The Deluge or Universal Flood is attested in all traditions and inscriptions of all peoples worldwide, from the Middle East, Eurasia and Africa to the Americas and the Pacific Islands. In the same way, the beginning of the human race history after the survivors of the Flood is part of the heritage of all peoples, that essentially prove the Biblical report.
The "Table of the Peoples" of Bereshyit (Genesis) chapter 10 is mainly referred to the origins of the ancient peoples, that for kabbalistic symbolism is equalized to the "70 Nations of the Earth". Nevertheless, the list accurately defines the peoples in three categories that still exist in the modern world: the Northern and powerful nations, the Southern subdued peoples, as it is written in Bereshyit 9:25-27 that the offspring of Ham (the Southern nations) would become servant to Shem and Yephet (the Northern nations), and Semitic peoples, who have first subdued all Hamitic peoples in the Asian Middle East and then extended their cultural influence in the West. One of these Semitic peoples, the Israelites, achieved also great importance in the cultural, scientific and politic history of the Northern civilizations.
As it results evident, Semitic peoples at the beginning of their history had a very restricted area within Mesopotamia, between the Northern and the Southern peoples. Their further expansion will develop mainly to the detriment of Southern peoples.
It is important to notice that some Hamitic peoples have the same name as the Semitic ones that settled after them in the same land, and it is equally important to consider the fact that almost all the sources that reached us are written in Semitic languages, so the conquerors' name would have been applied to the preceding peoples. So, there is a Kushite Sheva and two peoples also called Sheva that are Semitic; a Kushite and a Semitic Dedan; a Kushite and a Semitic Havilah.
The first organized states in human history were founded by Hamitic (Southern) peoples: Sumerians, Egyptians and Kushites. Sumerians attempted to found the first kingdom in Lower Mesopotamia (Shinar) without full achievement, and had also colonies in Northern Mesopotamia, that were very ephemeral as it was "Semitic" territory. Kushites settled by both shores of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, in the South of the Arabian Peninsula and Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa and Nubia. They consolidated their culture only in the African part, as the whole Arabia was conquered by Semitic peoples that assimilated the Kushitic inhabitants. Egyptians' civilization endured until the Arabs subdued the country.
According to the biblical account, their nation was led by Nimrod, the founder of Babel, settlement which actually was in the place known as Barsippa, word that means "Tower of Languages", where the Ziqqurat Etemenanki (the Tower of Babel) was built. Barsippa (or Borsippa) was not far away from the later city of Babylon. After his vain attempt to create an unified kingdom, Sumerians organized in City-States, a system that was common to most Hamitic peoples –also Canaanites, known in history by the Greek name Phoenicians, had one king for each city instead of a national kingdom–. The main Sumerian cities were Ur, Erekh (Uruk), Ellasar (Larsa), Kalneh (Nippur), Lagash, Isin, Shurruppak (Farah), Eridu, Sippar, Kysh (Kush) and Babel (Borsippa), all of them in Shinar, the lower Mesopotamia. Nimrod founded also some colonies in Northern Mesopotamia by the Hiddekel (Tigris), of which the most known was the city of Nimrud, then renamed Kalah by Assyrians. Sumerian cities were unable to achieve any agreement for unity and were often in war with each other; hence their inability to drive back the first Semitic invaders, the Akkadians. Notwithstanding, they achieved a brief period of political unity under the Third Dynasty of Ur.
This period was followed by a new dynasty of Hamitic background: the Amurru, a people related to Canaanites, brought Babylon to an hegemonic role in Southern Mesopotamia. The most important sovereign of this period was Hammurapi –often identified with Amraphel, king of Shinar, mentioned in the Scriptures, although such identity seems to be inaccurate– who encoded the laws that ruled Mesopotamian peoples in the following generations.
Kushites were originally settled in Mesopotamia and Sumerians were just one of their tribes. Nimrod was the son of Kush, and the land of Shinar was often called "Kush" even many centuries later. His name was present in the city of Kysh.
From the Lower Mesopotamia, Kushites emigrated mainly southwards and eastwards. The Sumerian records mention Dilmun, Makkan and Meluhha as closely related peoples, located along the Arabian coast of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and in the Indus Valley respectively.
Some Kushitic tribes found fertile lands after having crossed the wilderness of the Arabian Peninsula, in the country that now is known as Yemen, and in the opposite shore of the sea, in Africa. The groups settled in Southern Arabia are usually known as Sabeans, yet, they are not the same people as the Semitic Sabeans that came later in the same geographic area. The tribes in Africa are commonly called Ethiopians – which in ancient times included Nubians and all peoples beyond the southern border of Egypt.
The Kushitic Sabeans have left scarce traces of themselves as they were overwhelmed by the Semitic cultures that followed, but what is certain is that they had a particularity which was transferred to their Semitic successors until the early Arab period: to be ruled by queens rather than kings. There was a high number of women among Ethiopian and Meroitic sovereigns, as well as in the early Sabean period in Yemen. Such pattern was also common to other peoples of Arabia for centuries.
The pre-Semitic Sabeans have left some hints that allow to identify them as tribes which created a sort of organized states or kingdoms before the Semites' arrival; they were the peoples of Savtah, reported in ancient chronicles as Sabatan, whose capital was the city of Shabwah; Savtekah settled nearby towards northwest; and Ra'amah, by the Gulf of Aden, in the country that will be also called Himayar or Dhu-Raydan. All them however are usually gathered together under a fourth people's name: Sheva. These Hamitic Sabeans might have not been as important as the preceding ones, but their name became common denomination for all of them since the Semitic Sabeans conquered all that area in a successive period.
The identification of this Hamitic Sheva was also a topic of discussion, as the same name is also reported in the opposite shore of the Red Sea – It is well documented that Seva (and perhaps also Sheva) was the ethnic name of a people called Habasat or Habashat, from where the term Abyssinia comes. Anyway, it is also reported that the Habasat were expelled from Yemen by other peoples, that is why they crossed the sea and are among the founders of the Ethiopic civilization. Ethiopians claim that the famous Queen of Sheva was the sovereigness of the Habashat rather than the Queen of Yemenite Sabeans.
To speak about this magnificent civilization will be worth many websites, and there are enough scholars who have held outstanding researches about this people. I will only point out that the name given by Egyptians to their own land was "Khemet", a clear reference to the patriarch Kham (Cham, or Ham, the spelling is equivalent in any of these forms as it depends on the transcription of Aramaic characters), from whom the peoples of the South take the common denomination of Hamitic. Semitic peoples referred to Egypt as "Mitzrayim", after Kham's son, that is identified with the first Pharaoh, Menesh. The present Arabic name of Egypt is Messr.
The Semitic Expansion in the Middle East
From their original land between the Euphrates and the Hiddekel, Semitic peoples began their expansion directed mainly southwards and westwards, conquering the "Fertile Crescent" and the whole Arabian Peninsula.
The first Semitic nation were the Akkadians, whose name is related to their original settlement, the city of Akkad, built near Babylon. Akkadians, led by Sharyukenu I (Sargon I), prevailed over the Sumerian state-cities and after unifying all the land of Shinar under their rule, extended their conquest campaigns northwards, settling the foundations of the great Semitic nation that will be known as Assyria. Akkadians went further and subdued Mari, Ebla and most of Canaanites, being the first kingdom extended from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.
The rivalry between Semites and Hamites was evident since the dawn of civilization, and Semites achieved always in overcoming and assimilating their foes: Akkadians drove Sumerians out of the historic scenery, as Arameans and Hebrews did with regards to Canaanites, and Sabeans to Kushites of Arabia. The Biblical report says in Bereshyit 10:8-12 that Nimrod (a Kushite) was the first mighty one on earth, and that he founded the first kingdom in Mesopotamia. But Ashshur took his place and settled the Semitic supremacy. Ashshur is very probably the same person as Sargon I, the founder of both Akkadian and Assyrian nations (that are the same people) on the remains of Nimrod's short-lasted kingdom, soon fragmented into state-cities. Ashshur was the son of Shem, and according to tradition, he executed Nimrod after his attempt to become a universal king; yet, Shem himself did not found any kingdom or state – he is the patriarch from whom Semites take their ethnic denomination.
Semites followed a policy of assimilation, and they mixed with the subdued peoples instead of keeping separate (even in the case of Avrahamites, who were commanded to not intermarry). This is what happened to most of Semitic peoples: Chaldeans mixed with Sumerians, Hebrews with Canaanites and Egyptians, Sabeans with Kushites. Some peoples like Ishmaelites were Semitic by culture and language, though by blood they were actually more Hamitic (see "Arabs").
Assyrians succeeded Akkadians as leading Semitic people, making of the whole Mesopotamia their homeland. Their first capital was Ashshur, built as all main Assyrian cities by the Hiddekel (while Lower Mesopotamian cities were closer to the Euphrates), that was transferred to Shubat-Enlil by king Shamsi-adad I, and subsequently to Nineveh, that remained the Assyrian capital until its destruction, except during the reign of Sargon II, that built Dur-Sharyukenu (Khorsabad) to be his capital, then returned to be Nineveh after his death.
Assyrians not only subdued Hamitic peoples, but also some Northern ones: their neighbours were Hurrites, ancient Armenians (Urartu-Tilgarimmu), Medes and barbaric peoples like Cimmerians (Gimirrai), Massageti (Meshketians) and Scythians.
The Hurrites, although related to Sumerians by origin, were an Indo-European civilization settled in a vast area from Anatolia and Southern Canaan to Media, including Ararat and part of Northern Mesopotamia. Their main cities were Haran, Gozan, Urkesh and Washukkana, capital of Hanigalbat. Their kingdoms were annihilated by Assyrians and since then Hurrites are no longer mentioned in the Middle East history – one of their tribes, the Aryana, left the Anatolia to conquer India.
Assyrians take the credit for having unified all the Middle East, connecting the Persian Gulf and the Caucasus with the Mediterranean area, building roads and enabling commercial development, and for their immense cultural contribution; Assyrian language (usually known as Aramaic) became international, even centuries after the end of Assyrian hegemony (it was the official language of the Persian Empire and of Israelites after the exile, still spoken today by Mizrachi Jews).
Assyrians created also the policy of deportation, followed and modified by succeeding empires. Notwithstanding, this Assyrian policy was not oppressive towards the exiled peoples, on the contrary, they were resettled elsewhere only to prevent insurrection, but usually with better life conditions than in their own land. While peoples were surrendered as vassals, they were over-taxed by their own kings, that had to pay tribute to the king of Assyria, while once they were part of the Assyrian nation they had the possibility of improving their own social, cultural, political and economic situation. In fact, most of exiled Israelites decided not to return back to Israel when they were allowed.
The term "Chaldean" (Kaldu in Akkadian, Kasdim in Hebrew) is of uncertain meaning. It usually refers to the Southern Assyrian tribe settled in Shinar and whose capital was Babylon, but it seems that such term applied to the whole people is not thoroughly correct, because in Babylonian documents the term "Chaldean" is applied only to a caste of astrologers and wizards, similar to the "Magi" in Persia. Such meaning is evident also in the Scriptures, in the Book of Daniel, chapters 2, 4 and 5, where repeatedly the Chaldeans are numbered as a category among the soothsayers, diviners, astrologers and sorcerers.
Nevertheless, the same word refers also to the whole people. It is probable that the Chaldeans were the result of intermarriage between Semites and the no longer existing Sumerians, and that their priestly caste, descending from Nimrod, were still ruling the Babylonian religious system.
The history of the ancient civilizations of Yemen is quite interesting and deserves the same attention paid to other cultures as Egyptians, Assyrians, Hebrews or Phoenicians. Even though these Yemenite peoples are much less known, they had magnificent kingdoms and an important maritime trading network.
The ancient Yemen concentrated different peoples and kingdoms in a relatively restricted area; the reason for such overpopulation was the incredibly fertile land they found after having crossed the wilderness of Arabia – in fact, Yemen was then known as "Arabia Felix" , the Happy Arabia, owing to the natural resources of that land.
The first inhabitants were of Kushitic stock and their history is almost unknown; they arrived from the Lower Mesopotamia and are mentioned above as pre-Semitic Sabeans, in the chapter "Kushites".
The Semitic peoples that took their place founded wealthy kingdoms in Yemen: Sheva, Ma'in, Awsan, Qataban, Hadhramawt and Himayar. The beginning of the establishment these kingdoms is uncertain, because the Sabean peoples did not keep history records for centuries, until they had relationships with Assyria. In fact, the first Sabean kings of whom we know their names were mentioned in Assyrian chronicles during the rule of Sargon II. Before that time, the only Sabean monarch of whom we have notice is the Queen of Sheva. It is known that in the early period Sabeans were ruled by queens, as it was the common characteristic of many other peoples related to Sabeans, including their Kushite predecessors, the Ethiopic Sabeans and also Semitic peoples of Arabia like some Midyanite tribes. The Queen of Sheva's name is unknown: Arabs call her Bilqis (Balqishah), Ethiopians (who assert she was not from Yemen but from Punt) call her Makeda. This is not so relevant as the fact that because of her a new ethnic element was added to the already complex Sabean mosaic: the Israelites. Yemen has been the first place where Israelites emigrated and settled voluntarily, not as consequence of deportation. The intense trading carried on by king Shlomoh in agreement with Sabean merchants (and the taxation he imposed on Israel) encouraged Israelites to open their own business in this newly allied nation, that was plenty of precious goods, gems, wood and frankincense. The influence of Hebrew culture in Yemen has been essential, so much that even some Sabean kings adopted Judaism. The first Sabean king mentioned by Assyrians was Yati'amar, a name found elsewhere only among Israelites (Ithamar). Also the name of the ancient port of 'Aden seems to be related to Eden, the Paradise, and might have been originally an Israelite settlement to control the commercial route to Ophir.
The following is a brief outline about the Yemenite kingdoms:
Sirwah in the early period, then transferred to Maryab
Hadzhar Nab, San'a
Qada' al Ta'izz
Years (Jewish / b.c.e.; c.e.)
until 2560 / 1200 b.c.e
Kushite tribes settle in Yemen
2560-3060 / 1200-700 b.c.e.
Minean hegemony - Queen of Sheva makes a trading agreement with Israel - Sabean states ruled by "Mukarribs"
3060-3650 / 700-110 b.c.e.
The Mukarribs replaced by kings - Two Sabean kings mentioned in Assyrian chronicles: Yati'amar and Kariba'ilu
3650-4060 / 110 b.c.e.- 300 c.e.
The Sabean kingdom becomes a kind of federation: the Kingdom of Sheva, Dhu-Raydan, Hadhramawt and Yamanat (Yemen)
4060-4285 / 300-525 c.e.
Hegemony of Himayar - great development of Jewish culture - king Dhu Nuwas adopts Judaism
4285-4330 / 525-570 c.e.
End of the Sabean independence; Ethiopians conquer the land with support of Byzantium.
Hebrews were originally an Akkadian family from Ur-Kasdim (probably Arrapkha, in the East of Assyria) that emigrated in successive stages to the Hurrites' land in Northern Mesopotamia, Canaan and Egypt. Their history is widely known through the Scriptures, nevertheless, there are some facts regarding this people that are still matter of discussion. See: Hebrews in Canaan, Israelite Tribes and Kingdoms and Israelites in Exile and the "Lost Tribes")
Distribution of the Semitic Peoples
Midyanites were a group of tribes that originally inhabited around Mount Sinai and the region along both shores of the Gulf of Eylat. Since ancient times they extended their influence in all Northern Arabia, from Syria to the Minean and Sabean borders, so that the term "Midyanite" was applied to many different tribes, including Ishmaelites.
The Midyanites, like Sabeans, did not have a single state, but a group of kingdoms, usually allied to each other. The five Midyanite kingdoms are mentioned in different sources: besides the Bible, they are reported in Assyrian and Minean chronicles, either separately or among other peoples of the area – often together with Ishmaelite tribes, as their territories were scattered irregularly within Ishmaelite settlements, as well as Ishmaelites owned some enclaves inside Midyanite lands, so that both terms became interchangeable to define either of both peoples.
Among Midyanites there were various kinds of peoples, some of them had fame as skilled warriors and plunderers, while others were peaceful travellers, merchants, knife-sharpeners, shepherds – these were known by different names like Qeynites, Ashurim, Letushim, Le'ummim, a kind of ancient Gypsies.
Midyanites shared with most peoples of Arabia the characteristic of having many queens among their rulers: three successive Assyrian kings (Tiglat-Pileser III, Sargon II and Sennakherib) mention seven Midyanite queens: Zabibi, Shamsi, Te'elkhinu, Yati'ah, Tabu'wa, Yapa'a and Bashi.
For more details see: "The Peoples List"
Arabs are the most recent Semitic people according to their appearance in history. In fact, it is not possible to speak about "Arabs" in ancient times, but only about their ancestors. The term Arab is also of uncertain meaning; when and by whom this people (or these peoples) began to be called Arabs is unknown. Indeed, the word "Arabia" is Greek, as well as Egypt, Phoenicia, etc. and its probable etymology may be of Semitic origin:
1) `arabah = steppe, wilderness;
2) `ereb = mixture of peoples.
Both terms are appropriate to them. Wherever Arabs have conquered, the lands became deserted; the Arabian Peninsula itself was not so dry, and Yemen had an irrigation network that allowed the land to be fruitful before Northern Arabs invaded and subdued the Sabean kingdom. Spain and Sicily were fertile lands in Roman times; they became dry during the Arab occupation. Only Eretz Yisrael recovered fertility after hard work done by Jews – the pieces of land still occupied by Arabs remain arid.
The second term is also suitable to define Arabs, as they are indeed a mixture of different peoples. Arabs themselves recognize to come from two patriarchs: Qahtan (Southern Arabs) and Adnan (Northern Arabs), to be identified with a Sabean and an Ishmaelite ancestor. The actual founders of the Arab nation according to tradition were Ishmaelites, who allegedly conquered the whole peninsula and assimilated all peoples dwelling there, transferring their character to their descendants. Ishmaelites (and Arabs in general) are considered as Semitic peoples, yet, this is an inexact concept: they are Semitic only by language and in a certain degree also by culture, but ethnically they are mainly Hamitic. Yishmael himself, their patriarch, was the son of an Egyptian woman, and his wife was Egyptian, too. This means that Ishmaelites were 75% Hamitic! They mixed with the peoples they subdued and assimilated their culture as well, yet, the Semitic peoples kept distinct from their Arab conquerors (for example, Jews and Assyrians, who never became Arabs), while the others did not. Sabeans themselves were a mixed Semitic and Hamitic people, therefore, they accepted Arab culture more easily.
It is important to notice that within the pre-Islamic peoples of Arabia women had a social status that now is them denied; it was also common for them to have queens instead of kings, and this is an evidence of how much Kushite those peoples were.
Today the definition "Arab" includes all North-African peoples – who are, of course, not Semitic at all. The only Arab people that can be properly considered Semitic are Syrians, where Ishmaelites intermarried with Arameans.
For more details see: "Myths, Hypotheses and Facts Concerning the Origin and Identity of the Arabs"
Hebrews in Canaan – the Israelite Tribes and Kingdoms
Hebrews are the people that owned the land of Canaan 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" (Canaanites), and in the southernmost strip, the Philistines and the "Sea Peoples".
Canaanites were both a people and an heterogeneous group of peoples that inhabited in the same territory; in fact, the Scriptures speak about Canaanites 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 Canaanite dialect of Aramaic that is what later will be called "Hebrew".
Among the inhabitants of Canaan 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, if any.
The people from whom the land (and those dwelling there) took its ancient name were the "Kana'ana" or "Kinahnu", as they called themselves, but are known to us by the name given them by the Greeks: Phoenicians (Phoinike, "the Purple People").
The Canaanites 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 Canaanites became voluntarily Israelites by accepting Torah and others joined up in the Israelite army. King Shlomoh engaged them for building the Temple in Jerusalem. When Assyrians and Babylonians overran Israel and Judah, Canaanites did no longer exist as a different people but were completely assimilated by Hebrews. Therefore, contemporary Jews are the only recognizable descendants of ancient Canaanites who owned the land of Canaan.
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 Canaanites, to both a people and a group of peoples that inhabited in the south of Canaan near the Mediterranean 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 "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 one 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 Canaanites.
Unlike Canaanites, 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 lineage 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 Canaan!). 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 as they claim 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 Upper 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 Canaan, where had friendly relationships with the Canaanite inhabitants even though intermarriage was not allowed.
In the first stage of their stay in Canaan, 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 "Hebrews".
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 Canaan.
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 Canaanite 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 RETURN FROM EGYPT TO CANAAN
Hebrews’ settlement in Canaan 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, not all of his twelve sons kept thid command. One of them, Judah, married a Canaanitess, sealing a definitive birthright with the land of Canaan; another 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 indeed thirteen.
When Israel's family dwelled in Egypt, they kept separate from Egyptians and intermarrying would have been very rare because both peoples were considered 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 same Israelites, it would not be surprising.
The Israelites were repatriated in Canaan 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.
of Ephrayim, he was leader of the whole people of Israel
Ephrayim, Yisaskar, Menasheh, Zevulun, Binyamin, Naphtali, and all Israel as Prophetess. Baraq (Naphtali) was the army leader.
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 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 ones in the eastern side.
The growing pressure exerted by Philistines caused Danites’ emigration; the whole Tribe moved to the northernmost border and took the Canaanite land of Leshem as new settlement. The former territory of Dan was then divided between Yehudah and Ephrayim.
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, 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 fact shows the 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, India and Africa. 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" after the name 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 Canaanite 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 of Israel, 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 worst one, having taken a complete Canaanite style in every aspect, including religion. It was the period when the Prophets Eliyahu and Elisha fought against the Israelite ruling family and appointed Yehu to be the king. Yehu annihilated the whole royal 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 Assyria. 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 later mixed with the few Israelites that remained in the land, and were 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 about 135 years more than those of Israel, 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 the inhabitants of Judah were sent to exile in Babylon, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and burnt in the 9th Av 3174. This was the end of the Kingdom of Judah.
See complete list of the kings at: The Kings of Judah and Israel
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 people of Judah. 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 people of Judah 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 people of Judah 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 separate areas, one in the western regions of Assyria and other in Media, while people of Judah 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 16th 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 IV and Sargon II and three times by Nebukhadnetzar – there was no difference for Persians if they were Israelites or people of Judah, or if they were scattered by Ninevites or by Babylonians; all of them were equally considered "Israelites". Notwithstanding, only a minority of the people returned to Eretz Yisrael, and both people of Judah and Northern Israelites freely moved to the main cities within the empire, having fluent contact with each other. Yet, only a handful of the Northern Tribes joined those of Judah in their return to the land. They were no longer identified with Jerusalem since centuries.
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 (as the people of Judah will be known from this period onwards) 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 "Mizrachim", 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 few of Israel who joined them) took advantage of favourable conditions to take residence in any great city and any town throughout the empire, which 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 decree signed by Kurush and confirmed by Dareyavesh–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.
WHAT ABOUT THE "LOST TRIBES"?
It is reasonable to consider the possibility that a large number 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 Israelites not belonging to Judah) 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 Israelites 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 which were called after his sons Menasheh and Ephrayim. The land of Canaan 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 1st Book of Chronicles that was written presumably by Ezra or a Chronicler contemporary to him 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 may have re-gathered with the 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 very scarce 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: Their ancestors 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 Hebrews 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 living 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, although both are places in Assyria and not so far away. Indeed, the Israelite 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 "Italkim" and "Romanyotim" from Italy and Greece; 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 last reference indicates the eastern boundaries of the Empire.
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 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 so-called "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 ever kept the Shabbath 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.
(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"