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The Exile of the Ten Lost Tribes

The Exile of the Ten Lost Tribes

The saga of the ten lost tribes of Israel—Part 1

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Photo: Y. M. Naama
Photo: Y. M. Naama

Background

It was in the waning days of King Solomon’s reign when G‑d sent the prophet, Achiyah of Shiloh, to rebuke Solomon and inform him that, due to his sins, G‑d would tear the kingdom away from him, but that, in the merit of King David his father, G‑d would tear it away only from King Solomon’s son, leaving him to rule over one tribe.1

Shortly thereafter, in the year 29642 from creation, King Solomon passed away, and the people of Israel gathered in the city of Shechem for the coronation of his son, Rehoboam. Having been burdened with heavy taxes during King Solomon’s reign, the people wished to know what Rehoboam’s policies would be. Taking the bad advice of his younger advisers, Rehoboam confronted the people with the statement:

My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpion-thorns.3

Hearing this, the people of Israel dispersed and set up their own kingdom in the northern part of Israel, with Jeroboam the son of Nevat as their king.

Jeroboam feared that if the Jews were allowed to go and bring offerings in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, their hearts might revert to being faithful to the king of Judea, and he, Jeroboam, would eventually be assassinated. He therefore set up idols at the two ends of his kingdom, one in Bethel and one in Dan, saying, “It is far for you to go up to Jerusalem; here are your gods, O Israel, who have brought you up from the land of Egypt.”4 Additionally, Jeroboam placed sentries and roadblocks on the roads leading to Jerusalem, in order to stop anyone attempting to go up to the Holy Temple. The roads leading to Jerusalem would remain blocked until they were removed by Hoshea, the last king of the northern kingdom.

Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin5 still recognized the dynasty of King David and his grandson, Rehoboam, under the kingdom of Judea.

The Northern Kingdom’s Demise

The people of the northern kingdom would continue in the sinful and idolatrous ways of their forbears throughout the generations. However, it was during the reign of King Jeroboam the son of Joash (Jeroboam II),6 the thirteenth king of the Northern Kingdom, that the Jews there reached new lows in their evil ways.

King Jeroboam II subdued the neighboring kingdom of Moab, captured parts of Syria, and made peace with the kingdom of Judea. The stable political situation resulted in economic prosperity. They cultivated friendly relations with the Phoenicians, who were the greatest merchants and seafarers of those days, and brought items of rare beauty and luxury into the Jewish kingdom. Unfortunately, the unusual prosperity brought a collapse of moral standards. The Jewish ideals (and commandments) of helping the poor and practicing justice and lovingkindness were ignored. It was an age of corruption. Hand in hand with this degeneration of morals was an increase in idolatry. People built many altars on mountains to serve the Canaanite gods, Baal and Astarte. The golden calves, idols which Jeroboam I had set up in the north and south of the country to turn the people away from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, were worshipped more than before, and the teachings of Judaism and the holy commandments were viewed with contempt.

G‑d sent the prophet Amos to admonish the Jews and warn them of their impending exile and the destruction of the house of Jeroboam7 if they did not repent and return to G‑d.8 Instead of heeding his warning, they became angry, and their leader, the false priest Amaziah, incited the people to harm Amos.

However, King Jeroboam, in an act of rare respect for the word of G‑d and his prophets, protected the prophet, and did not let harm befall him. It was in the merit of the respect showed to Amos that his reign lasted for 41 years, by far the longest reign of the Northern kings.9

After King Jeroboam II’s demise, the Northern Kingdom started to decline rapidly. A mere six months after his father’s death and his own coronation, King Zechariah was assassinated by Shallum the son of Jabesh.10 After this, almost all of the kings ruled and came to power through the sword. It is for this reason that the subsequent rulers are sometimes referred to as “usurpers” rather than kings.11

The Ten Tribes

In the year 3154, one hundred and ninety years after the two kingdoms had split, Menahem ben Gadi seized the throne by assassinating Shallum—who had ruled for a mere month—and became the sixteenth king of Israel. It was during his reign that the Assyrians invaded the land of Israel.12 King Menahem, a brutal monarch who at the slightest hint of rebellion would destroy entire cities, had to contend both with his rapidly decreasing popularity and with the Assyrian invasion. As such, rather than resist the invaders, he preferred to levy a heavy tax on his subjects in order to pay tribute to the Assyrians in exchange for a promise to support his rule.13

The weight of Assyria’s dominion over the land of Israel began to bear down more heavily. King Pekah seized the throne after assassinating King Pekahiah, Menahem’s son. Seeing that there was no escape from complete subjugation by Assyria, he joined the revolt which King Rezin of Syria had organized against Assyria, in the hope of enlisting Egypt in an effort to stem the tide of the Assyrian conquest.

After King Jotham (and later his son King Ahaz) of Judea refused to join the revolt against the Assyrians, Pekah and Rezin invaded Judea, killing scores of its inhabitants. King Achaz then appealed to King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria to come to his rescue. King Tiglath-Pileser jumped at the opportunity and marched into Syria, defeated King Rezin and annexed his land, making it one of Assyria’s provinces. He then turned against Israel and annexed part of the land, taking the tribes of Naphtali14 and Zebulun15 captive. Thus it was, in the year 3187, that the first of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom were exiled.16

That very same year, the Assyrian king organized a revolt against King Pekah under the leadership of Hoshea son of Elah, who assassinated the king and was then appointed as a vassal of Assyria.

It was in the year 3195, the eighth year of Hoshea’s service as a vassal to Assyria, that the Assyrians captured the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh,17 and exiled them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the Gozan River.18 taking with them the idol that King Jeroboam had set up in Bethel to replace the Holy Temple.19

Seeing this, Hoshea rebelled against the Assyrians and sent messengers to the king of Egypt for support. He then appointed himself as an independent king over the remnants of the northern kingdom.20 Additionally, he removed the blockade which had stood for hundreds of years on the road to Jerusalem, finally giving the Israelites the choice of either serving G‑d in the Holy Temple or continuing to practice idolatry.21 This is the meaning of what the verse describes with regards to Hoshea: “And he did what was evil in the eyes of the L‑rd, though not like the kings of Israel who had preceded him.”22 Nevertheless, although the sentries were removed, the Jews continued in their idolatrous ways and did not go up to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.23 When Shalmaneser, who had succeeded Tiglath-Pileser as king of Assyria, heard of Hoshea’s rebellion, he ravaged what was left of the land of Israel and laid siege to the capital city of Samaria. After three years, the city finally fell, and they razed the city to the ground, not even leaving any of its foundations standing.24 They then took all of its inhabitants, including the remaining inhabitants of the northern kingdom and their king, as captives.25

Thus it was in the year 3205, at the end of the reign of King Hoshea, the nineteenth king of the northern tribes—coinciding with the sixth year of the reign of King Hezekiah of Judea—that the northern kingdom fell and the rest of the ten tribes were exiled.

This article is one of the three-part series on the lost tribes of Israel. Please have a look at Are the Ten Lost Tribes Ever Coming Back? and Where Are the Ten Lost Tribes?

Footnotes
2.

All years quoted here are based on the traditional works Seder Olam and Seder Hadorot, unless otherwise specified. The year 2011 is equivalent to the year 5771 from creation; thus, 2964 from creation is equivalent to 797 BCE.

5.

I Kings 12:21. Although we find that the verse stated earlier that only one tribe would remain loyal to the house of King David (see I Kings 11:13 and 12:20), the tribe of Benjamin was considered part of Judah and secondary to it, since Jerusalem, the capital, was in the portions of both Judah and Benjamin, and so the ruler of Jerusalem ruled over both tribes (see commentary of Rabbi David Kimchi ibid.).

6.

Not to be confused with the previously mentioned Jeroboam son of Nevat, the first ruler of this kingdom.

9.

Tana D’vei Eliyahu Zuta 17; Talmud, Pesachim 87b.

11.

See Jerusalem Talmud, Horiot 3:2.

12.

According to some opinions, it was during his reign that the Assyrians, under the leadership of King Pul, captured the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, and exiled them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the Gozan River. See I Chronicles 5:26. See commentaries of Rabbi Elijah of Vilna and Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel (Malbim) ibid.

The Midrash (Lamentations Rabbah, Introduction 5) records a dispute as to which tribes were exiled first. Rabbi Elazar is of the opinion that the tribes of Reuben and Gad were exiled first, and Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman is of the opinion that the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were exiled first. This disagreement stems from the fact that the account in Kings (as opposed to the one in Chronicles) makes no mention of King Pul taking the tribes of Reuben and Gad captive.

Those who are of the opinion that the Rebunites and Gadites were exiled first are in keeping with the Midrash (Numbers Rabbah 22:7), which states that the tribes of Reuben and Gad were the first to be exiled, as punishment for not wanting to take a portion in the land of Israel proper, and instead settling on “the other side” of the Jordan River. In order to simplify matters, this article follows the opinion of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) in his commentaries on II Kings 17:1 and Isaiah 8:23, and the simple reading of Kings, which mentions first the exile of the tribe of Naphtali during the reign of King Pekah.

16.

See, however, footnote 9. According to another opinion, the tribes of Reuben and Gad were exiled earlier.

17.

I Chronicles 5:26. See also Rashi to II Kings 17:1 and Isaiah 8:23. The verse in Chronicles mentions both Kings Pul and Tillegath-Pilneser as having exiled the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. Some commentators (see Malbim to Chronicles ibid.) reconcile this discrepancy by explaining that King Pul exiled only part of those tribes; the rest of them were exiled at a later date.

18.

The identification of these locations will be discussed in a future installment in this series.

19.

See commentary of Rashi to II Kings 17:2, and Seder Olam Rabbah 2. The one that Jeroboam had placed in Dan was taken into exile earlier, with the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was a fulfillment of the prophesy in Hosea 10:5–6: “Because of the calves of Beth-aven, the neighbors in Samaria shall be frightened, for its people shall mourn over it, and its priests would rejoice over it, because of its glory, for it has been exiled from it. That too shall be carried off to Assyria, a gift to King Yareb; Ephraim shall take shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his counsel.”

20.

See commentary of Metzudat David to II Kings 17:1.

21.

Talmud, Taanit 30b–31a and Gittin 88a.

22.

Kings II 17:2.

23.

Our sages tell us that it was King Hoshea’s removal of the blockade that brought the final dismantling of the remainder of the northern kingdom. For as long as it was the king’s guards who prevented the Jews from going up to the Holy Temple, the Jews were held only partially responsible. However, once the guards were removed but the Jews nevertheless did not go to serve G‑d in His Holy Temple, the fate of the remnants of the northern kingdom was sealed. Thus the prophet Hosea says (Hosea 5:3): “I knew Ephraim, and Israel was not hidden from Me, for now you have committed harlotry, O Ephraim; Israel was defiled.” In other words, it is only now that their idolatry is compared to harlotry (see Talmud, Gittin 88a).

See also Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 4:7, and Tana D’vei Eliyahu Zuta 9:4, which explain that until now the blame and punishment was on the individual, namely the king, but now he had taken the blame off himself and placed it upon the public.

The sages thus say regarding one who starts a good deed but does not finish it, that he is held accountable for the lives of his family. For if King Hoshea would have just taken things a step further and removed the idols and compelled the Jews to go up to Jerusalem, this final exile could have been avoided.

25.

Subsequently, the Assyrians resettled the northern kingdom with foreigners. This was in keeping with the Assyrian policy of relocating their captives, in order to strengthen their hand and erase any strong feelings their subjects may have for the land. These new inhabitants are variously called Cutheans and Samaritans (see II Kings 17:24).

Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Jeff South Carolina, USA August 23, 2017

I'm a bit confused by the author's use of "Jews" in the text. He seems to refer to those in the Northern Kingdom as Jews. Ex. "...the thirteenth king of the Northern Kingdom, that the Jews there reached new lows in their evil ways." While there might have been some mixing of the tribes, it seems at the least inaccurate to refer to those outside the tribe of Judah as Jews. I can see that often the people of the Northern Kingdom are referred to as Ephraim (or Israel), taking the name of the predominant tribe in the area to represent them all. Is this what the author is doing? That would still impose a grouping together of both Northern and Southern kingdoms that didn't exists after Solomon. I am humbly open to correction on this. Reply

J Sak Bunharn July 9, 2017

Well, I think only souls know where they want to go. Reply

Anonymous October 8, 2014

I have been doing extensive studying and research on the ten lost tribes of Israel over the last 15 years and have concluded that I know of their whereabouts. I am writing a book on the subject. All the hidden knowledge is out there. Most people may not dig deep enough to really find the hidden treasure of knowledge. There is insurmountable evidences found in legends and documents and in ancient manuscripts also even found in the Bible. It is hidden in plain sight shall I say? People often overlook these truths not realizing how they could have missed it. Most likely because we are taught from our childhood to think a certain way and not question what is taught in our schools. Also as a hint...these tribes are so numerous a people that there is no way they can have lost their identities amongst us. When they return they will return In a grand way and we will most definitely know who they are! I plan to call my book "Hidden Treasures of Knowledge." Reply

Martin USA November 18, 2012

Lost tribes Assyrians would conquer other nations, bringing back peoples to Assyria to assimilate them and put Assyrians in the conquered lands. Most likely 10tribes are still in north Iraq better known today as Assyrian and Chaldaneans. In north Iraq there are many villages that all speak Aramaic, have Jewish names and look Jewish but are Christians not Muslims. Look up Nestorians, or the 10lost tribes. Reply

Jay Tompkins Fulton January 6, 2012

lost tribes Hello Bill:

You understand my point.

Jay Reply

Bill Hille cedar hill, Missouri January 4, 2012

lost tribes If you check the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica (google 1911encyclopedia) and read under ancient history of Ireland, you will read of the Tuatha de Dannan (tribe of Dan) who came in there. Also you will read in Judges 5:17 "why did Dan abide in ships? Asher continued on the seashore...". You will also find in the 1911 that a company of people came in to Ireland with pedigree from Noah and had the "sacred sword and spear". My best guess is the sword and spear were the ones David took from Goliath and got the sword back at Nob. And at Nob it was taken from behind the ephod! I Sam 21:9.
Bill Reply

Anonymous Toronto, Canada January 1, 2012

The Tribe Of Shimon Can you cite a source that states that Shimon was amongst the ten tribes?

Shimon was not in the North and was scattered througout Yehuda, so I don't see where they could be included in this count.

Todah Reply

David Portland December 29, 2011

replies to Yehuda & Merene "its really two and a half tribes which were left"
--- How can you describe the Levis and kohanim as a half-tribe anymore than a Jew can be described as a half-Jew?


"If we could say where they are living now, they wouldn't be lost, would they?"
--- That is a very funny rhetorical question. Reply

Nina Rogers December 29, 2011

Right Merene, groups that large can't be "lost", can they? A better definition would be that they were absorbed in different cultures and lost their national identity. They currently live happily under assumed national names and but are still the rightful inheritors of the birthright and blessings of Abraham. And, still loved by the One who made covenant with them.

This is similar to Jaycee Duggard who was abducted in 1991, imprisoned in the home of a pedophile for 18 years, and bore 2 of his children. After her rescue, she described him as a "great person" who was "good with her kids". She revealed that she built an emotional bond with him. Classic Stockholm Syndrome.

Even though Jaycee and the Northern 10 Tribes identified and bonded with their captors, aren't they still entitled to legal inheritances? Reply

Jay Tompkins Fulton, MO December 28, 2011

Where are the ten tribes today? Where are the ten tribes located today? In Judaism these are the tribes that are not missing, as I understand; Judah, Levi and Benjamin, leaving nine tribes. However, Levi was to be dispersed amongst the twelve tribes, leaving eight missing tribes, although this is not clear to me. If Dinah is included, then thare are nine tribes missing. The only way to show 10 tribes are missing is to exclude Dinah and say the two sons of Joseph are two missing tribes. Therefore the missing tribes are:

Reuben
Simeon
Zebulon
Issacar
Dan
Naphtali
Asher
Gad
Ephraim
Manasseh

The total is ten.

Throughout my reading of the Torah, there are differences in regards to Ephraim, Manasseh, Joseph and Levi.

My knowledge is that Levi and Simeon would be dispursed amoungst the twelve tribes. Who then are the lost ten tribes?

Jay Tompkins Reply

israel korn dover heights, australia December 28, 2011

Ten tribes The tribe of Shimon was to the south Of Yehuda and Binyamin. Thus why is this tribe counted among the exiled tribes from the north of Yehuda and Benyamin? Reply

merene Willard, Utah December 28, 2011

Answer to where If we could say where they are living now, they wouldn't be lost, would they? Reply

Nina Rogers , AR December 8, 2011

Covenant People All 12 tribes were present at the mountain when the law was given from on Shavuot. All 12 pledged obedience and accepted the birthrights and blessings handed down from Abraham.

Where ever the descendants of the 10 tribes have settled, whatever their collective nationalities are now, aren't they still bound by covenant? Didn't birthright/blessing follow them even into exile?

Even though the Hebrews resettled and have forgotten their heritage, aren't they still obliged to keep covenant? Pleading ignorance of the law is not excusable in courts of any country, nor in Heaven, I would think. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin (Author) December 7, 2011

Re: status of Kohen The tribe of Levi did not have their own portion of land and were dispersed throughout the land of Israel. Therefore, a portion of the tribe of Levi (which includes both Levites and kohanim) lived in the northern kingdom and a portion lived in Judea.

Its called Ten tribes since the tribe of Joseph is split into two, Ephraim and Manasseh. Additionally, its really two and a half tribes which were left.

For more on who was left, see the subsequent articles in the series. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin (Author) December 7, 2011

Re: part 2 The question as to where did the Ten tribes go, and whether they are ever coming back, will be discussed in the subsequent articles due to be published in the coming weeks. Reply

Henk Urk, Holland December 7, 2011

ten tribes interesting.
I hope , you can tell us also about the 10 tribes now on this moment. Where are they living now ?

Thanks Reply

Anonymous Rogers, ar December 7, 2011

Where they go? That was a great number of covenant people. Where did they settle? Where are they today? Reply

David Portland December 6, 2011

status of Kohen What was the status of the Kohen during this time? I thought the Kohen were in the Southern Kingdom along with the tribe of Judea. If ten tribes in the north were exiled leaving Judea and Benjamin in the south therefore wouldn't the Kohen be one of those in the north according to this piece? Reply

Yitschak Ariel Mark Kartashev Vancouver, WA December 5, 2011

part 2 Yo, where be part two at? Reply

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