Season 3, Episode 6


Unsolved Jewish Mysteries: The Ten Lost Tribes


The Ten Lost Tribes.

After the Exodus from Egypt the Israelites organized themselves into twelve tribes, based off the sons and grandsons of Jacob. Two of the tribes settled in the southern part of Canaan, in what became known as the Kingdom of Judah. Ten of the tribes settled in the north, in what became known as the Kingdom of Israel. The Kingdom of Israel was sacked in 722 BCE and the ten tribes scattered around the Assyrian empire. Over the next several generations they were absorbed by the surrounding peoples, lost their Judaism, and disappeared from Jewish history. Or did they?


In the messianic tradition, we need to find all of the Ten Lost Tribes in order for the Messiah to re-unite all the People of Israel and then return them to their ancient homeland in the Land of Israel.

But also, out of twelve tribes we lost ten of them! The descendants of these tribes represent original Israelites, direct descendants of the Jewish forefathers and mothers, and who were brought out of Egypt by Moses. Rumors have persisted for centuries that some of the tribes survived partially intact from ancient times and are living in various parts of the world today. They represent a direct link to the ancient Jewish past, and if they are Jews who have been forgotten by history, we want to know about it!


Lots of groups around the world have claimed descent from the Ten Lost Tribes. In this episode we covered a few of the most well-known:

The Native Americans. The Mormons especially pushed the viewpoint that the Native Americans were descendants of the Tribe of Manasseh, having made their way across the Atlantic to the new Promised Land in America in the 6th century BCE. But there is no historical, scientific, or archeological evidence to back up this claim.

The Igbo of Nigeria. Several thousand Igbo people — one of the largest ethnicities in Africa — claim to be descendants of the Tribe of Gad and practice recognizable Jewish rituals and traditions. Though supported by Jewish groups around the world, the State of Israel has not recognized the Igbo as legitimate Jews.

Bnai Israel. Indian Jews contacted sometime between 1000 and 1700 CE. They claimed that the Ten Tribes wandered around Assyria for several hundred years before settling in India. In 1964 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that although they were legitimately Jewish, they were not descendants from the Lost Tribes.

Bnai Menashe. Another group of Indian Jews, numbering around 10,000 and claiming descent from the Tribe of Manasseh. They began immigrating to Israel in the 1980s and 90s. Israel’s Chief Rabbi ruled in 2005 that they are descended from the Lost Tribes but would have to undergo conversion to be fully legitimatized as Jewish.

Beta Israel: Ethiopian Jews who claim descent from the Tribe of Gad. For centuries Jewish authorities believed their narrative. In the 1970s the Chief Rabbis of Israel certified that the Ethiopian Jews were both descendants from the Tribe of Dan and authentic Jews. 120,000 live in Israel today.


Jewish tradition says that the Ten Lost Tribes were located on the other side of the Sambatyon River, which can only be crossed on Shabbat. Since Jews are forbidden to travel on Shabbat, the river made it impossible for the Jews on either side to ever meet.

A century before Marco Polo, the Jewish explorer Benjamin of Tudela traveled throughout the East, bringing back stories and sightings of the Lost Tribes.

Ethiopian Jews claim that King Solomon married the Queen of Sheba and that their son, Menelik, went south into Ethiopia, taking with him the Ark of the Covenant and continuing the Jewish line there.

During the 1980s and 90s Israel, in recognizing the Ethiopian Jews as Jews, airlifted tens of thousands of them from war-torn Ethiopia to safety in Israel.

© Jason Harris 2019


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