Simply put, the theory that the Pashtun people originate from the exiled Lost Tribes of Israel is more than just a theory. There is a widespread chain of facts, events and proofs throughout the ages to solidify its validity. Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and the second largest ethnic group in Pakistan. However the truth of their origins have always remained elusive.
Those who advocate the theory cite oral history and the names of various clans, which resemble the names of the Israelite tribes that were exiled by the Assyrian Empire 2,700 years ago, as evidence for this claim. Numerous ancient texts, such as the[Rig Veda, composed before 1200 BCE, which mentions the “Paktha” as an enemy group [Some Aspects of Ancient Indian Culture” By D. R. Bhandarkar] (e.g. in 4.25.7c), and Herodotus in his Histories composed circa 450 BCE which mentions the Pashtuns as “Paktyakai” (Book IV v.44) and as the “Aparytai” = Afridis (Book III v.91) in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pashtun (Afghan) Oral Traditions and History
Afghans (Pashtuns) who are a dozen or so tribes living in modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan in a region which used to comprise the Land of greater Khurasan maintain through their oral traditions and history that they are the Bani Israel (also Bnai Israel) or the Children of Israel. Through history transferred from generation to generation in a land which only knows perpetual war, it is this mode of preservation of history that has worked in the 2,700 years or so of their captivity and bondage.
Considering that they were sent into exile deprived of their culture, religion and language, this has proven to be the most reliable source of their history. Overtime they adopted the culture, language and religion of the peoples around them but they did not forget their past.
It is thus heart warming to know that an old Pashtun (Afghan) grandfather in his 70s or 80s, whether a Yusufzai, Afridi or Khattak living in Pakistan or a Zazai, Rabbani and Ghilzai living in Afghanistan would tell his little grandchildren:
“We are Afghans, we are Pashtun/Pukhtun, and Afghans (Pashtun/Pukhtun) are the Children of Israel.
We are not Jews but we are Jewish.
We were taken from the Holy Land and made captive, sent into exile in Arachosia but
We have made Arachosia into Khurasan our home
We may be divided among Afghanistan and Pakistan but
We are Afghans and Pashtuns/Pukhtun and we are Pathan and we are the the Bani Israel, the Lost Children of Israel”.
- [Pukhtun bard songs and hymns.]
Pashtun Medieval texts
Some anthropologists lend credence to the oral traditions of the elder Pashtun tribes themselves. For example, according to the Encyclopaedia of Islam’, the theory of Pashtun descent from Israelites is 1st traced to the medieval text, Maghzan-e-Afghani, a history compiled for Khan-e-Jehan Lodhi in the reign of Mughal Emperor Jehangir in the 16th century CE.
Some sources state that the Maghzan-e-Afghani, was developed from the well known oral tradition of the Afghans about their descent and origin from the Israelites.
However, as far as Afghan or Pashtun texts and oral tradition is concerned, the well established tribes among the Afghans like the Afridi, Yusufzai, Khattak, Zazai, Rabbani etc. do maintain a bani Israelite origin.
Accounts in other sources
Bukhtawar Khan in his most valuable universal history ”Mirat-ul-Alam”, The Mirror of the World, gives a vivid account of the journeys of the Afghans from the Holy Land to Ghor, Ghazni and Kabul. Similarly Hafiz Rahmat bin Shah Alam in his ”Khulasat-ul-Ansab” and Fareed-ud-Din Ahmad in ”Risala-i-Ansab-i-Afghana” provide the history of the Afghans and deal with their genealogies.
Two of the most famous historical works on the subject are ”Tarikh-i-Afghana” ‘History of the Afghans” by Nimat Allah al-Harawi, which was translated by Bernard Dorn in 1829, and ”Tarikh-i-Hafiz Rahmatkhani”, by Hafiz Muhammad Zadeek which he wrote in 1770. These books deal with the early history of the Afghans, their origin and wanderings in general. They particularly discuss the Yusuf Zyes (Yusufzai or Yusefzai), “Sons of Joseph” and their occupation of Kabul, Bajoor, Swat and Peshawar.
The theory of the Semitic origin of the Pukhtoons has been supported by many Pukhtoon writers and leaders, including Khushal Khan Khattak.
- [Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society , Volume 54, Issues 3-4, Pakistan Historical Society – 2006 – Page 86, also p77,81.]
- [Dastar nama of Khushhal Khan Khattak, Pashto Academy, University of Peshawar, 2007 – 254 pages.]
And also by Bacha Khan (Ghaffar Khan who traes his lineage from Qais Abdur Rashid the grandson of King Saul (Talut)), Hafiz Rahmat Khan, Afzal Khan Khattak and Qazi Attaullah Khan. A number of orientalists like H.W. Bellew, Sir William Jones and Major Raverty have also subscribed to this view on the basis of Pukhtoon physiogonomy, and the striking resemblance of facial features between Pukhtoons and Jews.
Rajmohan Gandhi, while describing Bacha Khan when they met towards the end of Bacha Khan’s life says:
We found Abdul Ghaffar Khan lying on a rumpled bed. Tall and gaunt, he looked like a sick Jeremiah outside the gates of Israel.
- [Ghaffar Khan, nonviolent badshah of the Pakhtuns, Rajmohan Gandhi, Penguin Viking, 2004 – On the life and achievements of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, 1890-1988, Indian nationalist and active politician in Pakistan after 1947 – 300 pages – Page 10.]
Calling on the Afghans, who were now divided and weak, Bacha Khan gave a fitting simile in regard to Afghan heritage and descent:
You may have read the story of the Israel and Prophet Moses in the Quran. When Prophet Moses exhorted the Bani Israel to come forward and oppose the tyrant, they replied that they were weak and could not face the enemy.
- [Abdul Ghaffar Khan: faith is a battle, Dinanath Gopal Tendulkar, Published for Gandhi Peace Foundation by Popular Prakashan, 1967 – India – 550 pages.]
He said to them:
O Pashtuns! Your house has fallen into ruin. Arise and rebuild it, and remember to what race you belong.
He goes on to say:
I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.
The family tree of Bacha Khan traces his genealogy from Baitan and Qais Abdur Rashid, a legendary ancestor of the Afghans.
Qais Abdur Rashid (Kish / Kysh) Alias Al Pithon is traced through 37 father to King Saul (Malak Talut), King of Israel.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), sent through messenger a message to Kish. Kish met the Prophet in Medina and soon after converted to Islam. The Prophet while addressing his companions, told them Kish (Qais) was from the Royal House of Israel.
Several references are present in Rabbinic literature. One of the earliest being from the book of the Holy Prophet Tobit.
- [Holy Book of Tobit: Tobit C XIV V 5-13.]
[Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume 23, Issues 5-7 By James Sykes Gamble, Asiatic Society of Bengal page 570.]
Holy Prophet Tobit
During the Assyrian captivity of Israel, when the tyranny of the Assyrian kings grew to extreme and the Bani Israel sought advice from the Prophet Tobit (a bani Israeilite Prophet Hazrat Tobit A.S.), he declared:
The Jews at this time followed the advice of the prophet tobit escaped from Nineveh by stealth where could they have found a more secure retreat than towards the east in the direction of the mountain tracts now inhabited by the Afghans.
- [Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume 23, Issues 5-7 By James Sykes Gamble]
Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela
Probably one of the greatest contributions in the search for the Ten Lost Tribes is from Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela who cites many large Jewish (Bani Israel) settlements in the Median Empire (Media), Arachosia and Khurasan (Afghanistan), especially in the Ghowr and Ghazni regions of modern day Afghanistan. These are areas traditionally associated with Afghan tribes like the Yusufzai, Khattak, Afridi and Zazai.
- [The Jewish quarterly review , Volume 1, Dropsie University, Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning, Project Muse, Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning, 1966.]
- [Encyclopaedia Iranica , Volume 15, Issue 1, Ehsan Yar-Shater, Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation, 2009 – 112 pages.]
- [Hommage universel: actes du congrès de Shiraz 1971 et autres études rédigées à l’occasion du 2500e anniversaire de la fondation de l’empire Perse, Congress of Persian Studies (2, 1971, Šīrāz), Brill, 1974 – 444 pages – Page 300.]
Rabbi Yahuda b. Bal’am
Yahuda b. Bal’am, a noteworthy Rabbi and scholar of biblical knowledge put the “ten tribes” into Khorasan.
- [Jews 1945 Historia judaica: a journal of studies in Jewish history, especially in legal and economic history of the Jews, Volumes 7-8, Guido Kisch – Historia Judaica, 1945.]
Rabbi Tanchum Jerushalmi
Tanchum Jerushalmi (thirteenth century) explains II Kings, 18, 11 by saying “these are the cities in the land of Khorasan.
- [Jews 1945 Historia judaica: a journal of studies in Jewish history, especially in legal and economic history of the Jews, Volumes 7-8, Guido Kisch – Historia Judaica, 1945.]
Rabbi Saadia Gaon
Rabbi Saadia Gaon (892—942), an Arab Jewish literary authority on the Mishna and Halakah and writer of the Bible’s Tafsir in Arabic considered the Assyrian Exile to be in modern day Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Iran.
- [Geonica; The Geonim and Their Halakic Writings – page 59.]
- [Jews in Islamic countries in the Middle Ages By Moshe Gil, David Strassler, Page 341.]
- [The fire, the star and the cross: minority religions in medieval and early modern Iran – By Aptin Khanbaghi – Page 41.]
- [Encyclopaedia Iranica , Volume 15, Issue 1 – Ehsan Yar-Shater – Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation, 2009 – 112 pages.]
- [The illustrated encyclopedia of medieval civilization, Aryeh Graboïs, Octopus, 1980 – 751 pages.]
According to the Tanach, after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom (circa 722 B.C.E.), several of the tribes that made up the Ten Lost Tribes, arrived in the region of the Gozan, the Hebrew pronunciation for the River Oxus and according to some for the Afghan city of Ghazni.
- • [Jewish communities in exotic places, Author: Ken Blady, Edition: illustrated, Publisher: Jason Aronson, 2000, ISBN: 0765761122, 9780765761125, Length: 422 pages, Page 197.]
- • [Forum on the Jewish people, Zionism and Israel , Volume 61, World Zionist Organization. Information Dept, , 1988 – Pages 41, 42 & 43.]
the Assyrian Exile were brought into Halah (modern day Balkh), and Habor (Pesh Habor or Peshawar), and Hara (Herat), and to the river Gozan (the Ammoo, also called Jehoon).
- • [Tamerlane and the Jews, Tamerlane and the Jews, By Michael Shterenshis, Page xxiv.]
to Hara (Bokhara) and to the river of Gozan (that is to say, the Amu, (called by Europeans the Oxus).
- • [The Kingdom of Afghanistan: a historical sketch, By George Passman Tate, Page 11.]
Links between Khurasan and the Holy Land
The Oral tradition of the Afghans that there was contact between Afghans and their cousins in the Holy Land is also lent credibility in that, travel was common between the two.
- [A history of Palestine, 634-1099 By Moshe Gil, Page 623.]
People(Afghans) from distant Khurasan also reached Jerusalem.
- [A history of Palestine, 634-1099, By Moshe Gil]
Travel between the two peoples was common.
- [Biblical poetry through Medieval Jewish eyes, Adele Berlin, Indiana University Press, 1991 – 205 pages.]
Jacob as gaon of Sura, while Saadia conferred the exilarchate on David’s brother Hasan (Josiah; 930). Hasan was forced to flee, and died in exile in Khorasan
- [Biblical poetry through Medieval Jewish eyes]
Historical texts also indicate that Khurasan contributed heavily to tithes to the Holy Land.
- [Saadia anniversary volume, American Academy for Jewish Research, The Press of the Jewish Publication Society, 1943 – 346 pages.]
- [Texts and studies , Volume 2, American Academy for Jewish Research, Press of the Jewish publication society, 1943.]
- [Ancient and medieval Jewish history: essays, Salo Wittmayer Baron, Rutgers University Press, 1972 – 588 pages.]
The Assyrian Exile sought refuge in Khurasan because from ancient times it had been a place of exile for many Jewish outcasts and thus was known commonly as a distant safe refuge.
- [Евс & Славс, Wolf Moskovich, С. Шварцбанд, Анатолий А. Алексеев, Исраэль Академий оф Сциенцес анд Хуманитыес, 2008 – 430 pages.]
European explorers and researchers
Sir Alexander Burnes in his ”Travels into Bokhara”, which he published in 1835, speaking of the Afghans said:
The Afghans call themselves Bani Israel, or the children of Israel, but consider the term Yahoodi, or Jew, to be one of reproach. They say that Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, after the overthrow of Israel, transplanted them into the towns of Ghore near Bamean and that they were called after their Chief Afghan they say that they lived as Israelites till Khalid summoned them in the first century of the Muslims having precisely stated the traditions and history of the Afghans I see no good reason for discrediting them… the Afghans look like Jews and the younger brother marries the widow of the elder. The Afghans entertain strong prejudices against the Jewish nation, which would at least show that they have no desire to claim – without just cause – a descent from them.
- [Sir Alexander Burnes, ”Travels into Bokhara”, Vol. 2:139-141.]
Burnes was again in 1837 sent as the first British Envoy to the Court of Kabul. For some time he was the guest of King Dost Mohammad Khan. He questioned the King about the descent of the Afghans from the Israelites. The King replied that:
his people had no doubt of that, though they repudiated the idea of being Jews but not Jewish or Israelite.
William Moorcroft (explorer) traveled during 1819 to 1825 through various countries adjoining India, including Afghanistan. He says:
The Khaibarees, are tall and have a singularly Jewish cast of features.
- [Moorcroft, ”Travels in Himalayan Provinces of Hindustan and the Punjab region|Punjab; in Ladakh and Kashmir, in Peshawar, Kabul, Kunduz and Bokhara”, 12]
J. B. Frazer in his book, ”An Historical and Descriptive Account of Persia and Afghanistan”, which he published in 1843, says:
According to their own tradition they believe themselves to be descendants from the Hebrews… they preserved the purity of their religion until they met with Islam.
- [J.B. Frazer, ”A Historical and Descriptive Account of Persia and Afghanistan”, 298]
Joseph-Pierre Ferrier wrote his ”History of the Afghans” in 1858. It was translated by Capt. W. M. Jesse. He too was disposed to believe that the Afghans represented the Ten Tribes of Israel. In support of his view he recorded, among others, a very significant fact:
When Nadir Shah marching to the conquest of India arrived at Peshawar, the chief of the tribe of Yoosoof Zyes (Sons of Joseph) presented him with a Bible written in Hebrew and several other articles that had been used in their ancient worship and which they had preserved. These articles were at once recognized by the Jews who followed the camp. So the presence of Bibles among Afghans show their Jewish origin.
Sir Olaf Caroe
The Pathans 550BC to 1957AD :
This is not to assert that the ethnic or linguistic stock can be necessarily traced through to tribes of similar names today. The case would be rather that these were sub-stratum agglomerations of people who, through contact with later-comers, modified their language and were assimilated to later cultures, but retained in the more inaccessible places sufficient of their older selves to boast their original names. The theory does at least give a starting-point to Pathan history & the stock belief in the Bani Israel.
Writings of explorers
George Moore published his famous work ”The Lost Tribes” in 1861. He gave numerous facts to prove that these tribes are traceable to India. After giving details of the character of the wandering Israelites, he said:
And we find that the very natural character of Israel reappear in all its life and reality in countries where people call themselves Bani Israel and universally claim to be the descendants of the Lost Tribes. The nomenclature of their tribes and districts, both in ancient Geography, and at the present day, confirms this universal natural tradition. Lastly, we have the route of the Israelites from Medes (Media) to Afghanistan and India marked by a series of intermediate stations bearing the names of several of the tribes and clearly indicating the stages of their long and arduous journey.
- [George Moore, ”The Lost Tribes”]
Moore goes on to say:
Sir William Jones, Sir John Malcolm and the missing Chamberlain, after full investigation, were of the opinion that the Ten Tribes migrated to India, Tibet, and Cashemire [Kashmir] through Afghanistan.
- [George Moore, ”The Lost Tribes”]
Moore has mentioned only three eminent writers on the subject. But reference can also be made to General Sir George Macmunn (”Afghanistan from Darius to Amanullah”, 215), Col. G.B. Malleson (”The History of Afghanistan from the Earliest Period to the outbreak of the War of 1878”, 39), Col. Failson, (”History of Afghanistan”, 49), George Bell (”Tribes of Afghanistan”, 15), E. Balfour (”Encyclopedia of India”, article on Afghanistan), Sir Henry Yule (”Encyclopædia Britannica”, article on Afghanistan), and the Hon. Sir George Rose (Rose, ”The Afghans, the Ten Tribes and the Kings of the East”, 26). They, one and all, independently came to the same conclusion.
Another, Major H. W. Bellew, went on a political mission to Kandahar and published his impressions in his ”Journal of a Mission to Kandahar”, 1857-8. He then wrote in 1879 his book ”Afghanistan and Afghans”. In 1880 he was sent, once again on another mission to Kabul, and in the same year he delivered two lectures before the United Services Institute at Shimla (Simla): “A New Afghan Question, or “Are the Afghans Israelites?” and “Who are the Afghans?” He then published another book: ”The Races of Afghanistan”. Finally he collected all his facts in ”An Enquiry into the Ethnography of Afghanistan”, which was published in 1891.
In this work he mentions ”Killa Yahoodi” (“Fort of the Jews”) (H.W. Bellew, ”An Enquiry into the Ethnography of Afghanistan”, 34), as being the name of the eastern boundary of their country, and also speaks of ”Dasht-i-Yahoodi” (“Jewish plain”) (ibid., 4), a place in Mardan District.
He concludes: “The Afghan’s accounts of Jacob and Esau, of Moses and the The Exodus, of the Wars of the Israelites with the Amalekites and conquest of Palestine, of the Ark of the Covenant and of the election of Saul the King|Saul to the Kingdom, etc., etc., are clearly founded on the Bible (Biblical) records, and clearly indicate a knowledge of the Old Testament, which if it does not prove the presence of the Christianity at least corroborates their assertion that the Afghans were readers of the Pentateuch.” (Ibid., 191)
Thomas Ledlie wrote an article in the ”Calcutta Review”, which he subsequently elaborated and published in two volumes. He expressed his views on the subject very clearly:
The Europeans always confuse things, when they consider the fact that the Afghans call themselves Bani Israel and yet reject their Jewish descent. Indeed, the Afghans discard the very idea of any descent from the Jews. They, however, yet claim themselves to be of Bani Israel.
- [Thomas Ledlie, More Ledlian, ”Calcutta Review”, January, 1898]
Ledlie goes on to explain:
Israelites, or the Ten Tribes, to whom the term Israel was applied – after their separation from the House of David, and the tribe of Judah, which tribe retained the name of Judah and had a distinct history ever after. These last alone are called Jews and are distinguished from the Bani Israel as much in the East as in the West.
Winston Churchill on Afghans
Sir Olaf Caroe, The Pathans 550BC 1957AD:
Perhaps it would be fair to conclude the Herodotean argument with the words of Winston Churchill on Fair Rosamond: 24
Tiresome investigators have undermined this excellent tale, but it certainly should find a place in any history worthy of the name. If Pathans themselves are in doubt, or hanker after more traditional forebears, let them remember that Herodotus was the first to call the people around Paktuike the bravest of all the people in those parts.”
Modern researchers and writers
Among more contemporary writers Dr. Alfred Edersheim says:
Modern investigations have pointed the Afghans as descendants from the Lost Tribes.
- [Dr. Alfred Edersheim, ”The Life and Times of Jesus, the Messiah”, 15]
Sir Thomas Holditch in his ”The Gates of India” says:
But there is one important people (of whom there is much more to be said) (Afghans) who call themselves Bani Israel, who claim a descent from Biblical Kish and from Shem, son of Noah, who have adopted a strange mixture of Mitzvot (Mosaic Law) in Ordinances in their moral code, who (some sections at least) keep a feast which strongly accords with the Passover,… and for whom no one has yet been able to suggest any other origin than the one they claim, and claim with determined force, and these people are the overwhelming inhabitants of Afghanistan.
- [Sir Thomas Holditch, ”The Gates of India”, 49.]
There are many additional references, recorded incidents, manuscripts and artifacts related to the Hebraic history of the Pashtuns for the dedicated objective researcher who seeks them out.
In his 1957 classic ”The Exiled and the Redeemed”, Itzhak Ben-Zvi, second President of Israel, writes that:
Hebrew migrations into Afghanistan began, “with a sprinkling of exiles from Samaria who had been transplanted there by Shalmaneser, King of Assyria (719 BC). From the recurrent references in the Book of Esther to the “one hundred and twenty seven dominions” of Xerxes I of Persia|King Ahasuerus, the deduction is permissible that eastern Afghanistan was among them.
- [”The Exiled and the Redeemed”, 176]
“The Afghan tribes, among whom the Jews have lived for generations, are Moslems who retain to this day their amazing tradition about their descent from the Ten Tribes. It is an ancient tradition, and one not without some historical plausibility. A number of explorers, Jewish and non-Jewish, who visited Afghanistan from time to time, and students of Afghan affairs who probed into literary sources, have referred to this tradition, which was also discussed in several encyclopedias in European languages. The fact that this tradition, and no other, has persisted among these tribes is itself a weighty consideration. Nations normally keep alive memories passed by word of mouth from generation to generation, and much of their history is based not on written records but on verbal tradition.
This was particularly so in the case of the nations and the communities of the Levant. The people of the Arabian Peninsula, for example, derived all their knowledge of an original paganism, which they abandoned in favor of Islam, from such verbal tradition. So did the people of Iran, formerly worshipers of the religion of Zoroaster; the Turkic peoples (Turkish and Mongol tribes), formerly Buddhism (Buddhists and Shamanists); and the Syrians who abandoned Christianity in favor of Islam. Therefore, if the Afghan tribes persistently adhere to the tradition that they were once Hebrews and in course of time embraced Islam, and there is not an alternative tradition also existent among them, they are certainly Jewish.
- [”The Exiled and the Redeemed”]
- Bellew: ”Races of Afghanistan”
- Yu. V. Gankovsky, Syed Bahadur Shah Zafar Kaka Khel: ”Pukhtana”
- Sir Olaf Caroe (1958), ”The Pathans”
- [http://fr.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1262339436797 Are Taliban descendants of Israelites?], By AMIR MIZROCH, jpost.com, Jan 9, 2010.
- *Alden Oreck, [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Afghanistan.html The Virtual Jewish History Tour: Afghanistan] from Jewish Virtual Library
- *[http://www.momentmag.com/Exclusive/2007/2007-04/200704-Taliban.html Is One of the Lost Tribes the Taliban?]
- *[http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2001/10/20/MN.DTL Taliban may have origin in ancient tribe of Israel: Anthropologist finds many similarities]
- *[http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/17/israel-lost-tribes-pashtun Pashtun clue to lost tribes of Israel: Genetic study sets out to uncover if there is a 2,700-year-old link to Afghanistan and Pakistan]
- *[http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/6967224/Taliban-may-be-descended-from-Jews.html Taliban may be descended from Jews]