Over 2,700 years
ago, the Assyrians exiled the ten tribes of the Kingdom of
Israel. "In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of
Assyria captured Samaria and he carried them away to Assyria
and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of
Gozan, and in the cities of Medes." In the years
722-721 BC (over 2700 years ago), the Ten Tribes who
comprised the northern Kingdom of Israel disappeared.
Conquered by the Assyrian King Shalmaneser V, they were
exiled to upper Mesopotamia and Medes, today modern Syria
and Iraq. The Ten Tribes of Israel have never been seen
since. Or have they?
Tudor Parfitt, the protagonist
of the NOVA documentary "Lost Tribes of Israel,"
made a journey through southern Africa to study the unusual
traditions of a black African tribe called the Lemba. This
Bantu-speaking group claimed Jewish ancestry and observed
many Semitic traditions such as kosher-like dietary
restrictions and slaughter practices, male circumcision
rites, strict rules against intermarriage, and
Semitic-sounding clan names.
Once described as "a sort
of British Indiana Jones," Parfitt spent many months
with the Lemba, meeting their tribal and religious leaders
and observing some of their most sacred rituals. He came to
the conclusion that the origin of many of the Lemba
traditions was indeed Semitic, not African. But whether
these traditions came from Islamic or Jewish sources was
impossible to discern from the historical and
anthropological evidence available. It would take
Y-chromosome studies to delve deeper into this question of
A few years after his travels,
Parfitt teamed up with a group from The Center for Genetic
Anthropology at University College London to look for a
genetic counterpart to the Lemba's oral tradition of Jewish
descent. Using a relatively new technique in genetic
studies, the team identified a particular series of genetic
markers on the Y chromosome of Lemba males. They then
compared these markers to other groups with whom the Lemba
might have shared a common ancestor long ago.