by Yaacov Levi
To many who are interested in the history of the Celtic peoples
and their modern descendants in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Brittany
and Cornwall, and from their descendants around the world a subject
that is often brought up is possible connections with the ancient
Israelites, in particular the "Lost Tribes" of Israel.
The purpose of this article is not to establish 'connections'
to the Lost Tribes, but to discuss some of the many common characteristics
of these modern Celtic peoples and the ancient Israelites. These
characteristics I call Commonalities. I am not attempting in this
short article to establish connections which has been addressed
in many other volumes such as The Tribes and Ephraim
by Yair Davidy and The Lost Tribes of Israel - Found! by
Steven Collins as well as in ancient works. I am simply going
to point out and discuss a very few of the great many commonalities
between these peoples.
The Lost Tribes of The House of Israel
The peoples we refer to as the Lost Tribes were part of the
Northern Kingdom of Israel which was conquered by the Assyrians
around 740-720 BC. and exiled to areas in Assyria and to the north.
This is told in the the Bible in 2Kings chapters 17 and 18. About
the same time a contingent from the Kingdom of Judah were also
exiled to the northern lands. It is these peoples and their immediate
descendants that are also variously referred to as the Lost Tribes,
and the subject of many works and studies.
Being both Irish and Jewish, I grew up familiar with customs
and the cultures of both peoples, only in later years becoming
aware that they were quite difference cultures and had greatly
varying cultural characteristics. Yet growing up with both cultures,
I had noticed similarities even on a casual basis. Over the years
I began to see more of this similarity and in recent years I began
to collect this data into what I term an Overview which I am still
assembling. It is this Overview in differing areas of life that
I will discuss here.
There are a number of areas that I have been looking at which
includes: language, agriculture, religion and taboos, burial practices,
music and folk dancing, the traditions and self determinations
and self-identification of the Celts and other areas as the arise.
I will point out a few items in each category and note that these
are just a few of a great many commonalities and I mention them
Language is one of the subjects that led to my overall interest
in the topic as early on I had noticed similarities. Considering
the long period of time from the expulsion of the Israelites to
our time, it would seem unlikely that there would be little, if
any, common letters, words or structure, but that is not the case
- there is indeed much in common.
Gaelic is a member of the Celtic group of the Indo-European
family of languages that includes Russian, English, German, Spanish,
French, Hindi and Italian. The Celtic group has been confined
to the British Isles and part of the French coast.
The Celtic group is divided into two divisions which has three
languages in each division. Each division makes up its own unique
language.The two branches are:
- the BRYTHONIC branch which is made up of the Welsh,
Breton and Cornish lan guages; and
- the GOIDELIC branch with the Irish, Scots and Manx
The Breton and Cornish languages are seeing some resurgence
after near extinction while the Irish, Scots and Welsh languages
are holding their own at this time. Manx is an ancient form of
Irish and is considered to be oldest and purest Irish Gaelic in
existence. Manx is very close to the extinct dialects of nearby
Ulster and Galloway and separated from Old Irish in about the
fifth century of our era. It occupies much the same position to
Old Irish as Icelandic does to Old Norse. For the purpose of my
study I have chose to concentrate on Manx and Scots Gaelic. I
am sure though that an indepth study of Welsh or the other Gaelic
languages would provide much food for thought on this issue.
The Gaelic alphabet as well as the ordinal numbers show more
commonality than could be expected after 2,700 years of divergence;
for example we have a Hebrew "S" retained in the modern
Gaelic - the Hebrew Sheen, pronounced Shh is found in the Irish
"S" as in the name Sean pronounced Shawn. Other letters
are similar, the ordinal numbers 6 & 7 are pronounced almost
the same as Hebrew and Gaelic. Words with same or similar meanings
abound; for instance the Hebrew word for holy in common usage
according to Halacha (Jewish law) is Kasher. The word in
Manx Gaelic for hallowed or holy is Casherick. The syntax
of Gaelic is entirely different from any other European language,
especially English. RL Thompson, in his work Outline of Manx
Literature and Language says that "in several respects
Gaelic syntax has similarities with that of languages like Hebrew
As in Hebrew, adjectives follow the noun that they describe:
for example "ben vie" = "a good woman" in
Gaelic and "Rosh ketan" = "small head" or
"stupid" in Hebrew. Vie of ketan being the adjectives.
The word order also is similar in Hebrew in that the verb is usually
first in the sentence unlike English or many other European languages.
These are just a very few of the many commonalities that I believe
suggest a definite connection between the two languages and their
family streams. This alone could constitute a major comparative
Commonalities in Ethnic Customs
One of the first areas in which I noticed similarities was
in customs, notably folk dancing and later, musical instruments.
The Hebrew Hora and other old traditional dances are parallelled
in many Gaelic folk dances and especially the wedding dance of
the Gaels which is very similar to the traditional Ashkenazic
wedding dances of Europe. The musical instruments of the Gaels
are found in the Israelite tradition, notably the harp in both
Celtic tales and certainly Hebrew tradition as the favoured instrument
of the psalmist David [see the article "The Harp of David
and the Harp of Ireland" by John Wheeler in the August-October
issue of Origins of Nations - ed]. But, one of the most
intriguing things to come up was that the Irish and Scots pipes
we are all familiar with has its origins in the desert flute played
daily throughout\t the Middle East. The flute of the desert shepherds
is identifiable in the "chanter" of the Irish and Scots
Amazing Religious Parallels
The ancient religion of the Celtic peoples prior to Christianity
was generally believed to be Druidism, of which we know very little;
yet that which we do know has many overtones of the Canaanite
religions that the northern tribes turned to after the split of
King Solomon's Kingdom under his son into a Northern and a Southern
Kingdom. Like the pagans of Canaan, their sacred places became
high hilltops and sacred groves, notably oaks. There is a great
deal of similarities from what we know archaeologically in both
the Northern Kingdom ritual sites and the Druid sites in the Isles.
Additionally, the burial practices of both the peoples of the
northern Kingdom and the Celts bear much similarity in the presence
of Dolmens - large slabs of stone place horizontally across upright
stones with the graves under them. These are found throughout
the area of Europe which Celtic peoples passed and are found also
in the areas of present day Jordan and Israel in which the Northern
Israelite tribes dwelled.
You can find pictures of these dolmens in Yair Davidy's book
Ephraim on pages 137-38. This book is available from History
Research Projects. Overseas it may be purchased direct from Yair
Davidy in Israel.
Even Agricultural Similarities!
Agriculturally there are interesting commonalities - the grain
crops are much the same, and even though wheat was known to them
in their passage through Europe it was not a major crop in their
final homes. In fact oats and barley were their staple grains.
As with the Israelites, the cattle were of several colours, but
the preferred colour for ritual for both peoples was red. The
virgin cow used in the Hebrew ritual for purification was the
forerunner of the red cattle used by the Druids in their rituals.
After the invasion of the Romans into the Isles, white cattle
were introduced and later used; until that time red was the preferred
colour. One of the most famous wars in Irish history was over
a Red Bull stolen by a northern Irish tribe. Also, swine were
not raised in any of the early Celtic areas until after they were
introduced by the Romans; the Celts had a taboo against them,
along with scaleless fish as eels and shellfish. The Celts, in
similitude to the Israelites, were excellent headsman and developed
identifiable breeds of sheep, cattle and horses, that carried
on the traditions of the Israelites.
Perhaps one of the most telling of the commonalities is simply
the self-identification as Israelites - the Hibernians - the name
of the Irish and the Scots and the Hebrides Islands off the coast
of Scotland. The Milesians, one of the early Celtic peoples to
come to Ireland from Spain had a tradition that they were of the
Lost Tribes. The name Heber, Eber, or H'berian is found throughout
early literature to describe the Celts as they described themselves
to be "Of Eber" - the grandfather of Abraham.
What I have presented here in greatly abbreviated form just
skims the surface of the commonalities between the Celtic Peoples
and the Israelites. There is a tremendous amount of information
available for those who would like to look at this closer themselves.
A few resources are listed at the end. This is one of those subjects
in which at first one can say "oh - that's an interesting
coincidence". But the sheer mass of these "coincidences"
that build up after one goes from discipline to another becomes
totally overwhelming. The fact that so much of the languages are
similar almost three thousand years later, that customs are clearly
identifiable as being related, that religious practices are uniquely
similar and that the everyday agricultural practices and crops
were similar - all along with the many other commonalities bespeak
a common origin.
For those interested in pursuing this I wish you well and much
Suggested information sources:
Manx Gaelic Society
Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh
Isle of Man IM7 2EW
Gaelic Books Council
Dept of Celtic
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ
PO Box 595
Chadwick, N (1965) Celtic Britain. London.
Chadwick, N (1970) The Celts. United Kingdom.
Rankin, H (1987) Celts and the Classical World. London.
Squire, C (1905) Celtic Myth and Legend, Poetry and Romance.
Squire, C (1909) The Mythology of Ancient Britain and Ireland.
The Origin of the Nations of S.E. Asia
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