The Lost Ten Tribes in America

Esdras Preacheth the Law

After the Neo-Assyrian Empire conquered the Kingdom of Israel (c. 720 BC), ten of the twelve tribes were deported. They have become known as the Lost Ten Tribes because their whereabouts was unknown.

In the apocryphal book 2 Esdras
 we have a small clue about where they might have gone.

“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, . . .” (2 Esdras 13:40-41)

According to these verses, the ten tribes were taken over waters, then they decided to go to a land that was even further away, a land where “never mankind dwelt”. What we can assume from this is that they went a far distance to a land that, as far as they knew, was uninhabited. That would pretty much rule out the Middle East, Africa and Europe because they would have known that those lands were inhabited. They also wanted a fresh start. They were looking for a land away from “the heathen”.

This record from Esdras has similarities to Book of Mormon records. The  Mulekites, the Jaredites, and Lehi’s family all left the Middle East under tumultuous circumstances.

Although many of the early European settlers saw the Native Americans as savages and treated them accordingly, others believed them to be the lost ten tribes and respected them accordingly. William Penn, for whom the US Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is named, was one who believed them to be Israelites. He was well known for his good relationships and successful treaties with the natives. In a 1683 letter to the Committee of the Free Society of Traders in London, England he wrote:

William Penn

“I am ready to believe them of the Jewish race — I mean of the stock of the Ten Tribes—and that for the following reasons: First, they were to go to a land not planted or known, which, to be sure, Asia and Africa were, if not Europe, and he that intended that extraordinary judgment upon them might make the passage not uneasy to them, as it is not impossible in itself, from the eastermost parts of Asia to the westermost parts of America. In the next place, I find them of the like countenance, and their children of so lively resemblance that a man would think himself in Duke’s Place, or Berry Street, London, when he seeth them. But this is not all; they agree in wrights, they reckon by moons, they offer their first fruits, they have a kind of feast of tabernacles, they are said to lay their altar upon twelve stones . . “

Feast of Tabernacles

Penn points out that the Native Americans had “a kind of feast of tabernacles.”  A few things that happened anciently at a Sukkoth or Feast of Tabernacles are:

  • People Gather at the temple (at the temple courtyard, or around the temple)
  • The people live in sukkah (booths or tents) for seven days with the sukkah opening facing the temple (Leviticus 23:42-43)
  • The king or religious leader addresses the people
  • The people are encouraged to love and serve God
  • Scripture (the law) is read (Deuteronomy 31:10-13)
  • Sometimes a new king is coronated
  • It is said to be the festival of the future, looking forward to the coming of the Messiah

When we read the first 6 chapters of Mosiah, the gathering of the people at the temple to hear King Benjamin sounds very much like a Sukkot.

  • The people gathered at the temple (Mosiah 2:1)
  • They lived in tents which faced the temple (Mosiah 2:5)
  • The King, Benjamin, addressed them (Mosiah 2:8)
  • The law was read
  • The people were exhorted to love and serve God
  • A new king, Mosiah, was named
  • King Benjamin (about 124 BC) told of the coming of the Messiah

The Nephites observed the Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles, as did their Native American ancestors.

We also know that the Nephites reckoned time by the moon.

“And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons.” (Omni 1:21)

Unlike our calendar which is based on the solar year, the Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle.

Many events associated with the restoration occurred on major Jewish holy days.

  • Moroni’s first visit to Joseph Smith on September 21, 1823 happened during Sukkot.
  • Joseph received the plates on Rosh Hashanah which is often called the Feast of the Trumpets, or the day of shouting.

Why would Moroni present his record to Joseph Smith on the Jewish Feast of the Trumpets? Because he was an Israelite announcing the restoration. It’s appropriate that today he is depicted blowing a trumpet.


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Feast of Tabernacles by: wikimedia commons, matanya

Other images in the public domain

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