During the days of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split. The northern section, under the rebellious Jeroboam, retained the name “Israel,” while the southern kingdom became known as “Judah.” The northern faction, with its capital at Samaria, lasted about 210 years. It fell to the Assyrians in 722/21 B.C. According to Assyrian records, 27,290 Hebrews were taken into that captivity. Many of the northern Jews, however, were left in the land — so the expression “ten lost tribes” is not accurate.
The Assyrian empire was conquered by the neo-Babylonian regime in about 612-09 B.C., and the Hebrews who were in that captivity came under the control of the Babylonians.
Beginning around 606 B.C., and continuing through 586 B.C., in a series of three invasions, the Babylonians came against the kingdom of Judah. It has been estimated that some 70,000 Jews were taken to Babylon during these campaigns (and this doubtless included some of those of the northern kingdom who had remained in Canaan). The Babylonian captivity lasted for 70 years (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:21; Jeremiah 25:12).
In about 538 B.C., Cyrus, a Persian king, overthrew the Babylonian regime. Presently, he initiated a policy by which the Hebrews were permitted to return to their homeland in Palestine. In three movements westward, the Jews migrated back to the land. It is estimated that approximately 125,000 people returned (Nehemiah 7:5-73). Some, however, chose to remain in the land of the captivity (see the book of Esther).
That tribal distinctions had not disappeared is evident from the following facts.
When the Jews settled in their own land, they began to rebuild the temple — which project took about six years. When completed, it was formally dedicated. At the dedication, sacrifices were offered “according to the number of the [twelve] tribes of Israel” (Ezra 6:17). It thus is clear that the ten tribes were never lost; some of these either remained in Babylon, or else returned with their kinsmen of the southern kingdom. As with many other Jews, eventually they were scattered far and wide (see: Deuteronomy 28:64ff).
When Christ was born, and was brought to Jerusalem to fulfill certain requirements of the law, there was a Hebrew woman, a prophetess of the tribe of Asher (one of the supposedly “lost” tribes), who was praising God in the temple. See also James 1:1.
In c. A.D. 1649, John Sadler advanced the theory that the Anglo-Saxons of Great Britain were the descendants of the “ten lost tribes.” This theory later was developed by Richard Brothers (1757-1824). In our day it was popularized to some extent by Herbert W. Armstrong, of the World-Wide Church of God. Armstrong contended that the modern throne of England was an extension of David’s throne, and that the “Stone of Scone,” upon which the queen was crowned, actually was the pillar of Jacob (Genesis 28:11), though the stone appears to have come from Scotland!
The Mormons teach a similarly absurd doctrine. In Mormon lore it is alleged that in 600 B.C., during the reign of King Zedekiah, a man named Lehi, together with a companion, Ishmael, left Jerusalem and sailed to America. It is argued that Mulek, Zedekiah’s son, joined Lehi, and the two groups combined to form a great nation. Mormons claim these people were ancestors of the American Indians. In Joseph Smith’s “Articles of Faith,” it is stated:
We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built on the American continent; that Christ will reign personally on the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisaical glory (Article 10).
So much error, packed into such a brief sentence!
Neither of these speculative theories is supported by a shred of historical truth. They originated in the minds of those who, though perhaps sincere, had little understanding of, or regard for, biblical truth.