According to the Bible, Tiglath-pileser (II Kings xv. 29) or Shalmaneser (ib. xvii. 6, xviii. 11), after the defeat of Israel, transported the majority of the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and Habor, on the stream of Gozan, and in the towns of Media. In their stead a mixed multitude was transported to the plains and mountains of Israel. As a large number of prophecies relate to the return of "Israel" to the Holy Land, believers in the literal inspiration of the Scriptures have always labored under a difficulty in regard to the continued existence of the tribes of Israel, with the exception of those of Judah and Levi (or Benjamin), which returned with Ezra and Nehemiah. 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. The numerous attempts at identification that have been made constitute some of the most remarkable curiosities of literature.

In the Apocrypha it is presumed that the Ten Tribes still exist as tribes. Thus Tobit is stated to be of the tribe of Naphtali, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs assume their continuous existence. In the Fourth Book of Ezra (xiii. 39-45) it is declared that the Ten Tribes were carried by Hosea, king in the time of Shalmaneser, to the Euphrates, at the narrow passages of the river, whence they went on for a journey of a year and a half to a place called Arzareth. Schiller-Szinessy pointed out that "Arzareth" is merely a contraction of "ereẓ aḥeret," the "other land" into which the Lord says He "will cast them [the people] as this day"; see Deut. xxix. 27, which verse is referred by R. Akiba to the Lost Ten Tribes (Sanh. x. 4; comp. "Journal of Philology," iii. 114).

According to haggadic tradition, the Ten Tribes were divided into three groups, one on this side of the River Sambation, another on the opposite side, and the third in the neighborhood of Daphne, near Antioch (Lam. R. v. 2). This was based on the Targum of pseudo-Jonathan to Ex. xxxiv. 10; but the course of the River Sambation is differently given, according to the prepossessions of the various writers (see Sambation). Akiba, indeed, because he was a believer in the Messianic claims of Bar Kokba, and trusted in the immediate fulfilment of such passages as Isa. xi. 11, Jer. xxi. 7, Ezek. xxxvii. 15, without the restoration of Israel, distinctly expressed the opinion that the Ten Tribes would never return (Sanh. x. 3). In the ninth century Eldad ben Mahli ha-Dani came forward, claiming to give specific details of the contemporary existence of the Ten Tribes and of their location at that time. Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher were in Havilah; Zebulun and Reuben in the mountains of Paran; Ephraim and half of Manasseh in South Arabia; Simeon and the other half of Manasseh in the land of the Chazars (?). According to him, therefore, the Ten Tribes were settled in parts of southern Arabia, or perhaps Abyssinia, in conformity with the identification of Havilah. The connection of this view with that of the Jewish origin of Islam is obvious; and David Reubeni revived the view in stating that he was related to the king of the tribes of Reuben situated in Khaibar in North Arabia.

Arabia, India, and Abyssinia. Japanese Types, Showing Jewish Features.(According to McLeod, "Epitome of the Ancient History of Japan," Tokyo, 1879.)

According to Abraham Farissol, the remaining tribes were in the desert, on the way to Mecca, near the Red Sea; but he himself identifies the River Ganges with the River Gozan, and assumes that the BeniIsrael of India are the descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes. The Ganges, thus identified by him with the River Sambation, divides the Indians from the Jews. The confusion between Ethiopia and Farther India which existed in the minds of the ancients and medieval geographers caused some writers to place the Lost Ten Tribes in Abyssinia. Abraham Yagel, in the sixteenth century, did so, basing his conclusions on the accounts of David Reubeni and Eldad ha-Dani. It is probable that some of the reports of the Falashas led to this identification. According to Yagel, messengers were sent to these colonists in the time of Pope Clement VII., some of whom died, while the rest brought back tidings of the greatness of the tribes and their very wide territories. Yagel quotes a Christian traveler, Vincent of Milan, who was a prisoner in the hands of the Turks for twenty-five years, and who went as far as Fez, and thence to India, where he found the River Sambation, and a number of Jews dressed in silk and purple. They were ruled by seven kings, and upon being asked topay tribute to the sultan Salim they declared they had never paid tribute to any sultan or king. It is just possible that this may have some reference to the "Sâsanam" of the Jews of Cochin. It is further stated that in 1630 a Jew of Salonica traveled to Ethiopia, to the land of Sambation, and that in 1646 one Baruch, traveling in Persia, claimed to have met a man named Malkiel of the tribe of Naphtali, and brought back a letter from the king of the children of Moses; this letter was seen by Azulai. It was afterward reprinted in Jacob Saphir's book of travels ("Eben Sappir," i. 98). Moses Edrehi wrote a separate work on the subject. So much interest was taken in this account that in 1831 a certain Baruch ben Samuel of Pinsk was sent to search for the children of Moses in Yemen. He traveled fifteen days in the wilderness, and declared he met Danites feeding flocks of sheep. So, too, in 1854 a certain Amram Ma'arabi set out from Safed in search of the Ten Tribes; and he was followed in 1857 by David Ashkenazi, who crossed over through Suakin to make inquiries about the Jews of Abyssinia.

Nestorians and Devil-Worshipers.

In 1835 Asahel Grant, an American physician, was appointed by the American Board of Foreign Missions to pursue his calling among the Nestorians of Mesopotamia. He found among them a tradition that they were descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes, a tradition which had already been gathered by Smith and White during their earlier mission ("Researches in Armenia," vol. ii.). He found also among the Jews of the neighborhood of Urumiah recognition of this tradition, which he considered to be confirmed by the following facts: they dwelt in the neighborhood to which the Israelites were originally deported, while Josephus declared that the Ten Tribes lived beyond the Euphrates up to his time ("Ant." xi. 5, § 3), and his statement is confirmed by Jerome ("Opera," vi. 780); their language is a branch of the Aramaic; they still offer sacrifices and first-fruits like the ancient Israelites, and they prepare for the Sabbath on the preceding evening; they have Jewish names and Jewish features. Other similarities of custom are recorded by Grant ("The Nestorians, or the Lost Tribes," New York, 1845). Grant was of the opinion also that the Yezidis, or devil-worshipers, of the same region were likewise descended from the Ten Tribes, as they observed the rite of circumcision, offered sacrifices, including that of the paschal lamb on the 24th of Nisan, and also abstained from forbidden food (ib. pp. 363-372).


According to their native traditions, the Afghans also are to be identified with the Lost Ten Tribes. They declare that Nebuchadnezzar banished them into the mountains of Ghur, whence they maintained correspondence with the Arabian Jews. When some of the latter were converted by Mohammed, one Khalid wrote to the Afghans and invited them to embrace Islam. Several Afghan nobles went to Arabia under one Ḳais, who claimed to trace his descent through forty-seven generations from Saul. He was accordingly greeted by Mohammed by the title of "malik," in deference to this illustrious descent. Ḳais is reported to have died at the age of eighty-seven, in 662; and all the modern chiefs of Afghanistan claim to be descended from him (Malcolm, "History of Persia," ii. 596, London, 1815). The Afghans still call themselves "Beni-Israel," and are declared to have a markedly Jewish appearance. Their claim to Israelitish descent is allowed by most Mohammedan writers. G. Moore, in his "Lost Tribes" (pp. 143-160, London, 1861), also identified the Afghans with the Ten Tribes.

Karaites and the Caucasus.

In order to avoid the disabilities imposed upon Rabbinite Jews, the Karaites of Russia attempted to prove that they were guiltless of the execution of Jesus because they were descended from the Lost Ten Tribes and had been settled in the Crimea since the time of Shalmaneser (seventh century B.C.). In particular Abraham Firkovich edited a number of forgeries of inscriptions on tombstones and manuscripts to prove the early date of their settlement in the Crimea. The argument was effective with the Russian government in 1795, when they were exempted from the double taxation imposed upon the Rabbinites, and in 1828, when it obtained for them exemption from military service. From the similar traditions among the Jews of the Caucasus, according to Chorny ("Sefer ha-Massa'ot," p. 585, St. Petersburg, 1884), the Jews of Derbent declared that the Daghestan Jews were those who were carried away by the Assyrians, and that some of them had ultimately migrated to Bokhara, and even as far as China. It is, of course, only natural that the outlying colonies in China, in India, and even in the Sahara should have been at one time or another identified as remnants of the Lost Ten Tribes.

G. Moore, indeed, attempts to prove that the high-class Hindus, including all the Buddhists, are descendants of the Sacæ, or Scythians, who, again, were the Lost Ten Tribes. He transcribes many of the Indian inscriptions into Hebrew of a wonderful kind to prove this contention. Buddhism, according to him, is a fraudulent development of Old Testament doctrines brought to India by the Ten Tribes. The Kareens of Burma, because of their Jewish appearance, their name for God ("Ywwah"), and their use of bones of fowls for divination purposes, are also identified by him and by Mason as descendants of the Lost Tribes.


The identification of the Sacæ, or Scythians, with the Ten Tribes because they appear in history at the same time, and very nearly in the same place, as the Israelites removed by Shalmaneser, is one of the chief supports of the theory which identifies the English people, and indeed the whole Teutonic race, with the Ten Tribes. Dan is identified sometimes with Denmark, and sometimes with the Tuatha da Danaun of Irish tradition; but the main argument advanced is that the English satisfy the conditions of the Prophets regarding Israel in so far as they live in a far-off isle, speak in a strange tongue, have colonies throughout the world, and yet worship the true God. For further discussion of the argument and the history of its development see Anglo-Israelism.

Japan. (From McLeod's "Epitome of the Ancient History of Japan," Tokyo, 1879.)

One of the most curious offshoots of the theory is that which identifies the Shindai, or holy class, of Japan as the descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes. This is advocated by N. McLeod in his "Epitome of the Ancient History of Japan" (3d ed., Tokyo, 1879). He calls attention to a point of agreement between the two, namely, the fact that the first known king of Japan was Osee, 730 B.C., and the last king of Israel was Hosea, who died 722 B.C. In addition to this, McLeod points out that the Shinto temple is divided into a holy and a most holy place. The priests wear a linen dress, bonnet, and breeches, like the Jewish priests of old, and the ancient Temple instruments are used in the Shinto temple. The Japanese worship their ancestors, as the old Israelites did; and in addition to this McLeod points out the Jewish appearance of some Japanese, and supplements his "Epitome" with a volume of illustrations depicting among other things the supposed rafts on which the Israelites crossed, via Saghalien, to Japan, and their supposed order of march. Still further removed is the suggestion of some writers that the Australians are the Lost Tribes because they practise circumcision ("Allg. Zeit. de. Jud." 1842, No. 6).

Quite recently the Masai of British East Africa have been identified owing to similarity of custom (M. Merker, "Die Masai," Berlin, 1904).


Immediately after the discovery of Central and South America the legend of the Lost Tribes began to be referred to the aboriginal inhabitants. Garcia, in his "Origen de los Medianos" (1607, pp. 79-128), declares that the Tribes passed over the "Strait of Aninai," i.e., Bering Strait, and went by that way to Mexico and South America. He deduces their identity from the common cowardice and want of charity of the Israelites and Indians. Both of these peoples, according to him, bury their dead on the hills, give kisses on the cheek as a sign of peace, tear their clothes as a sign of mourning, and dance as a sign of triumph. Garcia claimed to have found many Hebrew terms in the American language.

According to Manasseh ben Israel, Antonio Montesinos deposed in 1644 before the bet din of Amsterdam that while traveling in Peru he had met with a number of the natives who recited the "Shema'" in Hebrew, and who informed him through an interpreter that they were Israelites descended from Reuben, and that the tribe of Joseph dwelt in the midst of the sea. He supported their statements by tracing Jewish customs among other inhabitants of Central and South America. The Indians of Yucatan and the Mexicans rent their garments in mourning and kept perpetual fires upon their altars, as did also the Peruvians. The Mexicans kept the jubilee, while the Indians of Peru and Guatemala observed the custom of levirate marriage. Manasseh ben Israel therefore concluded that the aboriginal inhabitants of America were the Lost Ten Tribes, and as he was of the opinion that the Messiah would come when the whole world was inhabited by the descendants of Israel, he directed his efforts to obtaining admission for the Jews to the British Islands, from which they were at that time excluded (see Manasseh ben Israel). The Mexican theory was later taken up by Viscount Kingsborough, who devoted his life and fortune to proving the thesis that the Mexicans were descended from the Lost Ten Tribes, and published a magnificent and expensive work on the subject ("Antiquities of Mexico," 9 vols., 1837-45). Kingsborough's chief arguments are that Mexicans and Israelites believe in both devils and angels, as well as in miracles, and use the blood of the sacrifice in the same way, namely, by pouring it on the ground; also that the high priest of Peru is the only one allowed to enter the inner, most holy part of the temple, and that the Peruvians anointed the Ark, as did the Israelites. He also finds many similarities in the myths and legends. Thus certain Mexican heroes are said to have wrestled with Quetzalcohuatl, like Jacob with the angel ("Antiquities of Mexico," vol. vii.).

North-American Indians.

Manasseh b. Israel's views were taken up by T. Thorowgood in his "Jewes in America" (London, 1650), and he was followed by the "Apostle" Eliot in a publication ten years later; and their views, referring now to the North-American Indians instead of the Mexicans or Peruvians, were adopted by Cotton Mather, Roger Williams, and even William Penn. S. Sewall also gave expression, in 1697, to the same views in a special publication.

Charles Beatty, in his "Journal of a Two-Months' Tour" (London, 1678), declared that he had found among the Delaware Indians traces of Israelitish origin; and J. Adair, in his "History of the American Indians" (London, 1775), devotes a considerable amount of attention to the same view, which he accepts. Adair was followed by Jonathan Edwards. A special work was written by E. Boudinot ("A Star in the West," Trenton, N. J., 1816); and he was followed by Ethan Smith in 1825, and by Israel Worsley ("View of the American Indians, Showing Them to Be Descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel," London, 1828). Mordecai M. Noah accepted the Israelitish origin of the Indians (1837) in a pamphlet republished in Marryat's "Diary in America" (vol. ii.). J. B. Finlay claimed to have found traces among the Wyandottes in 1840, and the view was even considered by George Catlin in his "Manners . . . of the North American Indians" (London, 1841). Discoveries of alleged Hebrew tablets, as at Pittsfield, Mass., 1815, and Newark, Ohio, about 1860, have given fresh vigor to the theory. Altogether, with the exception of the Anglo-Israelite craze, a larger amount of literature has been written on this identification than on any other.

The Mormons.

It was doubtless owing to this belief in the identity of the Lost Ten Tribes with the American Indians that Joseph Smith was led to adopt a somewhat similar view in his celebrated "Book of Mormon." According to him, America was colonized by two sets of people—one being the Jaredites, who came over after the dispersion from the Tower of Babel; the other a group of sixteen, who came from Jerusalem about 600 B.C. Their chief families were destroyed about the fourth century B.C., and descendants of the remainder are the North-American Indians.

  • Manasseh b. Israel, Hope of Israel, ed. Wolf, pp. 24-28, London, 1901;
  • Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthum, ii. 515-573;
  • A. Neubauer, Where Are the Ten Tribes? in J. Q. R. i. 14-28, 95-114, 185-201, 408-423;
  • A. F. Hyamson, The Lost Tribes and the Influence of the Search for Them on the Return of the Jews to England, in J. Q. R. xv.;
  • M. Lewin, Wo Sind die Stämme Israels zu Suchen? Presburg, 1901;
  • Bancroft, Native Races of the Pacific, v. 78-102;
  • Justin Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of America, i. 115-116;
  • Mallory, Israelite and Indian, New York, 1889.
E. C. J.