Tracking the Tribes Through Migrations and Maps

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In this third article of our "Tribe Tracker" series, we begin to map the migrations of the so-called "lost 10 tribes of Israel." In the previous articles we have learned by what names the various tribal groups were known and how they are identified today based on incredible prophecies of the past. Plus we have seen the value of archaeology and even art history in the tracking process.

The nation of Israel

God chose the ancient nation of Israel to be an example for all other people. He gave them great blessings and expected high standards of worship and conduct from them. When they persistently rebelled against His leadership, He repeated warned them before punishing them.

The modern nation state of Israel consists of only a fraction of the tribal descendents. In fact many modern nations descended from the original 12 tribes. We are focusing on the great wandering of the 10 northern tribes who were never known as Jews in history. One of those tribes, Joseph, is the ancestor of the United States and British nations today. Other tribes spawned certain of the modern, northwest European nations.

Assyria takes 10 tribes captive

From 740 to about 720 B.C., the empire of ancient Assyria located in what is now Iraq and Iran conquered and deported all 10 of the northern tribes of Israel. They marched the beaten captives into exile from Israel's northern and eastern borders. They also drafted many able-bodied men of these tribes into their army and positioned them on the Assyrian frontiers as buffers between themselves and neighboring enemies.

The Bible explains how Assyria transported and resettled the 10 tribes of Israel: "Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years…the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes" (2 Kings 17:5-6).

The Israelites were mostly known by variations of what the Assyrians called them: Khumri or Ghomri, which also came out as Gimira and Cimmerians. Others were known by their ancestor Isaac's name as Saka or Scythia.

Here's how the tribe-tracking story unfolded over the last 2,700 years.

A critical, directional prophecy

Because they behaved very badly (sinned), God gave the 10 tribes the "boot" from the land of Israel. But He had plans for them yet. God had promised Abraham that He would give his children the Israelites some fine new homelands eventually.

"I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you," God told the great patriarch. He promised the same for Abraham's beautiful wife Sarah: "And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her" (Genesis 17:6, 16).

What a family Abraham and Sarah started! The single nation of ancient Israel produced numerous nations descended from her 12 tribes thousands of years later in our day. Tracking these tribes in the Bible is easy, but we are now tracking them through history from their captivity forward to now.

Where did the tribes go? Let's look at a key, directional prophecy talking about where God will bring Israel back from at Christ's return. "Surely these shall come from afar; look! Those from the north and the west, and these from the land of Sinim" (Isaiah 49:12). In the Bible, unless otherwise noted, all directions are oriented to Jerusalem. So the tracks must ultimately head north and west which they do.

This is a compass bearing for the modern nations of Israelite origin: follow the landmass to the northwest. The tribes now grown into nations are located in northwest Europe and beyond to North America and elsewhere.

Parts of the tribes immediately went northwest; others waited a few centuries in the east in what is now Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and even up to the outer borders of China before they migrated west and north.

650 B.C. Scythian and Cimmerian dispersion

The Scythians and Cimmerians were both groupings of the tribes of Israel. Assyria drafted a number into its armies soon after the captivity. They rose to some power in the empire and finally had an opportunity to help bring down their former oppressor before 600 B.C. Quite early, elements of the Cimmerians migrated west across Asia Minor (today's Turkey) conquering or fighting whoever stood in their path until they linked and merged with the Celts already in northwest Europe and Britain. The Celts were kinsmen Israelites who had migrated centuries earlier to found trade and mining colonies.

300 B.C. Alexander's empire and the tribes; Celts in Britain

Alexander the Great gave Greece and Macedonia their day in the sun, but he died early leaving the four divisions of his empire to four major generals (which is also a fulfilled prophecy described in Daniel 8, especially verses 8 and 21-22). His push caused many Scythians to migrate into Armenia and north around the Black Sea to Europe. He also hastened ongoing migrations of Cimmerians further into northwest Europe where they were called Celts by the Greeks and Gauls by the Romans. Some of the highly mobile eastern Scythians, the Saka or Sacae, moved north and temporarily east, harassing the borders of China.

150 B.C. Parthian Empire; Gauls in France

The Roman Republic had grown powerful and was often in conflict with various elements of the Gauls (their name for Celts) to their north. But the one power that Rome could never conquer was the Parthian Empire.

The Scythian-Celtic connection to the lost tribes is well-established in our booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy. Other tribal trails are more challenging to trace, and not everyone interested in tracking the tribes comes to the same conclusions. However, Israeli Talmudic scholar Yair Davidy, in his book The Tribes: The Israelite Origins of Western Peoples, presents convincing evidence about other groups that eventually migrated into Europe. Some of these may also have been, or included, displaced Israelites.

Citing Chinese histories and the geographic work of Ortellius (1570) who drew maps based on legendary, ancient sources, Mr. Davidy tells the story of Parthia and her neighboring tribes (The Tribes, pp. 92-94). Parthia started as a kingdom of Scythians at the south end of the Caspian Sea and began to flex its muscle about 250 B.C. Allied with other Scythian and Saka groupings, they built an empire controlling all trade on the Silk Road to China. In 54 B.C. Rome lost an entire legion fighting a much smaller army of mounted Parthian archers.

One tribal grouping near the border of China was the Massagetae, which the Chinese called Yueh-Chi. Climate changes in Siberia and pressure from the Huns (also on the borders of China) began to push the Yueh-Chi southwest toward Parthia. Elements of the tribes were repopulating Scandinavia by this time too. They were called the Gutones or Teutons.

A.D. 150 Parthian Empire at its apex

The Parthian Empire at its apex ruled many peoples, including the Persians, who revolted and seized power in 226. Most histories say the Parthians then simply disappeared from history. They "disappeared" by migrating north and west just like all the other elements of the Israelite tribes had been doing for centuries. (ibid., p. 198)

The Roman Empire was also at its zenith, ruling the Gauls in France and the Celtic Brythons in Britain. Various tribal groupings were populating northern Europe. In Scandinavia the Gutones became known as the Goths of the west (Visigoths). The Yueh-Chi or Guti or Getae also began to be known as the eastern Goths, the Ostrogoths (ibid., p. 179).

A.D. 300 Goths on fringes of Roman Empire

Nearly all parts of the tribes had tracked west into Europe from Asia. The Scythian and Cimmerian titles gave way to numerous Israelite tribal and clan names.

Known then generally as Goths, they were massing on the northern borders of the Roman Empire. Rome faced a gathering storm from those they called barbarians, but who were increasingly well organized and preparing to settle in their new homelands north and west of Jerusalem.

A.D. 500 The fall of Rome and the rise of the tribes in Europe

Various tribal groups including the Heruli, Vandals, Visigoths and Ostrogoths overran Rome several times, but with finality in 476. Saxons (the final form of Sacae, Saka, Sacasone or Scythians), with the aid of the Angles and Jutes, also invaded Britain. Soon other tribal clans from ancient Israel began to settle in areas that would assume nation status over the next 500 years. Their modern national names include Ireland, Great Britain (and the nations to grow from her main colonies like the United States, Canada, Australia, etc.), France, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Historical maps are a boon to tribe trackers. These are based on early maps and histories of ancient and classical geographer-historians like Herodotus (5th century B.C.), the elder and younger Plinys (1st century), Ptolemy (2nd century) and other sources (see sources below). Also to learn more about this vital topic, be sure to request or download your free copy of The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.

Why track tribes?

Too much of Christianity discounts the value of Bible history and of prophecy, which is history revealed in advance. As a young, vertical-thinking tribe tracker, very likely your educational institution has discounted the value of studying history. But perhaps you are beginning to see how important it is to know something of where you and others have come fromand then to see where we are all going.

Sir Winston Churchill, famous British prime minister and prolific historian, summed up the study of history: "The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see."

In the final installment of the "Tribe Tracker's Guide to the Future," we will see what great things God has in store for the tribes of Israel and for every other tribe ever to live in history. That future has all to do with the Kingdom of God. Don't miss it! VT

The Tribes, by Yair Davidy, 1999.
The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, by Colin McEvedy, 1967.
Oxford Atlas of World History, Patrick K. O'Brien, editor, 1999.
Atlas of Classical History, by Michael Grant, 1994.
Bible Mapbook, by Simon Jenkins, 1985.
Romans and Barbarians, by Derek Williams, 1999.
The Barbarian West, by J.M. Wallace-Hadrill, 1962.