The Ten Tribes—Were They Lost?
THE Hartford Courant Magazine for September 12, 1971, featured an article entitled, “‘Lost Tribe’ Fights for Russian Jews.” It told of the claims of certain American Indians to be the lost tribe of Ephraim; because of this they were concerned about the treatment being accorded the Jews in Russia and so were protesting to the Russian government in regard to it. And currently published and distributed is the paperback book (upward of 200 pages) The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy, which purports to show that two of the “lost tribes” are found in them.
This question of the “Lost Ten Tribes” is nothing new. As far back as the year 1320 twenty Scottish nobles signed “The Scottish Declaration of Independence,” protesting against the claims of the pope and proclaiming that the Scottish people were descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel. But they gave no proof for their claims.
In 1649 an Englishman by the name of John Sadler made similar claims for the British in a work in which he showed parallels between English law and that of the Jews. In 1794 Richard Brothers, another Englishman, published a treatise purporting to show that the Anglo-Saxons were the descendants of the “lost ten tribes.”
Similar claims were made by the British-Israel-World Federation in a Manifesto sent out by them in 1931. Therein they claimed that the ten tribes went into captivity in 721 B.C.E. and that the “seven times” of punishment mentioned at Leviticus 26:28 meant 2,520 years and that these lasted until 1799. Among other things it stated: “The miracle of the United States is surpassed only by the miracle of the . . . British Commonwealth of Nations. . . . Multiply the influence of the race, and then Anglo-Saxon civilisation will command the peace and ensure the prosperity of the world.
And in just the past few years these claims have emblazoned forth with specific details previously unheard of. Thus some not only dogmatically state that the British descended from the tribe of Ephraim and the United States from the tribe or half-tribe of Manasseh; but they claim that the tribes of Levi and Simeon are scattered among Israel along with the tribe of Judah; that the tribe of Reuben is found in France; and so forth. Thus they would account for all thirteen tribes and they claim that both secular history and the Bible support their claims. But do they?
NO SECULAR BASIS
What about these claims? Can any who are not protagonists of these theories be found to support these claims? According to the Encyclopedia Americana, this “theory is untenable on any scientific grounds, for the tribes . . . were not lost in any real sense.” And says the Encyclopædia Britannica: “The theory . . . rests on premises which are deemed by scholars—both theological and anthropological—to be utterly unsound.” This quotation is found in the famed 11th edition, Volume 2, page 31. Modern editions of this authority ignore the theory entirely.
In a similar vein the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901), Volume 1, page 601 states: “By the application of wild guesswork about historical origins and philological analogies, . . . phrases of prophecy, a case was made out for the identification of the British race with the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel sufficient to satisfy uncritical persons desirous of finding their pride of race confirmed by Holy Scripture.” How true that observation is can be seen from the fact that during World War I there were men in high station in the British government who were so confident that Britain would win the war because of their being of the “Lost Tribes” that they did not think an all-out effort would be required!
Then there is the eminent Orientalist George Rawlinson, who is quoted by Professor W. H. Smith as saying that this theory “is not calculated to produce the slightest effect on the opinion of those calculated competent to form one. Such effect as it may have can only be on the ignorant and unlearned—on those who are unaware of the absolute and entire diversity in language, physical type, religious opinion, and manners and customs, between the Israelites and the various races from whom the English nation can be shown historically to be descended.”
Just how farfetched it is to claim that there is some relationship between the Indo-European Anglo-Saxon and the Semitic Hebrew languages can be seen from the words of an authority on language, Professor N. H. Parker: “No man in his right mind should make such an assertion. There is not a competent philologist in the world who will support him. It is highly doubtful that there is one single word in Saxon, exclusive of borrowed Bible names, that can be traced to a Hebrew root.” And in the field of anthropology authorities likewise agree that there just is no relationship between the English or Anglo-Saxon and the Semitic races. Well has A. H. Forbes stated regarding the “Lost Ten Tribes” theory: “What is at first a bare possibility is turned into a surmise, a surmise soon becomes a likelihood, and ends in becoming a dogmatic certainty.”
Before considering the Scriptural arguments against this theory it might be well to note the scientific view of another belief associated with this movement. It makes the claim that the coronation stone upon which many kings of Ireland, Scotland and England had been crowned was brought to Ireland by Jeremiah and is the stone Jacob used as a pillar. (Gen. 28:18) Professor A. C. Ramsay of the Department of Geology of London University made a thorough examination of this stone. He found it to be of Scottish origin, having characteristics entirely lacking in the sandstone found in Palestine.
BEFORE THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY
As for the Scriptural testimony, we note that in the days of King Rehoboam, God ‘ripped’ ten tribes from him and gave them to Jeroboam, even as God had warned King Solomon he would do. (1 Ki. 11:11-13; 12:21-24) Eventually these ten tribes were taken captive by Assyria, 133 years before Judah and Jerusalem fell to Babylon. Did that mean that the ten tribes got lost? Not at all! Why not? Because even from the beginning the king of Judah and Benjamin, Rehoboam, continued to reign over some of “the sons of Israel [that is, the ten-tribe kingdom] that were dwelling in the cities of Judah.”—1 Ki. 12:17.
More than that, when Jeroboam discharged the Levites from acting as priests (they evidently not being willing to go along with his calf worship), not only did these leave their pasture grounds and houses in Israel and come to Judah but also “following them from all the tribes of Israel [were] those that were giving their heart to seek Jehovah the God of Israel.” These “came themselves to Jerusalem to sacrifice to Jehovah the God of their forefathers. And they kept strengthening the kingship of Judah.” (2 Chron. 11:13-17) Similarly, about thirty years later, in the time of Asa, those of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon deserted to Asa “in great number,” for they “saw that Jehovah his God was with him.”—2 Chron. 15:9.
Not only that, but after Israel had gone into captivity, in the time of good King Josiah, we read that after he had stamped out idolatry and other forms of false worship in Judah he did the same “in the cities of Manasseh and Ephraim and Simeon and clear to Naphtali,” yes, “in all the land of Israel, after which he returned to Jerusalem.” (2 Chron. 34:6, 7) And while time and again Bible writers made a distinction between Israel and Judah, we find the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, referred to as “wicked chieftain of Israel.”—Ezek. 21:25.
DURING AND AFTER THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY
It is not surprising therefore, to note that, while Ezekiel was sent to those primarily of Judah in captivity in Babylon, he mentioned “Israel” more than twelve times as often as he referred to Judah; significantly the “house of Israel” is mentioned some eighty times, some thirteen times as often as the “house of Judah.” All this is in keeping with Ezekiel’s prophecy that the two houses would be united and become one. (Ezek. 37:19-28)* And the prophet Jeremiah indicates that both Israel and Judah were in Babylonian captivity.—Jer. 50:33; 51:4-6.
It is not surprising, therefore, to note that after the Babylonian captivity no distinction is made between the two. Thus in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah some sixty times the term Israel is used in referring to the ‘Jews’ that returned from Babylon. (Ezra 2:2, 59, 70; 3:1, 11, etc.) Proof of this is seen in the fact that the ‘sons of the exile’ offered sacrifices not just for the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the “Jews,” but “they presented for the inauguration of this house,” the rebuilt temple, hundreds of animals, “and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.” Clearly those returned Israelites considered themselves representative of all the twelve tribes. (Ezra 6:16, 17) And this is in harmony with the prophecy of Isaiah, who foretold: “For although your people, O Israel, would prove to be like the grains of sand of the sea, a mere remnant among them will return.” Yes, a remnant of Israel, not merely of Judah, would return.—Isa. 10:22.
IN THE CHRISTIAN GREEK SCRIPTURES
That all twelve tribes, or both the nation of Israel and the nation of Judah, would be on hand when Jesus presented himself to his people was also foretold by the prophet Isaiah, for he wrote that Jesus Christ was to be “a stone to strike against and as a rock over which to stumble to both the houses of Israel.” That this prophecy had fulfillment in Jesus Christ is vouchsafed for us by both the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter.—Isa. 8:14; Rom. 9:31-33; 1 Pet. 2:8.
That the term “Jews” in Jesus’ day included both those of the ten tribes and those of the two tribes is apparent from the way the Christian Greek Scripture writers use the term. For one, the apostle Paul refers to “our twelve tribes” and their “sacred service,” (Acts 26:7) and speaks of himself as both an Israelite and a Jew. (Rom. 11:1; Gal. 2:15; Phil. 3:5) And so those to whom the apostles witnessed were at times called “sons of Israel” and “men of Israel,” and at other times referred to as Jews. (Acts 5:21, 35; Rom. 9:24; 1 Cor. 9:20) Thus also Jesus was called both “King of Israel” and “King of the Jews.”—Matt. 27:42; John 1:49; 12:13; Matt. 2:2; 27:11, 37.
Moreover, the prophet Jeremiah foretold that Jehovah would “conclude with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant.” (Jer. 31:31) Jesus mentioned this new covenant with his followers on the night of his betrayal and sentence to death, even as we read at Luke 22:20. And the apostle Paul shows that this new covenant is the one into which Christ’s footstep followers are taken.—Heb. 8:7-13.
Clearly, then, neither secular nor sacred testimony can be appealed to to prove that the Anglo-Saxon people are the “Ten Lost Tribes.”
MATERIAL EXPANSION AND PROSPERITY NO PROOF
Those who hold to the “Lost Tribes” theory point to the great material prosperity that the British Commonwealth of Nations enjoyed, together with the United States, since the beginning of the nineteenth century, as proof of their theory. But did Britain and the United States become powerful because of adhering to Bible principles?
What about the notorious slave trade practiced by both of these countries? What about their hypocritical religious institutions? What about their exploitation of child and woman labor? Why, history shows that they were worse than the “heathen” in many respects! Take for example their dealings with “heathen” China. In 1839 China tried to stop the opium traffic, which was playing havoc among its peoples. To that end it seized millions of dollars’ worth of illegal opium from British traders. The British nation felt so aggrieved that it declared war on China and in the treaty of 1842 forced the demoralizing opium traffic on China, even as on a later date the United States did the same.
The claim is also made that the promise to Abraham that his seed would “take possession of the gate of his enemies” applies to Britain controlling such sea gates as the Suez Canal, Aden, Hong Kong and Gibraltar, also the Khyber Pass. But if God gave Britain these “gates,” how is it that she has lost all except Gibraltar and may well lose it also? Besides, there is absolutely no basis for claiming that the promise to Abraham was fulfilled in such a way, for the Christian Greek Scriptures tell that Jesus Christ and his anointed footstep followers, shown at Revelation 14:1, 3 to be 144,000, are the Seed of Abraham that is to bless all the families of the earth. Great Britain and the United States have not blessed all the families of the earth up until now and are less in a position to do so today than ever before.—Gen. 22:17, 18; Gal. 3:16, 29.
Indicative of the weakness of the “Ten Lost Tribes” position is the claim that the prophecy at Deuteronomy 33:17, which tells of the blessing of Moses upon Joseph and says that “his horns are like the horns of unicorns,” applies to Great Britain because the unicorn is Britain’s national seal today. But neither Moses nor any other Bible writer knew anything of the mythological unicorn. What is rendered “unicorn” in the Authorized Version is rendered “wild bull” or “wild ox” in other, more modern versions, such as The New English Bible.
In view of all this evidence, how weak indeed is the position of those who would identify Great Britain and the United States with the “lost tribes” of Ephraim and Manasseh!