Monday, August 08, 2005

lost tribes...?

I realise that when one drops the phrase, "lost tribes", it conjours up any one of a number of images, such as British Israelism, or it's more recent variation that seems to have hit some Messianic groups, the "Two Houses" idea. That is the belief that every European believer in Yeshua is potentially descended from Israelites who became thoroughly assimilated into European society.

I won't comment further on that theory, except to say that unless someone shows me some geneological records I was hitherto unaware of (which would delight me no end) I will remain what God made me: Irish. Also, the theories assume that the Northern tribes were not only lost (which some question), but also thoroughly assimilated into their adoptive cultures.

There is, however, evidence that they were neither lost nor assimilated... or maybe lost as far as Western popular history, but as the little boy found wandering about the shopping mall said, "I'm not lost, my parents are." (In the same way, we could say Columbus didn't discover America. The Native Americans knew about it all along.)

What follows is not a Christian/Messianic fad. It's something that many Orthodox rabbis in Israel are taking seriously (although opinion is a bit devided). All of my sources come from rabbinical sources, such as Moshiach Online, and the book: Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel .
You can also do a Google advance search, entering the string "Lost Tribes" and either "Bnai Menashe" or "Pathan" to find much much more.

The Moshiach Online website has information on about a dozon groups, including the Pathan, who make up a major part of the population of Afghanistan, Kashmeris, and a group called Bnai Menashe, a group of people from the Mizo/Chin tribe of India and Burma.

If you look up these links and take it all in, there's actually very little that I could add to them, except to say that this probably represents a wide open opportunity for Messianics who are considering following the will of Adonai, to consider if it may mean relocating to a different part of the world, such as, say, Afghanistan, India or S.E. Asia.

This has been a very exciting discovery for me, as I happen to know a number of people of the Chin/Mizo tribe in Burma. They were evangelised some 100 years ago, and the tribe is about 95% Christian, at least nominally, but a great percent are Evangelical, with many Pentecostals and Charismatics. A relatively small group of them, numbering several thousand living on the Indian side of the border (where they are caled "Mizos") have concluded that they are, in fact, of the tribe of Menashe. What is surprising is there are rabbis who, after examining their culture and what they remember of their history, believe them.

As for the rest of the tribe, on both sides of the border, they are still 95% Christian. Unfortunately, those who originally took the Gospel to them, besides having no idea that these could be the tribe of Menashe (and would have probably resisted acknowledging the idea anyway), put very little emphesis on Old Testament foundational knowledge. It's easy to see how many of them, having only a minimal New Testament foundation to begin with, having become nominal after a few generations, could be influenced by something with more depth such as Rabbinical Judaism. They have, in effect, exchanged a religion that lost its foundation, for the foundation itself, but without the building that it was intended for.

I believe this represents a ministry opportunity for the Messianic movement -- if not to the Bnai Menashe who have already adopted Judaism, at least to the rest, who need their understanding of their faith deepened, both so as to know how to respond to the Bnai Menashe movement, but more importantly, to know how to respond to their calling as Israelites, if that is indeed what they are. If not, at least they could use a better foundation for their faith.

The Pathan and Kashmeris are followers of Islam, but still hold Israeli traditions that are even more obvious than those of the Bnai Menashe. There are both customs and place names that are readily recognisable from the Bible, but not inherited from Islam. Even British colonists and others in history have noted the fact. In light of that, it amazes me no end, how the idea still clung on, that the 10 Northern tribes are lost and, of all things, British! The Moshiach Online website also gives other examples of cultures far and wide that could have Israelite connections.

The challange of course is obvious, but I do believe that Messianic Judaism, mixed with a bit of cross cultural adaptation and wisdom, is in the best possition to take it up. Our mandate may be bigger than we had thought. It's still about sharing Ha Mochiach with the Jewish community, and helping the Christian community find their Jewish roots, but now it's not just on a local level. Each one should pray about what it means for him/herself.

If you begin to have the feeling that there's not much more that can be said and done in your own community that the locals (both Jewish and Christian) haven't seen and heard already, maybe it's time to move on. If we truly believe we have a mandate, and that we are approaching the end times when Israel will be gathered to her home, it's something we need to take seriously.

It's not an easy decision in every case, just as it wasn't for Avraham when G-d told him to leave his country. It also doesn't pay to be rash, but for sure, take it seriously and seek G-d about it, and talk about it with the believers in your fellowship.

Then, prepare.

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