The Fate of the Lost Tribes of Israel

After the breakup of the Davidic Kingdom following the death of King Solomon, the ten northern tribes split from the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. In 722 BC, the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom and dispersed its population; “In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and he carried them away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of Medes.” 2 Kings 17:6

Thus the ten Northern tribes disappeared from the Bible and also from history. The fate of the so-called ten Lost Tribes of Israel has been one of history’s enduring mysteries. Many groups have claimed descent from these lost tribes, but chances are that most of the ancient Israelites simply intermarried with and disappeared as a distinct people into the local populations.

The problem with solving this mystery has been tracking a particular people back through time has until recently been impossible, claims of descent had to be ‘proved’ through cultural practices or linguistics. Take for example the Pathans, who live in the Hindu Kush and who claim descent from Kish, a mythical ancestor of King Saul. Some Pathans also claim descent from the Lost Tribes. Their “proof” are some cultural practices, for example, the Pathans circumcision their male children on the eighth day after birth, they light candles on Friday nights and have some food taboos that are similar to Kosher food rules. Of course, circumcision and the food rules could be and are most likely related to Islam, not any Israelite ancestors.

Today DNA testing or mapping is letting historians, with the aid of geneticists,  trace human ancestry. DNA testing has led to some interesting discoveries. A 1996 study of the Lemba tribe in Africa suggested that more than half of the Lemba male Y chromosomes are Semitic in origin. An additional study conducted in 2000 showed specifically that a large number of Lemba men carry a particular Y chromosome haplotype known as the Cohen Modal Haplotype or CMH. The Cohen Modal Haplotype is a genetic marker closely, but not solely, associated with the Jewish priestly caste of the kohen, also called Cohen, kohanim or cohanim.

While this study may connect the Lemba with Semites and possible with Middle Eastern Jew, it cannot prove it absolutely. A genetic study cannot assert when the Lemba either broke off of the mainstream Semitic genetic stream, or possibly when the CMH might have been introduced into the Lemba male line. After all, the haplotype could have been introduced by interbreeding rather than by migration from ancient Israel. Certainly, this evidence is the strongest available to ‘solve’ the mystery of the lost tribes. It is beyond the ability of modern science to prove any descent of any group from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.


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