A reader recently wrote me to ask about a statement in my book, Comparative Religion for Dummies. He wanted to know how an African tribe was proved to be a remnant of ancient Israel, part of the “10 lost tribes.”
The reference was to the destruction of Israel in about 722 BCE and the subsequent dispersal of its inhabitants by the victorious Assyrians. Historians into the 20th century had all sorts of theories what happened to those poor people. The Mormon faith is based on the idea that some of them came across the ocean and became the American Indians. That was a theory prevalent in New York when the founder of the Latter Day Saints was alive.
Others thought they were never really “lost,” but were assimilated. That’s the idea expressed in the biblical book of Jonah, where the prophet goes to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, to preach to the former Israelis now living there.
Modern technology has ended all speculation. Researchers looking into the DNA of African tribes found that “ 50% of the males in the Buba clan (of the Lemba tribe) had the Cohen (Jewish priestly) marker, a proportion higher than found in the general Jewish population.”
Just like that, the debate is over: some dispersed; some were assimilated.
The Bubas also had tribal stories of having lived further north and fleeing to get away from an invading army centuries before. Those tales turn out to be true.
Facts can be annoying when they contradict cherished ideas. Nevertheless, they help us better understand the world and, on occasion, shed light of history.
Because they are facts, they also can be replicated. Doubting scholars can do the same research and compare results. When they turn out to be the same, the arguments end. Scientists who have held strong beliefs have stood up at conferences to admit their error, such as in opposition to plate tectonics, which was once considered crazy and is now shown to be accurate.
Some people still prefer to ignore them. In Petersburg, Kentucky, there’s a museum dedicated to the biblical account of creation and places human and dinosaurs in the same time period. Wrong. There’s plenty of data to show hominids first arose around 5 million years old while dinosaurs died out about 65 million years ago. Similar evidence from human genomes shows Adam and Eve never met.
Separately, a recent study reported that about half of Americans don’t know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. That’s ignorance, pure and simple, since extensive documentation proves what happened. Showing great foresight, General Dwight Eisenhower insisted on detailing every aspect of the horrific event so no one could claim it didn’t happen.
Today, anyone interested can find the information on the universe and its formation, human evolution and virtually any other topic a person could imagine. The internet provides access to encyclopedic knowledge our ancestors could only dream of.
Sadly, in a world where facts are readily available, folks who prefer ignorance decry the information as “fake news” or simply disagree based on their "holy" books.
That won’t change a thing. Facts exist. They help us shed old ideas and better understand (and care for) the world we inhabit. That’s true for ancient wars and for modern pandemics.
The sooner we start relying on them, the better off we will all be.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture. He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of the recently published novels Revelation! (Southern Owl Press) and The Great Seer Nostradamus Tells All (Bold Venture Press) as well as a variety of nonfiction books, including The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information and Comparative Religion for Dummies. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.