Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Lost Tribe Returns (?)

From The Scotsman:
A group of 51 Indians who claim to be descendants of one of the ten lost biblical tribes were on their way to Israel last night, in what is viewed by their supporters as a fulfillment of prophecy.

They were converted to Judaism in India by rabbis after Israel's chief rabbinate last year recognised about 7,000 people from the remote north-eastern states of Mizoram and Minapur who claim ancient Israelite ancestry through belonging to the Bnei Menashe, one of the ten tribes that were lost after being exiled by the Assyrians in 586BC.

[…] The Indians' Jewish practices were observed after 1953, when a holy man from a remote village in Mizoram said the Holy Spirit had appeared to him in a vision, to explain that the Christian tribe he belonged to were actually the children of Menashe, son of the biblical Joseph, and that God instructed them to return to what he determined to be their previous religion, Judaism and to their homeland, Israel.

Some researchers say certain practices involving animal sacrifice were similar to ancient Hebrew traditions, while an ancient song among one tribe talked of crossing the Red Sea.

The tale of how the community's ancestors supposedly came to India's north-east - sandwiched between Bangladesh and Myanmar - is grand in its historical sweep but short on scientific support. Exiled from ancient Israel by the Assyrian empire around 730BC, the tribe was apparently forced east and travelled through Afghanistan and China before settling in what is now India's north-east.

On the way, they forgot their language, their history and most of their traditions.

[…] An Orthodox rabbi who has spent the last half century searching for descendants of the lost tribes is the man who "discovered" the sons of Menashe.

His quest to bring the lost tribes back to Israel began in 1979, when Eliyahu Avihayil was shown a letter sent to a friend from India, from a group calling itself "the Jews of north-east India".

"I decided to find out who they are," Rabbi Avihayil said.

"Within two years I held that they belonged to the tribe of Menashi."

Among the clues that he took to be telltale signs, he said, were traditions resembling those of the ancient Israelites, including having places of refuge for those who had killed someone by mistake.

Rabbi Avihayil said his research revealed that the descendants of Menasseh also practised circumcision, albeit with sharpened flint rather than a knife.

[…] By Rabbi Avihayil's estimate, there are tens of millions of descendants of the lost tribes of Israel living in Japan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Thailand and Burma.

If these people can return to Orthodox Judaism after (according to the good Rabbi) having forgotten “their language, their history and most of their traditions,” perhaps there is hope that Liberal Protestants, who have forgotten the same things, can return to Orthodox Christianity.