Friday, September 06, 2013

The legend of the ten Lost Tribes

FROM 4 EZRA TO A MEDIEVAL ALEXANDER ROMANCE: Exploring the legend of the ten Lost Tribes: Throughout its long history, the myth of the 10 Lost Tribes has served as a kind of signpost, a spotlight illuminating the 'right’ path to take in response to the most complex existential questions of Jewish history. (Eli Yassif, Haaretz). Excerpt:
Defining the story of the 10 Lost Tribes as a myth is often, and misleadingly, understood as an assertion that any attempts to identify the tribes will, by definition, not succeed because the story is, after all, an imaginary rather than a factual historical or anthropological one. But that is not why this story is one of the greatest myths of Jewish culture. Rather, its significance results from the fact that it illuminates some dark corners of Jewish consciousness, creates a narrative of support and encouragement when Jewish communities in the Diaspora have faced tough situations, and unequivocally through narrative technique, expresses a profoundly important point that has accompanied Jewish history since its inception: the nature of the Diaspora and the minority Jewish community’s attempt to confront a Muslim or Christian majority.

‘Carried over the waters’

As far as we know, the oldest source that refers to the myth is the Fourth Book of Esdras from the Jewish Apocrypha, written shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, toward the end of the 1st century C.E. This tradition interprets one of the central visions described in 2 Esdras 13:40-48 ‏(King James Version‏): “Those are the ten tribes, which were carried away prisoners out of their own land in the time of Osea the king, whom Salmanasar the king of Assyria led away captive, and he carried them over the waters, and so came they into another land. But they took this counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a further country, where never mankind dwelt, that they might there keep their statutes, which they never kept in their own land. And they entered into Euphrates by the narrow places of the river. For the most High then shewed signs for them, and held still the flood, till they were passed over. For through that country there was a great way to go, namely, of a year and a half; and the same region is called Arsareth ... But those that be left behind of thy people are they that are found within my borders.”
Cross-file under "Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch."