Ezra and the Lost Tribes: An Eye-Witness To History!
In any important public or historic event, reliable eye-witnesses serve as the primary authority concerning what has actually taken place. In Biblical history, we can also call upon dependable and inspired first-hand eye-witness accounts in the writings of the prophets.
When the Babylonian captivity of the House of Judah ended in 538 B.C., there was a return of YEHOVAH’s people known today as “the Restoration.” Religious writers looking back upon this event 2,500 years later invariably assume that virtually every one of the Israelites, all twelve tribes, were soon reestablished in Canaan. But surprisingly, there are two very creditable and inspired witnesses to the events of that period -- Ezra and Nehemiah -- who sharply disagree with most modern historians.
In fact, these two prophets are the only reliable eyewitnesses existing today concerning the Restoration period of Biblical history. Both agree on an important point: They specifically refer to the returnees as being only of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, corporately known as the House of Judah. There is no mention at all of any of the other missing ten tribes which comprised the kingdom of the House of Israel!
Ezra was looking for colonists to resettle Israel’s old homeland, yet not only did he not send an embassy to the missing ten tribes, he strangely did not mention their existence at all. We receive the definite impression that Ezra had no idea where they were himself! In 2 Kings 17:6, we were told that the house of Israel was exiled by Assyria “to Halah, and Habor, and the cities of the Medes.” If they were still in the same location in Ezra’s day, surely he would have sent emissaries there to encourage them to return to the land of Canaan. Yet Ezra did not send an envoy, nor did he seem to even know where they had gone.
Although only two tribes are ever mentioned throughout the Book of Ezra, the common teaching today is that all twelve tribes of Israel, from both Houses of Israel and Judah, were reunited at the end of the Babylonian captivity. If so, why is there no mention of the rest of these tribes, either in the early portion of the book (see Ezra 1:5 and 4:1, “Judah and Benjamin”), or during events years later (Ezra 10:9, “Judah and Benjamin”)? The prophet Ezra knew nothing of any return to old Canaan of the exiled ten tribes of the House of Israel! Neither did his contemporary, the prophet Nehemiah, who spoke only of the existence of the “House of Judah” (Neh. 4:16) and the two tribes it comprised, Judah and Benjamin (Neh. 11:4, 36; 12:34).
A leading Jewish Israeli scholar, Sara Japhet, agrees and says, “the restoration [i.e. return from exile] and the subsequent renewal of Jewish community life involved only three tribes: the lay tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and the tribe of Levi.” (From The Rivers Of Babylon, p. 82) Levi was the priestly tribe whose members were divided and spread among all of the other tribes. It therefore did not inherit land itself and the majority of its members would be proportionately found among the missing tribes of the House of Israel.
It is further very significant that out of all of King David’s descendants, only one -- Hattush -- is listed (Ezra 8:2) among the returning exiles. Since the land of Canaan was virtually emptied of Hebrews during the Babylonian exile, apparently all of David’s other descendants remained in the diaspora in other lands.
Another line of descent from King David provides an interesting link with the Norse-Gothic tribes and their early leader Odin. We read in 1 Chronicles 3:17-18 that Davidic descendant and king of Judah, Jehoiakin, had one son, Asir (KJV: Assir), translated in the RSV and NIV as “captive.” This Asir was therefore among those exiled from Canaan, and as noted above, neither he nor any of his descendants were included in Ezra’s list of those who returned from Babylon. Where did Asir, of the Davidic royal line of kings, and his descendants go? In Norse history, although encased in myth, Asir or Aesir was the name of the chief royal tribe living at Asgard, the early Mideast homeland of the Norse people. The Columbia Encyclopedia under the heading “Germanic religion” states, “In early times there were two groups of gods -- the Aesir and the Vanir. However, after a war between the rival pantheons which perhaps reflects a war between two rival tribes, the defeated Vanir were absorbed into the Aesir, and the gods of both were worshipped in a single pantheon...of twelve principal deities...The gods dwelled at Asgard.” Apparently, exiled Israelites of the twelve tribes gathered around their Davidic leader, Aesir, before leaving the Mideast for Europe. A later leader of these assembled tribes was Odin, whose name is pure Semitic. The name Odin has been shown by scholars to be a royal title meaning “Lord” (compare the Hebrew “Adonai” and early Greek hero, “Adonis”). The Norse ancestral-line has been historically reconstructed from King David to Odin in a chart available from the Servant People booksite at www.migrations.info.
This should not be surprising, since Ezra informs us that only four courses or divisions of priests returned from Babylon (Ezra 2:36-39), out of a total of twenty-four courses (1 Chron. 24:7-18). These twenty-four courses of priests were a prophetic foretype of the twenty-four elders of the Book of Revelation (4:4; 19:4), showing us that they were not eliminated in YEHOVAH’s Divine purposes. Simple math will show that well over 80% of the priesthood of Israel therefore did not return from its exile in foreign lands. This percentage would also be reflected in the very low number of Israelites as a whole who returned to Canaan.
Respected scholar, Dr. W.F. Lofthouse, in "Israel After The Exile,” (Clarendon Bible, Old Testament, Vol. 4), has this to say: “[Cyrus’ decree] did not mean that any large number of Jews returned from Babylon to Palestine...it is doubtful if many of the Jews (save the poorer members of the community) would have been anxious to leave... Moreover, if there had been a considerable company of returning exiles, our sources for subsequent events in Palestine must have referred to its presence there. As a matter of fact, such references do not exist.” (p. 24) In other words, relatively very few Israelites ever returned to the land of Canaan after being exiled.
The only place that you will read that all of the Israelite tribes reunited in Babylon, and returned together as one body to Canaan, is in the false and misguided theology of the religious opponents of the Two-House belief! Neither the Bible nor history support the idea of a mass return from Babylon of both Houses of Israel. Instead, the prophet Ezra stated, “...grace hath been showed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape...” (9:8) Again he emphasized, “We are left this day as a remnant.” (9:15, NIV) There is no question that Ezra, an eye-witness, documented that the majority of Israel remained in exile in other lands!
Some of our critics claim that these exiled Israelites all intermarried with the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon and passed out of existence as a separate people. To this, Dr. Lofthouse replies, “Were they absorbed into the new civilization? If they had been, no one would have been surprised. But they were not.” (ibid. p. 5)
Other critics assert that although few Israelites may have returned immediately, a mass exodus took place sometime later. This too, ignores the facts of history. An interesting statement appears in Ezra’s last chapter which bears on this. It reads: “And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem; And that whosoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the congregation of those that had been carried away.” (Ezra 10:7-8)
Ezra stated that exiles who did not return to Jerusalem at that time “forfeited” all of their property. The Hebrew word used here, yaharam, means confiscated property. Any Israelite who returned months or years later would have found his home and vineyard legally turned over to others. He was disinherited! At that point, there was no incentive to return. Those not present at the appointed time were “separated” or “expelled” (NIV) from citizenship among the exiles. (Ezra 10:8) Those remaining in exile were truly “lost tribes,” for they had lost their land, property, and citizenship in their former homeland of Canaan.
The book of Nehemiah tells us that the whole community of exiles who returned to Canaan was only 42,360. (Neh. 8:66) What happened to the rest of YEHOVAH’s people, the Israelite majority who continued in exile? They did not remain in Assyria and Babylon. As Dr. Lofthouse expressed it, “[the prophet] Jeremiah...seems to imply a certain restlessness among the exiles.” (ibid. p.5) The fulfillment of the numerous prophecies of Scripture required that these restless wanderers be later found in the coastlands and isles to the west, where they became a great multitude and company of nations. (Gen. 15:5; 35:11; Isa. 42:4)
-- J.S. Brooks
Hope of Israel Ministries
P.O. Box 853
Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.