Search for the Lost Tribes of Israel Part 2

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



Late in the 9th century A.D. there appeared in Tunisia a traveler, Eldad Ha-Dani, who claimed to be from the tribe of Dan, living with three other Lost Tribes near Ethiopia. He also mentioned "Sons of Moses," who were cut off fom others by the impassable Sambatyon River. A legend was born about a great Jewish kingdom in the East. In fact, there were several. Arab King Joseph Dhu Nuwas had converted to Judaism with his subjects in the 6th century A.D. The Falashas of Ethiopia and the Turkish Khazars were also converts to Judaism. But these weren't the Lost Tribes.

The Search

During the Crusades, Christian Europe was shaken by prophecies of the end of the world and the coming of the Antichrist. Jews were viciously persecuted, and in their suffering they recalled the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel that spoke of the ultimate reunion of the House of Israel and the House of Judah. The Lost Tribes of Israel had to be found ... somewhere, somehow.

The hope and morale of the Jews were strengthened by Benjamin of Tudela, a Spanish Jew. He came to Germany in the 12th century A.D. and told of Jewish communities in Persia. The descendants of the Lost Tribes, he said, were united under a Jewish prince, Joseph Amarkala Ha-Levi. Other medieval Hebrew and Muslim sources regarded Khorasan, Afghanistan, as the dwelling place of the Lost Tribes. Obadiah of Bertinoro mentions in his letters from Jerusalem (1488--1489) that three of the Lost Tribes waged war with Prester John in Ethiopia. And in 1524 David Reubeni arrived in Europe claiming to be the brother of Joseph, king of the tribes then living in Khaybar, Arabia. The king of Portugal and even the pope were impressed, but then became suspicious of Reubeni's story. In the end, the Inquisition burned him at the stake.

With the discovery of the New World, the search for the Lost Tribes received new momentum. Confronted with the Indians, some Spaniards were sure they saw Semitic features and heard Hebrew sounds. Diego de Landa relayed a Mayan legend. Their land, he said, was populated by descendants of a race who came from the East, through 12 paths that God opened for them in the sea. "If this were true," De Landa reasoned, "it necessarily follows that all the inhabitants of the Indes [sic] are descendants of the Jews." In Gregorio Garcia's Origin of Indians in the New World (1607), the names Peru and Yucatan were quickly linked with the Biblical Orpir and Joktan. And a Padre Duran, after wandering through Mexico, concluded at the time that "... the supposition is confirmed. These natives are the 10 Tribes of Israel...." Aaron Levi de Montezinos, after returning from South America in 1644, told the rabbi of Amsterdam that he had found a group of Indians in Peru who practiced Jewish rituals. The rabbi, Manasseh ben Israel, fell for this fancy tale and perpetuated the fallacy in his book The Hope of Israel (1650).

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