical descendants of Israel (Jacob) who – through expulsion, captivity or – have become disassociated from the generally recognized worldwide Jewish community.
The “Lost Tribes” found
As they assimilated into the cultures and regions to which they migrated, the “Lost Tribes of Israel” often encountered persecution. Some Jewish people were forced to convert, at least outwardly, to other religions. Others continued their faith and Jewish customs in secret, generation after generation. Hidden from the world at large, they were considered lost until relatively recently in world history. Populations from the “Lost Tribes” have been discovered and verified in surprising places all around the world, including China, Ethiopia, India, Zimbabwe, Somaliland, Afghanistan, Nigeria and other locations.
The “Lost Tribes of Israel” coming home
The Assyrian plan was to dissolve the heritage of their conquests, fully absorbing them into their own empire. But thousands of years proved they were no match for the Jewish people set apart by God. Though scattered throughout the world for thousands of years, the Jewish people have maintained the identity of their forefathers as a distinct people. They kept alive a national sense of self despite having neither nation nor homeland as a people.
In 1948, when the United Nations re-established the nation of Israel and returned to them the land of their heritage, hundreds of thousands of Jewish people from the world over “went home.” Jewish people call this “making Aliyah” (ah-lee-YAH), an aspiration of thousands throughout the world.
Israel has helped thousands fulfill this dream. The most dramatic assistance came in the 1980s and ‘90s, through stealthy airlifts that rescued nearly 22,000 Jews from famine and persecution in Ethiopia. In 1991’s Operation Solomon, 34 commercial jets – with seats removed – flew non-stop missions for 36 hours to bring nearly 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Eight babies were born in-flight during Operation Solomon.
Serving the “Lost Tribes”
Many of these communities in Africa have no access to adequate or affordable medical care. Jewish Voice Ministries International (JVMI) conducts weeklong Medical Clinics to provide medical, dental and eye care at no cost to Jewish people and their neighbors in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and other points of need.
Since beginning this humanitarian aid, Jewish Voice has treated more than 400,000 patients on its Medical Outreaches. Medical professionals and non-medical personnel are needed to make these ministry events successful. Find out how you can serve members of the “Lost Tribes of Israel” and make a lasting impact by participating in a JVMI Medical Outreach. Click here for more information.