Unless you had Jewish grandparents, you probably think of yourself as a Gentile. But are you really a Gentile? Have you ever really thought about it?
You had millions of ancestors. Can you say with certainty that there was not a single drop of Israelite blood in any of your forefathers?
God promised Jacob that he would have offspring as abundant as the dust of the earth and that they would spread to the east, west, north, and south (Genesis 28:14). If just one of Jacob's countless offspring became one of your distant ancestors, you too would be an Israelite - a direct descendant of Jacob and a living fulfillment of the promises that God made to Jacob and Abraham.
Who were your ancestors?
You may be familiar with a dozen or two of your more recent ancestors, but what do you know about the millions of ancestors that came before them?
The beginning of your pedigree chart is below. As you can see, the number of ancestors in each generation doubles as you go back in time.
grandfather _____________ father _____________ < grandmother _____________ you ___________ < grandfather _____________ mother _____________ < grandmother _____________
Here is a list of the number of ancestors for a few more generations.
Generation Ancestors Relationship ---------- ------------ ---------------------------------------- 1 2 parents 2 4 grandparents 3 8 great grandparents 4 16 great great grandparents 5 32 great great great grandparents 6 64 gr. gr. gr. gr. grandparents 7 128 gr. gr. gr. gr. gr. grandparents 8 256 gr. gr. gr. gr. gr. gr. grandparents 9 512 gr. gr. gr. gr. gr. gr. gr. grandparents 10 1024 gr. gr. gr. gr. gr. gr. gr. gr. grandparents . 20 1,048,576 great ... grandparents (about 500 years ago) . 30 1,073,741,824 great ... grandparents (about 750 years ago)
It takes only 30 generations for your pedigree chart to become totally unmanageable. If you could use a genealogical database to download 1000 names per second into your pedigree chart, it would take more than 12 days to fill in all the positions in just the 30th generation. The names in that generation alone could fill more than 30 CD-ROMS.
Did you really have over 1,000,000,000 ancestors living just 30 generations ago? Well, the total population of the earth at that time was probably less than half that many people. The actual number of ancestors that you had was limited by the available population of the regions where your forefathers lived. Because your ancestors often had to marry their distant and not-so-distant cousins, the names of many of their ancestors would appear multiple times on your pedigree chart. Each time your ancestors married a relative of theirs, the whole branch of their shared ancestors would be replicated on another branch of your pedigree chart. But even with intermarriage, you still had no shortage of ancestors. In the 30th generation of your pedigree chart, if each ancestor's name appeared 10,000 times, it would still take over 100,000 individuals to fill the 1,073,741,824 positions. Of course, with less intermarriage you would have more ancestors, and vice versa.
By the way, each of those 100,000 or so ancestors was vitally important to you. If any one of them had died in childhood, you wouldn't be here today.
If you could complete your pedigree chart back about 1500 years, the 60th generation would have 1,152,921,504,606,846,976 positions to fill. At that time there were only about 300,000,000 people on the whole planet, so your ancestors would have made up a large portion (if not the vast majority) of the population of the regions where they lived. The actual number of your ancestors living at that time could very easily have been two or three million people, possibly more.
With an ancestry of that size spread over several regions of the world, and with the descendents of Israel spread over much of the world, how likely is it that every one of your ancestors would have avoided the Israelite bloodlines that were present in the population?
How did the Israelites get mixed up in this?
We aren't just talking about the visible Jews that had communities and businesses across Europe, Central Asia, and North Africa. We're also talking about the other descendants of Israel who lost track of their heritage due to slavery, carelessness, or intermarrying with the nations around them.
The Bible tells us that soon after the Israelites entered the Promised Land, their enemies began plundering and taking slaves from among the Israelites (Judges 2). That was around 1350 BC. Through the years many more Israelites were taken as captives into other lands. One of those slave girls is mentioned in the story of Naaman the leper (2 Kings 4). Some of the captured Israelites would have been sold to foreign traders, like the men who bought Joseph from his brothers and took him to Egypt centuries earlier. Major trade routes passed through the region carrying commerce between Asia, Europe, and Africa. The Phoenicians, Israel's neighbors, sailed and traded throughout the Mediterranean region.
In addition to those taken captive, some Israelites chose to leave the land of Israel during difficult times. The story of one who returned is told in the book of Ruth. No doubt there were others who never returned.
Within a few generations many of the displaced Israelites and their descendents would have been absorbed into the surrounding nations where they would have been further scattered as those nations were plundered in turn by other nations.
The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC. Many of the Israelites were dispersed throughout the area that later became the Persian Empire. The Babylonians took Judah into captivity in 586 BC. Although some Jews returned to Jerusalem later, the majority remained in Babylon. The story of Esther mentions those Jews spread throughout Babylon.
More than 40 generations passed between the time Israel went into captivity and the time when the 60th generation of your ancestors lived. During that period, each of the dispersed Israelites could have produced many millions of offspring. If you do the math you'll see that in less than 40 generations the offspring of just one displaced Israelite could number far more than the current population of the earth.
During the Roman Empire the roads and political stability enabled people to travel and trade throughout the empire. That mobility contributed to the mixing of nationalities. Legions of soldiers from various parts of the empire were posted to areas far from their homes. Some of those soldiers settled permanently in the areas where they served.
Christianity also contributed to the scattering of the Israelites. In the early years of Christianity, missionaries took the gospel to far corners of civilization. Many of those early Christians were Jews. Persecution also drove the Jewish Christians into other areas.
At the beginning of the Middle Ages tribesmen from Asia invaded Europe. Some of those tribes came from the area around the Black Sea near where some of the Israelite captives had been dispersed.
In the early middle ages Muslims invaded northern Africa and southern Europe displacing people from their homelands. Later, the Vikings plundered the coast of Europe and sent expeditions overland as far as the Black Sea, wreaking havoc and taking captives.
During the Spanish Inquisition many Jews were forcibly converted to Christianity. Some of those Conversos made their way to the New World in the 1500's. Their descendents have been identified among the Hispanics of New Mexico.
These are just some of the more notable world events that may have brought descendents of Israel into the same areas where your ancestors were living and marrying.
What difference does it make?
The possibility that you really could be descended from the Israelites may give you a new interest in the Old Testament stories that could actually be your own family history. You might also be more interested in the covenants that God made with the children of Israel and the corresponding promises, blessings, and consequences.
Most of us will probably never find conclusive evidence to prove that some of our forefathers were actually Israelites. We have plenty of ancestors, but not enough information about them. However, the sheer number of unknown ancestors also makes it impossible for most people to declare with any certainty that they are a Gentile rather than an Israelite.