Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The Scythian “Sacae” -- The Asian “Sons of Isaac”
Second of a four-part book series on the migrations of Israel. Taken from Israel's Lost Empires by Steven M. Collins.
by Steven M. Collins
There is a common misconception that the ten tribes of Israel “disappeared” when they migrated into Asia. Nothing could be further from the truth! For many centuries, ancient historians knew both who the Israelites were, and where they went. They were not “lost” at all.
Consider one such example. Flavius Josephus was a Jewish military commander, a Pharisee, and an historian of the first century A.D. He wrote this about the ten tribes of Israel who were in Asia:
“...there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers.”1 (Emphasis added)
Eight centuries after the ten tribes of Israel migrated to their new Asian homelands, Josephus knew that their population had become too numerous to estimate, and that the Euphrates River served as their western border.
Ezra 4:1 records that contingents of only three tribes (Judah, Levi and Benjamin) returned to Palestine in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. They were the forebears of Judean Jews living in Judea at the time of Christ and Josephus. Judah, Levi and Benjamin were part of the former kingdom of Judah (II Chronicles 11:1, 14), not the kingdom of Israel (i.e. the"ten tribes of Israel”). Josephus affirmed that while contingents of Jews lived in Palestine, the ten tribes of Israel stayed in Asia. This is important because it refutes the misconception that the ten tribes migrated back to Palestine and were included with the Jews at the time of Christ.
The Ten Tribes of Israel Become “the Scythians”
Josephus asserts that the ten tribes of Israel were still in Asia in the first century A.D. His comment that the ten tribes were an “immense multitude” indicates we should expect to find very large masses of Israelites in Asia in the first century A.D., not isolated little remnants. An inevitable result of nations having very large populations in the ancient world was the achievement of political and military power, and we will see that the Asian Israelites had attained such power long before the time of Christ. Josephus’ comment that the Israelites were “beyond Euphrates” tells us that the Asian Israelites were then located north and east of the Euphrates River. As the reader will see, it is not difficult to locate the Israelites in Asia.
The Bible contains promises concerning the Israelites that must be mentioned before the historical evidence is examined. A prophecy in Hosea 1:6-10, stated that although God would “utterly take away Israel [from Palestine],” he would, thereafter, make their population “as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered.” This prophecy about an innumerable population for the ten tribes had been fulfilled by the time of Christ, as Josephus confirmed. This illustrates an important lesson: God always keeps His promises and fulfills His prophecies.
Also, the Bible promised that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) would perpetually be known by a particular name. Genesis 21:12 records God’s promise to Abraham that:
“through Isaac shall your descendants be named.” (RSV)
God’s “covenant” blessings upon Abraham were inherited by Isaac and Jacob, whose name was changed to “Israel.” Genesis 48:14-20 shows that Jacob-Israel passed on these blessings to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Therefore, while the name of “Isaac” could generally apply to any of the Israelite tribes, the term would most specifically identify the descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Therefore, we should look for the Israelites in Asia or elsewhere to be known by various forms of the word “Isaac.” As we shall see, secular history confirms that many large population groups in Asia did come to be known by variations of the name “Isaac.”
Chapter two discussed several waves of migrations into Asia by the ten tribes of Israel. The captivity of the Israelites who withstood a three-year Assyrian siege in Samaria is the most famous, but it is actually the least significant of the Asian migrations. Assyrian cuneiform records state that a mere 27,290 Israelite captives were taken from Samaria.2 The other two migrations involved far more people.
About twenty years before the fall of Samaria, the tribes of Gad, Naphtali, Reuben, and one-half the tribe of Manasseh were carried captive into Assyria (II Kings 15:29, I Chronicles 5:26). While the captives from Samaria represented only one city in the territory of the tribe of Ephraim, this earlier captivity involved the entire populations of at least three and one-half tribes. The Israelites taken in this captivity can be conservatively estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Also, as we learned in chapter two, many Israelites fled the final Assyrian invasion, voluntarily migrating into the region of the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. Since this body of Israelites had a military escort of 220,000 soldiers as they migrated,3 it easily numbered over one million people.
Many inhabitants of Israel’s capital city, Samaria, were taken to the cities of the Medes (II Kings 17:6). We will begin our search by looking for a group of people who were not physically present in Media before the fall of Samaria. One historical account records that Assyria’s King Esarhaddon in 674 B.C. was confronted by an alliance of “Mannaean, Median, and newly-arrived Cimmerian forces.”4 (Emphasis added) The “newly-arrived” Cimmerians were the Israelite Samarians who had been settled among the Medes only a few decades earlier. Webster’s New World Dictionary states that “Cimmerian” is pronounced “Si-mer-e-en;”5 the consonants of “Samarian” and “Simereen” are a perfect match. That these “Cimmerians” were “recent arrivals” in Media adds weight to their identification as Israelite captives from the city of Samaria.
The Israelites who migrated to the Black Sea region became known as “Scythians.” The Encyclopedia Britannica records the Scythians as first being present in Eurasian locations in the seventh century B.C.6 The Encyclopedia Americana adds:
“The Scythians...are those tribes that occupied this territory [the region north of the Black Sea] from about 700 B.C.”7 (Emphasis added)
Another account of the Scythian arrival in the Black Sea region is found in The Scythians, by Tamara Talbot Rice, which states:
“The Scythians did not become a recognizable national entity...before the eighth century B.C...By the seventh century B.C. they had established themselves firmly in southern Russia... Assyrian documents place their appearance...on the shores of Lake Urmia [just south of Armenia] in the time of King Sargon (722-705 B.C) a date which closely corresponds with that of the establishment of the first group of Scythians in southern Russia.”8 (Emphasis added)
These accounts are all consistent with the historical records cited in chapter two that the Israelites migrated to the Black Sea area toward the end of the eighth century B.C. Rice’s account indicates the Black Sea Scythians arrived in southern Russia via a route that included territory south of Armenia in 722-705 B.C. That is exactly the time period the Israelites were migrating from their homeland, and it also indicates the Scythians originated in a former homeland south of Armenia. That place was Palestine, the location of the old kingdom of Israel.
Later in this chapter, we will see other Scythians came to live far to the east of the Black Sea Scythians. Tamara Rice’s book includes a map showing that the burial sites of these “related clans” of the Scythians have been found as far eastward as the Pazirik/Altai region where the old Soviet Union joined the western edges of China and Mongolia.9
The opening of a burial mound of these eastern Scythians was the subject of an article in the October, 1994 issue of National Geographic magazine. It had the following commentary:
“The Pazyryks thrived in these steppes...in the sixth through the second centuries B.C. They were horsemen...[and] shepherds...Dozens of such tribes rose on the steppes of Eurasia in this era, creating a deceptively uniform culture labeled Scytho-Siberian...The Greek historian Herodotus faithfully detailed much of the life of the Scythians, a powerful, semi-nomadic people who lived north of the Black Sea between 800 B.C. and 100 B.C.”10
A female mummified in the burial vault must have been a prominent Scythian as she was buried with several horses and gravegoods with gold ornamentation. An earlier excavation in the area had yielded “two skeletons with European features” who were buried with weapons and ten horses. These eastern Scythians were one of many clans on the steppes related to the Scythians of the Black Sea region. The fact that some of their burial mounds yield skeletons “with European features”11 will become increasingly important later in this chapter and in the next book in this series.
The Scythians were frequently called the “Saka,” or “Sacae.” The Encyclopedia Britannica states that the terms:
“Saka [Sacae] and Scyths...were regarded as synonymous.”12 (Emphasis added)
The Greek story of Xenophon mentions the “Sacians” of Asia had “suffered very severely” at the hands of the Assyrians,13 and a Roman writer, Pliny, stated the Scythians were “descended from slaves.”14 These accounts can only describe the Israelites: they bore the name of “Isaac” (“Sac”-ians), the Israelites truly were descended from a race of slaves (freed from Egypt in the Exodus), and they had suffered the complete destruction of their old kingdom of Israel at the hands of Assyria.
It is very significant that the Scythians were known as Sacae or Saka. As cited earlier, Genesis 21:12 promised that Abraham’s future descendants would be known by the name of Isaac. The ancient Hebrew language did not list vowels; therefore, the name Isaac would be represented by the consonants S-C or S-K. Sac-ae is the word Isaac with the Latin plural “ae” attached. That these “ Sacae” are recorded as living near the Black Sea soon after many Israelites migrated there supports the contention that they were relocated Israelites.
Speculation that the Scythians originated in the interior of Asia is clearly refuted not only by the above account of Tamara Rice, but also by the images found on Scythian artifacts. A Russian art book (translated into English) reproduces many examples of Scythian artwork showing Scythians with bearded, Semitic features, not Mongoloid features.15 The McClintock and Strong Cyclopedia reproduces images of a Scythian family and a Scythian horseman, footman and general.16 All depict Scythians with obvious Caucasian and Semitic features, indicating that their origin was in the Fertile Crescent, not the interior of Asia.
Not all ancient people bearing the name “Scythian” were descended from the ten tribes of Israel. The term “Scythian” was sometimes used generically to describe any tribe with a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle. Some “Turanians” were also called “Scythian” or “Sacae.” The Turanians may have had a Japhetic descent, with the term “Turanian” perhaps based on Tiras, one of the sons of Japheth. (Genesis 10:2) The Dniester River, which empties into the Black Sea, was anciently called the “Tyras” River, further supporting such a conclusion. It is possible to confuse the “Sacae Scythians” and “Turanian Scythians,” as George Rawlinson observed:
“The term ‘Scythic’ is not...ethnical. It designates a life rather than a descent, habits rather than blood. It is applied by the Greeks and Romans to Indo-European and Turanian races indifferently, provided they are nomads, dwelling in tents...living on the produce of their flocks and herds...”17
Two races were called Scythians: the Indo-European “Sacae” and the “Turanians.” The terms “Sacae” and “Saka” do indicate an Israelite ethnicity, but the term “Scythian” can sometimes include non-Israelites as well.
In 653 B.C., the Medes and Cimmerians allied with the Scythians under a leader named “Phraortes” against the Assyrians. They lost their war with the Assyrians (and Phraortes died),18 but it is significant that the Scythians were anti-Assyrian. Once it is understood that these Scythians were Israelites, their antipathy toward Assyria is understandable. The Scythians and Cimmerians were kinsmen; the Encyclopedia Britannica calls the Cimmerians a “Scythian tribe.”19 Here we see Israelite tribes joining the Medes to fight the Assyrians mere decades after they left Palestine.
Their leader’s name, “Phraortes,” was a Hellenized form of “Phares,” a name of the tribe of Judah. Genesis 49:10 promised that dynasties of kings would come from Judah, and Jeremiah 33:17-22 prophesied that the descendants of King David, also of the Phares line, would become very numerous and would perpetually rule over descendants of “the house of Israel.” Jeremiah prophesied this after the house of Israel (the northern ten tribes) had migrated to Asia. The name “Phraortes” indicates that descendants of King David were ruling Asian Israelites soon after their removal from Palestine, showing that God had not forgotten His promise to David’s progeny. (II Samuel 7:8-17)
One of the last kings of Judah, Jehoichin, was taken to Babylon as a captive (II Kings 24:8-15), but a later Babylonian king “set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon.” (II Kings 25:27-30) Jehoichin, David’s descendant, became a high vassal king in the Babylonian Empire. He fathered many sons (I Chronicles 3:16-24), making the royal seed of King David numerous in Asia. The kings of Babylon apparently placed these royal descendants over captive Israelites, fulfilling God’s promise to King David that his seed would rule over the ten tribes of Israel! Almost from the beginning, these royal descendants were the kings of the Asian nations and empires of the Israelites.
What happened to the Israelites -- the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Naphthali and one-half of Manasseh -- who were carried captive by the Assyrians about twenty years before Samaria fell? It is recorded that the “Scythians” were not only located in the Black Sea region, but also in Mesopotamia, just east of Assyria. The Encyclopedia Britannica states that: “A Scythian power had grown up in the old kingdom of Ellip, to the east of Assyria...[by] Ecbatana.”20 History records that Scythian powers developed in two locations: one by the Black Sea and the other east of Assyria.
The Scythians located east of Assyrian in modern Iran were descended from Israelites taken captive by the Assyrians, while the Sacae Scythians in the Black Sea region were descended from Israelites who fled there to avoid Assyrian captivity. The captive Israelites soon displaced the nation of Ellip into whose region they had been placed. What nation had been displaced by the Israelites who migrated to the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountains? This region was previously called Urartu. William Culican’s The Medes and the Persians states that Urartu was “enfeebled by Scythian incursions.”21 Tamara Rice’s book, The Scythians, records:
“in the area roughly corresponding to present-day Azerbaijan, the kingdom of Urartu had crumbled. The Scythians, under their king Partatua...firmly established themselves in...Urartu itself, where they set up their capital at Sakiz...”22 (Emphasis added)
A Scythian capital was named “Sakiz,” honoring the Israelite patriarch, Isaac. Who else but the relocated ten tribes of Israel would name an Asian city in honor of Isaac? Their territory was in the modern region of Armenia and Azerbaijan, between the Black Caspian Seas. One of their first kings was named “Partatua.” Ancient languages often interchanged the letters “p” and “b.” Try saying these letters yourself; they have very similar sounds and are called “labial consonants.” When you change the first “p” in the Scythian king’s name to a “b,” you have “Bart-atua.” The first syllable of his name “Bart-” preserves the root word of “B-R-T,” the Hebrew word for “covenant.” As the reader knows from previous discussions in this series on Israelite history, the consonants “B-R-T” are a distinctive identifier of the tribes of Israel.
The Encyclopedia Britannica refers to the Scythians as “newcomers” to the area in the seventh century B.C.,23 and William Culican’s book, The Medes and the Persians, states that Scythian numbers and influence grew in the seventh century B.C.24 Since the Israelites migrated into Asia at the end of the eighth century B.C., their rise to prominence in the seventh century B.C. is very consistent with biblical accounts.
Scythian Culture and Society
Historians tell us the Scythians were agriculturists who both planted crops and followed their herds (hence the word “nomads”). The old Israelite lifestyle from the days of Abraham revolved around agriculture, and they both planted crops and were herdsmen. Ezekiel 27:17 records the Israelites had been food exporters in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. A Jewish historian cited by Col. Gawler in an earlier chapter stated that the Israelites fled through Armenia from the Assyrians, and went “with their flocks, and turned nomads.”25 The Scythians carried on the Israelite traditions of being agriculturists, food exporters and “nomads” dwelling in portable dwellings as they followed their flocks and herds. Zenaide Ragozin’s book, Media, records:
“Some seventy years after the time of Herodotus we find from contemporary evidence that 600,000 bushels of Scythian corn went to Athens alone each year.”26
If 600,000 bushels of grain went to one Greek city each year in the fifth century, B.C., one wonders how much the Scythians exported to the world as a whole. Herodotus confirmed that the Scythians grew corn for use as an export crop,27 and the production of a voluminous grain crop shows the Scythians were skilled farmers, not “hunter-gatherers.”
Scythian agriculturists had civilized tastes. William Culican, in The Medes and the Persians, states:
“...it was to the Scythians that Achaemenid objects had greatest appeal. The dinner services, upholstered beds and thrones designed for the mess tents of Persian officers on field duty admirably suited the...nomadic Scythian leaders. Scythian tombs were elaborately furnished and...the Scythians not only had a close relationship with the Medes and Persians but supplied from their Ural territories much of the gold on which Persia depended.”28
Tamara Rice also wrote concerning the Scythians:
“...their wealth and love of finery won them the good will of the great Hellenic merchants established along the shores of the Black Sea...the Scythians already displayed an extraordinary ability to appreciate and assimilate the best in the art of their day.”29
The above accounts are significant. A nation that possessed wealth, enjoyed fine tableware and upholstered beds, and exhibited an “extraordinary” appetite for the fine arts is one that prizes the material comforts of a civilized society. The fact that Scythia had a well-developed gold mining, refining and exporting industry indicates that not all Scythians were farmers or ranchers. Their gold mines indicate that some Scythians were involved in industrial pursuits, and their success in the gold trade confirms that they possessed the technological expertise to process gold ores into beautiful finished products. These Scythians had originated in the kingdom of Israel’s “Phoenician” homeland. The Israelite-Phoenicians were a very civilized, prosperous people who enjoyed a civilized society and excelled in international commerce. It is not surprising that their Asian descendants exhibited these same attributes. Like their Scythian progeny, the Phoenicians had been excellent goldsmiths. The McClintock and Strong Cyclopedia states that the Phoenicians:
“...manufactured all kinds of beautiful vessels and ornaments in gold, silver and ivory...”30
The Scythians manufactured some of the ancient world’s most elegant works of gold art. Books have been written which display their artistic abilities. 31 Their civilized tastes and sophisticated skills indicate that their origin was in the Mesopotamian/Mediterranean region, not the wild steppes of deepest Asia. A comment by Georges Charriere, author of the book, Scythian Art: Crafts of the Eurasian Nomads, also confirms the Scythians migrated into the Russian steppes from the south, not from the north.
Speaking of the “characteristic animal style of Scythian art,” Charriere wrote:
“There is no ground for concluding that this style had its birth in the Altai or in any other region of Siberia. Along with the other elements of the Scythian culture, it was derived from the cultural heritage of the ancient East and originated in the peripheral regions of Assyria, among the Iranian-language tribes settled in the north of Iran.”32 (Emphasis added)
Charriere is speaking specifically of the Scythians who lived east of the Caspian Sea. While the Black Sea Scythians descended from Israelites who fled to that region to avoid Assyrian captivity, the eastern Scythians evidenced an origin in “the peripheral regions of Assyria” and “the north of Iran.” The Bible records that the Israelites who did go into captivity were settled “in Assyria” (II Kings 15:29) and in the “cities of the Medes.” (II Kings 17:6) The “cities of the Medes” were in “the north of Iran.” Here we see strong cultural evidence that the eastern Scythians were originally subjects of the Assyrian and the Median and Persian Empires, and moved into the Russian steppes from the south. These Scythians were the Israelites who had, indeed, been captives in the Assyrian Empire and were transplanted to the north of Iran. When the Assyrian and the Median and Persian Empires fell, these Israelites were freed from their captors, and they migrated into the steppes east of the Caspian Sea. II Kings 15:29 and 17:6 identify these captive Israelites who became the eastern Scythians as the tribes of Naphthali, Gad, Reuben, one-half the tribe of Manasseh, and the Ephraimites who had been besieged in Samaria.
Georges Charriere also notes linguistic evidence that the Scythians migrated into the Russian steppes from the south, not from northern Asia. He wrote:
“...the steppes as far as the Altai Mountains were inhabited by Scythians or Sacian tribes -- Persian-speaking peoples of Central Asia, similar to the Scythians in their economic organization, way of life and culture.”33 (Emphasis added)
Obviously, if these Scythians had originated in the northern, interior regions of Asia, they would not have been a “Persian-speaking” people. The fact that their many tribes spoke a language of the Persian Empire confirms not only that the Scythians had once lived within the Persian Empire, but that they had lived there for a considerable period of time. This would be an expected trait of the Israelite captives who had lived within the Assyrian and the Median and Persian Empire for centuries.
It was mentioned earlier that the “Scythians” included both the Sacae and the Turanians. In addition to the civilized Scythians, there were ignorant and uncouth tribes on the steppes. Herodotus, a Greek historian of the fifth century B.C., affirmed that the civilized Scythians lived close to some very uncivilized tribes, which he described in these words:
“the Man-Eaters, a tribe that is entirely peculiar and not Scythian at all...[and] the Black Cloaks, another tribe which is not Scythian at all.”34
Herodotus confirms the civilized qualities of the Scythians and the backwardness of “non-Scythian” tribes in the following blunt words: “The Euxine Pontus [the Black Sea]...contains -- except for the Scythians -- the stupidest nations in the world.”35 (Emphasis added)