Some Latter-day Saints pass over the subject of the “Lost Tribes” with a bit of embarrassment because they don’t get it. According to the 10th Article of Faith*, D&C 110 & 132, they’ll be coming to the City of Zion, and in great numbers. Since they are “lost” it seems impossible because if such a single large self-aware group existed we would know about it. So I’ve seen books written that they are in the center of the earth, in space, or some other fanciful explanation with no scientific or scriptural support whatever. I believe there is a very plausible answer, beginning with the recognition that they are not now a single group or fully self-aware.
However, first, lets list the tribes of Israel into two groups:
- Judah (Leah) [of Jewish descent]
- Benjamin (Rachel) [of Jewish descent, mixed with Judah]
- Levi (Leah) [of Jewish priestly descent]
- Joseph, Ephraim (Rachel, Asenath) [mostly European, especially northern European origins]
- Joseph, Manasseh (Rachel, Asenath) [mostly native American origins]
- Reuben (Leah)
- Simeon (Leah)
- Issachar (Leah)
- Zebulun (Leah)
- Dan (Bilhah)
- Naphtali (Bilhah)
- Gad (Zilpah)
- Asher (Zilpah)
Although Israel had twelve sons, the “tribes” are counted somewhat differently. Levi, the tribe with priesthood responsibility was “set apart” for temple service and not counted as one of the regular tribes with a land inheritance. On the other hand, Joseph got a “double portion” as each of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, received a tribal inheritance, bringing the total back up to 12 again.
As seen in the above lists, only 8 tribes are currently “lost” because Ephraim and Manasseh are essentially “found”. The whole confusion about “lost” tribes can be better understood I think when the word “lost” is replaced with “unidentified”.
Interestingly, the tribal descendants are now in the process of being identified. Missionaries bring back the report. One missionary I know of, from Siberia, reported that individuals from every tribe of Israel had been identified in his mission via Patriarchal blessings. Another I know of, reported others of “lost tribes” in Mongolia where he served. I spoke to a missionary recently returned from Japan, who said the Shinto temples there had, in his opinion, a remarkable similarity to the layout of the ancient tabernacle and temple of Solomon. A google search reveals many non-LDS sources with the same opinion. I am convinced that the locations and histories of all the unidentified tribes will soon be known in detail through discovery and revelatory means, including their ancient scriptures. The best article I’ve read on the subject is Beyond Arsareth: The Twelve Tribes of Israel Today.
* (Pearl of Great Price | Articles of Faith 1:10)
10 We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.