Ziva Shavitsky, The Mystery of the Ten Lost Tribes: A Critical Survey of Historical and Archaeological Records relating to the People of Israel in Exile in Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia up to ca.
Queen Victoria would not have been amused. As the empress of a vast proportion of the world's population she is reported to have been deeply impressed by the belief that Britain was the home of the lost ten tribes. Proof of this divine intervention was provided by juggling independent Hebrew words to construct the word British and by the presence of a smattering of Phoenician place names near the ancient tin mines of Cornwall.
The Mystery of the Ten Lost Tribes by Dr Ziva Shavitsky is a far more practical and solidly based study of the records of the Ancient Near East. She demonstrates the truism that great ideas are simple and she shows that now the mystery can be solved with the benefit of textual study, logic and archaeology.
First, a word about the mystery. The "mystery" belongs to the northern kingdom of Israel whose inhabitants were conquered by the Assyrians in 723 BCE, one hundred and one years before the monotheistic reformation of King Josiah of Jerusalem. For centuries Judah and Israel had shared a common culture and mythology. People spoke Hebrew in both kingdoms. They had inherited the same foundation legends. They revered the same stories about their ancestors and the exploits of their tribal chiefs. They recalled the deeds of the kings Saul, David and Solomon. But, inevitably, geography shaped their differences. Judah and its capital Jerusalem was tucked away in the hill country on the edge of the desert while Israel contained the strategically significant land bridge through the Valley of Jezreel and the coastal plain. Israel was therefore more closely intertwined with her neighbours and their religious and cultural practices. When the Assyrians conquered Israel in 722/3 BCE its people had no covenantal code or law book that gave them a sense of destiny. Nevertheless, as Dr Shavitsky clearly proves, the lost tribes of Israel simply did not vanish. Their persistence is the subject of this book and it takes us on an impressive journey.
The author explains that each section of her book can be read in sequence or separately. The sources, in a wide variety of ancient languages, come from the Bible, the Apocrypha, and post-biblical Jewish writings, from Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian records and from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Appropriately, the exploration begins by examining the many biblical texts that deal with Judah and Israel and their contacts with the peoples and lands that lay beyond their own borders.
The Bible yields the first clues. The period from the 10th to the 8th century BCE was a turbulent one with close contact between Israel and the lands of Aram. During the brief reign of Pekah, the king of Israel was persuaded by Rezin, the king of Aram-Damascus to form a coalition, which Judah refused to join, in order to resist the growing strength of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III. In 732 BCE Damascus was destroyed and those inhabitants who survived were taken away in chains. It is suggested that among those captives were many people from Israel.
A comparison is made between the biblical evidence and material from Assyrian documents. As Dr Shavitsky writes "The separate pieces of evidence support one another" (p.26). The textual material cited is persuasive. Hosea wrote: "Israel is swallowed up. Now are they become among the nations as a vessel wherein is no value for they are gone up to Assyria. Like a wild ass alone by himself, Ephraim has hired lovers" (Hosea 8, 8-9). Amos thundered, "Therefore I will cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, said He whose name is the Lord, God of Hosts" (Amos 5; 27). Less familiar is the archaeological evidence that the city of Jerusalem expanded by a factor of three or four at the conclusion of the eighth century while a sharp decline of population occurred in the north. And change was not restricted to Jerusalem as Judah reached out towards "the remnant of Israel" and stirred the hope that the golden years of David would return.
The great Assyrian obelisks that display chilling boasts about stirring victories over Israelite kings and cities add to our knowledge of the process of Israelite exile. Domination began with tribute and remorselessly led to punitive deportations and exile. The famous Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III recorded "I received the tribute of the people of Tyre, Sidon, and of Jehu, son of Omri", while Sennacherib boasted "I reduced his (Hezekiah's) country but I still increased the tribute." We are introduced to the exile in Mesopotamia through the great mass of Akkadian cuneiform lists, receipts and documents that include names coupled with the component or suffix yahu. Through these documents we meet an impressive array of Hebrew exiles some of whom are in positions of authority while others are slaves, servants and artisans.
What happened to the Judean exiles following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE? Paradoxically, the earliest written biblical fragment comes from that time in the form of a tiny silver scroll or amulet with the inscription of the priestly blessing that was discovered in a burial cave above the Valley of Hinnom beside the road to Hebron. Surprisingly, Dr Shavitsky writes of that century "there is complete silence" (p .102). In fact, the pottery of that cave attests to a level of sophistication and wealth that is impressive. However, it is certainly true, that in the sixth century in Babylonia "Judaism was born. If one does not agree with that, one may certainly say that it (sic) was there that Judaism reached its age of religious responsibility" (p.103). The Jews were allowed by their Babylonian masters to exercise religious responsibility and a skilled scribal group emerged. Dr Shavitsky persuasively argues that this creative period coincided with the reign of Nabonides, the last king of Babylon before the arrival of the Persians.
Following a fascinating survey of the evidence of Jewish life in Babylonia we move on to an equally important study of the Persian Period and the restoration of an explicitly Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. We are reminded that neither glory nor fanfare greeted the return of the exiles to Jerusalem. It is suggested that the total population of Judah in 522 BCE could not have exceeded 20,000. Years of deprivation followed. However, familiar names of prophets and administrators are placed in context within the text. Ezra "the new Moses" of the exodus from Babylonia, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, Sanballat, the third Isaiah, Cyrus and Cambyses. The Second Jewish Commonwealth began through a partnership between the exiles in the heart of the Persian Empire and the emerging autonomous theocratic state of Judah.
The search for the lost ten tribes concludes by the strangely silent waters of Babylon in the late fifth and fourth centuries. We do have lists of names in which the various Hebrew words describing God are incorporated. Among the 4,000 clay tablets found at Nippur constituting the commercial archives of the Murashu at Nippur are Jewish names. The Babylonian Jewish community was evidently in close contact with Judea and we learn that there was a sense of "fraternal solidarity" with the Jews of Judea. At the same time the number of viable Jewish communities spread throughout the Eastern (Asian) diasporas. Dr Shavitsky points out that in the last centuries of the pre-Christian era, knowledge of the fate of the tribes of Israel appears to have vanished from the Jews of Judea even though, surprisingly, St Paul proudly, and apparently anachronistically, describes himself as a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil.3.5). Ancient travellers' tales and local mythologies hint at the fate of the "lost" tribes in all the corners of the Middle and Far East. Dr Shavitsky writes "Over the centuries, communities which claim religio-racial affinity with the ancient Israelites have been found in every region of the world." She suggests that genetic research and common chromosomal abnormalities may yield further evidence of those "lost" tribes.
Paradoxically, legend and history have left the Jewish People proudly bearing the names of both ancient kingdoms. Were the ten tribes "lost"? Did they scatter throughout the ancient world? Are the Samaritans the sole survivors of the northern kingdom? For centuries, following the return of the Babylonian exiles to Jerusalem, the large Temple built on the crown of Mt Gerizim outshone the Second Temple. That fact, in turn, takes us to the next question. What then is the origin of the Jews who lived in Galilee and Transjordan in the days of the Second Temple and who evidently avoided identifying with the Samaritans? These are all questions dealt with carefully and in depth by this significant study.
It is a cause for celebration to wholeheartedly recommend to readers of this journal a book written by a dedicated scholar who has devoted all of her professional life to the study of Hebrew and Hebrew literature in Australia.
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|Author:||Levi, John S.|
|Publication:||The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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