Hosea, the Ten Lost Tribes, and the Assyrian Conquest
The Hosean writer—in mourning the Northern Ten Tribes’ unfaithfulness—seemed to represent history somewhat accurately in explaining that she—as an unfaithful wife—had become a dishonored vessel “swallowed up among the Gentiles nations [MT: הגוים] [LXX: ἔθνεσιν]” (Hos 8:8), “wanderers among the nations [MT: בגוים] [LXX: ἔθνεσιν]” (Hos 9:17); her special standing as YHWH’s covenant people lost and her status changed to “not my people” [MT: לאעמי][LXX: οὐ λαός μου] (Hos 1:8–10; 2:23). Of course, this punishment was conculsively meted out by the Assyrian empire in 721–720 BCE, when Sargon II captured Samaria and brought the Northern Kingdom to an end (2 Kgs 18:9–10).
The modus operandi of Assyria’s deportation and repopulation campaign was to affect a shift in identity by way of a populace amalgamation. This was accomplished by first relocating a portion of the Northern Ten Tribes into a previously conquered lands, while concurrently resettling residue from earlier vanquished nations into Samaria. It was also accomplished not only to keep the conquered people from regaining community coherence, but more importantly, as a hegemonistic strategy of nation building by which the population was “forced” on diverse levels to share in Assyrian identity. If successful, the horror of conquest and exile would ultimately mean the end of a particular ethnic national group. The conquered people would exchange their vanquished gods for the triumphant god of their conquerors, and eventually cultural and religious assimilation would be the aftereffect. In the end, through intermarriage and other forms of multiculturalism, the people would vanish as a distinctive entity.
Though it is often debated to what extent homogeneousness practices might have remained, what is evident is that the Samarian population—which was once the great capital city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel—eventually, became an eclectic mix of people with no discrete national identity. As a further matter, the deportees likewise suffered a loss of identity to some degree through gradual “Assyrianization” (a phrase credited to K. Lawson Younger), which included changes in language, religious and cultural practices, forced military requirements, and especially an end to the practice of endogamy.
So then, the point of the biblical narrative in Hosea—i.e., loss of identity—is then justified. No doubt, this is something missed by those who are out searching for modern ethnic descendants. The thrust of the Hosean narrative is that the Northern Ten Tribes’ special status as the covenant people of YHWH was to lose its distinctiveness and be changed to “not my people” (Hos 1:9).
If this topic is of interest you, I dedicate a whole chapter to the Assyrian campaign in my upcoming book, “Jew and Gentile Reconciled: An Exploration of the Ten Northern Tribes in Pauline Literature”—to be published any day now by GlossaHouse. In it, I explore deeper the following questions: Where did the ten tribes go? Did the ancient Jewish hope for the restoration of the lost ten tribes of Israel fail? Was YHWH’s promise to gather the lost ten tribes back into the land abandoned? Did the apostle Paul appropriate Hosea’s message as something anachronistic to his own audience, Gentiles? What does all of this have to do with Eschatology?
Bryan E. Lewis holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Southern Christian University and a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Amridge University, Turner School of Theology—where he is also currently working on his PhD in New Testament with a focus on Pauline Theology & Eschatology. Additionally, he has earned a significant amount of graduate credit from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Recently, Bryan has served as an Adjunct Instructor of Classical Hebrew in the Foreign Language & Literature Department at Middle Tennessee State University. He currently lives in Nashville, TN with his wife of 23 years, 3 children, and 1 grandchild.