Israel's Lost Tribes
Scientists discover Jewish chromosome in Zimbabwe
According to the Bible, the Jewish leader Jacob had 12 sons. Each of these sons—Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zevulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin—became the father of a separate tribe. Known as the 12 Tribes of Israel, they settled on both sides of the Jordan River.
In 722 B.C., the Assyrians conquered Israel and ten tribes were exiled. They were "lost" to history. The tribes of Benjamin and Judah remained, maintaining Jerusalem as their capital. Most Jews are believed to be descended from these tribes.
What Became of the Lost Tribes?
Scholars have claimed to discover their descendants in North and South America, England, China, Japan, Burma, Africa, Arabia, Persia, Central Asia, and Siberia, among other places. Other writers assert they were never lost to begin with, that they returned to live with the tribes of Benjamin and Judah.
Despite the confusion, evidence linking certain isolated peoples to Judaism is strong:
Ethiopia: Some 65,000 Ethiopian Jews from different groups have moved to Israel since 1974. Israel's chief rabbis believe they are descended from the lost tribe of Dan. Others say they are descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Many Ethiopians were so isolated they thought all Jews were black. They did not know of the standardization of Jewish law, the Talmud, or Hanukkah.
Mexico: As reported in the Wall Street Journal, a tribe of Indians living 100 miles north of Mexico City claims to be descended from clandestine Jewish soldiers from Spain who arrived with Hernán Cortés in 1519. While the tribe did not follow many Jewish practices, they did possess an old Torah. They also maintained an "eternal lamp" burning with olive oil, as in Biblical times. Since their "rediscovery" thousands have been officially converted to Judaism, and learned Hebrew, while many have moved to Israel.