The Twelve Tribes - Where Are They Now?

What happened to the 12 tribes of Israel? Where are they now?

Long before the Israelites were taken into captivity, they divided into two nations: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. This occurred more than 900 years before the time of Christ. These two nations were not conquered at the same time and not even by the same enemy. We must look at them separately.

JUDAH

Judah was taken captive by the Babylonians. The accepted year for the destruction of Jerusalem is 586BC. They were taken captive by the Babylonians, though some were left in the land and others fled to Egypt. Seventy years later, many of the Jews taken captive into Babylon returned to the land of Israel, rebuilt the temple, and eventually rebuilt the city walls of Jerusalem. These Jews have a long history of being scattered, and being driven or moving willingly from country to country all over the world. These are the Jews that have retained their identity over the centuries.

Now, of the twelve tribes, which Jews are among those Jews known as Jews today? They are mainly from Judah, Benjamin (the tribe of the apostle Paul), and Levi (the priestly tribe). However, there are certainly Jews from most of the other tribes who are joined with them. I have an entire article on this on the web site at www.learnthebible.org/ten_lost_tribes.htm. However, since I have written this article, I have been challenged on some verses and have come to the conclusion that there are still Jews from the lost tribes that will be found in the future.

ISRAEL

This brings us to the northern kingdom of Israel. It was initially made up of ten of the twelve tribes of Israel. It was taken into captivity by the Assyrians more than 130 years before Judah was taken captive. I am dealing with Israel last because this is where most of the controversy lies. Although I am still convinced that there are people from most, if not all, of the original tribes among those known as Jews today, scripture has convinced me that there will be others to come in the fold in the future Jewish kingdom if not before. Let me give you some of these prophetic scriptures:

Isaiah 11:12 - "And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth."
Jeremiah 3:18 - "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 north to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers."
Jeremiah 31:31 - "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:"
Jeremiah 33:7 - "And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first."
Jeremiah 50:4 - "In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the LORD their God."
Ezekiel 37:15-28 - the two sticks brought together; Verse 19 - "Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand."

Each of these verses deals with the bringing back together of Judah and Israel at some future time. There are other verses as well that support this. So, now comes the question: Where are the lost tribes today? My answer is, if we knew where they were they would not be lost. Many groups today seize upon the lost tribes so that they can claim to be part of them. Most commonly, I have heard claims that England and America make up some of the lost tribes. I have noticed that these claims are almost always made by someone who thinks that they are in one of the lost tribes. Mostly, it is a bunch of foolishness. Perhaps most telling is the testimony of the apostle John in the book of Revelation. Consider these two verses:

  • Revelation 2:9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
  • Revelation 3:9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.

John is dealing with those who say they are Jews and are not. He says that they blaspheme and that they are of the synagogue of Satan. I would be careful at making foolish claims to be Jews for the sake of gain, spiritual or otherwise.

Therefore, who make up the lost Jews today is entirely speculation. Now, I will speculate a little. Please understand, this is only a possible conclusion from the best real facts I have--the Bible record and the present world situation. When Israel was taken captive, they were carried by the Assyrians into Halah and Habor by the river Gozan (2 Kings 17:5-6). This probably refers to an upper tributary of the Euphrates River. The names point to an area about 100 miles east of the location of ancient Haran. They were also placed in the cities of the Medes. I have never heard of a reliable record of them leaving this area as a people. So, is it possible that the people who dwell in this area today are related to the lost tribes? And, who might these people be?

The areas of Gozan and Media are roughly that which is today inhabited by the Kurds (northern Syria, northern Iraq, and eastern Turkey). This is especially interesting because recent studies have shown a strong genetic link between the Jews and Kurds. You can check the following sources for yourself.

  1. "The Genetic Bonds Between Kurds and Jews" by Kevin Alan Brook on an online Kurdish Newspaper at www.barzan.com/kevin_brook.htm.
  2. Brook, Kevin A. The Jews of Khazaria. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1999.
  3. Siegel, Judy. "Genetic evidence links Jews to their ancient tribe." Jerusalem Post (November 20, 2001)
  4. Traubman, Tamara. "Study finds close genetic connection between Jews, Kurds." Ha'aretz (November 21, 2001).

Though it is probably impossible to prove at this time, there is a real possibility that the Kurds, who presently are devout Sunnite Moslems, could be related to the lost tribes of Israel that were taken from the land at the time of the Assyrian Captivity. Perhaps this could explain why the Kurds have for centuries been the punching bags of the Moslems in that part of the world. They are an unusual people and the above sources show that they accept a certain amount of connection with the Jews.

Does this settle the issue? No. The truth is, we do not need to know the identity of the lost tribes. God knows who they are and He will reveal their identity at the proper time. Those who get carried away in identifying them and especially in claiming to be one of them need to listen to some of the advice Paul gave to his young preachers about genealogies.

1 Timothy 1:4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.
Titus 3:9 But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.

I will not argue these points but will let them stand or fall on their own merit.

David Reagan
Daily Proverb

Proverbs 27:14

He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.