Search for the Lost Tribes of Israel Part 1

About the search for the lost tribes of Israel, history and background of the Biblical group.




The reign of the fabulously rich King Solomon (c. 974--937 B.C.) brought glory to Jerusalem and the beginning of class warfare among his people. The building of the Great Temple and other projects laid heavy taxes upon the Jews. Still, private wealth grew; usury and exploitation were rampant. Slums sprang up along with the palaces of courtiers and merchants. The gap between the poor country and the rich, corrupt city widened by the year. When Solomon died, there was hope that his son, Rehoboam, would turn out to be a gentler ruler. But the arrogant Rehoboam became a worse tyrant than his father.

There was a revolt against the House of David, and Palestine split into two hostile kingdoms. The northern kingdom of Israel, with its capital in Samaria, comprised 10 tribes: Reuben, Gad, Zebulon, Simeon, Dan, Asher, Ephraim, Manasseh, Naphtali, and Issachar. The southern kingdom of Judah, with Rehoboam on the throne in Jerusalem, consisted of two tribes: Benjamin and Judah. For the next 200 years the two kingdoms fought each other and the neighboring peoples. It was in this atmosphere of war, political and economic unrest, and religious degeneration that the prophets appeared. "The calf of Samaria," Hosea prophesied, "shall be broken into pieces; for they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind." Amos and Isaiah also forecast the fall of Israel.

The whirlwind came from the east in 734 B.C. The Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III conquered Damascus and then swooped down upon Israel. In keeping with his policy of deporting conquered peoples so as to prevent rebellion, Tiglath-pileser exiled some 200,000 Jews to Assyrian slavery. His successors, Shalmaneser V and Sargon II, besieged Samaria, and the city fell in 722 B.C. Sargon recorded: "The city of Samaria I besieged, I took. I carried away 27,290 of the people that dwelt therein...." The northern kingdom of Israel was finished. Its 10 tribes seemed to vanish into the vastness of the Assyrian Empire. And it was the search for those 10 tribes that launched the longest wild-goose chase in history.

Clues for the Hunt

The first hint appeared in the Bible (II Kings 17:6): "...the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes." This would put the Lost Tribes in upper Mesopotamia, but the places were never accurately identified. Historian Flavius Josephus mentions in the 1st century A.D. (Antiquities of the Jews) that "...the 10 tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude...." The Apocalypse of Ezra, written in Greek about the same time, also alludes to the 10 tribes who decided to "... go forth into a land farther distant ...," a place called Azareth. But is this an actual place-name or, most likely, an erroneous translation of eres ahareth, which in Hebrew simply means "another land"? It's still a mystery.

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