In c. 732 BCE, Pekah of Israel, while allied with Rezin, king of Aram, threatened Jerusalem. Ahaz, king of Judah, appealed to Tiglath-Pileser III, the king of Assyria, for help. After Ahaz paid tribute to Tiglath-Pileser, Tiglath-Pileser sacked Damascus and Israel, annexing Aram and territory of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh in Gilead including the desert outposts of Jetur, Naphish and Nodab.
People from these tribes including the Reubenite leader, were taken captive and resettled in the region of the Khabur River system. Tiglath-Pilesar also captured the territory of Naphtali and the city of Janoah in Ephraim and an Assyrian governor was placed over the region of Naphtali. According to 2 Kings 16:9 and 15:29, the population of Aram and the annexed part of Israel was deported to Assyria.
Israel continued to exist within the reduced territory as an independent kingdom until around 720 BCE, when it was again invaded by Assyria and the rest of the population deported. During the three-year siege of Samaria by the Assyrians, Shalmaneser V died and was succeeded by Sargon II of Assyria, who himself records the capture of that city thus:
“Samaria I looked at, I captured; 27,280 men who dwelt in it I carried away” into Assyria.
Thus, around 720 BCE, after two centuries, the kingdom of the ten tribes came to an end. The remainder of the northern kingdom was conquered by Sargon II, who captured the capital city Samaria in the territory of Ephraim. He took 27,290 people captive from the city of Samaria resettling some with the Israelites in the Khabur region and the rest in the land of the Medes thus establishing Hebrew communities in Ecbatana and Rages. The Book of Tobit additionally records that Sargon had taken other captives from the northern kingdom to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, in particular Tobit from the town of Thisbe in Naphtali.
The Hebrew Bible relates that the population of the Kingdom of Israel was exiled, becoming known as the Ten Lost Tribes. To the south, the Tribe of Judah, the Tribe of Simeon (that was “absorbed” into Judah), the Tribe of Benjamin and the people of the Tribe of Levi, who lived among them of the original Israelites nation, remained in the southern Kingdom of Judah. The Kingdom of Judah continued to exist as an independent state until 586 BCE, when it was conquered by the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The Samaritan version to the events claims that actually much of the population of the Northern Kingdom of Israel remained in place upon the Exile, including the Tribes of Naphtali, Menasseh, Benjamin and Levi – being the progenitors of the Samaritans.
In their book The Bible Unearthed, authors Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman estimate that only a fifth of the population (about 40,000) were actually resettled out of the area during the two deportation periods under Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon II. Many of the Northern Tribes also fled south to Jerusalem, which appears to have expanded in size five-fold during this period, requiring a new wall to be built, and a new source of water Siloam to be provided by King Hezekiah.
In medieval Rabbinic fable, the concept of the ten tribes who were taken away from the House of David (who continued the rule of the southern kingdom of Judah), becomes confounded with accounts of the Assyrian deportations leading to the myth of the “Ten Lost Tribes”. The recorded history differs from this fable: No record exists of the Assyrians having exiled people from Dan, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun or western Manasseh. Descriptions of the deportation of people from Reuben, Gad, Manasseh in Gilead, Ephraim and Naphtali indicate that only a portion of these tribes were deported and the places to which they were deported are known locations given in the accounts. The deported communities are mentioned as still existing at the time of the composition of the books of Kings and Chronicles and did not disappear by assimilation. 2 Chronicles 30:1-11 explicitly mentions northern Israelites who had been spared by the Assyrians, in particular people of Ephraim, Manasseh, Asher, Issachar and Zebulun, and how members of the latter three returned to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah.
The Khabur River is the largest perennial tributary to the Euphrates in Syrian territory. Although the Khabur originates in Turkey, the karstic springs around Ra’s al-‘Ayn are the river’s main source of water. Several important wadis join the Khabur north of Al-Hasakah, together creating what is known as the Khabur Triangle, or Upper Khabur area. From north to south, annual rainfall in the Khabur basin decreases from over 400 mm to less than 200 mm, making the river a vital water source for agriculture throughout history. The Khabur joins the Euphrates near the town of Busayrah.
Tradition holds that Israelites of the tribe of Benjamin first arrived in the area of modern Kurdistan after the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel during the 8th century BC; they were subsequently relocated to the Assyrian capital. During the first century BC, the royal house of Adiabene—which, according to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, was ethnically Assyrian and whose capital was Erbil — was converted to Judaism. King Monobaz I, his queen Helena of Adiabene, and his son and successor Izates bar Monobaz are recorded as the first proselytes.
The people closest to the Jews from a genetic point of view may be the Kurds, according to results of a new study at the Hebrew University.
Scientists who participated in the research said the findings seem to indicate both peoples had common ancestors who lived in the northern half of the fertile crescent, where northern Iraq and Turkey are today. Some of them, it is assumed, wandered south in pre-historic times and settled on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.
Professor Ariella Oppenheim and Dr. Marina Feirman, who carried out the research at the Hebrew University, said they were surprised to find a closer genetic connection between the Jews and the populations of the fertile crescent than between the Jews and their Arab neighbors. Oppenheim pointed out that previous research of DNA of Jews, including her own work, had revealed great genetic similarity between Jews and Arabs, particularly Palestinians from Israel and the territories.
The present study, however, involved more detailed and thorough examinations than previous research. In addition, this was the first comparison of the DNA of Jews and Kurds.
Genetic similarity between peoples is measured by comparing the frequency of genetic mutations among them. This information makes it possible to reconstruct their paths of migration and to discover their unwritten history. The present study, however, reveals only part of the story, since it is based on mutations of the Y chromosome. Since this chromosome, which determines male gender, is passed only from father to son, it does not contain information about the mothers’ contributions to the genetic reservoir under study.
The study’s findings are published in the current issue of The American Journal of Human Genetics.
The researchers used the DNA of 1,847 Jewish men of Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Kurdish descent; Muslims and Christians of Kurdish, Turkish and Armenian descent; various Arab populations; and Russians, Poles and residents of Belarus.