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The Ten Lost Tribes in Tradition

According to tradition, the Kingdom of Israel, formed by the secession of the Ten Tribes under Roboam, covered the whole northern and north-eastern part of the realm of David, which constituted the bulk of the land of the Hebrews. Politically and materially it was of much greater importance than its southern neighbor, Juda. Under Jeroboam II (782-746 BC) it had recovered from the inroads of the Syrians and the pecuniary exactions of Shalmaneser II of Assyria, and had regained on the east and north-east the boundaries conquered of yore by Solomon. In fact the Israel of Jeroboam II was at the summit of its prosperity. But beneath this material bloom lay a depth of religious and moral corruption. Jehovah had always been acknowledged as the supreme God, but His worship was still tainted by the heathenish symbolism of the calf at the national temples of Bethel and Dan.

An Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser HI (D. V. Theglathphalasar, the Phul of II K., xv, 19), led a campaign against Damascene Syria, Hamath, and Palestine (742-738 BC). Tiglath-pileser re-appeared in Syria in 734, and his advance forced the allies to raise the siege of Jerusalem. After defeating Rasin and blockading Damascus, the Assyrians turned westward and occupied Northern Palestine. The cuneiform inscriptions tell us that Tiglath-pileser required Phacee's death as the penalty of his presumption, and made his slayer, Osee (Hoshea), king in his stead. (Cf. II K., xv, 29 sq.) Numbers of captives were carried out of Israel, the first of the deportations which depopulated the country. The prisoners were taken from Galaad, Galilee, and other northern districts of the kingdom, both east and west of the Jordan basin.

Samaria, the capital, held out against a besieging Assyrian army for three years, and was not taken till 722 BC, Sargon II having meanwhile succeeded Shalmaneser. It was the death-blow of the Kingdom of Israel. An Assyrian inscription found in the ruins of Sargon's palace at Nineveh informs us that he carried away 27,290 of the people. War, famine, and earlier deportations must have much reduced the population. To fill the place of the dead and exiled Israelites, Sargon brought in among the remnant Babylonians and other pagan peoples from conquered lands. The Northern Kingdom became the Assyrian province of Samaria, and from the intermarriage of its various races arose the Samaritans. But the depopulation of the former kingdom of its natives was far from complete. The bulk of the populace, composed of the poorer and least influential inhabitants, was allowed to remain, so that we read in the Assyrian monuments of a later futile effort of Hamath, Arpad, Simnira, Damascus, and "Samarina", i. e. Samaria, to shake off the lordship of Sargon. (Sclirader, Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek, II, 56, 57.) But the Israelitic stock left in the land was gradually merged into the composite Samaritans.

According to tradition, the exiles were settled by their conquerors "in Halah and Habor [a river] by the river of Gozan, in the cities of the Medes". Their colonies were therefore in the heart of Northern Mesopotamia and in Western Persia, then subject to Assyria. In Mesopotamia, or Assyria proper, the Israelites were assigned to the region centerng about the city of Nisibis, which is mentioned by Josephus as their leading settlement. The exiled of the Ten Tribes remained and multiplied, never returning to Palestine.

The Israelites, who by tradition were deported from the land of their fathers by the kings of Assyria in the seventh and eighth centuries BC, disappear from the pages of history almost as completely as if the land of their captivity had engulfed them in a Sirbonian bog. The historical notices of the Ten Tribes during the next thousand years are confined to three historians. The author of the Apocryphal Book of Esdras, who probably lived in the first century BC, mentions a large emigration of the Israelities from Media to a place called "Arsaeeth," which is supposed to represent the northern part of the present Rouniania (2 Esdras xii. 4048). Josephus, a century later, speaks of the Ten Tribes as existing in his day, "beyond the river Euphrates, and now so vast a multitude as not to be estimated on account of their numbers" (Antiq. xi. v. sect. 2). Jerome, four centuries after Josephus, says, in his Commentary on Hosea, chap, i., "The Ten Tribes of Israel inhabit to this day the cities and mountains of the Medes, as their fathers did a thousand years before."

There is no further intimation of the whereabouts of the Ten Tribes until seven centuries later than Jerome, when Benjamin of Tudela, the famous Jewish traveller, made various attempts in the twelfth century to discover his lost brethren. Speaking of his visit to the Jews of Androva, on the northwest of the Caspian Sea, he says, "In Samarcand, the city of Tamerlane, there are 50,000 Jews, under the presidency of Rabbi Obadiah; and in the mountains and cities of Nubor, there are four tribes of Israel resident; viz., Dan, Zebulon, Asher, Naphtali." So in the Travels of Rabbi Petachia, of Eatisbon, in the end of the twelfth century, he makes mention of his "Forty days' pilgrimage from the Tomb of Ezekiel to the river Sambation," which acts so conspicuous a part in the traditions of the Jewish rabbis, who in that age believed that beyond the deep and broad Sambation, which ceased to flow every Sabbath-day (hence its name), dwell the remnant of the Ten Tribes Of The House Of Israel in independence, awaiting the advent of the promised Messiah.

Wellhausen and others who assumed that the banished Israelites of the Northern Kingdom lost their identity and disappeared in the surrounding populations disregard the explicit testimony to the contrary of Josephus.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2012 18:43:02 ZULU