>The Myth of British-Israelism

>On August 9, 2006, I wrote a post, “America and Great Britain in Biblical Prophecy,” in which I explained the reasons the movement popularly known as British-Israelism finds no support in the Bible or in history, even though their proponents quote widely from the Bible and history to prove their point.

In response to my post, a proponent of British-Israelism who refuses to give his or her name and hides his or her identity under the label of “anonymous,” has criticized my post for not presenting a “scrap of evidence against Anglo-Saxon identity with the Ten Tribes.”

A careful reading of my original post will show that I cited several texts from the Old Testament to show that many Israelites from the Northern Kingdom were not deported to Assyria. In fact, after the Assyrians conquered Samaria, the territory of the Northern Kingdom was incorporated into the Assyrian empire and became the Assyrian province of Samerina.

The advocates of British-Israelism believe that the Anglo Saxon people, those living in Great Britain and the United States, are the descendants of the ten lost tribes of the Northern Kingdom that were taken into exile by the Assyrians. Thus, the Anglo Saxon people are the direct descendants of the children of Abraham and as such, they become the inheritors of the promises God made to Israel.

The basic argument for British-Israelism has been developed by many authors in England and in the United States. A forceful presentation of this view was presented by Herbert W. Armstrong in his book The United States and Britain in Prophecy. Armstrong was the founder of the Church of God. These are some of the basic beliefs of British-Israelism:

1. The people living in Great Britain and the United States are the descendants of the lost tribes.
2. The British throne is a continuation of the throne of David.
3. The British Royal family are lineal descendants of David, King of Judah.
4. The stone of Scone is the one which Jacob anointed with oil.
5. The British Empire people are the covenant people.
6. The British people are chosen of God to dominate the world.

There are several issues that mitigate against the argument put forth by the proponents of British-Israelism, the view that Great Britain and the United States are the remnant of the lost tribes of Israel. I do not have the time nor the inclination to address every misinterpretation in Armstrong’s book. Suffice it to say that the interpretations are based on eisegesis, literalism, and texts interpreted out of context. In this post, I will address three issues raised by the adherents of British-Israelism.

The Tribes of Israel

Since my anonymous critic asked me to answer some of his questions, I asked him to make a list and name the ten tribes that were lost. Here is the list he provided:

The Southern Kingdom: Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin plus a few faithful Levites.

The Northern Kingdom: Reuben, Levi, Gad, Dan, Ephraim, Manasseh, Isaachar (sic), Napthali (sic), Zebulun, and Asher.

The list of the twelve tribes of Israel appears about twenty times in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament. However, the names of the tribes that compose the twelve tribes of Israel vary from list to list.

The list of the tribes appears for the first time in Genesis 29:31-30:24 in the order in which the children were born. Since Benjamin was born in the land of Canaan, Dinah appears as the twelfth child of Jacob. This is the only time in the Old Testament in which the tribes are listed in the order of their birth. In the twenty lists where the names of the tribes appear, there are eighteen different orders in which the tribes are mentioned.

In some lists, Levi is counted as one of the twelve tribes, in some others Levi does not appear. When Levi is omitted, the tribe of Joseph appears as two tribes: Ephraim and Manasseh.

In Revelation 7:4-8 John provides a list “of every tribe of the sons of Israel”: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin. In this list, the tribes of Dan and Ephraim are missing. The tribe of Joseph represents the tribe of Ephraim.

In the blessing of Moses in Deuteronomy 36:6-29, the following tribes appear: Reuben, Judah, Levi, Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh, Zebulun, Gad, Dan, Naphtali. This list contains only 10 tribes; the tribes of Simeon and Asher are missing.

In 1 Kings 11:31-32, only eleven tribes appear. In Judges 5:14-18 there are 11 tribes: Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir, Zebulun, Issachar, Reuben, Gilead, Dan, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. Manasseh is missing. Simeon, Judah, and Levi are also missing. It is possible that the Southern tribes (Simeon and Judah) were not yet part of the confederation of the tribes. In Ezekiel 48 the following tribes are listed: Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, Judah, Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, and Gad. When the Levites are included, there are thirteen tribes.

All these variations in the listing of the tribes indicate that the number twelve was an artificial arrangement that was also found in other groups outside of Israel. There were the twelve tribes of Nahor (Genesis 22:20-24), the twelve tribes of Ishmael (Genesis 17:20; 25:13-16), and the twelve tribes of Esau (Genesis 36:9-14; 40-43).

The idea of ten tribes presupposes that the Southern Kingdom was composed of only two tribes. However, my reader acknowledges that the Southern Kingdom had three tribes.

In 1 Kings 12:20 we read: “And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.” This verse says that there were only eleven tribes (the ten tribes plus Judah), since only Judah followed the house of David. However, in 1 Kings 12:21 we read: “When Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, and the tribe of Benjamin, a hundred and eighty thousand chosen warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.” Since the tribe of Benjamin followed the tribe of Judah, then the Northern Kingdom had only nine tribes.

2 Chronicles 11:14, says: “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.” Since the Levites left the Northern Kingdom to come to Judah, now the Northern Kingdom had only eight tribes.

In addition, 2 Chronicles 11:16 reads: “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.” This means that many citizens of the North who were faithful Yahwist came to Judah rather than live in the North. In 2 Chronicles 15:8-9 we read about the existence of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon. And Simeon is counted as a tribe from Israel.

The Population of the Northern Kingdom

The second factor is the number of people from the Northern Kingdom who were deported to Assyria. My anonymous critic says that the population of the Northern Kingdom was “5 million people” and “probably a lot more.” But this embellished number is contradicted by the archaeological evidence.

Adam Zertal, in his article “The Province of Samaria (Assyrian Samerina) in the Late Iron Age (Iron Age III),” published in Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period, edited by Oded Lipschitz and Joseph Blenkinsopp (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2003), p. 385, wrote concerning the people from the North who came to worship in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 41:5):

The fact that organized communities of Israelites still saw Jerusalem as their holy place may be interpreted as evidence of the existence of the Yahwistic cult as the main faith in the North, some 150 years after the conquest of Samaria. The archaeological data seem to support this idea, that in spite of the population changes, most of the people remained Israelite in faith. Even if the number of exiled people from Samaria by the Assyrians (approximately 27,000) is reliable, it still did not exceed 20-25% of the Israelite population.

Zertal estimated the population of the Northern Kingdom at the time of the Assyrian conquest to be no more than 100,000, probably 70,000 people. Thus, the population of the Northern Kingdom was smaller than anonymous said it was. But the fact is that many of the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom remained behind. Some of them fled to the Southern Kingdom, as the archaeological evidence demonstrates. Some of them went to Egypt where they organized a large Jewish community, and some of them eventually became the Samaritan people.

There were never ten lost tribes so far as the Bible is concerned, only a dispersion of many Israelites throughout the whole ancient Near East. In fact the 27,000 people carried by the Assyrians into captivity represented only a small fraction of the total population at the time of the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.

Under Ezra and Nehemiah about 50,000 people returned from Babylon. This is how the Chronicler described the settlement of the people who returned from exile: “Now the first inhabitants that dwelt in their possessions in their cities were, the Israelites, the priests, Levites, and the Nethinims. And in Jerusalem dwelt of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin, and of the children of Ephraim, and Manasseh” (1 Chronicles 9:2-3).

According to the Chronicler, among those tribes that returned from Babylon were people from Ephraim and Manasseh, and they lived in Jerusalem. In addition, the Chronicler makes a distinction between the Israelites and the Judeans who lived in Jerusalem. Thus, the Biblical record indicates that a remnant from all of the tribes returned. The reference to “all Israel” appears in Ezra 1:3; 2:70; 3:11; 6:17, 21; 7:6, 13, 28; 8:25, 35; 10:5 and in Nehemiah 7:73; 8:1, 17; 9:2; 10:33; 11:20; 12:47; 13:3, 18, 26. Thus, according to Ezra and Nehemiah, “all Israel” was not lost.

The Mission of Jeremiah

After the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was taken by force to Egypt. According to the proponents of British-Israelism, Jeremiah, in carrying out his mission as assigned by God, left Egypt and took two princesses of Judah, the daughters of King Zedekiah, to Spain where the younger princess got married. Then, Jeremiah took Zedekiah’s older daughter to Ireland. In Ireland, the older daughter of Zedekiah married the ruler of Ireland. Thus, through Zedekiah’s daughter, the line of David on the throne of Judah was maintained and continues to this day through the British royal family.

This view is contradicted by the Biblical evidence. The line of David was continued through Jehoiachin and not through Zedekiah. Although Jehoiachin was a captive in Babylon, he was still recognized as the legitimate successor to the throne of David (cf. Jeremiah 52:31-34). According to the Weidner Tablets (ANET, 308), Jehoiachin lived in the Babylonian court and the Babylonian king made provisions “for Jehoiachin, the king of the land of Judah and for the five sons of the king of the land of Judah.”

According to the prophet Haggai, the post-exilic community considered making Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel and Jehoiachin’s grandson, a king in Judah, before he was probably forced to return to Persia (Haggai 2:23). In addition, the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1:12-16 traces the royal line through Jehoiachin and not through Zedekiah’s daughter.

In his article on “British-Israelism and Pyramidology,” Interpretation 11 (1957), p. 318, Carl Howie wrote:

It is unfortunate that well-meaning people have become dupes of a chauvinistic egotism which substitutes an earthly throne for that which Christ alone can occupy and substitutes an earthly empire for the Kingdom of God. The thought that God’s Kingdom is coextensive with an earthly empire and that the throne of England is the seat of this rule, is abhorrent to all who are acquainted with the profundity of the kingdom and Messiah concepts. That the Kingdom of God is spiritual and not physical is axiomatic and that the church, as it is true to Christ by faith, is the Israel of faith is equally sure (cf. I Peter 2:9-10). To make God the servant and supporter of racism such as the Anglo-Israel movement does directly contradicts both the spirit and letter of the Bible. On the basis of overwhelming evidence we conclude that the British-Israel hypothesis has no basis in fact since no legitimate evidence has been found for its support.

In his article on “Anglo-Israelism,” published in the Jewish Encyclopedia, Joseph Jacobs wrote:

Altogether, by the application of wild guesswork about historical origins and philological analogies, and by a slavishly literal interpretation of selected phrases of prophecy, a case was made out for the identification of the British race with the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel sufficient to satisfy uncritical persons desirous of finding their pride of race confirmed by Holy Scripture. The whole theory rests upon an identification of the word “isles” in the English version of the Bible unjustified by modern philology, which identifies the original word with “coasts” or “distant lands” without any implication of their being surrounded by the sea. Modern ethnography does not confirm in any way the identification of the Irish with a Semitic people; while the English can be traced back to the Scandinavians, of whom there is no trace in Mesopotamia at any period of history. English is a branch of the Aryan stock of languages, and has no connection with Hebrew. The whole movement is chiefly interesting as a reductio ad absurdum of too literal an interpretation of the prophecies.

Although my anonymous reader many never agree with my conclusion, the fact is that British Israelism is based on a biased interpretation of the text, eisegesis, wishful thinking, and a lack of reliable historical evidence. The view that Great Britain and the United States of America are the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh is just a myth.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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7 Responses to >The Myth of British-Israelism

  1. >It amazes me that folk like the British Israelites are still around. Although not strictly aimed at them, I have discussed the “Table of Nations” with an eye toward de-fusing some of the racist interpretations that often crop up around that particular section of Scripture at http://pursiful.com/?p=495.


  2. Byron Massey says:

    >A few thoughts.I have a name. It has no meaning to you. It’s not any different than calling me “anonymous”. I am not hiding from anything. It’s just not worth the hassle of registration to engage in pointless discussion with someone who has lost the ability to learn.Second, you put “sic” by my spellings but those are Hebrew words, transliterated into English. As long as I get the sounds close, there is no “right” spelling. How many different ways do we spell “Al-Quaida”? Are you going to put spelling corrections beside all the different versions?Finally, your “content”.You answer the question “Was Israel taken captive by Assyria” by saying “Yes, they scattered everywhere in the Near East.” Obviously “the Near East” is not just Assyria. So your answer is “no”. Then you follow this up by saying only 27,000 Israelites were taken captive. You cherry-pick your sources, ignoring (among countless others), “Unger’s Bible Dictionary”. But again,your resounding “no” is unmistakeable.What is God taking about when he speaks through Ezekiel, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah about reuniting the Northern and Southern Kingdom? You make God a liar when you say there was no captivity of the Northern Kingdom.Your LONG discussion of how there really aren’t Twelve Tribes proves nothing, except that semantics are the downfall of many a Pharisee. Who cares if it’s Nine Tribes and Three Tribes or Eleven Tribes and Two Tribes? The point is the events, not the nomenclature.You openly deny those events. You say there is/was no captivity, while YVWH Himself promised to bring His children out of that very captivity. You deny that God punished the Northern Kingdom for worshipping the golden calves at Dan and Beersheeba. You deny both His punishment and His prophecy of restoration. You deny the Father.This is all old ground, you are just repeating yourself at this point and I don’t want to fall into the same trap. My posts here are choked with still-unanswered questions.Where is the mountain pass called “the Israel Gate”? How did Ireland get a harp on its flag? Why is Jeremy an Irish name? Where is the biblical Tarshish? Since neither prophecy nor logic can reach you, you’ll have to answer these questions via osmosis.Byron Massey321 South Fifth StreetCoos Bay, OR 97420USA


  3. Anonymous says:

    >Thanks for sharing this information out to the world, and also, it is a very good reminder to us all…That "The Royal Family of King David" living today in this world, will most definitely be descended from 'King Jehoiachin of Judah,'and NOT 'King Zedekiah. And another thing, with 'King Solomon' remember he had his many wives, and he had lots of children, besides having a child to the Queen of Sheba? So there, we follow 'King Rehoboam's' descendants also first to our day. Who are they? And where are they living in the world? Are they back in the Holy Land yet or still abroad? (Exile). Or are some of them back already in the 'Holy Land.'


  4. >Dear Friend,The view that the British royal family descends from the family of David is pure speculation. The members of the lost tribes have been dispersed all over the world and it will be difficult to bring them back together after so many years.Claude Mariottini


  5. gibbs says:



  6. >Gibbs,There are many reasons people have adopted this theology. One reason is because they believe the British and the American people are a special people, since they are the descendants of biblical Israel. Another reason is because they want to find America and Great Britain in the Bible. It is also a way to validate their religious belief. British-Israelism finds no support in the Bible.Claude Mariottini


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