Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Celtic-Israelite Commonalities


copyright (c) 2007 by Mr. Yaacov Levi

Excerpt: "Being both Irish and Jewish, I grew up familiar with customs and cultures of both Peoples, Irish and Jews, only in later years becoming aware that they had quite different cultures and greatly varying cultural characteristics. Yet growing up with both cultures, I had noticed similarities even on a casual basis. Over the years I began to see more of this similarity and in recent years I began to collect this data into what I term an Overview which I am still assembling. It is this Overview in differing areas of life that I will discuss here".

YERUSHALIYIM, Israelite Tribal Territories of Judah and Benjamin, Kingdom of David and Solomon, United Israelite Kingdom of Judah and Joseph, Twenty Fifth Day, Eleventh Month ("Shvat"), 5767; Yom Shlishi (Third Day of the Week/"Tues"-day, February 13, 2007), Root & Branch Information Services [mailto:rb@rb.org.il] [www.rb.org.il]:

To those interested in the history of the Celtic Peoples and their modern descendants in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Brittany and Cornwall and their descendants around the world, a subject often raised is possible connections with ancient Israelites, in particular the Lost Tribes of Israel.

The purpose of this article is not to confirm Celtic connections with the Lost Tribes of Israel, but to discuss some of the many common characteristics of modern Celtic Peoples and ancient Israelites. These characteristics I call "commonalities". I am not attempting in this short essay to establish connections which have been addressed in many other volumes. I will point out and discuss a few of the commonalities between these Peoples.

Lost Tribes of the House of Israel

The Peoples we refer to as the Lost Tribes were part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, conquered by the Assyrians around 740-720 B.C.E. and exiled to areas in Assyria and to the north. This story is told in the Bible in the Second Book of Kings, Chapters 17 and 18. About the same time a contingent from the Kingdom of Judah was also exiled to northern lands. It is these Peoples and their immediate descendants who are also variously referred to as the Lost Tribes, and the subject of many works and studies.

Being both Irish and Jewish, I grew up familiar with customs and cultures of both Peoples, Irish and Jews, only in later years becoming aware that they had quite different cultures and greatly varying cultural characteristics. Yet growing up with both cultures, I had noticed similarities even on a casual basis. Over the years I began to notice more and more similarities and in recent years I began to collect this data into what I term an Overview which I am still assembling. It is this Overview in differing areas of life that I will discuss here.

There are a number of areas that I have been looking at which include: Language, agriculture, religion and taboos, burial practices, music and folk dancing, the traditions and self determinations and self-identification of the Celts and other areas as they arise. I will point out a few items in each category and note that these are just a few of a great many commonalities. I mention them as examples.

Language is one of the subjects that led to my overall interest in the topic as early on I noticed similarities. Considering the long period of time from the expulsion of the Israelites until today, it would seem likely that there should be little, if any, common letters, words or structures. This is not the case. There is much in common.

Gaelic is a member of the Celtic group of the Indo-European family of languages that includes Russian, English, German, Spanish, French, Hindi and Italian. The Celtic group has been confined to the British Isles, part of the French coast and a tiny enclave in Spain.

Linguistic Similarities

The Celtic language group is divided into two divisions which has three languages in each division. Each division makes up its own unique language. The two branches are:

The BRYTHONIC branch which is made up of the Welsh, Breton and Cornish languages.

The GOIDELIC branch with the Irish, Scots and Manx Gaelic languages.

The Breton and Cornish languages are seeing some resurgence after near extinction. The Irish, Scots and Welsh languages are holding their own at this time. Manx is an ancient form of Irish and is considered to be the oldest and purest Irish Gaelic in existence.

Manx is very close to the extinct dialects of nearby Ulster and Galloway. It separated from Old Irish around the Fifth Century B.C.E. Manx occupies much the same relation to Old Irish as Icelandic does to Old Norse. For the purpose of my study I have chosen to concentrate on Manx and Scots Gaelic. I am sure though that an in-depth study of Welsh or other Gaelic languages would provide much food for thought on this issue.

The Gaelic alphabet as well as the ordinal numbers show more commonality with Hebrew than might be expected after 2,700 years of divergence. For example, we have a Hebrew "s" retained in the modern Gaelic. The Hebrew Sheen, pronounced "Sh" is found in the Irish "s" as in the name Sean, pronounced Shawn. Other letters are also similar. The ordinal numbers 6 & 7 are pronounced almost the same in Hebrew and Gaelic.

Words with same or similar meanings abound. For example, the Hebrew word for "holy" in common usage according to Halacha (Jewish law) is Kasher. The word in Manx Gaelic for "hallowed" or "holy" is Casherick. The syntax of Gaelic is entirely different from any other European language, especially English. R.L. Thompson, in his work "Outline of Manx Literature and Language" says that "in several respects Gaelic syntax has similarities with that of languages like Hebrew and Arabic".

As in Hebrew, adjectives follow the noun that they describe. For example, "ben vie" = "a good woman in Gaelic. "Rosh ketan" = "small head" or "stupid" in Hebrew. ("Vie" or "ketan" being the adjectives). Word order is also similar in Hebrew in that the verb usually comes first in the sentence, unlike English or many other European languages. These are just a very few of the many commonalities that I believe suggest a definite connection between the two languages and their family streams. This alone should be a subject for a major comparative study.

Commonalities in Ethnic Customs

One of the first areas in which I noticed similarities was in customs, notably folk dancing; and, later, musical instruments. The Hebrew Hora and other old traditional dances are paralleled in many Gaelic folk dances, especially the wedding dance of the Gaels which is very similar to the traditional Ashkenazi wedding dances of Europe.

Musical instruments of the Gaels are found in the Israelite tradition, notably the harp in both Celtic tales and certainly Hebrew tradition as the favoured instrument of the psalmist David (please see the article "The Harp of David and the Harp of Ireland" by John Wheeler in the August-October, 2006 issue of "Origins of Nations").

One of the most intriguing discoveries was that the Irish and Scots pipes with which we are all familiar have their origins in the desert flute played daily throughout the Middle East. The flute of desert shepherds is identifiable in the "chanter" of the Irish and Scots pipes.

Amazing Religious Parallels

The ancient religion of the Celtic Peoples prior to Christianity was generally believed to be Druidism, of which little is known. That which we do know indicates many similarities to Canaanite religions that the Northern Israelite Tribes turned to after they separated from the Kingdom of David and Solomon after Solomon's death. Like the pagans of Canaan, the sacred places of the Northern Israelite Tribes became high hilltops and sacred groves, notably oaks.

Archeology shows many similarities between Northern Israelite Kingdom ritual sites and Druidic sites in the Isles. Additionally, the burial practices of both the Peoples of the Northern Israelite Kingdom and the Celts show much similarity in the presence of Dolmens -- large slabs of stone placed horizontally across upright stones with the graves under them. These are found in areas of Europe through which Celtic Peoples passed and are found also in areas of present day Jordan and Israel where Northern Israelite Tribes dwelt.

After the Roman invasion of the Isles, white cattle were introduced and later used. Until that time red was the preferred color. One of the most famous wars in Irish history was over a Red Bull stolen by a northern Irish tribe. Swine were not raised in early Celtic areas until after they were introduced by the Romans. The Celts had a taboo against eating swine and also against eating scaleless fish such as eels and shellfish. Celts, like the Israelites, were excellent herdsmen and developed identifiable breeds of sheep, cattle and horses, which carried on Israelite traditions.

Other Proofs

Perhaps one of the most telling commonalities is simply the self-identification as Israelites of Hibernians -- name of the Irish, Scots and Hebrides Islands off the coast of Scotland. Milesians, one of the early Celtic Peoples to come to Ireland from Spain, had a tradition that they were of the Lost Tribes of Israel. The name "Heber", "Eber", or "H'berian" is found throughout early literature to describe the Celts as they described themselves to be "Of Eber", grandfather of Abraham.

What I have presented here in greatly abbreviated form just skims the surface of the commonalities between the Celts and Israelites. There is a tremendous amount of information available for those who would like to learn more. A few resources are listed below. This is one of those subjects about which at first one may say "Oh, that is an interesting coincidence".

The sheer mass of such "coincidences" that accumulate after one studies the subject should raise eyebrows. The fact that so much of the languages are similar almost three thousand years later, that customs are clearly identifiable as being related, that religious practices are uniquely similar and that the everyday agricultural practices and crops were similar all along, together with many other commonalities, suggest possible common origin.

For those interested in studying this subject further I wish you well and much enjoyment.

Suggested information sources:

Manx Gaelic Society, Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh, St Judes, Isle of Man IM7 2EW United Kingdom
Gaelic Books Council, Department of Celtic, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, Scotland
Chadwick, N. (1965) "Celtic Britain", London
Chadwick, N. (1970) "The Celts", United Kingdom
Rankin, H. (1987) "Celts and the Classical World", London
Squire, C. (1905) "Celtic Myth and Legend, Poetry and Romance", London
Squire, C. (1909) "The Mythology of Ancient Britain and Ireland", London

Shalom from the Jewish Pioneering Community of Itamar,

Mr. Yaacov Levi

About Yaacov Levi:

Yaacov Levi served with the United States armed forces in Vietnam, in an armored cavalry unit and as a recon leader. During the Yom Kippur War in October, 1973, Mr. Levi served as a volunteer with the Israel Defense Forces. He has served as a K9 officer and trainer, worked in U.S. Law Enforcement, and several years ago was training security dogs in the Jewish Pioneering Communities of Tapuach and Itamar.

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