The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History

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The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History
Author Zvi Ben-Dor Benite
New York: Oxford University Press, 2009

The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History

Reviewer Jeffrey R. Chadwick

The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History is an ambitious treatment by Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, an associate professor of history and Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at New York University. The subject is a departure from the focus of his book The Dao of Muhammad: A Cultural History of Muslims in Late China, but the story of the Ten Lost Tribes is intriguing, and the assembled tales of how people throughout the world and throughout history have related to the loss of the Israelite tribes make for a fascinating read. The reader should be aware that The Ten Lost Tribes does not, in my opinion, adequately or accurately address the eighth-century BC deportations and subsequent assimilation of hundreds of thousands of people from the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Nor does it realistically identify descendants of those deportees. What the book does is tell the stories of sages, mystics, explorers, and evangelists who lived many centuries after the deportations, and their adventurous and often eccentric searches for elusive remnant societies of the lost tribes.

Of course, those searches were in vain. Unlike a century ago, or even fifty years ago, many of the realities behind the deportations of ancient Israelites are well known today to scholars who specialize in the field. Assyrian inscriptions bearing deportation counts, mostly fragmentary, but in one case quite complete, illuminate biblical references to those of Israel who were "carried away" to diverse locations in what is now Iraq and Iran. Resettled in what was the crossroads of the Eastern Hemisphere, in the decades just before and after 700 BC, those deportees assimilated with the peoples among whom they found themselves. Intermarriage with non-Israelite locals began almost immediately. Within four or five generations, none of their descendants even retained a memory of their Israelite heritage. Lost Israel became lost not because they did not know where they were, but because they forgot who they were. And even though their destinations were recorded in 2 Kings 17, by 600 BC not only had the descendants of the deportees lost their cultural memory and identity, they were unknown to the remainder of Israel who had regenerated in the kingdom of Judah. As Nephi observed, "Whither they are none of us knoweth, save that we know that they have been led away" (1 Ne. 22:4).