What happened to the northern Ten Tribes of Israel?
The most popular theory is British-Israelism which claims the ten tribes went north from Assyria and became the Scythians who became the Germanic Tribes who migrated into western Europe, particularly the British Isles.
Ever since the Assyrians exiled the Lost Tribes of Israel in the eighth century B.C., the mystery of what happened to the ten tribes has deepened inexorably with time. Where did they go? Are the claims by contemporary groups who say they are descended from the Lost Tribes legitimate? Here, we present an abbreviated history of the Lost Tribes and modern-day claims of descent.
Certainly not all Israelites returned to their homeland. It is estimated that only about 6% of the world’s population of Jews lived in Israel in 1948. No doubt most remained in foreign countries and spread out as opportunities or persecution arose.
But there are also biblical references to Israelites who merged with the southern nation of Judah to 1) escape civil turmoil and religious heresy, 2) escape Assyrian captivity, and 2) return after the Babylonian Exile.
Based on the references provided in the following passage, we can deduce that at the time Hezekiah opened his kingdom to God-fearing Israelites, some of their loved ones had already gone into captivity under Tiglathpilezer king of Assyria, and calculate that it was only a year or so before Shalmenezer king of Assyria beseiged the nation of Israel preparatory to taking the entire nation into captivity.
“Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign….And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did…He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him…And the LORD was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not.”(II Kings 18:1-7)
“And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel…they established a decree to make proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the passover unto the LORD God of Israel at Jerusalem: for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written. So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the commandment of the king, saying, Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria. And be not ye like your fathers, and like your brethren, which trespassed against the LORD God of their fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation, as ye see. Now be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the LORD, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the LORD your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you.
- For if ye turn again unto the LORD
- your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive,
- so that they shall come again into this land:
- for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him.
So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even unto Zebulun: but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them. Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem…
And all the congregation of Judah, with the priests and the Levites, and all the congregation that came out of Israel, and the strangers that came out of the land of Israel, and that dwelt in Judah, rejoiced. So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem.
Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even unto heaven.” (II Chronicles 30)
The preceding account of Israelites who turned to the LORD is just one witness that the LORD did bring Israelites back into the land.
“The LORD said also unto me [Jeremiah] in the days of Josiah the king [i.e. after Israel had gone into Assyrian captivity], Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot…And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also…And the LORD said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah. Go and proclaim these words toward the north [place of captivity], and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the LORD thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the LORD. Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:…In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers…
A voice was heard upon the high places, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel…
Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the LORD our God…truly in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel…We lie down in our shame, and our confusion covereth us: for we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.” (Jeremiah 3)
Sound familiar? It should.
“In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans…
I Daniel understood by…Jeremiah the prophet…And I set my face unto the LORD God, to seek by prayer and supplications…And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said…We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments…
O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee…and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him; Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him…” (Daniel 9)
Pay attention to the geographical clues provided.
“in the sixth year of Hezekiah, that is in the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken…And the king of Assyria did carry away Israel unto Assyria, and put them 1) in Halah and in Habor [a fairly close tributary of the Euphrates River] by the river of Gozan, and [farthest away] 2) in the cities of the Medes:” (II Kings 18:10-12)
The farthest land to which the Israelites were relocated by Assyria is the same land ruled by the Medo-Persians permitting the return of the captives. Isn’t that convenient?
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth [including those previously ruled by Assyria]…Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem…Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go…Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity… Israel in their cities.”(Ezra 2:1-5, 70)
It is significant that the post-exile prophets refer to the inhabitants of the land of Judah as “Israel”.
“In the…second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD unto Zechariah…say thou unto them…thus saith the LORD; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it…Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem. Then lifted I up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns…. These are the horns [powers] which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem. And the LORD shewed me four carpenters…but these are come to fray them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles…” (Zechariah 1)
“Thus saith the LORD of hosts; If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvellous in mine eyes?…Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country…And it shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing: fear not, but let your hands be strong.” (Zechariah 8)
“And my God put into mine heart to gather together the nobles, and the rulers, and the people, that they might be reckoned by genealogy. And I found a register of the genealogy of them which came up at the first, and found written therein, These are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity…Who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah. The number, I say, of the men of the people of Israel was this;” (Nehemiah 7:5-7)
Zerubbabel / Zorobabel, the Governor of the province of Judah within the Medo-Persian Empire and heir to the throne of David, is a well-documented example of the Son of God functioning as the proper, righteous, priest-king, i.e. Melchizedek, when he re-established YHWH’s worship at Jerusalem.
“In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD unto Zechariah…This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it. Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you.” (Zechariah 1:1, 4:6-9)
“Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.” (Ezra 3:2)
“Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them. And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the Lord their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the Lord their God. Then stood up upon the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and cried with a loud voice…Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee. Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous:” (Nehemiah 9)
As detailed in the post Father Abraham, the seed of Abraham / Father of Many Nations are all those who put their trust in YHVH’s Savior for salvation from death and faith in everlasting life. There were other nationalities besides the genetic descendants of Jacob / Israel.
Don’t miss the masses of international converts to YHVH prior to the proclamation allowing return to the land of Israel, as well as the elimination of many of their enemies allowing an unobstructed return.
“And many of the people of the land [international empire of Persia] became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them….The Jews gathered themselves together in their cities throughout all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, to lay hand on such as sought their hurt: and no man could withstand them; for the fear of them fell upon all people. And all the rulers of the provinces, and the lieutenants, and the deputies, and officers of the king, helped the Jews; because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them. For Mordecai was great in the king’s house, and his fame went out throughout all the provinces: for this man Mordecai waxed greater and greater…For Mordecai the Jew [like Joseph the Hebrew] was next unto king Ahasuerus [Pharoah, handling all affairs of state in his place], and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed.” (Esther 8-10)
“The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi...And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel.” (Malachi 1)
The eastern border of Israel is the Euphrates, beyond which is Ancient Assyria, i.e. Persia in Malachi’s day.
Don’t miss the context of Zerubbabel’s reported activities. He is engaged in a battle against God’s enemies.
“Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither. But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us. Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building.” (Ezra 4:1-4)
And the worst enemies are the ones who are supposed to have your back, but instead stab it.
“Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.” (Ezra 9:1-2)