Why "the Lost 10 Tribes" Aren't Really "Lost" + Where That Saying Came From


One of the most frequently asked doctrinal questions since the early days of the Church concerns the history and whereabouts of the Israelites sometimes called the "lost ten tribes." Yet "Where are the lost ten tribes?" is not a Latter-day Saint question at all. It was brought into the Church by early converts from other denominations, who were already speculating concerning it. It was asked more commonly in past generations, but even today the question still arises. It is unfortunate that it should be asked at all, however, because latter-day revelation gives clear teaching on the subject—as does the Bible. The expression "lost tribes" is found in only two verses of scripture—both in the Book of Mormon (see 2 Ne. 29:13; 3 Ne. 17:4). Both passages refer to members of the house of Israel outside their ancestral homeland. Nephi indicates that the word lost shows the perspective of the Israelites in Palestine: the "lost" tribes were simply "lost from the knowledge of those who are at Jerusalem" (1 Ne. 22:4). Thus those people are Israelites who were removed from Palestine and whose history was unknown to those who remained, including to the writers of the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

In the eighth century before Christ, the kingdom of Israel, consisting of the northern ten tribes, was destroyed because of the wickedness of its people. Many of its inhabitants were deported from their homeland by Assyrian conquerors and relocated in other places (see 2 Kgs. 15:29; 17:3–6, 23), where they became lost from the view of the rest of Israel. They and their descendants are the "lost tribes" because their identity was not known to the world and in most cases not even to themselves. When the term is used for the descendants of the deported northern tribes, it is synonymous with "ten tribes," an expression found only in Doctrine and Covenants 110:11 and Article of Faith 10.1

While there is much about the history of the lost tribes of Israel that is not known, they are not really lost. The scriptures tell us where they went, where they are today, and how they will return. Old Testament and Book of Mormon prophecies constitute our best source of information regarding their current whereabouts. The message is clear: They would be scattered among the nations of the earth. That is where they are today, and it is from that scattered condition that they are gathered again in the last days.

Moses prophesied: "The Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you" (Deut. 4:27). In that scattered state, the Israelites would no longer worship the Lord but would adopt the religions of the lands in which they would live (see Deut. 4:28), suggesting that they would also lose the knowledge of their Israelite heritage. Moses said: "The Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone" (Deut. 28:64; see also Lev. 26:33). Hosea prophesied that the exiled Israelites would be "wanderers among the nations" (Hosea 9:17), and Amos said that the Lord would "sift" them "among all nations" (Amos 9:9). Years later, after Israel had been deported, the Lord told Ezekiel: "I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries" (Ezek. 20:23). It should be noted that the words Gentiles, nations, people, and heathen in the King James Version are synonymous terms. They are all translated from the Hebrew words ‘ammîm and gôyîm, both of which mean "nations" or "peoples" and refer to the non-Israelite nations of the world.

Book of Mormon prophecies are even more explicit about the lost tribes being scattered among the nations of the earth. Nephi taught: "The house of Israel, sooner or later, will be scattered upon all the face of the earth, and also among all nations" (1 Ne. 22:3). He continued, "And behold, there are many who are already lost from the knowledge of those who are at Jerusalem. Yea, the more part of all the tribes have been led away; and they are scattered to and fro" (1 Ne. 22:4).

Where will they be when the gathering takes place? Nephi taught that "after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded" (1 Ne. 22:7), the Lord would begin the process by which the covenants of the gospel would be brought to them, and they would be gathered again (see 1 Ne. 22:7–11). Thus they would still be in their scattered state throughout the world when the gospel would be brought to them by the Lord's missionaries. The Savior himself provided this explanation: "And then shall the remnants, which shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth, be gathered in from the east and from the west, and from the south and from the north; and they shall be brought to the knowledge of the Lord their God, who hath redeemed them" (3 Ne. 20:13; see also 21:26–29). The emphasis in these passages is clear: The Israelites would be scattered among the nations, and they would remain scattered until their latter-day gathering. Of course, these scriptures rule out the imaginative speculations that were once common in the Church—that the lost tribes are away from the earth, under the polar icecap, on the moon, and so forth.2

Who and where are the Israelites today? What does Isaiah say about the latter days? What does the Restoration teach us about Nebuchadnezzar's dream, Joel's prophecies, and Malachi's visions of our own time? In this long-awaited volume, respected scholar Kent P. Jackson shows that the answers to these and similar questions may be found in the abundance of Restoration scripture that sheds light on the Bible, its history, and its teachings. For example, we know that all the prophets testified of Jesus Christ, but did they do so only with 'types and shadows,' or did they teach with 'plainness,' as the Book of Mormon prophets did? Brother Jackson clearly and persuasively shows how additional sources of revealed truth clarify biblical teachings and point us to Christ.


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