THE LOST TRIBES OF ISRAEL IN JEWISH AND SAMARITAN LEGEND
The legends about the Lost Tribes include the Jewish and the more recent Samaritan versions. The same dynamic drove both legends: the struggle for existence and the hope for a better life.
The Extent of the Syrian Empire
The Lost Tribes in the Jewish Tradition
The Jewish legend was created during the Roman and Byzantine occupations of the Land of Israel. Historically, there were never lost tribes of Israel during the Assyrian occupation. The Assyrians had a sophisticated administration for keeping track of the population and collecting taxes on behalf of the Assyrian Empire.
The Assyrians exiled an elite minority of the People of Israel in order to prevent uprisings. Later, the Babylonians would copy this tactic. The Exiles lived far away, in Babylon, Assyria and Madai. Some returned to their homeland between three and seven generations later. Most of them refused to return, since their expertise enabled them to attain high positions in the Assyrian and Babylonian administrations.
Some of them moved further east, to India and South East Asia. They were still active in the 14th and 15th centuries, when astonished Jewish and Islamic travellers brought news of the existence of these Jewish and Samaritan communities.
However, most of the communities converted to Islam and lost their former religious identity. Archaeological finds in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Ukraine and other former Soviet Union territories provide evidence of their existence in the distant past.
The Lost Tribes in the Samaritan Tradition
The Samaritan version of the story of the lost tribes developed between the 16th and 19th centuries. At this time the heads of the Samaritan communities in Nablus, Gaza and Cairo wanted to believe that lost Israelite Samaritan communities existed in England, Germany, France and India, with rituals and traditions like those practised on Mount Gerizim.
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Samaritan Manuscripts Lost
European scholars encouraged this belief, and Hebrew manuscript collectors in Europe sent letters purporting to come from lost Samaritan communities. By these means they hoped to acquire genuine ancient Samaritan manuscripts from the three cities. They succeeded, with the Samaritans naively sending 40 copies of their Pentateuch to Europe, in the belief that they would reach the non-existent lost communities.
All this happened between the 17th and 19th centuries, long before the Samaritans started to sell their manuscripts to dealers and scholars visiting Nablus. In the process they raised the number of ancient Samaritan manuscripts in the world’s libraries to 4000. Today, the Samaritans of Holon and Mount Gerizim hold around 1200 manuscripts. Of course, they refuse to sell them, aware of their great cultural significance to the community.
In conclusion, the Jewish and Samaritan stories of the so-called Lost Tribes are romantic legends. However, we now believe that all the communities of the People of Israel are known, and the time is right to work together with hand and heart to make a better life for all.
Choir and MUSIC