top of page

The Ancient Lost Tribes Oral History of the Pashtuns

Many people have argued and conjectured that the Pashtuns (or Pukhtuns), an ethnic group that largely resides in Afghanistan and Pakistan, are one of the lost tribes of Israel. Some assert that the similarities between Jewish and Pashtun traditions and customs, as stated in the Pashtunwali code of conduct, are proof of a shared heritage.

Oral History:

An essential component of the Pashtuns' cultural identity is their oral history, which claims they are Semitic. This theory states that the Israelites, one of the tribes of Israel thought to have been exiled from their homeland in the olden times, were the biological ancestors of the Pashtuns. The Pashtun culture and identity are based on this oral tradition, passed down through the generations.


The emphasis on honor and hospitality is also one of the areas where Pashtunwali and Jewish law intersect. Regardless of their status or background, Pashtuns are obliged to welcome guests into their homes and take good care of them, just as Jewish tradition requires that strangers be treated with respect and hospitality. Additionally, upholding family honor and exacting retribution for perceived insults are prioritized by both Pashtunwali and Jewish law. The legal system in Pashtunwali is, on the basis above, comparable to Jewish Halakha law. While Jewish law has its roots in the Abrahamic tradition, Pashtunwali may be traced back to pre-Islamic, Indo-European customs and traditions.


Commonalities between Pashtunwali and the Old Testament:

Pashtunwali is the traditional code of conduct of the Pashtun people. At the same time, the Old Testament is the first part of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Tanakh. While these two sources of law and ethics come from different cultural and religious contexts, there are some commonalities between Old Testament and Pashtunwali laws, including:


1. Hospitality: Pashtunwali and the Old Testament emphasize the importance of hospitality and offering aid and shelter to those in need.

  • Offering food and drink: In both Pashtunwali and Tanakh, it is common to offer food and drink to guests as a sign of hospitality. This can range from a simple cup of tea to a full meal.

  • Providing shelter: Providing shelter to travelers and guests is an important part of Pashtunwali and Tanakh. In Pashtunwali, this is known as nanawati, and is considered a sacred duty. In Tanakh, there are many examples of providing shelter to strangers and travelers, such as Abraham welcoming the three angels who visit him.

  • Respecting the guest's privacy: In both Pashtunwali and Tanakh, it is important to respect guests' privacy and give them space to rest and relax.

  • Protecting the guest: Both Pashtunwali and Tanakh place a high value on protecting guests from harm, and it is considered a great dishonor to allow harm to come to a guest while under one's care.

  • Offering gifts: In both Pashtunwali and Tanakh, it is common to offer gifts to guests as a sign of respect and hospitality. These gifts can range from simple tokens to more elaborate offerings.


2. Vengeance: Pashtunwali and the Old Testament allow for seeking vengeance or retribution in response to harm done, although the extent and nature of that revenge can differ.

  • Blood feuds: Pashtunwali and Tanakh recognize the concept of blood feuds, where families or tribes are obligated to seek revenge or justice for the harm done to one of their own.

  • Eye for an eye: The concept of "an eye for an eye" is found in both Pashtunwali and Tanakh. In Pashtunwali, this is known as badal and involves seeking retribution for a wrong that has been done. In Tanakh, this principle is found in the legal code, which is used to guide the punishment of offenders.

  • Honor killings: In Pashtunwali, a practice is known as honor killings, where a family member is killed to restore the family's honor after a perceived transgression. Similarly, in Tanakh, there are examples of individuals who have taken revenge for perceived slights or insults to their honor.

  • Divine retribution: In both Pashtunwali and Tanakh, there is a belief in divine retribution or punishment, where God or the gods may punish individuals who have committed wrongs.


3. Family honor: Pashtunwali and the Old Testament strongly emphasize family honor and the reputation of the clan or tribe.

  • Respect for elders: Pashtunwali and Tanakh emphasize the importance of respecting and honoring one's elders, particularly parents, and grandparents.

  • Maintaining family reputation: Pashtunwali and Tanakh strongly emphasize maintaining the family's reputation and avoiding behavior that could bring shame or dishonor to the family.

  • Arranged marriages: Both Pashtunwali and Tanakh have traditionally placed a strong emphasis on arranged marriages as a way to maintain family honor and ensure that children marry within the community.

  • Adherence to cultural and religious traditions: Pashtunwali and Tanakh encourage adherence to cultural and religious traditions to maintain family honor and identity.

  • Protection of family members: Pashtunwali and Tanakh require family members to protect and defend one another, particularly in situations where the family's honor or reputation is at stake.


4. Clothing: Their differences; there are some common cultural customs and clothing between Pashtunwali and Tanakh:

  • Modesty in dress: Both Pashtunwali and Tanakh stress the importance of modesty in dress, particularly for women.

  • Head coverings: Both Pashtunwali and Tanakh require or encourage the use of head coverings by both men and women. In Pashtunwali, the traditional head covering for men is the pakol, while women may wear a hijab or chador. In Judaism, men may wear a kippah or yarmulke, and women may cover their hair with a headscarf, wig, or hat.

  • Traditional clothing: Pashtunwali and Tanakh have specific traditional clothing styles associated with their cultures. For example, Pashtun men may wear a khet partug or shalwar kameez, while women may wear a frock or kameez and dupatta. In Judaism, traditional clothing styles can vary depending on the region but may include items such as the kaftan or tzitzit.

  • Separation of men and women: Pashtunwali and Tanakh promote separating men and women in specific contexts, such as during religious services or social gatherings.

  • Ritual clothing: Pashtunwali and Tanakh have ritual clothing associated with specific religious practices, such as the prayer shawl or tallit in Judaism.

5. Patriarchy: Pashtunwali and the Old Testament are patriarchal systems where men hold power and authority over women and children.

  • Male leadership: Both Pashtunwali and Tanakh strongly emphasize male leadership, with men typically occupying positions of power in both the family and broader society.

  • Male inheritance: In Pashtunwali and Tanakh, inheritance is often passed down through male family members, with men receiving a more significant share of property and resources than women.

  • Male-dominated religious leadership: In Pashtunwali and Tanakh, religious leadership is often dominated by men, with women having limited opportunities to participate in religious or spiritual leadership roles.

  • Restrictions on women's behavior and dress: Both Pashtunwali and Tanakh have traditionally placed restrictions on women's behavior and dress, with women often expected to dress modestly and behave in a manner considered appropriate for their gender.

  • Male authority over women's lives: In both Pashtunwali and Tanakh, men often hold a greater authority over women's lives, with women expected to be obedient to their male relatives and subject to male decision-making.


6. Circumcision: Pashtunwali and the Old Testament have traditions of male circumcision. Some common examples of circumcision in these traditions include:

  • Circumcision as a rite of passage: In both Pashtunwali and Tanakh, circumcision is often performed for young boys, marking their entry into manhood and initiation into the community.

  • Circumcision as a religious practice: In Tanakh, circumcision is viewed as a religious practice and is considered to be a sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people. In Pashtunwali, circumcision is not necessarily viewed as a religious practice but as a cultural and traditional one.

  • Circumcision as a health practice: In some cases, circumcision is performed in both Pashtunwali and Tanakh for health reasons, such as to reduce the risk of infection or disease.

  • Different methods of circumcision: In Tanakh, circumcision is typically performed on the eighth day after birth and involves the removal of the foreskin of the penis. In Pashtunwali, circumcision may be performed at different ages and may involve different methods, such as partial or complete removal of the foreskin or a symbolic pricking of the foreskin.


7. Dietary restrictions: Pashtunwali and the Old Testament restrict what foods can be consumed.

  • Prohibition of pork: Pashtunwali and Halacha prohibit pork consumption, also mentioned in the Tanakh.

  • Dietary laws related to meat: Halacha and Pashtunwali have specific laws related to meat slaughter, preparation, and consumption. The Tanakh also has laws on kosher slaughter and the preparation of meat.

  • Prohibition of blood consumption: The consumption of blood is prohibited in both Pashtunwali and Halacha and is also mentioned in the Tanakh.

  • Restrictions on seafood: Halacha has specific restrictions on consuming certain types of seafood. Pashtunwali also restricts the consumption of some types of seafood.

  • Fasting: Fasting is common in Halacha and Pashtunwali, particularly during religious holidays and occasions.


The Lost Tribes' surnames:

It's worth noting that the Pushtuns continue to use Lost Tribes surnames like Asher, Gad, Naphtali, Reuben, Manasseh, and Ephraim. Some individuals go by these names taken from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. However, the original names and accounts of some of these tribes, such as the Khattaks, have been lost forever. According to the Pushtuns, the differences between the tribes' original names and their current names are due to dialect, accents, and local languages, so Jaji was actually called Gaji for the tribe of Gad, and so on. Yusuf is short for Joseph, and Yusufzai is short for Joseph's children. They also call themselves Bani-Israel, meaning children of Israel. The names of the following tribes are strikingly similar to Hebrew names:


Yousuf Zai – Sons of Joseph

Gadoon – Gad (also Jaji – Gad)

Rabbani – Reuben

Abdali or Naftali – Naphtali ( also Daftani – Naphtali)

Shinwari – Simeon or Shimon

Zamand – Zebulun

Levani – Levi

Afridi – Ephraim

Ashuri – Asher


According to the Pashtuns' oral history, they were carried away from their ancient homeland and eventually settled in what is now Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries. However, It is important to note that while there are some commonalities between Pashtunwali and the Old Testament, there are also significant differences between the two in terms of their specific laws and their broader cultural and religious contexts. Additionally, the application and interpretation of these laws can differ among different communities and individuals. The theory is currently unsupported by most academics.

bottom of page