The Mystery of the Ten Lost Tribes (Review)

Published: RTR 71, no. 2, 2012

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. 300 BCE

Ziva Shavitsky, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012.

Isbn: 9781443835022

Ziva Shavitsky has been for many years at the centre of Jewish academia in Australia. She was the Director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Melbourne, and an editor of the Australian Journal of Jewish Studies. Amongst her publications, RTR readers may be interested in a lexicon of Ibn Ezra’s biblical Hebrew, co-published with Takamitsu Muraoka, and the current work (which this reviewer helped prepare for publication).

The subtitle best explains the contents. By drawing on both biblical and an intriguing array of archaeological sources, Shavitsky examines the migration of Jews to neighbouring countries across much of the 1st millennium BC. She demonstrates that there was much more fluidity than may have been imagined. The Biblical data are treated respectfully, and more critical reconstructions circumspectly (e.g. Second Isaiah). The book really does place fresh light upon the context of the biblical story.

Regarding the ‘lost’ ten tribes, Shavitsky shows that at the time of the Assyrian conquest, the population of Jerusalem swelled. Significant elements of the ten tribes were not lost but absorbed into the Southern Kingdom. The story of the two nations then became entwined, being exiled together in the sixth century (and being joined with some already-exiled Northerners), some returning to the Land together, and some never having left Israel and Judah in the first place. This makes more comprehensible Isaiah’s insistence that it will be the children of Israel who will be redeemed.

Michael Stone’s review concludes thus: ‘This work opens up and highlights a neglected dimension of the history of the Jewish people in the early first millennium. Its contribution is most significant.’