One of the biggest mysteries in the historical pages of Israel is its Lost Tribes. Igbo Jews of Nigeria or even native Americans could be among the lost tribes of Israel. Many cultural groups around the world have claimed or been traced to be descendants of the tribes that were formed in Israel in ancient era. Let’s dive into what the tribes of Israel were and why some of those tribes have been termed ‘lost’.
The Origination of Tribes
As per the Hebrew bible, Jacob – the Patriarch of the Israelites, who was later named ‘Israel’, had twelve sons named Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. They were the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel which had been assigned a piece of land in Israel. In 931 BCE, when one of the wisest, and third king of Israel died, the kingdom was soon divided into north and south. The northern kingdom consisted of tribes of Reuben, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, and Manasseh, and the southern kingdom was renamed ‘Kingdom of Judah’ and comprised tribes of Judah, Simeon, and most of Benjamin.
Later in 722 BCE, the king of ancient region Assyria, Tiglath-Pileser III – conquered Northern Israel and the original inhabitants were moved to regions like Assyria, Media, and Aram-Naharaim, and replaced with foreign groups like Cutha, Ava and Hammath. Similarly, in 586 BCE, even the southern kingdom was conquered by king of Babylon Nebuchadnezzar and its population was moved. However, many people maintained a connection to the heritage and returned to Israel and built their temple in Jerusalem. Thus, only tribe of Judah and Benjamin remained, and entire population that belonged to northern kingdom was lost, including the Ten tribes naming : Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun and Joseph. The Jews of today, have their origins from the people belonging to the tribe of Judah, which is why their religion name remains ‘Judaism’.
Claims about the Lost Tribes
In the Talmud, a primary source of Jewish religious law and theology, Rabbi Akiva is quoted saying, “Just as the day goes and does not return so [the 10 tribes] went and will not return.” Over the years, many theories have been presented which trace the lost tribes. Citizens in different countries like USA, Canada Japan, China, Afghanistan, South Africa etc have claimed to have Israelite ancestry.
One of the tribes that seem to have been found is the tribe of Dan. The Jews in Ethiopia trace their lineage to Dan, as a Jew called Eldad HaDani in the 9th century arrived in Tunisia speaking Hebrew language. He also told that he was settled in the land of Cush – which is present day Ethiopia. It was affirmed by Radbaz – a North African scholar in the 16th century, and many other scholars believe that Eldad came from the tribe of Dan. In 1973, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the then-chief rabbi of Israel also reaffirmed the theory.
However, the mystery still remains unanswered as one of the great historians who has researched about the Lost Tribes of Israel – Tudor Parfitt, claims that the theories are only a myth. Parfitt and other scholars still argue that the tribes only assimilated with people around them, and eventually lost their ethnicity. The descendants could very well be spread around the world, as many people are even unaware of their Jewish lineage. It is possible that people you meet day in and day out, could very well be a descendant of the lost tribes of Israel.