Who Are the Northern
Ten Tribes of Israel Today?
By Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1990
The first essential point that must be recognized if one hopes to understand the truth about the Northern Ten Tribes is that they were never "lost" to the Jews of Palestine in a geographical sense. While all people on earth (whether Israelites or Gentiles) have been spiritually "lost" until the sacrifice of Christ for their sins (Matthew 10:6; Romans 5:12), all the twelve tribes of Israel were very much in evidence to the people of Jerusalem in the first century. One of the most erroneous teachings being disseminated today is that the Northern Ten Tribes of Israel left the region of Assyria where they were taken captive in the eighth and seventh centuries before Christ and that they wandered into northwestern Europe and into the British Isles (where they became "lost" to the people of Jerusalem) and they established their roots in Europe as Celts, Angles, Saxons, Danes, etc.
It is believed in some quarters that these Northern Ten Tribes divorced themselves from Palestine and gave up their observance of the Sabbath and Mosaic holydays and that they became virtual pagans in belief (as were the ancient Celts, Angles, Saxons, etc.). Only in the last 200 years, it is believed, have these people supposedly regained their real "Israel identity" through the political exaltation of Great Britain and the United States (along with other northwestern European powers). This belief, however, is sheer nonsense.
Indeed, I myself as a young man without much biblical or historical training used to believe this fiction described above. I even joined a denomination called the Worldwide Church of God because the leader was teaching what I believed in the previous two years to be the "truth." Only when I became Dean of Faculty at their college in England did I devote extensive time in various libraries and studying the historical and archaeological reports of the important geographical sites in northwestern Europe did I come to see the fallacy of such teaching.
As a matter of fact, I had my historical staff in England check virtually every historical record of the ancient peoples of northwestern Europe to find out what they really recorded and I was amazed how reckless and even dishonest some of the adherents to the theory had become in their chronological and historical conclusions. Whole sections of the records were either ignored or some sections were transplanted to different chronological periods to make them agree with the theory that the Celts, Angles, Saxons and Danes were descendants of the Northern Ten Tribes of Israel.
The simple truth is, the Northern Ten Tribes of Israel were never actually lost sight of by the Jews or with the other Israelite tribal remnants who remained in Palestine. The Bible and history make this abundantly plain. It is time to give up the teaching that the Celts, Angles, Saxons and Scandinavian peoples are the literal descendants of those Northern Ten Tribes.
The New Testament itself shows that all twelve tribes of Israel were well-known to Christ and the apostles in the first century. In no way does it indicate that the peoples of northern and northwestern Europe (then in the practice of utter heathenism) were the descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel. Let us start with the writings of James, the son of Joseph and Mary who was born after the birth of Christ. James knew exactly where the members of the twelve tribes of Israel were in the first century and he addressed his letter to them. "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, greeting" (James 1:1).
The contents of James' letter tells us much about these twelves tribes of Israel. Instead of being wild and barbarous heathen tribes of Celts and Germanic peoples which history shows were in absolute heathenism at the time, these twelve tribes of James were attending synagogues (and synagogue services were conducted on the seventh day Sabbath) (James 2:2 -the word "assembly" in the King James Version is actually "synagogue," the official meeting place that Jews attended throughout the world and the KJV should have translated it that way).
Since James knew that all twelve tribes attended synagogues each Sabbath, it is no wonder they knew that Abraham was their father (James 2:21). They were well aware of "the perfect law of liberty" (the Mosaic law) (James 1:25) and James reminded them of what the Ten Commandments stated (James 2:8-12) They all knew the story of Rahab the harlot which is only found in the Old Testament (James 2:25); they knew of the story of Elijah (James 5:17); they knew what had happened to the patriarch Job (James 5:11); they were familiar with all of the Psalms of the Old Testament (James 5:13); they knew what the technical Hebrew term "Lord of Sabaoth" meant (James 5:4); and they were completely knowledgeable of all the teachings of the Old Testament prophets (James 5:10). Indeed, so familiar were these twelve tribes with "the scripture" (that is, the Old Testament) that James simply referred to the Holy Scripture as authority without once having to define it to those twelve tribes who were scattered away from Jerusalem (James 2:8). In fact, many of them had become "teachers" (the KJV has "masters") in matters concerning the scriptures (James 3:1).
Besides these things, James tells us that the majority of them were in types of business activities in which they traveled extensively from city to city (James 4:13). Their primary residences, however, were in regions that allowed James to use spiritual illustrations concerning fig and olive trees with which they were well familiar (that is, these people of the twelve tribes of Israel lived primarily within a Mediterranean environment -- not in the cold and inhospitable areas of Northern Europe that knew nothing of the fig or olive) (James 3:12).
In a word, James (who lived in the city of Jerusalem) knew where the twelve tribes of Israel were located in the first century and his letter to them shows they themselves were in constant touch with Jerusalem and the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. The apostle Paul was also quite knowledgeable of their whereabouts. When Paul was being tried in judgment before Festus and King Agrippa, he stated that he had lived the life of a strict Pharisee. "And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come" (Acts 26:6,7).
Now tell me, which of the peoples who made up the Celts, Angles, Saxons or Danes in the first century were praying for the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and doing so intensely--"day and night")? Why, our European ancestors were in utter heathenism during the first century without the slightest knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. In no way were they petitioning fervently for the fulfillment of the promises made to the patriarchs of Israel.
In actual fact, the apostle Paul told the Romans that the Israelites of his time (instead of being pagans) had a definite "zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." Here is Paul's appraisal of Israel:
"For I bear them record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law; that the man which doeth those things shall live by them."
As clear as Paul could make it, he stated that "Israel" (all Israel -that is, representatives of all twelve tribes) were in the first century trying to establish their own righteousness by obedience to the Law of Moses. All of Romans chapters nine, ten and eleven concerns this very matter of Israel's attachment to the Law of Moses for their salvation. In no way does this describe the heathen sun-god worshippers of the Druids or those who adhered to the Germanic nature religions which dominated the theological thinking of the Celts and the various Germanic tribes (which finally became the Angles, Saxons, Danes that we know today).
The fact is, both the apostle Paul and James (head of the Jerusalem ekklesia) were well aware where the peoples of the Northern Ten Tribes of Israel were then located in a geographical sense. They were then living north and east of Jerusalem. We have the precise statements of Josephus (the Jewish priest and historian of the first century) that the Northern Ten Tribes were in no way "lost." "There are two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while until now there have been ten tribes beyond the Euphrates who number into the countless myriads whose number cannot be ascertained" (Antiquities XI. 133).
Those Ten Tribes of Israel on the other side of the Euphrates were mentioned by the prophet Ezekiel about 150 years after their captivity by the Assyrians. Much of the prophecies about Jerusalem and the Land of Palestine were directed to these Ten Tribes of the House of Israel. God told Ezekiel: "Get thee unto the House of Israel, and speak my words unto them. For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech [they spoke perfectly good Hebrew] and of an hard language, but to the House of Israel; not to many people of a strange [foreign] speech and of an hard language, whose words thou can not understand" (Ezekiel 3:4-6). These people of the House of Israel were well acquainted with the Sabbath, the holydays and the judgments and statutes of Moses (Ezekiel 20) and throughout the Book of Ezekiel he shows these Ten Tribes were very much interested in Jerusalem and what was happening in Palestine. These tribes were not "lost" in a geographical sense.
Even from the period before their exodus from Egypt, there was a distinction made between the descendants of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh -and the tribes associated with them) and the descendants of Judah (and the tribes associated with them). Jacob had prophesied that Ephraim would become the leader of the Joseph tribes and become "a multitude of nations" (Genesis 48:19). This occurred when the land of Palestine was finally settled by the Israelites and Ephraim became the principal tribe of leadership among the other tribes in northern Israel.
Each of the tribes of Israel during the chaotic period of the Judges had become a semi-independent "nation" on its own, with everyone doing what he considered right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25). But even at this time when Israel was (for all practical purposes) twelve independent tribal nations, Ephraim claimed overall rule among them and demanded to be consulted on all decisions concerning political affairs for Israel (Judges 12).
Indeed, when those in the Northern Ten Tribes broke away from Judah after the death of Solomon, the Ten Tribes (which formerly were recognized as separate national entities in the time of the Judges) then became officially known as Ephraim. There are 24 references to the Ten Tribes being called Ephraim in Hosea alone. was to fulfill the prophecy of Jacob that Ephraim would finally become the ruler of "a multitude of nations" (Genesis 48:19). This is when the Ten Tribes (who were once tribal nationalities) became a single commonwealth of nations under the control of Ephraim. Their national existence continued for about 250 years -until the time that they were carried captive beyond the Euphrates River by the Assyrians. In fact, a number of northern Israelites fled to the Kingdom of Judah when they saw the Assyrians beginning to invade their country (II Chronicles 34:9; 35:17,18) and they joined with the Jews of Judah -- even returning with them to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity (I Chronicles 9:2,3; Luke 2:36). All these remnants of the Ten Tribes who joined with Judah in Jerusalem (including Benjamin and Levi) were known as "Jews" from this time onward (e.g. Acts 21:39).
One of the primary prophetic teachings concerning the fate of the Northern Ten Tribes of Israel is the fact that they would become "wanderers among the nations" (Hosea 9:17). Amos said the same thing. "For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth" (Amos 9:9).
Now note this point carefully. The Celts, Angles, Saxons and Danes have never been "wanderers among the nations" (the Gentile nations of the earth), nor have they been "sifted in a sieve among all nations" (that is, among all Gentile nations). Indeed, the Celts, Angles, Saxons and Danes have been peoples who have in the main steadfastly developed their national existences in their own territories (with stable and politically secure countries). They have even reached out to control other peoples of the world in a colonial and imperial manner. In no way could such people (throughout all their history) be called "wanderers among the nations" or those who have been "sifted in a sieve among all nations." With these people in particular, just the opposite has been the case.
As for the Ten Tribes, Hosea said: "the Israelites shall live many a day long without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without image or household gods: but after that they will again seek the Lord their God and David their king, and turn anxiously to the Lord for his bounty in days to come" (Hosea 3:4,5 NEB).
The truth is, the Ten Tribes were sent into captivity by the Assyrians because they had been setting up kings of their own (Hosea 8:4); were sacrificing to heathen deities (Hosea 4:19); were worshipping before sacred pillars of the heathen (ancient stones which were basically phallic symbols) (Hosea 4:17); were using ephods in fortune telling (seeking after familiar spirits and wizards that peep -- Isaiah 8:19), and they were consulting the household gods of the heathen. God promised through Hosea that all this pagan nonsense practiced by the Northern Ten Tribes of Israel would cease among them until they would finally return to Palestine and to the Lord their God and to David their king.
This prophecy of Hosea has been fulfilled over the centuries and is being fulfilled to this very day. Since their captivity they have ceased from doing such things. You will not find in any synagogue of these Israelites outright and blatant pagan phallic symbols, fortune tellers, images or household gods of the heathen. But among our Celts, Angles, Saxons and Scandinavian ancestors, they utilized all these pagan artifacts in great profusion. Not only have our ancestors had a plethora of kings over the centuries, we even bury some of them in our prestigious churches to honor their reigns. And look at this. To this very day (and even though our people claim to be Christian) we find steeples on our churches (which are remnants of pagan phallic worship), We have rose windows that resemble the symbolic shape of the sun god Baal along with scores of other pagan symbols in our churches. Even among Protestants who claim to get their doctrines and religious practices only from the Bible, we have books that children use for Sunday School (or Sabbath School) with pictures of a long-haired "Jesus" that any ancient pagan would say was nothing more than Serapis, the Egyptian form of Zeus, the chief pagan god of the heathen world. Many churches are filled with icons, idols and pictures of this same long-haired "Jesus." In no way did the real Jesus have long hair, nor does he or God the Father groom themselves with long hair now (I Corinthians 11:3-16) like the evil spirits from the bottomless pit (Revelation 9:8). Why, the apostles would blush at the sight of such paganism being practiced in our churches today.
But this is not what Hosea prophesied would happen to the Northern Ten Tribes of Israel. He stated dogmatically that they would remain a long time away from the idolatry that led them into captivity. And look at it. You see no steeples ("sacred pillars" or phallic symbols) on their synagogues and they abhor the placement of idolatrous images in their places of worship. And, as for the Gentile races of Europe being equated with the Ten Tribes of Israel, that did not happen until interpreters in the last century misapplied what they thought were chronological prophecies of the Bible that supposedly made the exile period of Israel terminate about A.D. 1803. There are no such prophecies in the Bible.
The prophet Amos provided a major prophecy concerning the Northern Ten Tribes of Israel that has been overlooked by prophetic interpreters who have been trying to make the Celts, Angles, Saxons, Danes, etc. to be the "lost" Ten Tribes of Israel. Amos said: "I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not ONE GRAIN fall upon the earth" (Amos 9:9 Hebrew). It means that not one grain shall fall on the earth to germinate and to take root in the countries to which they will wander. While the prophecies show that many of these Israelites will live and die in the countries of their exile, the majority will never decide to give up their Israelite customs, to take root in those countries and remain there forever.
What Amos shows is that those Israelites who would wander among the nations will still call the Land of Palestine their home -and they will always want to go back to it! Their hearts -that is, their roots -will always be in Palestine, and that is where they will want to return. God will indeed "sow the seeds of Israel" (and they will take root), but only in the Land of Palestine (Jeremiah 31:27-34; Hosea 2:23).
And though God would "sow them [Israel] among the nations [the Gentiles]" (Zechariah 10:9), it is prophesied that they will never take permanent root in those countries. They will always yearn to return one day to the Land of Palestine. The diaspora of Israel [which means sowing through the nations"] will yearn to return home -to where their "roots" really are. Note how Zechariah puts it. "And I will sow them among the nations: yet they shall remember me in far countries, and they shall live with their children, and turn again" (Zechariah 10:9).
What does Zechariah mean by "turn again"? He means they will return again to the Land of Palestine. In the next verse he says: "I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them from Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon; and place shall not be found for them" (Zechariah 10:10). In other words, they are going to be brought back to the land of their forefathers.
The Northern Ten Tribes are going to return by the swarms to the place of their "roots." The immigration to Palestine from the lands of their wanderings will increase to such an extent that it will be difficult to find a place to put them in the land of their forefathers (Zechariah 10:10). And note this. This immigration will come principally from the north. It will result in a union of the House of Israel with the House of Judah (thereby bridging the gap of separation that has existed since the time of Solomon's death). Jeremiah stated: "In those days the House of Judah shall walk with the House of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers" (Jeremiah 3:18). And it is important to realize that the context of Jeremiah shows that this return of Israel and Judah to their homeland will occur before Christ "marries" them in a New Covenant relationship.
It is interesting that during this very year (1990) many thousands of Israelites are coming out of the land of the north (from the Soviet Union in particular), and they are coming to settle in the land of their forefathers. They will then take root in the land of Israel, including Gilead and parts of Lebanon (Zechariah 10:10). This is part of the immigration that Jeremiah talked about because it is destined to occur before the Second Advent. In chapter eleven of Zechariah it is made clear that the House of Judah and the House of Israel [the Northern Ten Tribes] will come together in a binding union. A covenant will be made between Judah and Israel to live together again as one nation in Palestine.
The House of Judah and the House of Joseph (headed by the tribe of Ephraim -- ruler of the Northern Ten Tribes) will join together once again as one nation in a covenant relationship referred to by Zechariah with the word "Bands" (the banding together of a brotherhood union) and no longer will Israel be two divisions (Zechariah 11:7,14). Zechariah describes this covenant of brotherhood. "I will strengthen the House of Judah, and I will save the House of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them [in the Land of Canaan]; for I have mercy upon them and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am Yahweh their God, and will hear them. And they of Ephraim shall be like a mighty man" (Zechariah 10:6,7).
These Israelites returning to their homeland after so many years of exile will be adhering basically to the customs of Moses (that is, they will be honoring the Sabbath, holydays and other "Jewish" religious principles). And while over the past twenty-five hundred years there have been a number of Gentile elements who have joined forces with the houses of Israel and Judah (and this has resulted in quite a diversity of ethnic variety among the Israelites), by the very fact that the Mosaic signs of the Sabbath and holydays (with the various kosher food laws) have remained with them, they are certainly reckoned by God as proper Israelites. Indeed, the joining of Gentiles to Israel was completely allowed by God if there were genuine conversions to the Mosaic legislation (Exodus 12:38; Genesis 34:15-24; Deuteronomy 21:10-14; Matthew 23:15). Only with certain races were there specific restrictions (Deuteronomy 23:3-8).
The one central requirement for a Gentile to become a true Israelite was that of utter conversion to the Mosaic faith (Ruth 1:16). There have been many such conversions over the centuries and it has resulted in a variety of racial types among the Israelites. This was especially true in the Persian period. When the Jewish victory over Haman was evident, we are told that "many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them" (Esther 8:17). The Jews in Palestine after the time of Alexander the Great were particularly affected by this mixture of Gentile peoples into the body of Jewish believers. Josephus tells us that the whole of the Arabic tribe called the Iturians were converted to Judaism and began to worship as Jews (Antiquities XIII.318,319). Even the majority of the Edomites that remained in southern Palestine were forcibly converted to Judaism just before the time of Christ (Antiquities XIII.257). As a matter of fact, great numbers of Gentile women were converting to Judaism in the first century and they would obviously be rearing their children to be Jews (War 11.561). Many Syrians of Antioch also became converted to Judaism and adopted the principles of the Mosaic legislation (War VII.42-45).
These intrusions of Arabic and Middle Eastern blood lines into the Judaic family in Palestine produced a different type of Jewish people (as far as racial appearance was concerned) and it has persisted to this day. These "Arabic type" Jews became known primarily as Sephardic Jews. And though there are several types of Sephardic Jews (some with classical Judaic features and others more Arabic"), they are still considered by the biblical revelation to be "Jews." But this mixture among certain sections of the Sephardic Jews who were scattered over the Arabic lands of North Mrica and the Middle East, allowed them to take on certain racial characteristics different from the Northern Ten Tribes. The latter group of Israelites remained primarily in the north without Arabic or Syrian mixture. They migrated in various waves and at different times into northwestern and then eastern Europe. And while there was some mixture even with the northern Israelites (a minor intrusion of Khazarite conversion), the northerners who finally settled primarily in the area of Germany (and then later in Poland and the Russian areas of the east) retained much more of a European appearance. These northern peoples became known generally by the name Ashkenazi because of their long stay in the German area (which was called Ashkenaz in Hebrew). But whether these Israelites are Sephardic or Ashkenazi in origin, they are all Israelites because of their Mosaic customs.
Now note this. Both "Israel" and "Judah" are prophesied to become one nation in Palestine again before the Second Advent of Christ. And this is happening now. We are then told by Zechariah that after this covenant union, Israel will then begin to mourn for the one that "they have pierced" (Zechariah 12:10-14). There will be a conversion of many of these Israelites to what will be considered as "Jewish Christianity." God is going to "pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication" (Zechariah 12:10)
When, in the years ahead of us, many people of Israel begin to accept Jesus as their Messiah, the nation of Israel is going to soar in power and authority in the Middle East. Most of the people of Europe and the western world will come to a close sympathy with them. When the Israelis begin to accept Jesus in multitudes, the Moslems in the area will change their attitudes toward them. In the Koran we find that Mohammed prophesied for all people in the world: "Behold, God said: O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee of the falsehoods of those that blaspheme. I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject the faith, to the Day of Resurrection" (Sura 111.55 -this is the original reading of the text). When the Jews accept Jesus and start practicing His principles (and Zechariah shows it will be done in honesty and sincerity), they will then become superior in the Middle East and even the Moslems will acquiesce to Mohammed's teaching.
Sometime after this upsurge of "Jewish Christianity" in Israel, Zechariah shows that a major point of confrontation is prophesied to happen among the people of Israel. It concerns the person who was sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12,13). This is clearly Christ Jesus. He is described in the last three chapters of Zechariah. He is the person over whom many in Israel will begin to mourn. Many Israelis will begin to accept Jesus (Zechariah 12:10). But a great controversy is going to take place regarding the role of Jesus. A resistance will be shown by some in accepting him. Zechariah then prophesies that a civil war will take place in the land in the context of speaking about the One who was pierced (Zechariah 13:7-9). This conflict is so well recognized as described in Zechariah 11:14-17, that the New English Bible simply attaches Zechariah 13:7-9 to Zechariah 11:17.
The prophet Zechariah shows this civil war will develop over "the one who was pierced" (the one who was sold for thirty shekels). "I will break the brotherhood between Israel and Judah" (Zechariah 11:14). What we find is that the Ashkenazi Israelites (those who primarily represent the House of Israel and were scattered as wanderers over the northern areas of the world) will have a serious confrontation with the Sephardic Israelites who remained in the Middle East and Arabic countries who have a different type of temperament and life-style than most Ashkenazis. It will concern the role of Jesus. It is well understood by Israelis today that there are some major differences between the Israelites who have lived so long in Europe and those who have lived most of their time in Arabic lands.
And though there will be those who are Ashkenazi and Sephardic who will then accept (or reject) the One who was pierced, the final outcome will be a victory for both sides. Though the confrontation between Judah and Israel will be severe (Zechariah 11:14-17 with 13:7-9), both groups will finally emerge to accept the One over whom the confrontation occurs. The apostle Paul shows that God will enact a New Covenant with both the House of Israel and the House of Judah (Hebrews 8:8-13) and that in the end "all Israel shall be saved" (Romans 11:26).
Ernest L. Martin
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