A Answer To

A Reader's Question


D. Calvin Andrus
28 September 2001


On 10 September 2001 I received an email, a portion of which read:

. . .I have enjoyed visiting your site of church talks in the past and was hoping to find something on the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel . . .

I am not a scholar of Ancient Jewish history, but it sounded like a fun topic to explore. Here are my observations.


Before we can really understand which of the Tribes of Israel are the Lost Ten, we need to understand more clearly what we mean by the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Jacob (Esau's brother) had his named changed to Israel. He had 12 sons and 1 daughter from two wives and two concubines (or four wives, depending on your definition of wife.) In our (ill-defined) common usage, we talk about the 12 tribes of Israel as the descendants of these 12 sons, grouped by lineage.

When Israel got to giving his final blessings to his 12 sons, he gave Joseph a "double portion" and then divided Joseph's "double portion" into two blessings, one for each of Joseph's two (half Egyptian) sons--Manasseh and Ephriam. When the children of Israel got to breaking up into tribes, the tribe of Joseph split into two along the lines of his two sons. There were, then, more correctly speaking, Thirteen Tribes of Israel. They were (in birth order):

  1. Reuben
  2. Simeon
  3. Levi
  4. Judah
  5. Dan
  6. Naphtali
  7. Gad
  8. Asher
  9. Issachar
  10. Zebulun
  11. Joseph/Manasseh
  12. Joseph/Ephriam
  13. Benjamin

(see Genesis 29:32 - 30:24; 35:18; 41:51-52; 48:13-22; cf. I Chron 5:1)

When the 13 Tribes were wandering around in the desert after leaving Egypt. Moses decided to do a census. We find the census in the book of Numbers (get it -- numbering the Children of Israel). Because the Tribe of Levi was the "priestly" tribe--that is, priests could only come from Levi, the members of the other tribes could not avail themselves of priestly functions, except by getting in touch with a Levite. Because the tribes were large in number and Moses wanted each tribe to reside in its own geographic area, it would be hard for a person to who need priestly attention to travel over to the camp of the Levites. Therefore, the Tribe of Levi was divided into twelve groups, with one group being assigned to each of the rest of the Twelve Tribes. Each of the other Twelve Tribes were obligated to support their 1/12th of the Tribe of Levi. From Moses's point of view, he only had to deal with Twelve administrative units. The Tribe of Levi no longer constituted an administrative unit--because their needs were taken care of by the host tribe. Thus we can now again talk about the Twelve Tribes of Israel, with the understanding that in this context the reference to Twelve Tribes excludes the Tribe of Levi. (See Numbers chapter 1, especially verse 49.)

John, the Revelator, saw in a vision 144,000 people being crowned with glory--12,000 from each of the Twelve Tribes. But guess what? He included Levi, but left out Dan! (He also referred to the Tribe of Ephriam as the Tribe of Joseph. (See Revelations 7:5-8.)

Let me summarize this section. There are four different definitions of the Tribes of Israel

  1. The (original) Twelve Tribes (one tribe for each of the sons of Jacob)
  2. The Thirteen Tribes (the Tribe of Joseph being split into Manasseh and Ephriam)
  3. Moses's Twelve Tribes (the thirteen minus Levi), and
  4. John's Twelve Tribes (including Levi and excluding Dan).


Let me rephrase the question so that we can formulate a complete answer: Of the 13 Tribes of Israel, which 10 are lost (and which 3 are not lost)?


Once Joshua and the Children of Israel ethnically cleansed most of the land of Palestine, the land was divided among the "Moses" Twelve Tribes. Again, 1/12 of the Tribe of Levi went with each of the other Twelve Tribes.

(See Map 5 in the LDS 1979 edition of the King James Bible. Note that on this map the Tribe of Dan is split--the larger part in the far north and the smaller part in the south near Judah. Note also that Simeon is south of Judah.)

After the reign of King Solomon, the Israelite nation split into a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom. The northern kingdom was called Israel and was led by the Tribe of Ephraim. The southern kingdom was known as Judah and was led by the Tribe of Judah. The southern kingdom was made up of the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin (and 2/12ths of Levi). The northern kingdom was made up of the other 10 tribes and 10/12ths of the Tribe of Levi. (see 1 Kings 12:16-24) (How the Tribe of Simeon ended up north of the Tribe of Judah, I do not know. I suspect many of the Tribe of Simeon ended up in the southern kingdom.) Rounding up 10/12ths, nearly the whole Tribe of Levi was in the northern kingdom, which, depending upon how you count would really make 11 Tribes.

After the Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom in about 721, they ethnically cleansed the area and took all (most of) the people of the northern kingdom "north" into slavery. Being lost to history, the 11 captured Tribes are known as the lost 10 Tribes.

As we can see, the distinction between the 2 and 2/12ths remaining tribes and the 11 that were carried away is not clean. The term "10 Lost Tribes" is a rough approximation.

At the time of the barbarian invasions, not all Romans lived in Rome and not everyone living in Rome was a Roman. So too, at the time of the Assyrian invasion, not all members of the 10 tribes lived in the north, and not everyone living in the north were members of the 10 tribes. There were, undoubtedly, also members of Judah and Benjamin residing in the northern kingdom and were carried away as well. (See 1 Kings 12:17)

One need look no further than the Book of Mormon for evidence of this. Even though Lehi's tribe (Manasseh) was carried off as part of the "10 Lost Tribes"--his ancestors were not, presumably because they were businessmen in Jerusalem. (See 1 Nephi 6:2 and Alma 10:3) (Advanced Question: So is the tribe of Manasseh really lost if we know his descendants populate the American Continent and the Pacific Isles?)

What we all really want to know is, "what happened to the 11 lost tribes?"


The first theory is that the lost tribes eventually intermarried with the local populations where they resided, thus becoming part of the many nations northwest, north, northeast, and possibly east of Palestine. They lost their identity as Israelites. Over thousands of years, their genetic material has been scattered throughout the nations of the earth. Amos subscribed to this theory (Amos 9:8-9). So did Jacob, son of Lehi. His famous allegory of the Olive Tree (Jacob 5) indicates a mixing and scattering. Joseph Fielding Smith, is a modern subscriber to this theory. Commenting on Jacob 5 he says it,

is a story of the scattering of Israel and the mixing of the blood of Israel with the wild olive trees, or Gentile peoples, in all parts of the world. Therefore we find in China, Japan, India, and in all other countries that are inhabited by the Gentiles that the blood of Israel was scattered, or "grafted," among them. (Smith, Joseph Fielding. Answers to Gospel Questions. vol. 4. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966. s.v. How Extensive Was the Scattering of Israel?).

The fact that Moses appeared to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple to give him the keys of the Gathering of Israel (DC 110:10) is evidence of the scattering. Indeed, it is this priesthood authority that is given to full-time missionaries as they seek to gather Israel to the Stakes of Zion. Many believe that the declaration of lineage in their Patriarchal Blessings that they are from the Tribe of Ephriam is an indication of genetic inheritance from the actual person of Ephriam himself, having been gathered from among the Gentiles.


The other major theory is that the lost tribes remained intact with a separate identity distinct from the local populations--that they have remained a (mostly) genetically pure people. The strongest evidence of this is from the Savior himself when he tells the Nephites that when he gets through with them, he is going to visit the lost tribes (3 Nephi 17:4; cf. John 10:16) Jacob's brother Nephi subscribed to this theory (2 Ne 29:12-13) when he declares that they are writing their own scriptures. Jeremiah, too, believed they would return, en mass, from the north (Jeremiah 31:8). Joseph Smith echoes this sentiment by declaring that ice will flow when they return. (DC 133:26) Because Ephriam has not yet returned from the north, many believe that the declaration of lineage in their Patriarchal Blessings that they are from the Tribe of Ephriam is an indication that they are part of overwhelming numbers of Gentiles that in the last days are adopted into the house of Israel through baptism.


James Talmage reconciles these two theories, by accepting both simultaneously. Some of the lost tribes melted into the local populations, and some of them remained in tact:

Restoration of the Lost Tribes -- From the scriptural passages already considered, it is plain that, while many of those belonging to the Ten Tribes were diffused among the nations, a sufficient number to justify the retention of the original name were led away as a body and are now in existence in some place where the Lord has hidden them. To them the resurrected Christ went to minister after His visit to the Nephites, as before stated. Their return constitutes a very important part of the gathering, characteristic of the dispensation of the fulness of times. (Talmage, James E. A Study of the Articles of Faith. 12th ed., rev. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1970. pp. 340-341.)

This is affirmed by the 10th Article of Faith that says we believe in both the gathering of Israel AND the restoration of the Ten Tribes. Moreover, the keys Moses gave to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple were for both the gathering of Israel AND leading the ten tribes from the north. (DC 110:11)


As Latter-day Saints, we participate in the gathering of the scattered tribes of Israel and look forward to the return of the remnant of the 11 Lost Tribes. We really do want the "Sons of Levi" to come back (See DC 13) even if some people don't consider them a tribe. We really do want to read the scriptures of the Lost Tribes. We really do want all of this to happen so that the Savior can return to reign on the earth.

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