180 Years Ago In Church Periodicals: The Ten Tribes

Each month, I plan to feature an article, story, or document of interest that was published 180 years ago that same month in a Mormon periodical. There are some fascinating gems in the early newspapers, and interesting developments in thought can be traced throughout them.


The Evening and the Morning Star 1.5 (October 1832) – “The Ten Tribes”

With the concept of physical, literal, and present gathering of Israel being a unique Mormon addition to the Millennialist tradition [1], Editor W.W.Phelps felt there were key aspects that needed to be understood better by his readership. Phelps begins the October 1832 edition of the Star with an editorial, using the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28-33 as his starting point to explain the three key elements essential to grasping accurate principles concerning the Scattering and Gathering of Israel, especially in regards to ideas surrounding the “Ten Lost Tribes”. Phelps’ Deuteronomic starting points include that:

  • An initial blessing was promised Israel at its formation as a reward for obedience, and they initially did receive and benefit from this blessing.
  • At the same time, an associated curse of scattering was promised as a result of disobedience, and there is much Biblical documentation of its fulfillment as well.
  • In addition, there were even from the Mosaic beginning promises regarding eventual restorative gathering.

Phelps believes that by guiding individuals to believe and understand the first and second points, that then “they may better judge whether the Lord will return according to his [third] sacred promise, and gather his elect from every country where they were scattered in a dark and cloudy day.

Phelps follows with a brief biblical overview of the division of Israel in the days of Solomon’s successors, and the exile of the ‘ten tribes’ to Assyria preceding the Babylonian captivity of Judah. Ezekiel 17:22-24 is cited as a prophetic review of the entirety of the Israelite disaster.

Ezekiel’s meaning (as well as text from Hosea 8:9) is interpreted as an illustration of the Israelites residence scattered among the Gentiles. Support for the tribes remaining scattered in later times comes from reference to Jesus’ declaration of being sent in his own ministry to the Lost Sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24), in addition to his “other sheep… not of this fold” (John 10:16) – evidence to the author that there were additional Israelites located somewhere beyond the “Jews in Jerusalem.” This leads to the further support from this statement being repeated and expanded upon to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon.

arctic_tribe3 Nephi 15:11-16:4 and Jacob 5:19-20 are presented to explain and describe the location of the Ten Tribes as being in the ‘nethermost’ part of the world, with the interpretation being that if one is pronouncing this from a relative centralized location on the earth, then “it would be perfectly natural to call the north, south, east, or west [the] nethermost, or lowest”.

While Phelps presents that it is scripturally clear the Tribes were first scattered and placed to the North (and still remain there!), attempts by the world “to get to the north pole and to search out the Northern Lights” are useless, because when the proper time comes, the hidden Israelites will come at the call of the Lord as the ocean is driven back and the continents of the earth are rejoined, as related in the November 3, 1831 Revelation to Joseph Smith (D&C 133:21-24) [2]. It is an event that will surpass the Exodus as the defining work of Salvation of the Lord, as expressed through an amalgamated expression made up of language from Jeremiah 23:7, 3:12-14, 31:18, 31:9, 31:12, 31:28.

The next evidence to make Phelps’ case more plain comes from the apocryphal  2 Esdras 13:35- 47 ( the author, Phelps expresses, “whom it may be perceived…was Ezra”), wherein the miraculous lifting of the Euphrates is invoked to place the scattered tribes in their initial long resting place. [3]

In Phelps’ view, the preceding text is “true as much as the account of the Creation in the first chapter of Genesis, and for all that has as yet appeared to the contrary, is as much the word of the Lord.” – And with that, the next scriptural proof will be taken from a Parable of Jesus – that of the Prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the meaning of which, “is so plain that it makes one’s heart leap for joy, when he reads it in the spirit of God.

The parable is interpreted with the Gentiles (and Esau) being the elder son, and Israel (or Jacob)prodigal for the younger. The current day is the fulfillment of the expression of the Younger Son’s thought while in exile, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!” (Luke 15:17) — Says Phelps, “Who, with the love of Jesus Christ in his heart, can view the thousands of meeting houses, chapels, temples and churches, thronged with men, eager to preach; and witness the missionaries sending some to India, some to Africa, some to New Holland, some to one place and some to another; printing the bible in every tongue and language, and blending almost every means on earth with religion,- can mistake the day in which this is fulfilled?

Next, attention is turned to Elijah, who was “translated to paradise in a chariot of fire.”, and said by Malachi to return to turn the heart of the fathers to the children. (Malachi 4:5-6). In regards to this, Phelps expressed that “the Savior said he [Elijah] is come already, but the Jews knew it not, so he did not turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.” – Phelps then turns to the Apocryphal Ecclesiasticus 48:1-11 to show that “Elijah, as he called in Hebrew, and Elias in Greek, will yet come and restore the tribes of Jacob.

In conclusion, “We have said enough on so plain a subject, and, will therefore, leave the reader to search for himself, and know for himself: The word of God is free; the Spirit of God is free, and the children of God will soon be free. Let us then, close, by saying that suppositions never go before facts: that man’s wisdom soon fails, but the word of the Lord endures forever, and his purposes never fail: ‘For I am with thee’, [Israel], saith the Lord, to save thee: though ‘I make a full end of all nations whither I have driven thee’, ‘I will not make a full end of thee’[ Jeremiah 30:11].”


[1] see Grant Underwood, The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism(University of Illinois Press, 1993), 29

[2] This was not a revelation that had been publicly published yet – it would first appear in full in the May 1833 edition of the Star. See Jensen, Robin Scott, Richard E Turley Jr., and Riley M. Lorimer, eds. Revelations and Translations, Volume 2: Published Revelations. Vol. 2 of the Revelations and Translations series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman. (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2011), 285. See also Revelation, 3 November 1831 [D&C 133], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed 22 Oct. 2012, http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperDetails/revelation-book-1?p=102.

[3] Joseph Smith’s revelation giving divine approval to finding ‘many things’ of truth in apocryphal texts would not be presented until March 1833. See D&C 91


180 Years Ago In Church Periodicals: The Ten Tribes — 7 Comments

  1. I am not certain that I believe Underwood’s ascrertain that: “the concept of physical, literal, and present gathering of Israel being a unique Mormon addition to the Millennialist tradition.” There are plenty of theories of the location and gathering of Israel prior to Joseph Smith. Some Christians thought that the gathering of Isreal was spiritualized as the gathering of the church. Others saw the tribes as literal peoples—the British, American Indians,Chinese, etc etc etc. Some considered it their duty to restore these lost tribes to their lands. What is unique in the Mormon view? Some of these represent physical, literal, and present gathering of Israel. Maybe Mormons just emphasized it more as a uniform doctrine of the Church.

    Years agi I recall seeing a number of theories of the dispostion of the lost trubes: most of which claimed to stem from Joseph Smith: interspersed in Europe, the North Pole, in the center of the earth, on a star.

  2. Mark,

    Underwood’s emphasis – and that which I may have poorly expressed and delineated – was that of the emphasis on practical and local gathering of the Church membership as part of their lived religion being something unique brought to the Millennialist tradition. The idea that part and parcel of Church membership included the instruction and obligation to gather.

    Previous editions of the Star included revelations and Phelps’ commentary on the practicalities of gathering to Missouri – instructions, FAQs, what paperwork to have in order, etc. It went beyond the potential and theological to something they had to practically deal with. This was beyond some future story – this was life. This current article of Phelps comes in that context – A branch of Ephraim was being presently gathered, but what were they to do about gathering the other Tribes? Where were they, and what was their responsibility to them?

    Since the gathering was viewed as a safety for the coming eschatological firestorm, were the ‘safe’ Mormons/Josephites being presently ‘awakened’ and gathered by the preaching of the voice of warning also responsible to awake, warn, and gather the 10 tribes as well?

    It seems that at least Phelps’ answer was, No.

  3. Interesting topic, David. It’s worth noting that at the cited reference in Underwood’s Millenarian World he was reviewing a series of articles authored by Sidney Rigdon in the Messenger and Advocate from 1833 to 1835. Rigdon noted that other contemporary preachers sounded millennial themes of a coming destruction but did not provide a solution to the problem: a means of escape or a place of refuge. Underwood then summarizes Rigdon:

    Here was what was distinctive about Mormon millenarianism. Similar to how the doctrine of the rapture would come to function for Darbyite dispensationalists in later decades, the Mormon doctrine of the “gathering” served to provide a means of escape from much of the anticipated tribulation of the latter days. At the same time, it produced a concentration of Saints who could be properly prepared for the coming of the millennium. The gathering, therefore, was the pivotal premillennial event in Mormon eschatology.

    I like how, in your discussion, Phelps distinguishes between the gathering of actual LDS converts to actual places, which worked to strengthen the small but growing actual church, and the speculative gathering of speculatively hidden Israelites ,which has given rise to all variety of speculation by modern Mormons, most of it largely unhinged from reality.

    It’s pretty clear what was the fate of the actual Ten Tribes: the lucky ones escaped Israel to the kingdom of Judah (the population of Jerusalem swelled as refugees flocked south to escape the Assyrian armies); the rest were deported and relocated within the Assyrian empire, where they rapidly assimilated with their new neighbors. They never came back and the demographic reality of over a hundred generations is that there just isn’t any more “they” out there.

  4. Dave,

    Good notes and thoughts. It is certainly a running theme in the history of Mormon narratives to mix and to explain the practical with the epic scope of the speculative. I love tracing the roller-coaster development of the narrative scope I like to call the ‘Epic of Eternity’.

  5. “It’s pretty clear what was the fate of the actual Ten Tribes: the lucky ones escaped Israel to the kingdom of Judah (the population of Jerusalem swelled as refugees flocked south to escape the Assyrian armies); the rest were deported and relocated within the Assyrian empire, where they rapidly assimilated with their new neighbors. They never came back and the demographic reality of over a hundred generations is that there just isn’t any more “they” out there.”

    Not if you consider what Mountain and Nash-Didan Jews have to say, or the very good indicators of Jewish populations in the Caucasus and Southern Russia.