British Israelism (also called Anglo-Israelism) is a doctrine based on the hypothesis that people of Western European descent, particularly those in Great Britain, are the direct lineal descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. The doctrine often includes the tenet that the British Royal Family is directly descended from the line of King David.
The central tenets of British Israelism have been refuted by evidence from modern genetic, linguistic, archaeological and philological research. The doctrine continues, however, to have a significant number of adherents.
The movement has never had a head organisation or a centralized structure. Various British Israelite organisations were set up across the British Empire and in America from the 1870s; a small number of such organisations are still active today.
- 1 History of the movement
- 2 Contemporary movement
- 3 Tenets
- 4 Compatibility with present-day research findings
- 5 Notable adherents
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Sources
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
History of the movement
The theory of British Israelism arose in England, from where it spread to the United States.
Although British-Israelists will cite various medieval manuscripts to claim an older origin for British Israelism, as a distinct movement, British Israelism appeared in the early 1880s:
"Although scattered British Israel societies are known to have existed as early as 1872, there was at first no real move to develop an organization beyond the small groups of believers which had arisen spontaneously. The beginnings of the movement as an identifiable religious force can, therefore, be more accurately placed in the 1880's when the circumstances of the time were particularly propitious for the appearance of a movement so imperialistically-orientated."
Earlier aspects of British Israelism and influences are traceable to Richard Brothers in 1794, John Wilson's Our Israelitish Origins (1840s), and John Pym Yeatman's The Shemetic Origin of the Nations of Western Europe (1879). In 1875, J. C. Gawler also published Our Scythian Ancestors which is considered an influential text to the British Israel movement.
Heyday, end of 19th and early 20th centuries
At the end of the 19th century Edward Hine, Edward Wheeler Bird and Herbert Aldersmith developed the British Israelite movement. However despite claims to the contrary, the movement was never popular. During the 1890s the "Anglo-Israel Association" based in Britain (founded by the physician George Moore in 1879) had only 300 members. Hine later departed for the United States where he promoted the idea overseas.
Between 1899 and 1902, adherents of British Israelism dug up parts of the Hill of Tara in the belief that the Ark of the Covenant was buried there, doing much damage to one of Ireland's most ancient royal and archaeological sites. At the same time, British Israelism became associated with various pseudo-archaeological pyramidology theories.
In 1919 the British-Israel-World Federation (BIWF) was founded in London, and Covenant Publishing in 1921. William Pascoe Goard was the first director of the publishing house. During this time several prominent figures patronized the BIWF organization and its publisher: Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, was Patron-in-chief in pre-World War II days. One of the most notable members was William Massey, then Prime Minister of New Zealand. Due to the expansive nature of the British Empire, believers in British Israelism spread worldwide and the BIWF expanded its organization to the commonwealth. Howard Rand promoted the theory and became National Commissioner of the Anglo-Saxon Federation of America in 1928. He published The Bulletin, later renamed The Messenger of the Covenant. More recently, it has been renamed Destiny.
During its heyday in the early 20th century, British Israelism was also supported by John Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher. A prolific author on British Israelism during the later 1930s and 40s was Alexander James Ferris whose When Russia Bombs Germany (1940) sold over 60,000 copies.
The theory of British Israelism was vigorously promoted by Herbert W. Armstrong, founder and former Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God, beginning in the 1960s. Armstrong believed that the theory was a key to understanding biblical prophecy: "One might ask, were not biblical prophecies closed and sealed? Indeed they were—until now! And even now they can be understood only by those who possess the master key to unlock them." Armstrong believed that he was called by God to proclaim the prophecies to the Lost Tribes of Israel before the "end-times". Armstrong's belief caused his separation from the Church of God Seventh Day because of its refusal to adopt the theory.
Armstrong created his own church, first called the "Radio Church of God" and later renamed the "Worldwide Church of God". He described British Israelism as a "central plank" of his theology (see 'Armstrongism'.)
After Armstrong's death, his former church, which changed its name to Grace Communion International (GCI) in 2009, abandoned its belief in British Israelism. It offers an explanation for the doctrine's origin and its abandonment by the church at its official website. Church members who disagreed with such doctrinal changes left the Worldwide Church of God/GCI to form offshoot churches. Many of these organizations, including the Philadelphia Church of God, the Living Church of God and the United Church of God, still teach British Israelism. Armstrong promoted other genealogical history theories, such as teaching that modern-day Germany now represents ancient Assyria. He wrote in chapter 5 of his Mystery of the Ages (1985), "The Assyrians settled in central Europe, and the Germans, undoubtedly, are, in part, the descendants of the ancient Assyrians." (p. 183).
The late Professor Roger Rusk (1906–94), brother of former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, was a prominent teacher of British Israelism. He was for 13 years a public school teacher. After completing his doctorate in physics, he was for 28 years a professor at the University of Tennessee, where he became Emeritus Professor of Physics. He was also a member of the American Physical Society and the Tennessee Academy of Science.
The BIWF continues to exist, with its main headquarters located in Bishop Auckland in County Durham. It maintains local chapters throughout the British Isles. The most recently established chapter is BIWF-USA, based in Heber Springs, Arkansas.
In 1968, one source estimated there were between 3,000 and 5,000 British Israelites worldwide. The figure today is considerably lower.
In Britain, the theology of British Israelism has been taught by a few small Pentecostal churches including the Bible-Pattern Church Fellowship, an early offshoot of the Elim Pentecostal Church. The latter church does not hold to the British-Israel doctrine.
In London the Orange Street Congregational Church teaches a form of British Israelism, and the Ensign Trust publishes The Ensign Message in its furtherance. In Australia the Christian Revival Crusade, founded by Leo Harris, once taught this theology but abandoned it. The Revival Centres International, a prominent group that separated from the Crusade, and other splinter groups, continue to teach the doctrine. The "Churches of God" in Ireland are also known for their teaching on this subject.
A variant of British Israelism formed the basis for a racialized theology and became known as Christian Identity, which has at its core the belief that non-Caucasian people have no souls and therefore cannot be saved.
Brit-Am is an organization (founded ca. 1993) based in Israel, which also identifies the Lost Ten Tribes with the British and related peoples. Brit-Am uses biblical and rabbinical exegesis to justify its beliefs, supplemented by secular studies.
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Connecting the deported Israelites with the Saka
The key component of British Israelism is its representation of the migrations of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Adherents believe that the Behistun Inscription connects the people known in Old Persian and Elamite as Saka, Sacae or Scythians with the people known in Babylonian as Gimirri or Cimmerians.
|“||It should be made clear from the start that the terms 'Cimmerian' and 'Scythian' were interchangeable: in Akkadian the name Iskuzai (Asguzai) occurs only exceptionally. Gimirrai (Gamir) was the normal designation for 'Cimmerians' as well as 'Scythians' in Akkadian.||”|
The theory further suggests that the "Cimmerians/Scythians" are synonymous with the deported Israelites. George Rawlinson wrote:
|“||We have reasonable grounds for regarding the Gimirri, or Cimmerians, who first appeared on the confines of Assyria and Media in the seventh century B.C., and the Sacae of the Behistun Rock, nearly two centuries later, as identical with the Beth-Khumree of Samaria, or the Ten Tribes of the House of Israel.||”|
The archeologist and British Israelite E. Raymond Capt claimed that there were similarities between King Jehu's pointed headdress and that of the captive Saka king seen to the far right on the Behistun Inscription. He also posited that the Assyrian word for the House of Israel, Khumri, after Israel's King Omri of the 8th century B.C., is phonetically similar to Gimirri (Cimmerian).
Connecting the Saka-Scythians to the Celts.
Adherents say that Saka-Scythians (whom they believe to be the Lost Tribes of Israel) migrated north and west after Cyrus the Great conquered the city of Babylon, and were forced yet further north and west by migrating/invading Sarmatians. The Sarmatians were also called “Scythians” by the Greeks but Herodotus suggests that the former “Scythians” were called "Germain Scythians" (meaning "True Scythian") whereas the Sarmatians were simply called “Scythians.” It is suggested that the term "Germain Scythian" is synonymous with "Germanii" or, in modern times, "Germanic" or "German."
Late 19th-century Celtic language scholar John Rhys stated that
…the (Celtic) Kymry were for some time indifferently called Cambria or Cumbria, the Welsh word on which they are based being, as now written, Cymru… and is there pronounced nearly as an Englishman would treat it if spelled Kumry or Kumri.
Rhys argued that both Celts and the Scythians came from an area south-east of the Black Sea, and migrated westward to the coast of Europe. He compared the Welsh autonym, Cymru, with the name of the Cimmerians, Kumri. He believed that the names Iberia for Spain, and Hibernia for Ireland were connected to a variation of "Hebrew" and that this was evidenced in philology. The Brit-Am Organization believes that Jewish sources concerning the Lost Ten Tribes parallel what is known concerning the early Scythians. Amongst other points, the Scythians are believed to have settled in the Land of Israel during the reign of King Josiah ben Amon of Judah, as the Lost Tribes were said to have done.
Theological claims that assert a racial lineage
As with Judaism, British Israelism asserts theologically related claims of a genetic link to the early Israelites. As such, it is based on a genealogical construct. This belief is typically confined to the geo-political status or the prophetical identity of the nation, not to the individual's superiority or salvation status with God.
Due to the diverse structure of the movement, other elements of its belief and its key doctrines may be embraced by individual adherents. British Israel theology varies from the conventionally Protestant Christian. More extreme forms include the Christian Identity Movement, which has some historic roots in British-Israelism. The core belief of British Israelism is that the Anglo-Saxon peoples of Britain and Northern Europe have a direct genetic connection to the Ancient Israelites mentioned in the Bible. Most British Israel movements believe that personal, individual salvation is open to all people.
Compatibility with present-day research findings
Lack of consistency with modern genetic findings
Human genetics does not support British Israelism's notion of a close lineal link between Jews and Western Europeans. Genetic research on the Y-chromosomes of Jews has found that Jews are closely related to other populations originating in the Middle East, such as Kurds, Turks, Armenians and Arabs, and concluded that:
Middle Eastern populations… are closely related and… their Y chromosome pool is distinct from that of Europeans.
Y-DNA Haplogroups J2 and, to a lesser extent, J1 are most commonly identified in Jewish people, which is in contrast to Western Europeans. The more distant Haplogroup R1b is the most commonly identified in Europeans.[page needed]
Critics of British Israelism note that the arguments presented by promoters of the theory are based on unsubstantiated and highly speculative amateur research. Tudor Parfitt, author of The Lost Tribes: The History of a Myth, states that the proof cited by adherents of British Israelism is "of a feeble composition even by the low standards of the genre."
Other critics cite similar problems:
When reading Anglo-Israelite literature, one notices that it generally depends on folklore, legends, quasi-historical genealogies and dubious etymologies. None of these sources prove an Israelite origin for the peoples of northwestern Europe. Rarely, if ever, are the disciplines of archeology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics or historiography applied to Anglo-Israelism. Anglo-Israelism operates outside the sciences. Even the principles of sound biblical exegesis are seldom used, for… whole passages of Scripture that undermine the entire system are generally ignored… Why this unscientific approach? This approach must be taken because to do otherwise is to destroy Anglo-Israelism's foundation.
Proponents of British Israelism claim numerous links in historical linguistics between ancient Hebrew and various European place names and languages. As an example; proponents claim that “British” is derived from the Hebrew words “Berit” and “Ish”, and should therefore be understood as “Covenant Man”. These words have other roots and this interpretation of the Hebrew is incorrect. Another example is Rhys' assertion of equivalence between Cymry (the native Welsh name for the British) and Cimmerian, which is at odds with the generally accepted derivation of Cymry from an earlier Celtic form *kom-broges (lit. "with-land"), meaning "people of the same country", or compatriot; only the modern form of the word looks similar. Yet another example is the alleged connection between the Irish 'Tuatha Dé Danann' and the Tribe of Dan. Secular sources indicate that the true root of this phrase is the 'People of the Goddess Danu'. Other links are claimed, but cannot be substantiated and contradict the findings of academic linguistic research. This shows conclusively that the languages of the British Isles, English, Welsh and Gaelic, belong to the Indo-European language family and are unrelated to Hebrew, which is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family. In 1906 T.R. Lounsbury stated that “No trace of the slightest real connection can be discovered” between English and ancient Hebrew. 
Adherents of British Israelism cite various scriptures in support of the argument that the "lost" Northern Israelite Tribes migrated through Europe to end up in Britain. Critics argue that British Israelists misunderstand and misinterpret the meaning of these scriptures.[page needed]
One such case is the distinction that British Israelists make between the “Jews” of the Southern Kingdom and the “Israelites” of the Northern Kingdom. They believe that the Bible consistently distinguishes between the two groups. Critics counter that many of these scriptures are misinterpreted because the distinction between “Jews” and “Israelites” was lost over time after the captivities. They give examples such as the Apostle Paul, who is referred to as both a Jew (Acts 21:39) and an Israelite (2 Corinthians 11:22) and who addressed the Hebrews as both “Men of Judea” and “Fellow Israelites” (Acts 2:14,22). Many more examples are cited by critics.
British Israelists believe that the Northern Tribes of Israel were “lost” after the captivity in Assyria and that this is reflected in the Bible. Critics disagree with this assertion and argue that only higher ranking Israelites were deported from Israel and many Israelites remained. They cite examples after the Assyrian captivity, such as Josiah, King of Judah, who received money from the tribes of “Manasseh, and Ephraim and all the remnant of Israel” (2 Chronicles 34:9), and Hezekiah, who sent invitations not only to Judah, but also to northern Israel for the attendance of a Passover in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 30); note that British Israelites interpret 2 Chronicles 34:9 as referring to "Scythians" in order to fit with their theory.
British Israelism states that the Bible refers to the Lost Tribes of Israel as dwelling in “isles” (Isaiah 49:1, 3), which they interpret to mean the British Isles. Critics assert that the word “isles” used in English-language bibles should more accurately be interpreted to mean “coasts” or “distant lands” “without any implication of their being surrounded by the sea.” For example, some English translations refer to Tyre as an ‘isle’, whereas a more accurate description is that of a ‘coastal town.’
Another is the issue of identity of the Samaritans (an ethno-religious group of the Levant), mentioned in the Gospels, who believe their descent is from a group of Israelite inhabitants who have connections to ancient Samaria from the beginning of the Babylonian Exile up to the time of Christ.
British Israelism rests on linking different ancient populations. This includes links between the "lost" tribes of Israel, the Scythians, Cimmerians, Celts, and modern Western Europeans such as the British. To support these links, adherents claim that similarities exist between various cultural aspects of these population groups, and they argue that these links demonstrate the migration of the "lost" Israelites in a westerly direction. Examples given include burial customs, metalwork, clothing, dietary customs, and more. Critics argue that the customs of the Scythians and the Cimmerians are in contrast with those of the Ancient Israelites. Furthermore, the so-called similarities and theories proposed by adherents are contradicted by the weight of evidence and research on the history of ancient populations. It does not provide support for the purported links.
Parfitt suggests that the idea of British Israelism was inspired by numerous ideological factors, such as the desire for ordinary people to have a glorious ancestral past, pride in the British Empire, and the belief in the "racial superiority of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants".
- William Aberhart (1878–1943), a Social Credit premier of Alberta from 1935–43;
- Dinsdale T Young (1861-1938), Wesleyan Methodist preacher.
- J. H. Allen (1847–1930), wrote Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright, which was the basis for Herbert W. Armstrong's teachings on this same subject;
- Herbert W. Armstrong (1892–1986), American founder of the Worldwide Church of God;
- Garner Ted Armstrong (1930–2003), Church of God International (United States);
- William Comyns Beaumont (1873–1956), British journalist, author, and lecturer;
- Richard Brothers (1757–1824), early believer and teacher/promoter of this theory;
- John Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher (1841-1920), Admiral of the Fleet
- Alan Campbell (b. 1941), Pentecostal pastor from Northern Ireland;
- Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910), founder of Christian Science;
- Bob Danvers-Walker (1906-1990), radio and newsreel announcer on Pathé News.
- Patience Strong (1907-1990), poet.
- Richard Reader Harris (KC) (1847–1909), founder of the Pentecostal Movement in London;
- Robert Bradford (1941-1981), Northern Ireland politician.
- Nelson McCausland (b. 1951), Democratic Unionist politician;
- William Massey, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1912–25);
- Charles Fox Parham (1873–1929), American preacher who was instrumental in the formation of Pentecostalism;
- William H. Poole (d. 1896), Methodist minister, known for his book Anglo-Israel, or the British Nation the Lost Tribes of Israel (1889);
- Charles Piazzi Smyth (1819–1900), pyramidologist and Astronomer Royal for Scotland;
- David Davidson (1884-1956), Scottish structural engineer and pyramidologist.
- C. A. L. Totten (1851–1908), Professor of Military Tactics at Yale University, who wrote countless articles and books advocating British Israelism, including a 26-volume series entitled Our Race;
- John Wilson (1799–1870) collected his lectures in a book, Our Israelitish Origin (1840).
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- Christian Zionism
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- Wilson, J. (1968c). "British Israelism: A Revitalization Movement in Contemporary Culture". Archives de sociologie des religions. 13(26): 73-80.
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