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Philip Jenkins

Where Did They Go?

The curious history of the Ten Lost Lost Tribes.

I confess to a personal interest in the subject of this book. As my roots are impeccably Welsh, I proudly claim a Hebrew heritage, a connection that is well attested in the Bible. According to Genesis, Noah's son Japheth was the father of Gomer, who in turn begat Ashkenaz. As generations of Welsh and Breton scholars have shown over the past four centuries, these patriarchs were the ancestors of the Celtic and Germanic peoples. Gomer's name is commemorated in the name of the Welsh people, Cymry, of the land itself, Cymru. The Welsh language, Cymraeg, is intimately related to Hebrew, and may represent a primal or archetypal form of the biblical tongue: QED.

Lest the reader be alarmed, I say immediately that I do not accept a word of these claims. Yet I know enough Welsh history to recognize that such a pseudo-history must be treated as far more than loopy rogue antiquarianism, and a similar respect attaches to the many other peoples around the world who, through the centuries, have likewise tried to write themselves into the biblical story. Such assertions particularly characterize small or marginal nations anxious to secure themselves on the global stage. Taken seriously, the claims provide a basis for pride in nation and culture, and often justify writing in a language that might otherwise be regarded as a poor relation of Latin or Greek.

Imaginative pseudo-Hebraism might actually be an essential stage in the construction of national identity and patriotism, and that applies to large nations like the English as well as their smaller neighbors. After the Reformation, as more Christians read the Bible in their own tongues, they sought to graft their own local experience and geography onto the master narrative of the Old Testament, which constituted the gold standard of historical authenticity. As William Blake proclaimed, "Adam was a Druid, and Noah; also Abraham was called to succeed the Druidical age … . All these things are written in Eden." In the 19th century, ...

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