? The Ten Lost Tribes

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The Ten Lost Tribes


After the death of King Solomon (d.928 BCE), his realm was divided into the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judea. The territory of the Kingdom of Israel covered most of the central and northern Land of Israel and was inhabited by descendants of ten of the original twelve tribes that conquered the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua: Asher, Dan, Ephraim, Gad, Issachar, Manasseh, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, and Zebulon.. The Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 721 BCE, and in line with the general policy of the Assyrians, its inhabitants were deported to other regions of their empire. The Ten Tribes either assimilated into other peoples and tribes inside the Assyrian Empire or were incorporated into the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, when they too were deported to Babylonia, following the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 560 BCE (Ezekiel: 37:21-23)יחזקאל.

 

The mysterious disappearance of the Ten Tribes of Israel nurtured the belief according to which their location will eventually be discovered and they will return to the Land of Israel, as the ancestors of the modern Jews, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin did when the Babylonian empire was destroyed by the Persians. This belief had its roots in the interpretations of several biblical texts, especially I Chronicles (5:26): “Transporting them to Halah, Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, until this day”.,דברי הימים א',ה:כ"ו: ויביאם לחלח וחבור והרא ונהר גוזן עד היום הזה. ,and various prophecies (Isaiah 11:11-12ישעיהו, among others) as well some references found in the Apocrypha (II Ezra’s 13:39-50)עזרא.

 

In Hebrew literature Habor is the mountain  Khyber, or the Khyber Pass: a big Jewish land(מושב היהודים),  Hara as the old name of Herat, Alexander the Great that built that city called her: Alexandria of Hera,  the river Gozan was identified with the Ghazni river that crossed Ghazni,  the old capital of  Khorasanחוראסאן (Land of the Sun , or  Land of the East ארץ השמש, ארץ קדם),Khorasan was the old Afghanistan, at the east part of the Persian Empire, and southern part of Central Asia, it was a region with big Jewish population, the main cities were: Marv, Balch, Ghazni, Herat and Nishapur,  in 1080 Moses Ibn Ezra משה אבן עזרא mentioned more than 40000 Jews in Ghazni, 100 years later Benjamin of Tudela, claimed that 80000 Jews lived in Ghazni, Balch was called: the mother of the world cities, Herat for a long time was home to the largest Jewish community in Afghanistan.

 

Several Afghan tribes including the Durrani, Galzay(credited as Ibrani-Hebrews)  and Pashtun, believe they are decedents of King Saul, the Afghan Royal family also traces its roots to ancient Israel, the tribe of Benjamin בנימין , the Pashtun also believe they are descended from the Ten Lost Tribes, referring to the name Pithon פיתון , the son of Micah מיכה  (1 Chronicles 8;35) and later converted to Islam, many names and customs sound Jewish, like : Ashurai, Daftani, Efridi, Rabbani, Shinwari, Lewani, Jaji, Yussafzai(10 tribes names)and some customs like wedding Chupah חופה ,and the circumcising of the sons  ברית מילה , observing the Shabbat, and some other Jewish practices, the  Pashtuns claim that the city of Kabul stands for Cain and Abel קין והבל, and Afghanistan name  is derived from Afghana the grandson of King Saul , his family settled in Ghur in central Afghanistan, the book ; Taaqati-Nasiri, states that in the 7th century, a people called Beni Israel settled in Ghur, southeast of Heart ,the Afghan people seem to keep memory of the Northern Tribes call them Beni-Israel but not Yehudi, בני ישראל אך לא יהודים, the story is that one Khalid wrote to the Afghans and invited them to embrace Islam, several Afghan nobles went to Arabia under one aisקיש, who claimed to trace his descent through 47 generations from King Saul,he was accordingly greeted by Mohammed by the title of "malik"מלך in deference to this illustrious descent, and his name was changed to Arab A Rashid ,  aisis reported to have died at the age of eighty-seven, in 662; and all the modern chiefs of Afghanistan claim to be descended from him (Malcolm, "History of Persia, 596, London, 1815). The Afghans still call themselves "Beni-Israel,"בני ישראל and are declared to have a markedly Jewish appearance. Their claim to Israelites descent is allowed by most Mohammedan writers. G. Moore, in his "Lost Tribes" (pp. 143-160, London, 1861), also identified the Afghans with the Ten Tribes.

 

 The discovery of a Jewish cemetery in the city of Ghur in 1946 testifies to the existence of a large and flourishing Jewish community there. Ghur is located in the mountain region of eastern Afghanistan. The earliest tombstones date from 752-753 and the latest date from 1012-1249. The inscriptions on the tombstones are in Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Persian, a language with elements of medieval Persian and containing Hebrew-Aramaic components, written in Hebrew script, and spoken by the members of the local Jewish community. The tombstones not only include names and dates but also communal titles and functions.. The Jewish community of Ghur had a rabbinical court, a synagogue and religious schools for both children and youngsters. Following the Mongolian invasion of the region at the beginning of the 13th century, the community members either fled or were forced to convert to Islam, most scholars argue that the community  fled to China since there is a significant influence from Persian speaking Jews from Khorasan on the China community’s texts and ceremonies. Other reports tell of Persian Jews rejecting Islam and fleeing the Muslim conquest in the 7th and 8th centuries and setting in Afghanistan. Some tablets in Hebrew dating from 1115to 1215 confirm the existence of a Jewish community in Firoz Koh , located between Heart and Kabul, however the Mongol invasion in 1222, razed Afghanistan, and little is known about the Jewish community of Afghanistan until the 19th century.

 

 The earliest theory about the Ten Lost Tribes origin of Afghan tribes was lanced already towards the end of the 18th century by Sir William Jones (1746-1794), an early researcher of Indian studies, in an introduction that he wrote to the English translation of the "Secrets of the Afghans" by Henry Vasittart (1732-1770), the British governor of Bengal and one of the first Europeans with an interest in Afghan history and traditions. This theory found a strong supporter in Henry Walter Bellew (1834-1892), an Indian born English surgeon with a distinguished career in the British administration of India. Based on 7 historical books written between 1605-1783 in Persian and Pashtu, Bellew elaborated extensively about the possible connection between various ethnic groups of Afghanistan and the Ten Lost Tribes and tried to prove his assumptions by suggesting a likeness between biblical and historic place names, Hebrew words and given names and local place names in Afghanistan and some words from the languages and dialects spoken in that country. He also advanced a supposed similarity of customs and habits between the two peoples and, typically for a 19th century researcher, even endeavored to establish a resemblance between the physiognomy of Afghan tribes and that of the "Jewish type". Bellew was succeeded by many travelers and explorers to Afghanistan and the neighboring areas who occasionally suggested new elements that could enhance the belief in a link between the tribes of Afghanistan and the Ten Lost Tribes.

 

Further Reading:

Yehoshua-Raz, Benzion. From the lost tribes in Afghanistan to the Mashhad Jewish converts of Iran, 1992.Hebrew The Jewish of Afghanistan, Dr. Irena Vladimirski, A historian and researcher with the Department of History, Achva College of Education, Israel, specializing in the history of Central Asia.

Contributed by Avigdor Gargy



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