Over the Christmas holidays I had the opportunity to read a very interesting book. The book, “Strange Parallel”: Zebulun–The Netherlands, A Tribe in Israel (Muskogee, OK: Artisan Publishers, 1984), written by Helene W. Koppejan.
The aim of the book is to demonstrate how the people living in the Netherlands today are the descendants of the Biblical tribe of Zebulun. The premise of the book is based on the concept of British-Israelism, that is, that the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic peoples are the descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Under this concept, Ephraim is England, Manasseh is the United Sates, Dan is Denmark, and Zebulun is the Netherlands.
The name Zebulun appears 48 times in the Bible: 45 times in the Hebrew Bible and 3 times in the New Testament. According to Koppejan, the Netherlands fulfills Jacob’s and Moses’ blessings of the tribe of Zebulun. There are several prophecies about Zebulun recorded in the Biblical text:
Jacob’s Blessing of Zebulun
“Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; And he shall be for a haven of ships; And his border shall be upon Sidon” (Genesis 49:13).
Or, as a Dutch translation by Pieter Keur puts it:
“Zebulun shall have his dwelling at the seashore,
shall be a haven for a fishing fleet
and at his flank he shall catch fish.”
Moses’ Blessing of Zebulun
“And of Zebulun he said, Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and, Issachar, in thy tents. They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand” (Deuteronomy 33:18-19).
“Out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer” (Judges 5:14).
“(In the land of Zebulun) the people who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:1-2).
According to Koppejan, the Netherlands also fulfills several prophecies uttered by Zebulun himself as he blessed his children. These prophecies are found in the Pseudepigraphic book called The Testament of Zebulun.
The Testament of Zebulun
“I was the first to make a boat to sail upon the sea, for the Lord gave me understanding and wisdom therein” (Testament of Zebulun 6:1).
“And through compassion I shared my catch with every stranger” (Testament of Zebulun 6:4).
“Observe, therefore, the waters, and know when they flow together, they sweep along stones, trees, earth, and other things. But if they are divided into many streams, the earth swalloweth them up, and they vanish away. So shall ye also be if ye be divided. Be not ye, therefore, divided into two heads” (Testament of Zebulun 9:1-3).
“For I shall rise again in the midst of you, as a ruler in the midst of his sons; and I shall rejoice in the midst of my tribe, as many as shall keep the law of the Lord, and the commandments of Zebulun their father” (Testament of Zebulun 10:2).
What follows are some of the parallels that show that what the Bible says about Zebulun can be applied to the Dutch people. My selections are taken at random from the book, but I believe they reflect what the author (she is called an authoress in the book) is presenting to show that the Dutch people are the legitimate descendants of the tribe of Zebulun.
1. In his study of Zebulun, A. Van Selms, a Dutch theologian, said that “nothing evil or wrong doing can be said of Zebulun and his tribe.”
Koppejan says that the Dutch have been a peaceful people, just like Zebulun is portrayed in the Testament of Zebulun.
2. In the Testament of Zebulun, the patriarch prophesied that Israel would follow two kings.
Koppejan writes that there is a sad parallel to this in the division between the Dutch people living in the north and those living in the south.
3. According to the writer, the word Zebulun means “dwelling” and that the idea behind the name is a reference to “dwelling culture.”
Koppejan writes: “if therefore we see a strange parallel between Zebulun and Dutch dwelling culture, between Holland and Zebulun, we should not be too much given to laudations that this small nation are all of Israel” (p. 23).
4. Koppejan says that after the exile of the ten tribes by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., the tribe of Zebulun went west and emerged as the Scythians, the Celts, and other groups and moved into the region known today as the Netherlands.
5. According to Hebrew tradition, the banner of Zebulun is a ship. The heraldic symbol of the Netherlands is a lion and not a ship. According to Koppejan, the reason for this is because Zebulun marched under the banner of Judah, whose banner is the lion. On this, Koppejan says: “There is no mean parallel here” (page. 37).
6. Jacob said that Zebulun would “dwell at the haven of the sea.” Koppejan says that the Hebrew word for “haven” is identical with Holland’s hof. Thus, Dutch hofjes is a reference to the enclosures and safe havens of Zebulun.
7. Deborah’s blessing, that Zebulun will come out “wielding [sic] the writer’s pen” is a reference to producing books and printing letters. This brings the claim that the Dutch invented the printing press and are famous for their calligraphy.
8. The prophecy of Isaiah, that the people in Zebulun “saw a great light” reflects the fact that painters and photographers “are always attracted by the light in Holland” (p. 85).
I could cite many more parallels offered by Koppejan to demonstrate that the promises and prophecies about the tribe of Zebulun are fulfilled in the life and culture of the Dutch people today. What I have cited above shows, at least to me, that the parallels offered by Koppejan are weak at best. In fact, I would say that the evidence presented in the book to equate Zebulun with the Dutch people is completely without merit.
Koppejan describes her attempt at equating Zebulun with the Netherlands. She wrote:
This study is a very first attempt at starting a new kind of research and creating fresh interest in these strange parallels, which may be called hypotheses or inner visions, or just pure nonsense. If a reader comes to the latter conclusion he would have to prove that it is indeed non-sense. Until then my view is just as valid as his, with this important difference that I have studied the subject for many years (p. 10).
And here lies my dilemma. I have not studied the subject for many years as she has done, but from what I read in the book, which may indeed reflect the research of someone who has studied the subject “for many years,” the evidence is just not there. All the parallels, similarities, and allusions to Zebulun in Dutch history and folklore may reflect the Protestant influence on Dutch life or the reading of Biblical allusions into Dutch history, culture, and traditions.
For someone who is not Dutch and who is looking for hard facts in the parallels that Koppejan presents to affirm that the people of the Netherlands are the descendants of Biblical Zebulun, I have to say that the evidence is just not there.
In Brazil we have a saying: “God is Brazilian.” And Brazilians can offer several proofs that God is Brazilian, but just because Brazilians can show evidence that God is Brazilian, it does not make God a Brazilian.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary