BEFORE proceeding to examine the Bible testimony with regard to the fate of the “lost” Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, we may like to study further what the Bible has to tell us about the tribes which did return, the Jews. The records of Ezra and Nehemiah show that 50,000 Jews returned to Jerusalem, almost exclusively of the tribes of JUDAH and BENJAMIN, with some LEVITES, and a small number of people who could not show their genealogy. That this handful of people may have included a few Israelites is not disputed. The captivity of Israel took place over a period of 65 years from 735 to 670BC, and what more reasonable to suppose that a few Israelites seeing the fate which was overtaking them escaped into Judah? Moreover, the Bible clearly states that, immediately before the final deportation of Israel, during a time of great national revival in Judah under Hezekiah, there were those of Israel which also turned to the Lord.1 For the most part, however, “they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them.”2
That a few Israelites escaped into Judah undoubtedly accounts for the fact that upon the Jews’ return from the Babylonian captivity reference is made to “all Israel,” implying that all twelve tribes were represented. Nevertheless, the Bible is emphatic upon this point—and we will quote other authorities besides—that the Jews returned to Palestine but Israel did not. Moreover, the prophets still continued to speak of Israel and Judah as separate peoples. One of the greatest prophets, Daniel, a Jew, was carried captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 604BC. During the seventy-year period of the captivity Daniel rose in power to become prime minister first of Babylon and then of its successor, Medo-Persia. Making intercession to God on behalf of his people, Daniel prayed: “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 afar off, through all the countries whither Thou has driven them.”3
Ezekiel was another prophet of the Babylonian captivity who spoke at length of a restoration of both Judah and Israel—prophecies which reach right to this very day in which we live and whose fulfilment lies in the immediate future. Jeremiah spoke of a day when “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.”4 And so that we may be in no doubt that this lies yet in the future, God tells us it will take place when “they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the Name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart.”5 Clearly, this is in no way fulfilled by the present-day return of the Jews to the modern Israeli nation.
The prophets Zechariah and Malachi also ministered to those who returned from the Babylonian captivity, yet they speak of Israel and Judah as having a separate identity. Clearly they were not yet reunited as one people, nor could they be, for the division was ordained of God6 and Israel and Judah were to fulfil separate and entirely different destinies.
It was a remnant of Judah (the Jews) who returned to Palestine, but not Israel. It was the Jews who inhabited the land in the time of Christ, but not the tribes of Israel. In the last chapter we quoted the words of an eminent scholar of our day. Let us now examine the testimony of Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, who was a contemporary of Christ:
And such was the end of the nation of the Hebrews, as it hath been delivered down to us, it having gone twice beyond Euphrates; for the people of the ten tribes were carried out of Samaria by the Assyrians, in the days of king Hoshea, after which the people of the two tribes that remained after Jerusalem was taken, were carried away by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon and Chaldea. Now as to Shalmaneser, he removed the Israelites out of their country, and placed therein the nation of the Cutheans, who had formerly belonged to the inner parts of Persia and Media, but were then called Samaritans, by taking the name of the country to which they were removed; but the king of Babylon, who brought out the two tribes, placed no other nation in their country, by which means all Judea and Jerusalem, and the temple, continued to be a desert for seventy years: but the entire interval of time which passed from the captivity of the Israelites, to the carrying away of the two tribes, proved to be an hundred and thirty years, six months and ten days.
(Book X, Chapter 9, para. 7)
Wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers.
(Book XI, Chapter 5, para. 2)
But what do the Jewish people of today say? Are they the descendants of the twelve tribes or of only two? Are they descended from Israel or only from Judah? Who ARE the Jews?
Here is what the Chief Rabbi, Dr J. H. Hertz, said in a letter of 18 November 1918 replying to an enquiry from the Revd Merton Smith:
(1) The people known at present as Jews are descendants of the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, with a certain number of descendants of the Tribe of Levi.
(2) So far as is known, there is not any further admixture of other tribes.
(3) The Ten Tribes have been absorbed among the nations of the world. See 2 Kings, chapter 17, more especially verses 22, 23.
(4) The Jews look forward to the gathering of all the Tribes at some future day. See Isaiah 27:12, 13; and Ezekiel 37:15&Ndash;22.
What do these statements mean except that the Ten Tribes which were carried captive into Assyria never returned?
We now quote other Jewish authorities on the same question. Rabbi Gershom wrote:
We are longing to find our lost brethren who for two thousand years have baffled all our efforts to discover their whereabouts, and are at this day a riddle even to the greatest of our illustrious Rabbis.
Dr V. Herman Adler, former Chief Rabbi of England, also questioned on this point, wrote:
You are quite right in your surmise, that the Ten Tribes did not return to the Holy Land.
Professor A. Neubauer, a prominent and learned Jew, wrote:
The author of Chronicles—a contemporary of Ezra—says that the captives of Israel are “up to this day” in the lands of their transportation. ... In fact, the return of the Ten Tribes was one of the great promises of the prophets, and the advent of the Messiah is therefore necessarily identified with the epoch of their redemption. ... The hope of the return of the Ten Tribes has never ceased amongst the Jews in Exile; this hope has been connected with every Messianic rising.
(“Where are the Ten Tribes?”,Nothing could be more conclusive than the words of Holy Scripture, the evidence of contemporary historians, and the testimony of our Jewish brethren, but we will quote other Jewish sources to substantiate what has already been established.The Jewish Quarterly Review, Oct. 1888)
The Jewish Encyclopaedia says:If the Ten Tribes have disappeared, the literal fulfilment of the prophecies would be impossible. If they have not disappeared, obviously they must exist under a different name. (Volume 12, page 249)
The History and Literature of the Israelites, by C. and A.D. Rothschild, says:The Ten Tribes of Israel were irretrievably lost; and a deep and impenetrable silence clings around their dispersion. The thick folds of the veil have never been lifted. (Volume 1, page 489)
The Jewish Quarterly Review, July 1903, says:The career of the Jews can be traced without difficulty ... until the present day. Of that of the Israelites, however, nothing authentic is known after their departure from their fatherland to Halah and Habor ... and the cities of the Medes. With the beginning of their captivity, they seem to have passed from all human knowledge.
The Jewish Religion, by Isaac Leiser, says:By this return of the captives—from Babylon—the Israelitish nation was not restored, since the Ten Tribes ... were yet left in banishment; and to this day the researches of travellers and wise men have not been able to trace their fate.” (Volume 1, page 256)
The Jewish Chronicle, 2 May 1879, says:The Israelites, who were subjugated by the Assyrian power, disappear from the page of history as suddenly and completely as though the land of their captivity had swallowed them up. ... The Scriptures speak of a future restoration of Israel, which is to include both Judah and Ephraim. The problem then is reduced to its simplest form. The Ten Tribes are certainly in existence. All that has to be done is to discover which people represent them.
Dr. Alfred Edersheim, born of Jewish parentage, later converted to Christ and ordained in the Church of England, says:In what has been said, no notice has been taken of those wanderers of the ten tribes, whose trackless footsteps seem as mysterious as their after-fate. ... Such mixture with, and lapse into, Gentile nationalities seems to have been before the mind of those Rabbis who ordered that, if at present a non-Jew wedded a Jewess, such a union was to be respected, since the stranger might be a descendant of the ten tribes ... We know that individuals who had settled in Palestine, and, presumably, elsewhere, were able to trace their descent from them. Still the great mass of the ten tribes was in the days of Christ, as in our own, lost to the Hebrew nation.(The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Longmans 1885, pp14&Ndash;16)
The following prayers are taken from the Authorized Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1929):As for our brethren, the whole House of Israel, such of them as are given over to trouble or captivity, whether they abide on the sea or on the dry land—may the All-present have mercy upon them, and boring them forth from trouble to enlargement, from darkness to light, and from subjection to redemption, now speedily and at a near time; and let us say Amen(page 70)O Rock of Israel, arise to the help of Israel, and deliver according to Thy promise, Judah and Israel (page 136)
May Judah be saved, and Israel dwell securely (page 153)
Notice that these quotations are mainly from 19th-century sources, long before the establishment of the Israeli nation in 1948. Around 90 percent of Israeli Jews are descended from the Khazars, an Asiatic people who converted to Judaism about AD800 (see Arthur Koestler, The Thirteenth Tribe, Hutchinson 1976). It is therefore quite wrong to think of the present-day “return of the Jews” to Palestine as the prophesied regathering of all the tribes. Some true, devout Jews repudiate the Israeli state. Moreover, these and other Jewish scholars argue that if Messiah had come, then the redemption of the Ten Tribes would have taken place. Dr Edersheim says:Later Jewish notices connect the final discovery and the return of the “Lost Tribes” with their conversion under that second Messiah [which] would almost inevitably lead up to the most wide concessions in the Christian argument. (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, p15)
Quoting Dr Neubauer again:In fact, the return of the Ten Tribes was one of the great promises of the prophets, and the advent of the Messiah is therefore necessarily identified with the epoch of their redemption.
Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, the same author says:If, as you Christians say, the Christ has come, then the House of Israel ought to be manifest, and what you have got to do is to find the people who represent them.(Quoted in the National Message & Banner, 24 Dec. 1927, p825)
So the Jews reject Jesus as their Messiah. They say that if Jesus was the Messiah, the Ten Tribes would be His followers!
Where is “lost” Israel?
We have now seen indisputably that the Ten Tribes of Israel went into captivity in Assyria more than 700 years before Christ. We have seen that the Jewish people of today acknowledge that their brethren in Israel must be somewhere in existence. They did not remain in Assyria for they are clearly not there today. They did not return to their own land for the Jews know nothing of them. Where, then, are the tribes of Israel to be found? The Bible gives us the answer, and the truth reads stranger than fiction!