The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History

The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History

The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History

The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History


The legendary story of the ten lost tribes of Israel has resonated among both Jews and Christians down through the centuries: the compelling idea that some core group of humanity was "lost" and exiled to a secret place, perhaps someday to return triumphant. In this fascinating book, Zvi Ben-Dor Benite shows for the first time the extent to which the search for the lost tribes of Israel became, over two millennia, an engine for global exploration and a key mechanism for understanding the world.

As the book reveals, the quest for the missing tribes and the fervent belief that their restitution marked a necessary step toward global redemption have been threaded through countless historical moments--from the formation of the first "world" empires to the age of discovery, and from the spread of European imperialism to the rise of modern-day evangelical apocalypticism. Drawing on a wealth of sources and presenting a vast array of historical players--explorers, politicians, scientists, geographers, and theologians--the author traces the myth from its biblical formation up through the present day. We see how the lost tribes, long thought to lurk at the world's "edges," became a means for expanding those edges: as new oceans, islands, or continents were discovered, the ten tribes were used as an interpretive device that made the unknown seem known and the new, old. Thus, virtually every spot on earth, whether Argentina or Zululand, the American Southwest or Southeast Asia, has at some point been claimed as the true home of the missing peoples.

More than a historical survey of an enduring myth,The Ten Lost Tribesoffers a unique prism through which to view the many facets of encounters between cultures, the processes of colonization, and the growth of geographical knowledge.


Upon retiring from professional life, Avigdor Shahan, a prolific writer, historian, and educator, embarked on the greatest journey of his life: following in the footsteps of the ten lost tribes. the ensuing voyage culminated in a book, El ‘Ever ha-Sambatyon (Towards the Sambatyon), which is half a history of the tribes and half a travelogue for which Shahan had a deeply personal impetus. As he explains:

I was eight years old [in 1940] when our teacher at the
traditional Jewish school told us with trembling voice about
the exile of the ten tribes: Reuben, Shimon, Zebulun,
Yissachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Ephraim, and
Manasseh—by the kings of Assyria and their cruel soldiers.
He described the formidable river they crossed in their
wanderings, the Sambatyon; and the fearsome mountains of
darkness behind which they disappeared. He told us about
that great country where they live a life of freedom and liberty;
the commanders of their armies alert and ready, their swords
sparkling, and their legions ordered in columns behind their
banners and flags.

The young pupils, children of the Jewish quarter of Komarov, Romania, listened with “breathless anticipation.” Finally, one of them exclaimed, “Why don’t we send messengers to let them know about our misery?”

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