IS THERE REALLY A BRITISH ISRAEL?
By: David Ingraham
When Jesus came to save the lost sheep of the House of Israel, some believe He came to the last place on earth He was likely to find them. According to them, His mission was to be directed primarily to ten tribes that had been deported more than 700 years earlier. Why, then, did He come to the Promised Land at all? Had these people not become “lost tribes” by this time? Were they not living in vast multitudes beyond the Euphrates River anticipating a massive transmigration northward or westward? Or is it not more likely that when Jesus declared that He had come to seek and to save that which was lost, the omniscient Son of God knew the “ten lost tribes” could be found in the vicinity to which He came?
The nineteenth century doctrine of British Israelism is alive but desperately ill in America. It arose in Britain because of a passionate sense of nationalism. It survives in America as a parasite of prejudice. The theory that the “ten lost tribes” of Israel migrated in to Europe, then to Britain, and then to America
has long been discarded by reputable scholars. Those who continue to embrace the theory seem to have one of three axes to grind:
1. They embrace the thought of bringing into legalistic bondage people graciously set free at the cross of Christ.
2. They abhor the idea that nations and races other than their own should merit the blessings of God.
3. They despise the thought that Jews in particular might be favored of God in some way.
The theory only survives where a predisposition for its prejudice exists. Such groups and their leaders cling tenaciously to British Israelism despite overwhelming evidence of their error. That evidence is found in history, in Scripture, and in the quality of the theory’s fruit.
Following the death of Solomon, Israel split into two nations; Ephraim in the north and Judah in the south. Although both kingdoms fell into idolatry, the north was the first to fall to an external enemy. Beginning in 734 B.C. with invasions from Assyria and culminating at the fall of Samaria in 721 B.C. the northern
kingdom suffered military defeat, the deportation of nearly 30,000 of its citizens and the loss of its identity as a kingdom and a nation (Isa. 7:8). Judah fell to Babylon some 120 years later.
Adherents claim that the deported tribes became known as the Scythians, a nation inhabiting an area between the southern shores of the Caspian and Black Seas. They maintain that these Scythians
subsequently migrated northward and westward, crossing Europe and leaving a trail of landmarks behind them. The Scythians, supposedly, became the progenitors of the Anglos, Saxons, Celts, and Danes. Crossing the English Channel, they became the throne of David, preserved for Messiah who is to come. Regrettably, the fanciful accounts of this migration bear only superficial resemblances to history.
According to the recently discovered annals of Sargon, only 27,290 people and 50 chariots suffered deportation in the fall of the northern kingdom. If an estimated half million Israelites lived in Ephraim at that time, then only about 5 percent of the population journeyed east. Their kingdom and nation passed from existence, but the tribes themselves were never lost. Indeed, they were never deported.
Those who were forced to migrate to Assyria apparently settled in the northern regions near the Caspian Sea. Seven hundred years later the Jewish historian, Josephus, mentioned they still remained beyond the Euphrates in mass numbers. Reliable historians, however, place the Teutons and the Celts near the
Middle Danube at about 1400 B.C. Therefore no identity with Israel is possible.
Furthermore, any attempt to identify the northern kingdom refugees with Scythians meets a miserable fate. “The Scythians were one of the greatest military powers of the (their) day; while the North Israelites were helpless exiles from a country about the size of Yorkshire”. Additionally, the Scythians were not of Hebrew extraction. They were either Mongolian or Persian. If the British Israelism theory were true, the Scythians would have had to change the color of their skin several times in the process of moving into Britain. First, they would have had to become Mongolians or Persians, then blond and brawny Norsemen, and finally Britons.
Finally, if Scandinavians, Danes, and Germans share a common ancestry with Britain (and America), why are they not also included as “lost tribes?” Add to their number many Italians, Sicilians, Russians, Icelanders, and Greenlanders. If all these are not included as people of Israel, where do you draw the line
and on what basis?
That leaves us to account for the numerous landmarks, artifacts, cultural evidence and religious influence so prevalent in Europe and elsewhere. In his book, The Plain Truth About Armstrongism, Roger R. Chambers, chairman of general studies and professor at Florida Christian College, explains the spread of Hebrew culture from five different factors:
1. Deportations – With each defeat in war, Israel host part of its population by deportation. Over many centuries, hundreds of thousands of them became exiled to other lands only to impact those cultures significantly. The Hebrew culture is extremely strong and strangely attractive. This leads to yet another means for conveying their culture;
2. Proselytes – “The record is clear that whenever (sic) Jews went, for any reason and under any circumstances, the Jewish cultural patterns were passed on the surrounding pagan community.
Many would imitate parts of the Hebrew culture. Many became full-fledged proselytes. Paganism had nothing that could withstand the elevated theology of the religion of the religion of the Hews, and
had no culture of its own with the innate strength of Judaism.” Furthermore, proselyting knew no racial boundaries. Jews come in every shade of color – Jewishness is not necessarily a racial issue as some would violently insist
3. Dispersions – Jews have infiltrated almost every culture from Europe, to Japan, to America. India and China have isolated pockets of Hebrew culture. Russian Jews are immigrating to Israel by the thousands. Operation Moses and Operation Solomon have rescued thousands of Falashas from Ethiopia. Chambers cites at least 27 additional countries, territories, and cultures that could readily claim the title, “lost ten tribes”
4. Sea Voyages – It may be speculative, but some scholars believe Solomon’s ships sailed the Atlantic and traded in Brazil and Peru. Another researcher, Janet Greish, believes a small clan in east Tennessee called “Melungeons” may be descendants of Hebrew sailors who arrived here long before Columbus.
5. Cognateness – This word conveys the though that the human race, though very diverse, has much in common. In other words, one does not have to trace any and all suggestions of Judaism today back to
some Hebrew source. Similarities to Hebrew culture exist in places and among people with absolutely no direct Hebrew influence.
If extra-biblical history damages the case for British Israelism, scriptural evidence demolishes it. The Old Testament abounds with information that nullifies the theory.
Contrary to the foundational premise of the theory, the north continued its tribal existence by moving to the south after the breach of 930 B.C. “For the Levites left their suburbs and their possession, and came to Judah and Jerusalem: for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them off from executing the priest’s office unto the Lord… And after them out of all the tribes of Israel such as set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel came to Jerusalem, to sacrifice unto the Lord God of their fathers”. (2 Chronicles 11:14,16).
When Hezekiah called for a celebration of the Passover soon after the Assyrian deportation in the northern kingdom, he sent messengers from Dan to Beersheba with a most significant message: “So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the commandment of the king, saying, Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you, That are escaped out of the hand of the kings of
Assyria.” (2 Chronicles 30:6).
Obviously, a remnant, and not necessarily a minority, had so escaped. From among these, several tribes immediately responded with representatives sent to the southern kingdom. They accepted the invitation to come out from the idolatry founded by Jeroboam and to resume worship of the true God along with their tribal brethren who had already migrated to Judah and Jerusalem. “So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even unto Zebulun: but they laughed them to scorn, and
mocked them. Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 30:10-11).
In 622 B.C. during the reforms of King Josiah, money for the restoration of the Temple came to the high priest, Hilkiah, from the peoples of Manasseh and Ephraim (northern kingdom). This explains why there are no lost tribes today because the tribes were never lost in the first place. Some moved south to escape
Jereboam’s idolatry; others moved south after the northern kingdom fell. Many simply remained in their land allotments, dressed their vineyards, plied their crafts, and tended their flocks.
What, then, of those Scripture passages that declared the elimination of the people of the northern kingdom? Both Hosea 1:4-6 and Isaiah 7:8 prophesy their doom. Nevertheless, the doom applied only to Israel as a national entity, not as a tribal people. “And the Lord said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for
yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel. And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel. And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Loruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away” (Hos. 1:4-6).
Scripture also demonstrates with great clarity that the northern tribes were well represented in the south. In fact, tribes other than Judah and Benjamin went into Babylonian captivity 120 years after the supposed deportation of the “lost ten tribes.” “And in Jerusalem dwelt of the children of Judah, and of the children of
Benjamin, and of the children of Ephraim, and Manasseh” (I Chronicles 9:3).
Even if the Assyrian deportation had denuded the landscape of any Israelites and had carried them away into anonymous deportation, their survivors in Jerusalem would have been more sufficient to maintain their tribal identity.
Continuing in the context of the Old Testament, the close of the Babylonian captivity found a restored community back in Jerusalem and Judea. That collective company is called “Jews” eight times and “Israel” fifty times in the book of Ezra. At the dedication of the Temple in Ezra 6:17, a particular offering merits our
attention: “And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.”
The tribes of Israel are twelve in number and each is represented by a sacrificial offering. This all-inclusive sacrifice suggests an additional argument against the British Israel theory.
According to prophecy, the tribes of the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom will one day reassume their separate identities. Since most Israelites today cannot determine their tribal origins, this event will be of a miraculous nature. Then, when the throne of David is re-established in Jerusalem, these two kingdoms will reunite as one kingdom. This event may be merely a formal recognition of a unity of people which was already in evidence following the captivity, evident today and to be in evidence at the time of Jesus’ second coming.
Ezekiel chapter 37 announces aliyah, the return of Jews to the land of Israel from all over the world. Anglo-Saxon people are Gentiles, descendants of Japheth. They will continue to dwell in England, Scandinavia, and America separate from the Jews.
This chapter also emphasizes the throne of David and its restored prominance in Jerusalem. In British Israelism, the throne of David is said to be of Great Britain. According to this theology, the British are preserving the throne of Messiah until He comes. This invites the following question: By what right did the northern kingdom usurp the throne of David? Genesis 49:10 and 2 Samuel 7:16 guarantee the scepter of leadership to the tribe of Judah and, specifically, to the house of David. The ten tribes cannot produce
a King. Moreover, even if the theory were true, Britain’s royalty would not have been the line of kings to whom God made prophetic promises. Why? Because they are unquestionably not of the tribe of Judah.
NEW TESTAMENT EVIDENCE
Turning to the New Testament, we search n vain for the slightest hint of any “lost ten tribes.” By this time, the terms “Jew” and “Israel” are used interchangeably to refer to the same body of people. For example, the Apostle Paul, a Benjamanite, calls himself a Jew in one passage: “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day” (Acts 22:3). And an Israelite, in another passage: “I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also
am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (Rom. 11:1).
Unlike British Israelites, Paul does not attribute breaking off and blindness to the tribe of Judah only; he includes each tribe in the family of Jacob: “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the
fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25)
Nothing in this passage conveys the slightest suggestion that Israel was to be blessed of God as Anglo-Saxon peoples during the present dispensation. Instead, Israel has broken off from the vine and blinded “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” In fact, this passage alone is sufficient to disprove British
Israelism once and for all.
In addition, when James wrote his epistle early in church history, he did not distinguish between Judah and the ten tribes: “James, a servant of God of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting” (Jam. 1:1).
Although tribal references in the New Testament are few, they suffice to demonstrate that northern tribes inhabited the land of Jesus in the days of His flesh and later. The scarcity of such references suggests that proving the presence of these tribes was neither a priority nor an issue when the books of the New Testament were written.
The New Covenant itself is an issue in British Israelism? “The whole British-Israel theory… hangs upon this, that the British people have accepted the Christian faith, and come under the New Covenant, which would mean that they are born again. Alas, it is impossible to think it. To enter, by personal surrender to Christ, into the blessings of the New Covenant is not the privilege of Israel only, it is free to all men (Eph. 3:6). To suggest that while nationally (hardened and veiled) and individually (as lawbreakers) under the curse, Israel is now enjoying the New Covenant blessings of Abraham nationally, would be contradictory.
To allege that Israel is to attempt to bring them under the curse of a broken law and a disobedient people.
Moreover, “Anglo-Saxons, even if they be Israelites, are either saints or sinners; if saints, then they are Israelites no longer, but belong to the ‘holy nation’ the church, in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, if sinners, then they are doubly under broken law both the Law of Eden, and the Law of Sinai – and
therefore doubly under the curse”. Seen from this perspective, British Israelism is both untenable and patently undesirable.
THE QUALITY OF ITS FRUIT
The most obvious evidence against British Israelism is that those “branches” of Christendom embracing it often bear fruit that is both putrid and revolting. In addition to wasting one’s time and attention in superfluous study and concealing the true meaning of Scripture, the theory has a darker, more sinister side.
White supremacist and anti-Semitic groups, most of which bear the name of Christ, are spreading a venomous hatred tantamount to the Nazi influences in Germany prior to World War II. In some cases
these groups of the Promise. To foster and promote this belief they embrace British Israelism.
Included in this notorious circle are the neo-Nazis of both Germany and America, the Ku Klux Klan, Skinheads, the Christian Identity Movement, and other, lesser-known organizations. With Aryan prejudice, they demean and degrade races other than their own, especially Jewish people.
Such groups turn the Divine institution of Nationalism (Acts 17:24-27) into idolatry. By elevating their own nation to the status of some Divine calling and purpose, they automatically denigrate other nations not so blessed. They use the doctrines of British Israelism to justify their dispositions toward other nations and races.
Certain radio and television “evangelists” have for years deluded and enslaved unsuspecting multitudes into legalistic bondage. Proclaiming that England is Ephraim, and that America is Manasseh, they have insisted that their constituents be brought under the law, the old covenant. Claiming America to be the descendants of the northern kingdom, they insist that one must keep the law of Moses in order to remain saved after conversion. If Saturday Sabbath-keeping is their favorite bone of contention, tithing surely comes in a close second. While their constituents often languish in relative poverty, they manage to thrive quite successfully.
Still other opponents operate individually within local churches with a policy to infiltrate and subvert. By undermining and, in some cases, usurping the teaching authority of the church, they proselyte other adherents to their false teaching. Their methods reek both of arrogance and divisiveness, works of the flesh so designated in Galatians 5:19-21.
If the theory stands on such shaky and pock-marked ground, why do reasonable minds not prevail? Do not reason and logic, combined with factual information suffice to bring down this teaching once and for all?
In its early years the theory arose in popularity then suffered demise when Britain no longer ruled the Seven Seas. When the sun never set on British soil, it was easy to promote the doctrine, but when the empire waned, the theory waned with it. Its popularity in America today, however, reveals a spiritual
Among its constituents, prejudice seems to preclude reason, logic, and fact. Since the doctrine supports a predisposition both for one group of people and against another, the theory is too convenient for them to dismiss. The old adage applies: “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”
Consequently, we do not address this publication so much to those who position we refute, but to those in danger of succumbing to the doctrine without adequate information or warning. The evidences of history, Scripture, and resultant fruit strongly contend against embracing British Israelism.
More importantly, a right relationship with God never was a matter of nationality. A right relationship with Him begins by addressing the problem of sin – a trangression of the law – a missing of the mark. The Bible teaches that all of us have both missed the mark and transgressed the law. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Consequently, each of us, regardless of race or national origin, needs a Saviour. And since we can neither earn nor deserve this right standing with God, we must receive it as a gift.
(The above material was appeared in the February 1993 issue of Gospel Truth.)
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