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Hebrews in Canaan,
the Israelite Tribes and Kingdoms

Hebrews are the people that owned the land of Kanaan since ancient times, and are the only nation still existing today that has legitimate right to that land. Before dealing with their origins and history, it is essential to consider briefly who inhabited that country before their arrival, and if those peoples do still exist as distinguishable entities.
The first inhabitants of the Levantine coast of the Mediterranean were the "Kana'ana" (Kanaanites), and in the southernmost strip, the Philistines and the "Peoples of the Sea".


Kanaanites were both a people and an heterogeneous group of peoples that inhabited in the same territory; in fact, the Scriptures speak about Kanaanites referring in general to all the inhabitants of the land given to Israel, and more specifically to one of these peoples, that inhabited the northern part of the same land (Yehoshua 9:1). Most of these peoples were not Semitic by origin and had their own tongues, but they related to each other by speaking a common language: Aramaic, or the Kanaanite dialect of Aramaic that is what later will be called "Hebrew".
Among the inhabitants of Kanaan there were some Hittite tribes, Amorites, Hurrite tribes (Hivvites and Yevusites) and others whose origin are unknown because we have little information written by themselves.
The people from whom the land (and those dwelling there) took its ancient name were the "Kana'ana" or "Kinachnu", as they called themselves, but are known to us by the name given them by the Greeks: Phoenicians (Phoinike, "the Purple People").
The Kanaanites did not found any unified kingdom but were organized in self-ruled cities, what in a way made easier to Israelites to conquer the land, and were not a warlike people but rather skilful traders, sailors and builders. In fact, what was loathsome of them for Israelites was their immoral behaviour related to their religion, that laid down sacred prostitution and in some extreme cases also children slaughter. This was the main reason by which Hebrews were forbidden to intermarry and to have any relationship with them, in order not to be contaminated with such abominable habits. Notwithstanding, Israelites did not annihilate them, but only subdued them and did intermarry. Many Kanaanites became voluntarily Israelites by accepting Torah and others joined up in the Israelite or Judahite army. King Shlomoh engaged them for building the Temple in Jerusalem. When Assyrians and Babylonians overran Israel and Judah, Kanaanites did no longer exist as a different people but were completely assimilated by Hebrews. Therefore, the only descendants of ancient Kanaanites that owned the land of Kanaan are at present Jews.


Who were the Philistines is still a matter of research, as there are few reports about them besides the Bible. It seems that this term is applied, in the same way as Kanaanites, to both a people and a group of peoples that inhabited in the south of Kanaan near the coast. What is certain is the fact that they were not native of the land where they dwelled, but immigrated in successive stages. The first component of such ethnic complex seem to be the "Pelesati", after whom all following elements are called; they were in any way closely related to Hittites, mainly because both of them were the first peoples that forged iron weapons, besides other common facts (Sargon II, king of Assyria, referred to the inhabitants of Ashdod as "Hittites"). Nevertheless, the first Philistines were not quite warlike, until the following "Peoples of the Sea" or "Sea Peoples" joined them. These are Shekelesh, Shardana, Tsikel or Thekker, Akhaiusha or Ekwesh, Danauna or Denyen, Masa or Meshuesh, Uashesh, Teresh or Tursha, Keshesh or Karkisha, Lukka or Rukka, and Labu. These peoples came from the Aegean and Anatolian area. The main group that ruled the Philistine federation, were the "Pelesati".
The fact that among Philistines there were also very tall people of great strength - the Anakim, of whom was Goliath - is also a topic treated by Homer, precisely in relationship with the Sea Peoples.
Philistines did not establish an unified kingdom but a sort of federation led by five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron, the "Philistine Pentapolis", to which the other cities were associated or dependant.
King David put and end to the Philistine threat and reduced them to an insignificant entity; nevertheless, he employed them as their special forces in his army and selected bodyguard, the "Pelethim and Kerethim". Despite this fact, Israelites did not intermarry as they did with Kanaanites.
Unlike Kanaanites, Philistines had a long history of hatred for Israel and they were not assimilated by Israelites, but disappeared from history during the Assyrian domination and their race does no longer exist. There are no descendants who may claim a "Philistine/Palestine" land (if there was any place to which such name may have been applied during a period in history, it is not much larger than the Gaza-Strip - never to the land of Kanaan!). Philistines were not native, but invaders, in the same way as those Arabs that call themselves "Palestinians", and what they also have in common is their desire of nothing more than the destruction of Israel and the Jews. They do not want Jerusalem because it is their city, which is not and never has been, they simply want to take her from the Jews, to whom she has belonged for three thousand years. Philistines wanted to take from Israelites the Holy Ark of the Covenant, modern so-called Palestinians want to take from them the Holy City of the Covenant.



The "Hebrews" ('Ivrim) were in origin an Akkadian/Aramean family from Ur, in lower Mesopotamia, that left the homeland to wander between the land of the Hurrites, in the east of Anatolia, and Egypt. The family settled mainly in Southern Kanaan, where had friendly relationships with the Kanaanite and Philistine inhabitants even though intermarriage was not allowed.
In the first stage of their stay in Kanaan, namely four generations, they gave origin to different peoples: Ammonites, Moabites, Ishmaelites, Midyanites, Lihyanites, Edomites and Israelites, though only Israelites will keep the denomination of "
The following is a simplified outline of the common origin and relationship of these peoples:

Midyanites, Lihyanites and Ishmaelites (see previous page) populated the northern half of the Arabian peninsula sharing often the same territory and dwelling together, and assimilating other peoples, so that they became the founders of the mixed nation that some centuries later will be known as Arabs.
The other three peoples, Moab, Ammon and Edom, developed and established their national identity in the period when Israelites were in Egypt.
The Moabites and Ammonites were usually allied, namely, they were two tribes but one people, that settled their separate kingdoms by the East of the Dead Sea and the Yarden in a territory previously inhabited by some Hurritic tribes and by the "Amurru", that in those times were ruling over Babylon and had their vassals in Eastern Kanaan.
Conquered by the Israelite King David, their kingdoms became irrelevant and subsequently were destroyed by Assyrians. They disappeared as ethnic entities being assimilated by Ishmaelites and included among Arabs.
The Edomites, a people of mixed Hebrew and Kanaanite background, settled in the desert area around the mount Se'ir, overcoming and assimilating the Hurritic inhabitants of that land. They had an important kingdom that has always opposed Israelites; defeated by King David, they stood as an independent entity until Assyrians conquered their land. Subsequently, their capital Yoqte'el (now known as Petra) became the capital of a Nabatean kingdom and they were completely assimilated by Ishmaelites.


Hebrews’ settlement in Kanaan produced radical changes in the region’s ethnography, which since then is called "Eretz Yisrael".
The people previously known simply as "Hebrews" returned back from Egypt with another name: "B'ney Yisrael", as Israelites identify themselves. In fact, the term "Ivri" (Hebrew) seems to come from an expression that conveys the meaning of "pass over", "cross over", "the land beyond", therefore, "the people from the other side"; this was applied to them because they originally came from the other side of the Euphrates. After the Exodus, this was doubly suitable since they came from beyond the Red Sea, and to celebrate such event it was established the festival of Passover.
The Israelites were the offspring of the Patriarch Ya'kov, renamed Yisrael, who followed the family rule of not intermarrying but keeping within the Akkadian extraction of his forefathers, unlike his relatives (see the genealogy scheme above). Nevertheless, his twelve sons did otherwise. Eleven of them married Kanaanites, sealing a definitive birthright with the land of Kanaan; one of them - Yosef - married an Egyptian. These are the progenitors of the Tribes of Israel: Re'uven, Shim'on, Levi, Yehudah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Yisaskar, Zevulun, Yosef and Bin-Yamin. Yosef, being the first one in Egypt, brought forth Menasheh and Ephrayim, that inherited instead of him - so, the Tribes are usually counted as twelve, but are thirteen indeed.
When Israel's family dwelled in Egypt, they kept separate from Egyptians and intermarrying would have been very rare because both peoples were impure to each other - wandering Semites were shepherds, which was a despicable profession for Egyptians. The time when Israelites sojourned in Egypt includes the period of the Hyksos' rule. These mysterious Hyksos that history mentions only in Egypt (not before they "invaded" and not after they were "expelled") were by coincidence the "shepherd-kings", so particularly hateful to Egyptians that they destroyed any record regarding their rule and that is why there is a gap of about two centuries in Egyptian history. One of the few things that Egyptians say about them is that they were monotheist. The Hyksos settled their capital, Avaris, in the area of Goshen, where Israelites dwelled. If these Hyksos were the Israelites themselves, it would not be surprising...
The Israelites were repatriated in Kanaan led by Mosheh, who also wrote the Scriptures that rule the Jewish people until now. Mosheh was succeeded by Yehoshua, who completed the conquest of the land and assigned the territories to each Tribe.
One of the rules was to keep the Tribes distinction, especially that of Levi, as this Tribe was appointed for priestly services and was not given a territory but dwelled in cities within each other Tribes land.
The first government system of Israel was not monarchic as every other people in that time, but legislative, led by Judges (Sofetim) who were also the military leaders. The Judges authority was often limited to one or more Tribes instead of the whole nation.

Judge       Tribes
Yehoshua       of Ephrayim, he was leader of the whole people of Israel
Otni'el       Ephrayim
Ehud       Binyamin
Devorah       Ephrayim, Yisaskar, Menasheh, Zevulun, Binyamin, Naphtali, and all Israel as Prophetess. Baraq (Naphtali) was the army leader.
Gid'on       Ephrayim, Israel
Tola       Yisaskar, Ephrayim
Ya'ir       Menasheh (East)
Yiphtah       Menasheh (East)
Ibtzan       Yehudah
Elon       Zevulun
Avdon       Ephrayim
Shimshon       Dan
Sh'muel       Ephrayim, all Israel, as he was the Prophet

The period of the Judges was not so brilliant but rather anarchic; Israelite Tribes were self-ruled and gathered only when an external enemy was attacking them. Some Judges may have ruled contemporarily in different Tribes and the whole nation was unified only in critical situations. Besides the Judges, who exerted a higher range of authority was the Prophet (as the actual successor of Mosheh); in fact, Devorah and Sh'muel held the position of Judges because they were also the spiritual authorities.

The following map indicates the distribution of the Tribes in Kanaan:

  The Tribes of Israel that received territories with defined boundaries were eleven, while to the other two were assigned cities within other Tribes' borders: Levi had cities and towns distributed among all the Tribes, being appointed for the priestly services; Shim'on was given lands that shared with part of Yehudah's territory. Menasheh was the only Tribe having lands in both sides of the Yarden, while Gad and Re'uven were only in the eastern side.
The growing pressure exerted by Philistines caused Danites’ emigration; the whole Tribe moved to the northernmost border and took the Kanaanite land of Leshem as new settlement. The former territory of Dan was then divided between Yehudah, Ephrayim and Binyamin.
The need of a solid state by reasons of defence and security drove Israel to become a monarchic state.
At this stage, the growing rivalry between Ephrayim and Yehudah was becoming evident, so the king was chosen from Binyamin, a small Tribe between the two.

This Binyaminite king was Sha'ul, appointed by Prophet Sh'muel to attain national unity and security, what he achieved partially. Sha'ul defeated Amalekites (an Edomite tribe), that were the most relentless enemies of Israel, but did not completely subject the Sea Peoples (Philistines) that remained a permanent threat for the nation. A particularity of the Kingdom of Israel was the fact of not having a capital: the spiritual centre was the place where the Ark of the Covenant was located, being sometimes moved - this remarks the still nomadic nature of the Israelites even centuries after their settlement in definite tribal territories.
Another remarkable fact that made of Israel distinct from any other nation was the separation of authority: while in all ancient kingdoms the king was absolute ruler in every matter, if not also the law-giver, in Israel his authority was limited to political, social and military roles; the king was subject to the Law given by Mosheh (Torah) and was not allowed to change any single detail. The religious authority was the High Priest, and the Prophet was the spiritual leader to whom the king himself owed respect. The Prophet had even the authority to rebuke the king and was sometimes the people's spokesman.
The Prophet Sh'muel anointed David to succeed Sha'ul as king, nevertheless, after Sha'ul's death, David was recognized as king only by his own Tribe, Yehudah, while the others followed a dynastic concept and appointed Sha'ul's son Ishboshet to be king. This was the first division of the kingdom, but Ishboshet was killed and so the whole Israel was gathered under King David's authority. Then the kingdom had a capital city, Hevron, that was the capital of the Tribe of Yehudah.
In the Hebrew year 2757, King David conquered Yerushalayim city, that was owned by Yevusites (a Hurritic people) and made her the capital of his kingdom instead of Hevron. This was a wise strategy, as he took the centre out of his own Tribe and transferred it to Binyamin's territory. In Yerushalaym he concentrated also the spiritual centre by settling there the Ark of the Covenant and making the first projects for the Temple where the Ark should be placed.
David succeeded in subjecting Philistines definitively and expanded his rule over all neighbouring kingdoms: Moav, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, etc. in this period Israel achieved the greatest extension and under Shlomoh’s kingdom lived the maximum magnificence. Shlomoh built the Temple and made of Yerushalayim the spiritual heart of Israel and monotheistic peoples. Israel became then a commercial power and had good relationships with Egypt and Phoenicia. Shlomoh organized the Red Sea fleet and established a rich trade with far away countries: Yemen and India. The first Hebrew settlements out of Eretz Yisrael date back to this period. Trade with the Kingdom of Sheva/Teyman (Yemen) was particularly intense and many Hebrews settled then in that land, to return back in Eretz Yisrael only thirty centuries later, in 5708/9, when Yemenite Jews were repatriated in the new State of Israel.
Since those times, Israelites have had an important role in Sabean culture and civilization.
Shlomoh’s fleet carried goods from Ophir (I Kings 9:28), a country that may be identified with India mainly by the products: ivory, apes, peacocks, sandal-wood, gems (I Kings 10:22). Furthermore, the names given to these items are the only Sanskrit words written in the Scriptures. It is likely that Shlomoh had also Aden as the main port of call between Eylat and Ophir.
The greatest achievement of King Shlomoh was, undoubtedly, the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

King David consolidated security for his kingdom by conquering all the neighbouring nations with his powerful army. Shlomoh, on the contrary, reigned keeping peace and making political and commercial alliances.
Nevertheless, he established a taxation policy that was not widely accepted by the Northern Tribes. After Shlomoh's death, the Tribes gathered before his son and successor, Rehavam, to ask for tax reductions. Rehavam denied such request, what caused the separation of the nation into two kingdoms: Judah and Israel.
The division of the kingdom was defined as follows: one Tribe for David (Yehudah) and one Tribe for Jerusalem (Binyamin) belonged by right to the House of David, namely, to his dynasty, and became the Kingdom of Judah. The remaining Tribes separated to become the Kingdom of Israel; yet, such division was done on a territorial basis rather than tribal definition. In fact, the Tribe of Levi was dwelling among the others and so they were present in both sides, though most Levites from the Northern Kingdom chose to resettle in Judah. In the same way, Shim'onites were within Judah's boundaries, and there is no record of any emigration to the north. Besides, people from all the Tribes were already settled in Jerusalem and in Judah, who remained there. Therefore, the Southern kingdom was composed by most of four Tribes - Yehudah, Binyamin, Levi and Shim'on - and part of all the others, while the Northern gathered most of nine Tribes and part of Levi (see:
the "Lost Tribes" below).

  Since then, the Northern Kingdom took the official name of "Israel", while the Southern Kingdom was called "Judah" because of the leading Tribe.
The spiritual heritage was the first "political" problem that the Northern Kingdom had to afford: all Israelites had to participate in the main celebrations that were held in the Temple, in Jerusalem. The first king of Israel, Yarov'am ben-Nevat, abolished the Israelite Law and created of his own a new monotheistic religion that, however, admitted idolatry; he also ordained priests from any Tribe besides Levi, and settled two main worship centres near the borders of his new kingdom, at Beyt-El in the south, and at Dan in the north. In this way he prevented his people to go back to the House of David. The first capital of this kingdom was Tirtzah.

The Kingdom of Israel resembled the Kanaanite states, without a stability of the government but with frequent changes in the ruling families. There were 19 kings that belonged to 9 different families; the longest one was Yehu's dynasty that lasted a little more than a century and had five kings.
The sixth king, Omri, took the throne after a civil war and achieved a relative stability. He built the city of Shomron (Samaria) to be the new capital. His dynasty was the worse one, having taken a complete Kanaanite style in every aspect, including religion. It was the period when Prophet Eliyahu fought against the Israelite ruling family and appointed Yehu to be the king. Yehu annihilated the whole ruling family and re-established the previous system.

It was in this period that Assyria was becoming the world power and the kingdom of Israel began to pay tributes to Nineveh. The kings of Israel were in this way confirmed on their rule by having the Assyrian support. This duty was not always fulfilled and the Assyrian army threatened several times the Israelite borders. Israel was planning to join Egypt in an attempt of both nations to shake off the Assyrian yoke, so the king Tiglat-Pileser III invaded Israel and took captive the inhabitants of the eastern side of the Yarden, the Tribes of Re'uven, Gad and East-Menasheh, and relocated them in the east of his empire. This was the first of a three-step deportation. A second time, Tiglat-Pileser took Damascus and put an end to the Aramean kingdom sending the inhabitants in exile; in this raid against Syria he also deported the people of Galil and most of the Tribe of Naphtali. Tiglat-Pileser deposed also the Israelite king and appointed another.
The remaining of the Kingdom of Israel did not survive many years: the following Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V, besieged Samaria and his successor, Sargon II completed the deportation of the Israelite rulers and notables. He replaced these inhabitants with other exiled peoples from Mesopotamia and the eastern borders of the Assyrian Empire. These new inhabitants are known as "Samaritans".


The Kingdom of Judah had a different history. Unlike Israel, the dynasty founded by King David reigned until the end of the independence, except for a brief period in which a princess of Israel usurped the reign. Besides her, Judah had 19 kings, the same number as Israel, but they reigned altogether 135 years more, because there was a natural succession instead of being dethroned as it happened to most of the kings of Israel.

The relationship between Judah and Israel was an alternation of hostility and agreement. After the fall of Samaria and the exile of the Israelites, the independence of the Kingdom of Judah was seriously threatened. Jerusalem was actually an enclave inside the Assyrian Empire, but unlike the kings of Israel, those of Judah did not turn against the Assyrian hegemony (even though Hizkiyahu resisted Sennakherib when this king besieged Jerusalem and attempted to take the people in exile - although he deported people from other cities of Judah and carried them to Assyria).
When the Assyrian Empire was collapsing after the destruction of Nineveh by the Chaldeans, Egypt recovered independence and Pharaoh Nekho went up against Assyrians passing through Judah. Then, Yoshiyahu, king of Judah, being tributary of Assyria, tried to stop him but was killed and his son Elyakim was appointed king under Egyptian sovereignty. Nekho had to change his plans, as the real foe was no longer the falling Assyrians but the rising Babylonians, so he chose to support the last Assyrian resistance against Nebukhadnetzar, commander of the Babylonian army. The battle of Karkemish determined the definitive victory of Nebukhadnetzar. Nekho was defeated and Judah was in the uncertain situation of an imposed alliance with Egypt. Nebukhadnetzar came to Jerusalem and besieged the city, taking the king and selected part of the population to exile in Babylon. Nebukhadnetzar became king of Babylon at his arrival after his father's death, so his reign began with the capture of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Judah was still a kingdom as Nebukhadnetzar appointed Elyakim's son first, and then Matanyahu (Elyakim's brother) as his vassal in Jerusalem.
Matanyahu, renamed Tzidkiyahu by Nebukhadnetzar, was not loyal to Babylon and because of this a second and third deportation followed; in the last one almost all Judahites were sent to exile in Babylon, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and burnt in the 9
th Av 3174. This was the end of the Kingdom of Judah.

See complete list of the kings at: The Kings of Judah and Israel

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Israelites in Exile and the "Lost Tribes"

Nebukhadnetzar, unlike the Assyrian kings, did not replace the inhabitants of Judah with other exiled people, but left a governor on the land over the small number of remaining Judahites. They killed the governor and fled to Egypt, leaving their homeland. In a successive campaign, Nebukhadnetzar invaded Egypt marking the definitive end of Pharaonic rule.
The Judahites exiled in Babylon achieved a respectable social position and wealth. In fact, the Assyrian/Babylonian policy of deportations had not the purpose of making slaves but only to resettle the people away from their homeland, in order to prevent rebellion and wars of independence. The Assyrian authorities recognized and preserved the identity of the peoples which they led away, keeping families and communities together. In this way the Assyrians were trying to encourage deported peoples to continue their normal way of life in the lands to which they had been transferred. In changed geographical surroundings it was hoped that longings for the homeland would weaken, so that loyalty to the Empire might take its place. In their new homes farmers received allotments of land. Others continued their previous occupations as artisans, scribes, and so forth.
Once they were inhabiting in their new land, they were free to develop their social life. In fact, Nebukhadnetzar and the following kings appointed some exiled Judahites as ministers of their government.
Concerning the deportees from the Kingdom of Israel that were in exile one and a half century before those of Judah, there is not much information. The areas where they were settled were different; Israelites were scattered in the eastern regions of Assyria and in Media, while Judahites were concentrated in Babylon city. Nevertheless, there is evidence that both groups had contacts with each other; in fact, Prophet Yehezk'el of Judah was dwelling among the Northern Israelites in one of their exile cities, Tel-Aviv in Assyria.
On Tishri 16
th 3222 the commander of the army of the Persian king Kurush (Cyrus) took Babylon without battle, while the king himself was retired in Teyma (Arabia) and the crown prince was devoted to banquet in the royal residences without having care for the state affairs. In a single day, the Babylonian empire fell down and a new world power was establishing new rules: the alliance of Persia and Media. King Kurush entered Babylon on Cheshvan to take official possession of the city and the whole empire. His first decree was in favour of exiles, allowing them to return back to their homeland and rebuild their cities.
The whole people of Israel was granted the benefit of return, without tribal distinction - such decree was for all Israelites. Persians inherited an empire in which there were Israelite exiles that were deported in different times by different kings: twice by Tiglat-Pileser III, once by Shalmaneser V and Sargon II and three times by Nebukhadnetzar - there was no difference for Persians if they were Israelites or Judahites, or if they were scattered by Ninevites or by Babylonians; all of them were equally considered "Jews", as the People of Israel will be recognized since this period. Notwithstanding, only a minority of the people returned to Eretz Yisrael, and both Judahites and Northern Israelites freely moved to the main cities within the empire, having fluent contact with each other. This fact introduces to a difficult question: Do the "Lost Tribes of Israel" really exist or are just a myth?


In the same way as the deportation was not completed at once but performed in different stages, so the return was done. Even though Jews were longing for their homeland, only a minority actually returned. The great number of them achieved such a good social position and economic welfare under Babylonian rule, that chose to remain in their new country. Even the Hebrew language was no longer spoken, but Aramaic - the language of Assyrians and Babylonians - became the Jews' current tongue (and it is still today among Middle-Eastern Jews).
Those who decided to return back and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple were the people in whom the spiritual reasons and feelings prevailed; in fact, after their exile Jews had a stronger devotion to Torah than ever before - it was in this period that Judaism was defined and the Scriptures completed.
Nevertheless, they did not have an independent state - Eretz Yisrael was a Persian satrapy.
Many Jews (those of Judah as well as those of Israel) took advantage of favourable conditions to take residence in any great city and any town throughout the empire, what enabled both groups to get together. During this time, the divisions and rivalry between Judah and Israel ended. Prophet Yirmiyahu declared that the captors made no distinction between Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 50:33). It is true that the decrees referred in a specific way to Jerusalem, that was Judah's capital and had no relationship with Israel since centuries, but this fact does not exclude Israelites from the Northern Tribes to be willing of taking part of the new unified Israel. Exiles from both kingdoms looked forward to a national future in unity. They were conscious of a common destiny based upon God's promises to the Patriarchs and to the House of David. The Israelite Prophets Yo'el, Amos, and Hoshea had prepared the way earlier when they spoke of national unity and the centrality of Jerusalem and Zion (1).
The decrees signed by Kurush and the following decrees by Dareyavesh and Artachshashta
specified that "all they of the people of Israel" were free to return to Jerusalem (2). It is clear that the Northern Tribes were not excluded from that benefit. In fact, the evidence shows that some returned from all of the Tribes, while many Jews remained in positions of influence in Persia. Even though more Jews were living in Diaspora settlements than in their homeland, those in the dispersion still looked to Jerusalem as their national centre and shared the same history and spirituality, growing up under the same Law and institutions.


It is reasonable to consider the possibility that part of the Israelites in Diaspora are now "lost" in the sense that they are no longer recognized as Israelites. Notwithstanding, the concept of lost "Tribes" is inexact since it implies that whole Tribes (all non-Judahites) are lost; more inaccurate is the assertion that they are "ten Tribes", and the attempts to identify them with some peoples vary from likely to fanciful and bizarre.
We have briefly considered the fact that the division of the People of Israel according to their former kingdoms vanished during the exile, that the tribal division became less relevant to Jewish identity and that most Jews from all Tribes did not return back to their homeland but remained in their land of exile, in the East beyond the Euphrates. Many of them may have lost the Israelite identity, no matter the Tribe to which they belonged. In this sense, there is part of all twelve Tribes that is "lost".
The only history record in which we find the term "ten Tribes" is in the Scriptures, when Prophet Ahiyah announced that Yarov'am will be given "ten Tribes", keeping for the House of David one Tribe (Yehudah) and one for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that was "chosen out of all the Tribes of Israel" (1Melakhim 11:31-32). The expression "ten Tribes" does not occur again. Some of the kings of Judah addressed all twelve Tribes and offered up sacrifices on their behalf. The number of the Tribes of Israel is always regarded as twelve, although they were actually thirteen since Yosef inherited two that were called after his sons Menasheh and Ephrayim. The land of Kanaan was divided between twelve Tribes because Levi was not counted as Levites should inhabit within all the others.
Numbers are important in Jewish symbolism, that is why Israel is always mentioned as being composed of "twelve Tribes" instead of thirteen. In the same way, the "ten Tribes" given to Yarov'am have a meaning of "a whole nation" rather than the exact number of Tribes. The actual number of Tribes that made up the Northern Kingdom were nine, plus a minority of Levites (who are not counted as a Tribe). The Tribe of Shim'on, by obvious territorial reasons, could have never joined the Northern Kingdom (see:
map above).
It is interesting to notice that in the 1
st Book of Chronicles that was written by Ezra after the return from exile, states that Shim'onites were still living in Judah in the times of Hizkiyahu, and that they conquered part of the land of Edom and dwelled there until Ezra's days - this means that they were never deported! (Divre haYamim 4:41-43). Where are Shim'onites then? They of course were re-gathered with their fellow Jews who came back home from the exile.
In Persian times and after, the Jewish community in the city of Babylon was so numerous that the ancient capital of the conquerors became the main Jewish centre in the world; Jewish culture and sciences developed in Babylon more than anywhere else and this city was in interactive relationship with Jerusalem. Most of the post-Scriptural sources we have about the history of the Israelites until Roman times come from the Babylonian Jewry. They indeed distinguish Israelites in two main groups: those of Jerusalem (meaning the whole land of Israel) and those of the Diaspora - there is no mention of any "lost" part of the people.
Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that among those Israelites of the Diaspora there should be a large number that intermarried or emigrated outside the imperial borders losing partially their Jewish identity - these are in some way rightly considered as "lost Israelites", yet the term of lost "Tribes" is inappropriate.
The supporters of the "Lost Tribes" myth assert that the present Jews and the State of Israel represent only the ancient Kingdom of Judah and not the whole Israel. Such assertion is groundless. There is enough evidence that Jews of today descend from every Israelite Tribe and that the "lost" Israelites (or better "restored" Israelites once their identity is acknowledged) belong not only to the Northern Tribes but also to Judah.
The first case can easily be proved with the single example of Yemenite Jews: They settled in Yemen in times when King Shlomoh was reigning over the whole Israel. Trade with the Kingdom of Sheva/Teyman (Yemen) was particularly intense and many Hebrews settled then in that land, to return back in Eretz Yisrael only thirty centuries later, in 5708/9, when Yemenite Jews were repatriated in the new State of Israel. The main reason by which the Northern Tribes separated from Judah was the taxation system imposed by Shlomoh. This would have been also a good reason for them to choose settling in the Israelite colonies in Sheva rather than remaining in their own land. Therefore, the first Yemenite Jews belonged to any and every Tribe, and more likely to the Northern ones rather than Judah. Further emigrations caused by persecution among Jews of the Diaspora enlarged the community in Yemen, as many Jews took shelter in that land, where they would have been welcomed by their compatriots settled there since Shlomoh’s times.
The same may be applied to the Jews of Kochin, as the land of Ophir (Southern India) was after Sheva the main commercial partner of Israel in Shlomoh's times.
As it was already stated, most of Israelites did not return to their homeland but chose remain in exile, or else, having engaged commercial activities, they followed the most natural route in those times in search for a better future: the Silk Road, that led them to the east, reaching lands as far as the Chinese shores of the Pacific Ocean.

In very early times, probably after the fall of Nineveh and before the fall of Yerushalaym under Nebukhadnetzar, some Northern Israelites took advantage of the short transition period in which the Neo-Babylonian Empire consolidated, to emigrate eastwards. This is the most credited hypothesis supported by the Bukharian Jews regarding their own origins. They even identify 'Habor' and 'Halah' with Bukhara and Balkh - the places where Assyrians resettled the Northern Israelites, mentioned in 2Melakhim 17:6. Indeed, the Jewish presence in Central Asia dates back to that period. Many of those from Judah joined them about a century later. Jewish Culture flourished in important cities like Samarkand, Bukhara, Ferghana, Termez, Tashkent, Kokand, etc. The history of Bukharian Jews is very interesting; they developed an autonomous Jewish culture and in general they had peaceful relationships with the local population, so that many times along history the Turkestan area was a safe haven for Jews persecuted elsewhere. Their contribution to the cultural and social life in Central Asia until the Soviet period has been of great value. Since the State of Israel's rebirth in 5708 (1948 c.e.), massive Aliyah has left only a reduced number of Jews still living in Uzbekistan and neighbouring republics.
The Diaspora generated different social and cultural developments, according to the nations were Jewish communities settled, and today Israelites are divided into language/culture groups which have not any link with the ancient Tribes: the "Mizrachim" (Easterners), not to mistake with "Mitzrayim" (Egyptians), of Aramaic language; the "Teymanim" (Yemenite Jews); the "Sepharadim" (Mediterranean), from Sepharad, Hebrew name of Spain, of Ladino-Spanish language; the "Ashkenazim" (Northerners), of Yiddish language; the "Betha Israel" (Ethiopians); the Jews of India - most of these two last groups are indeed restored "lost" Israelites, and so on.
The second case, concerning the "lost" Israelites, should be considered seriously, avoiding any fanciful theory but supported by evidence and facts. The Northern Israelites were settled by Assyrians in
Halach and in Havor, on the river of Gozan and in the cities of the Medes." (2Melakhim 17:6; 18:11). This means, by the eastern boundaries of the Empire.
Since the times of Ezra, the terms "Hebrew", "Israelite" and "Jew" are interchangeable and do not define any distinction related to Tribes. Following written sources apply these terms in the same way. When referring to those allegedly "lost" Tribes (they were not "lost" yet, but only exiled that did never return), they are called "the twelve scattered Tribes" (not ten), this means that also those of Judah were in the same condition if they did not return back to Israel. The main written records we have of Roman times are the Gospels and the writings of the historian Josephus Flavius. The Gospels repeatedly refer to Jews as Israelites, proving that both words were exactly the same; Ya'kov - Yeshua's brother - addresses his epistle "to the twelve Tribes that are in dispersion" (Ya'kov 1:1); this is a further proof that the "lost" Tribes were all twelve and not only the mythic ten Northern ones.
The Jews of Georgia (the "Gurdzhim") assert that they are descended from the Northern Kingdom of Israel exiled by Sargon II, because there are no Kohanim (priestly families) among them. The Jews of Georgia call themselves "Ebraeli" and use Georgian tongue as their spoken and written language of communication, without resorting to the Hebrew alphabet. Georgian Jewish traders developed the jargon Qivruli (Jewish), many roots of which originated in Hebrew. Nevertheless, even though it is very likely that they belong to the Northern Kingdom, they still acknowledge themselves as "Jews".
Regarding the place where the exiled Israelites were, Josephus says: "...these Tribes are beyond the river Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, not to be estimated by numbers" (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, Chapter 5, Section 2). He stated that the Israelites remained "beyond the Euphrates", in the East - not in the West, as many "Lost Tribes" supporters argue. Apocryphal literature sources mention an unknown river called "Sambatyon", beyond which the scattered Israelites dwelled. There is no reason to think that such river would be in the west of Mesopotamia, but only in the eastern lands, likely in Persia or even in India. And the only place where probable lost Israelites are to be searched is in Asia, mainly in India, and in some places of Africa, but not in Europe. Some peoples of the Indian subcontinent indeed share many characteristics with ancient Israelites, namely Gypsies, Kashmirian tribes, Kalash, Afghan tribes and some others. Recently restored lost Israelites are the "B'ney Yisrael" (of India) and the "B'ney Menasheh" (of China, though formerly settled in India). Nevertheless, it is not an easy task to know if they belong to any specific Tribe or not.
Other restored group that proved Israelite origin are the Lemba of Southeast Africa - their history leads to Yemen, from where they departed. Their blood analysis has shown that they belong to the Tribes of Judah and Levi, not the "ten lost ones"!
Therefore, we have two main origins from which the scattered Israelites that have lost their Jewish identity may come: Media/Persia, from where they directed to the East (India), and Yemen. In both cases they belong to any of the twelve Tribes, including Judah.

If it is not possible to identify with certainty which peoples may descend from the Israelites, we can surely assert with full certainty which peoples do NOT come from the "Lost Tribes".

Where the possible Israelites are not to be found is among European peoples, much less among western Europeans. It is an unusual paradox that, while the Jews are so often hated, reviled, and persecuted, there are so many groups of people trying to claim that they are Israelites! British-Israelism, the most popular of these theories, teaches that the English-speaking people of England, western Europe, and America descended from the ten "lost" Tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Where do they indeed come from is the topic of the next chapter (see "The Peoples of the North"), but it is also interesting to show briefly here how absurd their assertions are and why.
One of their supporting "proofs" is of linguistic nature: based on terms like "British" that allegedly should mean in Hebrew "man of the Covenant" (Brit-ish). The Hebrew words "B'rith" and "ish" simply translate as "covenant" and "man," not "covenant man," and certainly not "man of the covenant." If we were to translate it as a phrase, the closest we could get is "covenant of man." Connections between similar sounding words in Hebrew and English are not supported by The Oxford Dictionary, Webster's Dictionary, or any other study of English word derivatives (etymology), for the two languages are linguistically unrelated. If we should take seriously this "Brit-ish theory", we can also assert that the Garden of Eden was in Italy because in Hebrew "I-tal-Yah" means "Island of the Dew of Adonay", and the Scriptures say referring to Gan-Eden that "a dew went up from the earth" (Bereshyit 2:6). This is as much ridiculous as the British-Israelism theories. To conclude this subject, I will briefly list some important patterns to take in account and reject such bizarre theories:
. There is no recorded eyewitness to any Israelite tribal migrations across Europe and no medieval or ancient genealogies have ever linked the European families with the Israelites.
. Historically, the European peoples are uncircumcised races which, according to Bereshyit 17:14, excludes them from any national blessing promised to Avraham.
. The English (as well as most western Europeans) are a mixed race descending from many peoples. Israelites have always frowned upon intermarriage with other peoples (even though they often intermarried), viewing this as a form of spiritual adultery and betrayal.
. Wherever the Children of Israel dwelt, they were to keep (and whenever possible, did keep) the Shabbath Day holy (Shemoth 31:16-17). There is not any European people that has never kept the Sabbath Day holy.
. The Israelites were commanded to keep the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread. Not any European nation has ever observed the Passover. Their feasts were completely heathen.
. Both the Bible and history make it clear that the Europeans and the Israelites are completely different peoples, whose different customs, legends, living patterns, and names reveal separate origins.

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The Israelites' Last Return:
The State of Israel

This return did not happen without struggle: it was since a long time before that, according to the Balfour Agreement, the British Mandate of "Palestine" should have given up its place to the Hebrew State. This agreement was not respected by the British government, which gave more than 80% of that land as a present to muslims. A territory that, before Jewish immigration did not interest anybody; Eretz Yisrael was since Romans’ times an arid and almost uninhabited country, a desert where only some Bedouins passed by... Jews began to buy at very expensive prices their own land, and that aroused Arabs’ policy of parallel immigration. These Arabs, coming from neighbouring countries, began to settle in Eretz Yisrael in opposition to Jewish immigration. In this way was born a nationality created "on purpose", the Palestinians, who are not an ethnic entity at all, but a mixture of Arabs from various origins, Arabs like their relatives who remain in Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, etc.
The Shoah became a reason by which the nations were no longer able to deny Jews’ right to their own homeland, and the British Mandate had to hand over the remainder of that country to the people of Israel. A people that had just come through slaughter, that was impoverished and unarmed, had to take possession of a strip of land that nine islamic nations were ready to occupy by the armed forces. The West had in this way believed to liquidate the Jewish issue, entrusting muslims to complete what nazis left unfinished. That State, born in war on 5 Iyar 5708, achieved victory over an enemy that was about forty times stronger, an enemy that continued to take up arms because it cannot admit the existence of a free and democratic State in the Middle East; therefore, a new aggression took place in 5727. Once again, in only six days, the people of Israel inflicted a heavy defeat to the armed forces of seven nations, and re-conquered what by legitimate right belongs to Israel: Yerushalayim city, all the land to the west of the Jordan river, the Golan…
A new attempt to annihilate Israel happened in 5734, in the war of Yom Kippur. Israel could have resolved definitively the problem and rendered the enemy harmless, but western nations have still interfered until now to stop the Israeli Army and save the humiliated dignity of muslim states. The conspiracy against Israel goes on, but Israel will overcome…


(1) Amos 9:11 "In that day I shall raise up the booth of David that has fallen down. And I shall repair its breaches and raise up its ruins. And I shall build it as in the days of old." 14 "And I shall turn back the captivity of My people Israel. And they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them."

(2) Ezra 7:12 "Artachshashta, king of kings, to Ezra... 13 Now I make a decree that all those of the People of Israel and priests and Levites in my reign, who volunteer to go up to Jerusalem, go with you"







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