Like numerous other columnists over the past month, Charles Krauthammer commemorated Israel’s 60th birthday by referring to its establishment as a “miraculous story of redemption and return.” But unlike every other article we have read on the same subject, Krauthammer correctly identifies the two tribes of Israel that returned to establish the Jewish state 60 years ago—Judah and Benjamin.
To introduce his piece, Krauthammer writes about a meeting between Meriwether Lewis and Dr. Benjamin Rush that took place shortly before Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis off on his famous expedition out west. Rush wanted Lewis to observe the religious practices of the Indians to see if there were any similarities with the Jewish religion. “Jefferson and Lewis,” Krauthammer wrote, “like many of their day and ours, were fascinated by the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, and thought they might be out there on the Great Plains.”
He’s right. A quick search through the New York Times archives reveals how much speculation there was during the 1800s about where the lost tribes migrated after their Assyrian captivity in the 8th century b.c. One headline from 1885 reads: “Afghans and Their Home—Are They Descendents of Israel’s Lost Tribes?” The Times wrote, “A very ingenious attempt to connect the Afghans with the 10 lost tribes of Israel was made by Sir G.H. Rose, in a pamphlet issued 30 odd years ago. The Old Testament was abundantly drawn upon to show that the tribes disappeared toward the east …” (April 19, 1885).
During the same time period, when several articles were written about the whereabouts of the lost 10 tribes, the New York Times also printed numerous articles in favor of the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Clearly, more people back then understood that the lost 10 tribes were not Jewish.
Today, most people carelessly assume that all Israelites are Jews. So kudos to Charles Krauthammer for pointing out that the people identified as Jews today come from only two of the original 12 tribes. The only problem with his interpretation of Israel’s history is his explanation of where the lost 10 tribes went. He wrote, “Their disappearance into the mists of history since their exile from Israel in 722 b.c. is no mystery. It is the norm, the rule for every ancient people defeated, destroyed, scattered and exiled.”
The Jewish nation, he says, is the one exception. They, like the brothers from the northern 10 tribes, were defeated, removed from their homeland and “destroyed” by the Babylonians in the sixth century b.c. Yet, 70 years after their destruction, Cyrus the Great allowed about approximately 50,000 Jews to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild Solomon’s Temple. Five centuries later, the Romans again besieged and destroyed the Jewish vassal state. According to first-century Jewish historian Josephus, Caesar instructed his general to utterly destroy Jerusalem, leaving it without inhabitant.
Yet, through two captivities, enslavements and scatterings—and despite being homeless for two millennia—the tribes of Benjamin and Judah had multiplied to about 18 million at the dawn of our modern era. Even after Adolf Hitler exterminated one third of the world’s Jewish population—in one of the worst crimes ever committed against a people in the history of human civilization—survivors of the Holocaust, backed by the United States and Britain, established the state of Israel in 1948.
Today, 60 years later, Israel is the most prosperous and powerful nation in the Middle East. That is a remarkable story of survival—no doubt about it.
What would be much more remarkable though—far-fetched, in fact—is if the other 10 tribes were systematically destroyed 2,700 years ago, resulting in their complete disappearance from the Earth.
Comparing the Numbers
When King David asked for his armies to be counted, he was told that there were 1.1 million Israelite men who were capable of bearing arms, compared to 470,000 in Judah. Counting women and children, one could conservatively estimate the total population to be around 3 million Israelites and 1.5 million Jews.
Ten generations after David’s reign, just before the northern 10 tribes went into captivity, one could safely assume that their population had grown and that Israel was still much larger than the southern nation of Judah.
With that in mind, isn’t it illogical to assume that the northern 10 tribes were destroyed or disappeared, while the much smaller nation of Judah survived three different captivities and mass exterminations to establish a Jewish state 60 years ago?
The Bible says that the Assyrians “removed Israel” out of God’s sight and carried them “away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day” (2 Kings 17:23). That biblical passage was recorded approximately 100 years after the Israelites were removed. There were still survivors, the author tells us—perhaps millions of them—dwelling in Assyria.
Where Did the Apostles Go?
Six hundred and fifty years after the author of Kings said Israelites had been uprooted from Israel and transplanted into Assyria, Jesus encountered a Canaanite woman on the coast of the Mediterranean who asked Him to have mercy on her possessed daughter, to which Christ responded, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). What an incredibly revealing response! The Israelites had become lost from world view during their captivity, largely because they rejected their identifying sign of Sabbath-keeping. They did not disappear. Neither were they destroyed, as Jesus plainly confirmed. Furthermore, Jesus actually said that His ministry was primarily aimed at those lost sheep!
Of course, that brief ministry was cut short when He was crucified to pay for the sins of mankind. Prior to His crucifixion, however, Jesus commissioned His 12 disciples to deliver the gospel to those same “lost” tribes of Israel. “Go not into the way of the Gentiles,” Christ told them, “but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). It was through the work of His faithful disciples that Jesus Christ’s God-given mission to reach the “lost sheep” of Israel was primarily fulfilled!
Have you ever wondered why, after Acts 11, most of the first-century Church history is about the Apostle Paul’s ministry to the Gentile peoples on the eastern and northern shores of the Mediterranean? Does it seem strange that most of the New Testament is composed of letters written by Paul, who was commissioned to reach the Gentiles?
What happened to the original 12 apostles? Where did they go? They went exactly where Christ told them to go—far beyond Paul’s territory, following the migration of the Assyrians and their Israelite captives, into northwestern Europe, where the Israelites had been lost from world view!
Krauthammer is right when he says that many, even to this day, are still fascinated with the subject of ancient Israel’s modern identity. What he didn’t say is that most of this fascination can be attributed to a book written by Herbert W. Armstrong—The United States and Britain in Prophecy—requested by more than 6 million people during the 20th century!
We offer this book, free of charge, to all who request it. •
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