The Lost Tribes of Israel

Bruce R. McConkie

When Shalmanezer overran the Kingdom of Israel (about 721 B.C.), he carried the Ten Tribes comprising that kingdom captive into Assyria. From thence they were led into the lands of the north and have been called the Lost Tribes because they are lost to the knowledge of other people. (1 Ne. 22:4.) "We have no knowledge of the location condition of that part if the Ten Tribes who went into the north country." (Compendium, p. 88.)

Esdras, an apocryphal writer, records this version of their escape from Assyria: "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 passage 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. Then dwelt they there until the latter times; and now when they shall begin to come, The Highest shall stay the stream again, that they may go through." (Apocrypha, 2 Esdras 13:40-47)

Commenting on this, Elder George Reynolds has written: "They determined to go to a country where never men dwelt, that they might be free from all contaminating influences. That country could only be found in the north. Southern Asia was already the seat of a comparatively ancient civilization. Egypt flourished in northern Africa, and southern Europe was rapidly filling with the future rulers of the world. They had, therefore, no choice but to turn their faces northward. The first portion of their journey was not however north; according to the account of Esdras, they appear to have at first moved in the direction of their old homes, and it is possible that they originally started with the intention of returning thereto, or probably in order to receive the Assyrians they started as if to return to Canaan, and when they had crossed the Euphrates, and were out of danger from the hosts of the Medes and Persians then they turned their journeying feet toward the polar star. Esdras states that they entered in at the narrow passages of the River Euphrates, the Lord staying the springs of the flood until they were passed over. The point on the River Euphrates at which they crossed would necessarily be in its upper portion, as lower down would be too far south for their purpose.

"The upper course of the Euphrates lies among lofty mountains and near the village of Pastash, it plunges through a gorge formed by precipices more than a thousand feet in height and so narrow that it is bridged at the top; it shortly afterward enters the plains of Mesopotamia. How accurately this portion of the river answers the description of Esdras of the narrows, where the Israelites crossed.

"From the Euphrates the wandering host could take but one course in their journey northward, and that was along the back or eastern shore of the Black Sea. All other roads were impassable to them, as the Caucasian range of mountains with only two or three passes throughout its whole extent, ran as a lofty barrier from the Black to the Caspian Sea. To go east would take them back to Media, and a westward journey would carry them through Asia Minor to the coasts of the Mediterranean. Skirting along the Black Sea, they would pass the Caucasian range, cross the Kuban River, be prevented by the Sea of Azof from turning westward and would soon reach the present home of the Don Cossaks." (Reynolds, Are We of Israel, pp. 27-28.)

"Is it altogether improbable that in that long journey of one and a half years, as Esdras states it, from Media the land of their captivity to the frozen north, some of the backsliding Israel rebelled, turned aside from the main body, forgot their God, by and by mingled with the Gentiles and became the leaven to leaven with the promised seed all the nations of the earth? The account given in the Book of Mormon of a single family of this same house, its waywardness its stiffneckedness before God, its internal quarrels and family feuds are, we fear, an example on a small scale of what most probably happened in the vast bodies of Israelites who for so many months wended their tedious way northward. Laman and Lemuel had, no doubt, many counterparts in the journeying Ten Tribes. And who so likely to rebel as stubborn, impetuous, proud and warlike Ephraim? Rebellion and backsliding have been so characteristically the story of Ephraim's career that he can scarcely conceive that it could be otherwise and yet preserve the unities of that people's history. Can it be any wonder then that so much of the blood of Ephraim has been found hidden and unknown in the midst of the nations of northern Europe and other parts until the spirit of prophecy revealed its existence?" (Are We of Israel, pp. 10-11.)

The Lost Tribes are not lost unto the Lord. In their northward journeyings they were led by prophets and inspired leaders. They had their Moses and their Lehi, were guided by the spirit of revelation, kept the law of Moses, and carried with them the statutes and judgments which the Lord had given them in age past. They were still a distinct people many hundreds of years later, for the resurrected Lord visited and ministered among them following his ministry on this continent among the Nephites. (3 Ne. 16:1-4; 17:4.) Obviously he taught them in the same way and gave them the same truths which he gave his followers in Jerusalem and on the American continent; and obviously they recorded his teachings, thus creating volumes of scripture comparable to the Bible and Book of Mormon. (2 Ne. 29:12-14.)

In due course the Lost Tribes of Israel will return and come to the children of Ephraim to receive their blessings. This great gathering will take place under the direction of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for he holds the keys of "the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north." (D. & C. 110:11.) Keys are the right of presidency the power to direct; and by this power the Lost Tribes will return, with "their prophets" and their scriptures to "be crowned with glory, even in Zion, by the hands of the servants of the Lord, even the children of Ephraim." (D. & C. 133:26-35.)

At the October, 1916, general conference of the Church, Elder James E. Talmage made this prediction: "The tribes shall come, they are not lost unto the Lord; they shall be brought forth as hath been predicted; and I say unto you there are those now living — aye some here present — who shall live to read the records of the Lost Tribes of Israel, which shall be made one with the record of the Jews, or the Holy Bible, and the record of the Nephites, or the Book of Mormon, even as the Lord hath predicted; and those records, which the tribes lost to man but yet to be found again shall bring, shall tell of the visit of the resurrected Christ to them, after he had manifested himself to the Nephites upon this continent." (Articles of Faith, p. 513.)

Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine