The Ten Lost Tribes

And what about the Israelites who were dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire—whatever had become of them? Nothing is known about the fate of the ten lost tribes. Once they were deported to Assyria, they disappeared from history and into myth. We don't know why the Israelites lost their identity.

Although the Jews from the kingdom of Judah were also conquered and exiled to Babylon, they retained their culture and identity, and they later returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. And later still, when Jews were exiled from Palestine by the Romans, they would retain their identity throughout the Diaspora. So why didn't the Jews from the kingdom of Israel manage to survive in Assyria?

Perhaps the prophets were right when they railed against the Israelites’ hollow and pretentious religious practices—it's possible that their lack of conviction could not survive the exile. Another explanation may have to do with the practice common to the northern tribes of fraternizing with their pagan neighbors. It is likely that when the Israelites found themselves in Assyria, they intermarried and assimilated Assyrian culture.

Explanations of the Mystery Abound

What became of the ten lost tribes has piqued the curiosity of many throughout the ages, and there have been numerous theories—some flimsy, others with some substance—but none have ever been proven. In the twelfth century, the Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela recorded that the ten lost tribes were living in Persia and in Arabia. In 1650, the Amsterdam rabbi Manasseh Ben-Israel published a book about the discovery of the missing Israelites in South America. The Pathans, a sect of five million Muslim fundamentalists living in Afghanistan and Pakistan, claim some of their populace is descended from the ten lost tribes. Others that have been linked to the vanished tribes are the Northern American Indians, the Eskimos, the British, and even the Japanese.

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