Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

Ziva Shavitsky, the Mystery of the Ten Lost Tribes: A Critical Survey of Historical and Archaeological Records Relating to the People of Israel in Exile in Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia Up to Ca

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

Ziva Shavitsky, the Mystery of the Ten Lost Tribes: A Critical Survey of Historical and Archaeological Records Relating to the People of Israel in Exile in Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia Up to Ca

Article excerpt

Ziva Shavitsky, The Mystery of the Ten Lost Tribes: A Critical Survey of Historical and Archaeological Records relating to the People of Israel in Exile in Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia up to ca. 300 BCE. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012. Pp. 238. ISBN 13: 9781443835022 ISBN: 1443835021 (hardback) [pounds sterling]UK39.99; $US59.99.

Queen Victoria would not have been amused. As the empress of a vast proportion of the world's population she is reported to have been deeply impressed by the belief that Britain was the home of the lost ten tribes. Proof of this divine intervention was provided by juggling independent Hebrew words to construct the word British and by the presence of a smattering of Phoenician place names near the ancient tin mines of Cornwall.

The Mystery of the Ten Lost Tribes by Dr Ziva Shavitsky is a far more practical and solidly based study of the records of the Ancient Near East. She demonstrates the truism that great ideas are simple and she shows that now the mystery can be solved with the benefit of textual study, logic and archaeology.

First, a word about the mystery. The "mystery" belongs to the northern kingdom of Israel whose inhabitants were conquered by the Assyrians in 723 BCE, one hundred and one years before the monotheistic reformation of King Josiah of Jerusalem. For centuries Judah and Israel had shared a common culture and mythology. People spoke Hebrew in both kingdoms. They had inherited the same foundation legends. They revered the same stories about their ancestors and the exploits of their tribal chiefs. They recalled the deeds of the kings Saul, David and Solomon. But, inevitably, geography shaped their differences. Judah and its capital Jerusalem was tucked away in the hill country on the edge of the desert while Israel contained the strategically significant land bridge through the Valley of Jezreel and the coastal plain. Israel was therefore more closely intertwined with her neighbours and their religious and cultural practices. When the Assyrians conquered Israel in 722/3 BCE its people had no covenantal code or law book that gave them a sense of destiny. Nevertheless, as Dr Shavitsky clearly proves, the lost tribes of Israel simply did not vanish. Their persistence is the subject of this book and it takes us on an impressive journey.

The author explains that each section of her book can be read in sequence or separately. The sources, in a wide variety of ancient languages, come from the Bible, the Apocrypha, and post-biblical Jewish writings, from Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian records and from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Appropriately, the exploration begins by examining the many biblical texts that deal with Judah and Israel and their contacts with the peoples and lands that lay beyond their own borders.

The Bible yields the first clues. The period from the 10th to the 8th century BCE was a turbulent one with close contact between Israel and the lands of Aram. During the brief reign of Pekah, the king of Israel was persuaded by Rezin, the king of Aram-Damascus to form a coalition, which Judah refused to join, in order to resist the growing strength of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III. In 732 BCE Damascus was destroyed and those inhabitants who survived were taken away in chains. It is suggested that among those captives were many people from Israel.

A comparison is made between the biblical evidence and material from Assyrian documents. As Dr Shavitsky writes "The separate pieces of evidence support one another" (p.26). The textual material cited is persuasive. Hosea wrote: "Israel is swallowed up. Now are they become among the nations as a vessel wherein is no value for they are gone up to Assyria. Like a wild ass alone by himself, Ephraim has hired lovers" (Hosea 8, 8-9). Amos thundered, "Therefore I will cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, said He whose name is the Lord, God of Hosts" (Amos 5; 27). …

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