Earliest Christians from the Ten Tribes – Documented

Earliest Christians from the Ten Tribes  Documented

Author – Margot Crossing

I was called to the Mizos of NE India in 1997. This, I talk about in other places in this blogsite. The Welsh missionaries found them in 1894 and within five decades, they say, that one hundred percent had become Christian. Early on some of the missionaries had noticed “Israelite” customs but had concealed this from the Chhinlung (aka Mizo) population. A Mizo prophet by the name of Chala in the 1950’s had had a vision where, he says, God had revealed to him that the Chhinlung were Israelites. Within the next three decades; the Jewish agency had become involved, some Mizos from both Mizoram and the neighbouring state of Manipur emigrated to Israel, and Synagogues were set up to convert would be Aliya participants to Judaism. It was in 1980’5 that researcher Zaithanchhungi became involved. Some of her relatives were preparing to go to Israel but she was of the opinion that the Mizos were not Israelites due to her seeing blue eyed Israelis in Israel on a world tour with her son Zira in 1979. Three serendipitous events happened; firstly she met a Jewish man on the way to Orissa (India) who invited her to  stay with his family in Israel, secondly she met Rabbi Elihayu Avichail of Amishav in Israel and was asked to do research back in Mizoram, and thirdly she – as a ‘top’ insurance sales woman – travelled extensively throughout villages and towns in Mizoram selling insurance AND interviewing 85 to over 100 year old Chhinlung men and women in the evenings according to R. Avichail’s instructions. She told me “after a very short time I changed my mind” regarding her views that Mizos were not descendants of Israel. She went onto say,”over and over, these elders stated that their parents and grandparents told them that they were ‘son of Manasseh.’

So here we have a modern day example of ancient Israelites (not Jews) becoming Christians in large numbers but is this a one off or has this always been the pattern?

Today, in this blog, I will quote Asahel Grant MD from his book The Nestorians or Lost Tribes It is written in 1841 and according to his findings there was a people group that had a remarkable history of being both of the Ten Tribes and also being among the earliest Christians. Their location was in the area of 19th century Persia, very near the locations of the Kurds. Grant went there as a missionary to what he called the Independent Nestorians. They were the remnant of the captivity of the Assyrians and today we may know them as a geographically isolated part of the Assyrian Church. He did not know their history before living among them and was surprised and delighted to find out that they owed their faith to apostles; Thomas, Thaddeus, Simon, Matthew, and Bartholomew, and to the disciples Ade, Mares, and Agheus.

“The Adjabena (i. e., inhabitants of Adiabene), Elamites, Persians, and Medes,” says Assemani “were brought over to the faith by the apostles Thomas, Thaddeus, Simon, Matthew, and Bartholomew, and by the disciples Ade, Mares, and Agheus, as has been shown above from Greek, Latin, and Syrian authors. After those first apostles of the Persians, the prelates subject to the archbishop of Seleucia aided either in imbuing the same people with the sacred rites of the Christians, or in confirming them in the faith which they had embraced.” And again he says, ” First of all beyond Mesopotamia,”  as it appears,  Adjabena (Adiabene) and Elamites, two of the provinces of the Persian kingdom, very quickly embraced the Christian faith, viz., in the very commencement of the infant church.”* page 229

* Assemani, Bib.Orient., vol. iv.p. 414*

The Independent Nestorians had remarkable customs and oral histories that they were descendants of the Ten Tribes of Israel. The entire book is well worth the read to convince you, the reader of this blog, that they were indeed Israelites! The follow exert ends with – And hence we infer that the numerous converts in the country of the ten tribes must have been the captive sons of Israel.

Here we are told that the inhabitants of the very places where the captive Israelites then lived were converted to the Christian, faith under the preaching, of the apostles, who went everywhere preaching the word several years before the disciples preached to the Gentiles.

Eusebius,t the earliest of our ecclesiastical historians, expressly informs us that the apostles ” were not yet in a situation to venture to impart the faith to the nations, and, therefore,, only announced it to the Jews.”  This was after the dispersion of the disciples and before the conversion of Cornelius, which is mentioned subsequently. Eusebius states, on the authority of Origen, that Parthia was assigned to Thomas; and he sums up the general success of the Gospel among ‘ the Israelites in the following graphic language : ” Thus, then, under a celestial influence and co-operation, the doctrine of the Saviour, like the rays of the sun, quickly irradiated the whole world. Presently, in accordance with Divine prophecy, the sound of his inspired evangelists and apostles had gone throughout all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. Throughout every city and village, like a replenished gamer, churches were seen abounding and filled with members.”*  At length he mentions the conversion of Cornelius, and the first Gentile converts under Peter and Paul, as an act of the special, ” gratuitous benevolence of God;” making it evident that the success of the Gospel among the Jews was prior to its reception by the Gentiles. And hence we infer that the numerous converts in the country of the ten tribes must have been the captive sons of Israel.

t Hist. Eccl., lib. il c. 1    * Hist Ecoles. lib. ii. c. 3.

In chapter XX and on page 236 Grants goes on to say, Although the twelve tribes were scattered abroad, and a great part of them in the distant countries of the Parthians and Medes the apostle appears to have been well acquainted with their circumstances and wants, and knew into what particular sin they had fallen, and just how to adapt his epistle to their case. For this his situation in the Holy City, the centre of information and well as of influence in the Hebrew nation, was peculiarly favourable; and as we have seen that Josephus, and king Agrippa,. and Paul, all living in that age, knew the abode and condition of the captive Israelites  ‘we could not for a moment suppose that James was’  less informed of their situation, even if there was not the clearest evidence to that effect in his epistle. They were not then “the lost tribes,” as they have been for centuries past. Not only were they well known, but, while we have no evidence that there was much general intercourse between them and the other Jews, the apostles and primitive disciples appear to have bestowed upon them a commendable share of attention; and it is equally clear that the efforts made for their conversion were attended with ‘great success.’*  

* Assem., Bib. Orient., v. iv. p. 414.

Grants conclusions are that Having shown that the ten tribes were, as a people, converted to Christianity in the apostolic age of the church, few words will be required to prove that the Nestorian Christians are their direct descendants.

  1. They inhabit the same places that were occupied by the ten tribes at the time of their conversion, and until the beginning of the fifth century, as has been already shown.
  2. Nestorian churches and prelates have flourished in an uninterrupted succession in the same places where they were founded by the apostles among the Israelites. ” Succeeding those first apostles of the Persians [Thomas, Thaddeus, &c,, who preached in Adiahene and Media] the prelates subject to the archbishop of Seleucia aided either in imbuing the same people with the sacred rites of the Christians, or in confirming them in the faith which they had embraced.” *

    * Bib. Orient., v. iv. p. 414.

Grant draws the conclusion that the Nestorians/Assyrians had formed the church in the East.

Now it is well known that Seleucia was from the earliest times the chief seat of authority and influence among the Nestorians, and that their archbishop, and subsequently their patriarchs resided there, and ruled over the whole country inhabited by the ten tribes. Mares, above named, governed the church at Seleucia in the year 82,t and from that time it continued to be the residence of the archbishop till a.d. 498, when the Nestorians, becoming the dominant sect in the East, made it the seat of their new patriarch,* whose successors occupied it till the year 762, when it was removed to Bagdad.t

Adiabene (Adjabena), Assyria, and Halah (Halachae) were metropolitan bishoprics, whose prelates, in A.D. 852, had the principal agency in ordaining the Nestorian patriarchs,F and they had embraced the Christian faith in the very commencement of the infant church.§ ” The schools of the Syrians flourished nowhere more than in Adiabene” ” This is a region of Persia mostly inhabited by Christians.” ||

* Bib. Orient., v. iv. p. 67.  t lb. p. 625.    F lb., p. 415, 416.  § lb. p. 414. II b., p. 932, 933.     

They are well known to have taken the Gospel across the Silk Road, into China through the regions of the old Partian Empire. In fact, the Church in the East – as opposed to the Church in the West i.e. Rome and Constantinople – flourished in a Golden Age all the while that the Church in the West was going into a dark age. See Philip Jenkins book The Lost History of Christianity; the Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

That the descendants of the Ten Tribes became the church and took the gospel to other regions that also had the Ten Tribes is the inescapable conclusion of reading just these two quoted books.

In another blog I comment that Jewish researcher Dr. Avigdor Shachan, in his book In the Footsteps of the Lost Ten Tribes complain that the Apostle Thomas went to the Israelites scattered all along the coastline of India converting them to Christianity and that by 7th century Patriarch Nestoriani said there were 5,000 kilometres of Israelite Churches.

It is my strong assertion that that pattern of the Gospel going to the Ten Tribes and becoming Christians in large numbers starts with those in Persia in 1st century and continues right through to the Mizos in NE India in the last century.

It would behoove missionary organizations to understand this biblical pattern in the propagation of the gospel. Whist the gospel is not exclusive to the bloodline of Israel it certainly looks like it finds good soil in the descendants of the Ten Tribes.

N.B. The Nestorian Church is better known today as the Assyrian Church. Whilst the Nestorian Church bears name of Nestorius (386–450), Patriarch of Constantinople from 428–431, it in no way holds to the incorrect doctrines of Nestorianism.

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4 thoughts on “Earliest Christians from the Ten Tribes – Documented

  1. Nazranees (Nazarenes) of South-West India and Ancient Jewish/Hebrew Christianity

    The Mar Thoma (St. Thomas) Syrian (Syriac) Christians, also known as Nazranees, of south-west India (former Travancore-Cochin-Malabar, present day Kerala) have been known as an ancient community of Christians. They are the descendants of those who accepted the Gospel from Apostle Thomas during his missionary work in south-west India in the first century. Perhaps less well known and less documented are the possible Hebrew (Jewish/Israelite) roots of this ancient Christian community.
    A primary indication of Hebrew roots are evident in the name by which this community has been (and is) known locally: Nazranees (or Nazarenes). Dr. Ray A. Pritz, in his thesis NAZARENE JEWISH CHRISTIANITY (The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1988) mentions that “Christian” was originally used by non-Christians to designate believers among the Gentiles while “Nazarenes” was already used in Palestine to describe Jewish adherents to the new Messianic sect.
    This name had been used to describe Christians of Hebrew origin in places far away from Palestine as well, as the findings of Dr. Asahel Grant show. Having been deputed by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to learn about the Nestorians in Persia, Dr. Grant, a physician-missionary, reached Persia in 1835; he returned to the USA in 1840 and submitted a report of his findings which was published as THE NESTORIANS OR, THE LOST TRIBES (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1841). Dr. Grant mentions of the tradition of the Nazoreans (Nazarenes) among the Nestorians that they are the posterity of the Israelites of the ancient northern kingdom carried away into captivity and dispersed among the nations by Assyrian kings; their ancestors accepted the Gospel directly from the Apostles, including Thomas. This fact was attested by Jews living among or near them. The Nazorean Nestorians exhibited antipathy to the Jews while at the same time they also exhibited several traits and followed traditions similar to those of the Jews. Dr. Grant’s observations and conclusions, including the possible Hebrew/Israelite branches involved, are given in detail in his book. To show that the name Nazorean is not an incidental adoption but reflects a Hebrew heritage of the community known by the name, he also specifically mentions about the St. Thomas Christians of Travancore (Malankara) who also have the name Nazranees or Nazoreans, and points out that they too have traditions, rites, customs and evidence of a Hebrew origin. He has expressed the view that the St. Thomas Christians could have derived the name from Nestorian groups who were driven to seek refuge in India by the bloody persecutions of the 4th and 7th centuries, or they may be converts from some other branch of the Hebrew family. Further historic, social and scientific studies indicate that all these possibilities were involved in the case of the St. Thomas Nazranee Christian community of Malankara in S-W India.

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