Are Mizoram Jews descendants of 'lost tribes'?

AIZAWL: It's as good as Gospel truth that 10 of the Semitic tribes that Moses had led across the Red Sea from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land about four millennia ago have since been lost. But for those who thought the Biblical tale of the '10 lost tribes of Israel' was but a myth, there is an interesting claim by a branch of Christians from Mizoram.

Armed with the results of what he calls a conclusive DNA test, the chief of the Chhinlung Israel People's Convention (CIPC), Lalchhanhima Sailo, is reiterating a decades-old claim that a section of Mizos are descended from the Bnei Menashe clan, one of the legendary lost tribes. The latest test he has cited to substantiate his claim was conducted by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Kolkata on 180 blood samples collected randomly from Mizo people in March 2002.

The report says the mitochondrial configuration of the DNA of some of the blood samples drawn from women match the unique "haplotype" - a genetic sequence code found in Jews of Uzbekistan. A specific cellular mutation that is sometimes found in Indian Jews was also noticed in some of the samples.

Significantly though, studies on the Y-chromosome (for males) did not match the Cohen modal haplotype that is common to most Jewish males around the world, the tests revealed. Incidentally, about 800 Jews from Mizoram have in recent years emigrated to Israel and are settled in different Jewish 'kibbutzes' in the Gaza Strip.

When contacted by Times of India, an Israeli embassy spokesperson said though Mizo Christians had in the past made claims about their Jewish ancestry, they had not approached the Israeli government following the latest DNA test. As and when the fresh evidence was placed before the Israeli authorities, their claim would be considered.

The myth of the lost tribes traces its origin to the times of the "wise king" Solomon, the third king of Israel. When Solomon died, Israel or Judaea was divided into two, according to the Bible. The tribes inhabiting this Promised Land too, split along territorial and political lines - while Judah and Benjamin were loyal to the Davidic house in the south, the remaining 10 tribes aligned themselves to a litany of monarchies from the north. While most modern Jews trace their roots to this southern kingdom, the famous "10 tribes" were believed lost for centuries.

Jews all over the world kept their faith in the words of Prophet Ezekiel: "Behold, I will take the children of Israel... and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their land. And they shall be divided into two kingdoms no more."

There have been, over the years, many apocryphal claims about the existence of these tribes, including the unproven belief that some of them could be found in Kashmir and Mizoram. Though the CIPC has always claimed that Mizos are descendants of the Menashe, the theory had never gained much currency. Even the majority of Mizos, who concur on their theological links with Israel, dismissed claims of ancestral or other umbilical connection.

The CIPC claims the Bnei Menasheies were enslaved by Assyrian warriors after they had overrun Jerusalem. After centuries of bondage in Assyria, they migrated to Central Asia through the 'Great Silk Route' and settled in China's Chhinlung region. Some of them also ventured further south over the past three centuries and settled in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Burma and, of course, Mizoram.

Sailo now plans to take the matter up with the Israeli government and even harbours latent visions of founding a movement for what he calls "New Jerusalem" which would encompass Jews of Assam, Manipur, northern Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Source: The Times of India