The Theory in Brief
There are various forms of the theory that the Anglo-Saxon races, as found in Great Britain and North America, are descended from the ten "lost" tribes of Israel. The most common of these theories is based on the supposition that the Jews who returned to Palestine in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah were only those of the two tribes of the house of Judah, and that none of the other ten tribes returned to their homeland. The descendants of these ten tribes are said to have found their way ultimately to the British Isles and to North America.
As many as two million adherents have been claimed for the British-Israel theory. Its modern advocates are scattered among various British evangelical groups, and in North America it is espoused by the Mormons, by H. W. Armstrong in his Radio Church of God, and by certain other small groups.
The Origin of the Theory
Several claims are made as to who was the first advocate of the theory. Dr. Oswald J. Smith states: "The first advocate of British-Israelism was Dr. Abadie-1823. . . . The second advocate was Richard Brothers, a half-crazed British naval officer, who was born in the year 1757."1 Dr. H. L. Goudge states: "The first British Israelite was John Sadler, whose Rights of the Kingdom dates from 1649." ' It seems, however, that the advocacy of one J. Wilson in 1839 was the most potent factor in placing on its present basis the idea that the British Christians were the true remnant of the lost tribes of Israel. In 1840 he published a book entitled Our Israelitish Origin,' second and third editions appearing in 1840 and 1844, respectively.
The geographical location and the present ethnic identities of the remnants of the ten tribes are variously given by these early writers and others. The famous Joseph Wolf diaries for 1831-1834 declare they are in China.' J. Samuels in a book still extant says they are in the area of the Caspian Sea.' Others have placed them in Afghanistan, Mexico, Peru, India; and some have seen them as the Gypsies of Southern Europe and the North American Indians; and to still others these remnants are to be found in the ancient lands of their captivity.
The Anglo-Israel Theory in American Colonial and Frontier Days
In the British Isles advocates of British-Israel teaching have been mainly among the evangelicals and certain sectarian groups. The ideas they advocated soon spread to North America and were rampant among religionists in frontier days. It is a historic fact that leading men and preachers such as William Penn (1644- 1718), Roger Williams (1603?-1683), Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), Cotton Mather (1663-1728) had all embraced the British-Israel theory. Thus long before the time of Joseph Smith (1805-1844) and his Mormon Church these views regarding Israel's descendants were common along the United States Eastern Seaboard. The extent to which the idea of Israelite ancestry had spread in America is seen in Josiah Priest's words in 1833: "The opinion that the American Indians are descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes is now a popular one and generally believed."
Joseph Smith explained in the Book of Mormon that he was recording the history of the American Indians. He called the first prophet Nephi, a young Hebrew who left Jerusalem about 600 B.c. and sailed to America with his father Lehi and a few followers. Among the younger brothers of Nephi were the evil Laman and Lemuel, whose descendants God cursed with a red skin. The descendants of Nephi were peaceful, whereas the Lamanites were bloodthirsty, and the two peoples fought each other for a thousand years, leaving the dead in covered heaps, which, said Joseph Smith, explained the so-called Indian mounds of certain areas of western New York and Ohio. The last great battle was said to have exterminated the white race.
It seems impossible to escape the conclusion of a modern writer on the origin of Joseph Smith's ideas:
Joseph's familiarity with the theory of the Hebraic origin of the Indians seems, however, to have come chiefly from a popular book by Ethan Smith, pastor of a church in Poultney, Vermont. This book, View of the Hebrews; or the Ten Tribes of Israel in America, was published in 1823, a second edition in 1825. Ethan Smith had managed to collect all the items of three generations of specious scholarship and piecemeal observation on this subject, and had added to them Caleb Atwater's accurate descriptions of the Ohio mounds.8
Seventh-day Adventists should be grateful that Ellen G. White and our early pioneers, who were contemporaneous with Joseph Smith and in the same geographical area, were providentally saved from any trace of the baseless, un-Biblical theories of Anglo-American-Israelism.
Anglolsraelism and the Radio Church of God
Among the most vocal of modern advocates of the theory under study is H. W. Armstrong's Radio Church of God. He calls the idea of the Hebraic descent of the United States and the British Commonwealth of nations "the most fascinating story ever told," and adds, "It is really the story-thread of the Bible itself, from Genesis to Revelation."' Actually, the people of Britain are of Celtic, Scythian, and Japhetic origin, and not Semitic as taught by AngloIsraelism.
Basically, the claims of the Radio Church of God, set forth in no unrestrained language, are the same as those of the older advocates of British-Israelism, although its interpretation of certain Bible prophecies is perhaps more sensational. It claims that Ephraim and Manasseh were adopted by Jacob, and they became "Israel," whose descendants in England and America are today the heirs of the promises to Abraham. It avers that the house of Israel (i.e., the ten northern tribes) were not Jews. The wealth of the United States, the British Commonwealth, and of certain northwestern European nations is said to be the wealth promised to Abraham by God, and the prophecy to make many nations of Abraham's seed (Gen. 22:18) became unconditional and unbreakable after Abraham's obedience to God's commands."
It is not our purpose to go into the details of every prophecy used in Armstrong's claims, but many of them will come into consideration when we set forth what we believe to be the Biblical truth on God's promises to the seed of Abraham.
Were There Any Lost Tribes of Israel?
"The ten lost tribes" is not a Biblical phrase, nor is there any similar expression implying the loss of any of the tribes. The phrase has been invented to support a theory, as a little Biblical history will show.
The twelve tribes formed one united kingdom under King Solomon (1 Kings 2:12), but because of the evils that appeared during his reign (chap. 11:6), the Lord allowed ten tribes to revolt (verses 30, 31) and form a kingdom under Jeroboam with their capital in Samaria, to the north. Rehoboam, who declined the advice of seasoned counselors, became the king of Judah, or the southern kingdom of two tribes (Judah and Benjamin; 1 Kings 12:1-24; 2 Chron. 10:1-19), with his capital in Jerusalem. From then on the history of Israel, the northern kingdom, was for more than two hundred years a dismal succession of apostasy, rebellion, murder, usurpation. As a result, large numbers deserted to the southern kingdom of Judah, as is clearly stated in 2 Chronicles 15:9: "And he [King Asa] gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and the strangers with them out of Ephraim and Manasseh, and out of Simeon: for they fell to him out of Israel in abundance, when they saw that the Lord his God was with him."
Prior to the end of the northern kingdom, King Hezekiah of Judah attempted a revival (2 Chron. 30:1-27) by inviting them to return to the worship of God, and a multitude from the north came to Jerusalem. But the days of the northern kingdom were numbered, and it came to an end (2 Kings 17:6) by an Assyrian invasion of Samaria and the deportation of nearly 28,000 captives:
In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor. . . . , and in the cities of the Medes. (See also verses 7-9; 18-23; 18:9-12; compare 2 Chron. 30:1-18.)
The fall of Samaria marked the end of the northern kingdom of Israel after a tragic history of little more than two centuries. Conceived and born in the spirit of rebellion, it had no chance of survival. Twenty kings with an average rule of 101/2 years had sat upon the throne, 7 of them as murderers of their predecessors.
If it had been recognized that with the downfall of Samaria "the ten-tribed kingdom of Israel" ceased forever to exist as a separate political entity, no British-American-Israel theory would have arisen.
This and other captivities and deportations did not, however, mean that all the members of the ten tribes were transported from their own land into exile. For instance, about one hundred years after the Assyrian deportations of Israel, King Josiah of Judah instituted a revival and repaired the Temple at Jerusalem (2 Chron. 34:1-9)—a revival in which the citizens of Ephraim and Manasseh and other Israelite remnants left in the land participated. In 2 Chronicles 35:17 and 18 we read of a great Passover observed by Judah and Israel.
It is estimated that not more than fifty thousand of Israel were deported to Assyria, in harmony with the custom of ancient despots to remove mainly leaders and people likely to foment revolt. This means that there were no completely lost tribes down to this time, and here the prophet Jeremiah, who prophesied to both Judah and Israel from the days of Josiah till the end of Zedekiah's reign, the last ruler of Judah, enters the picture.
Not a word does Jeremiah utter in his prophecies to both Israel and Judah of any idea of lost tribes and their future rediscovery. That carries us down to the final Babylonian captivity of the southern kingdom of Judah, about 587 B.c.
It should be noted that when the Persian King Cyrus released God's people from Babylon to return to their homeland in 536 B.C., they are not called Jews by Isaiah, but "Jacob" and "Israel," also "Israel mine elect," so that Isaiah also was unacquainted with the distinction made by the Anglo-Israelites between "Israelites" and "Jews" (see Isa. 45:4, 11-25, on the use of these terms).
Jeremiah and the King's Daughters
Jeremiah is "a very special prophet"' in British-Israel teaching, and a fantastic story is built on these words in Jeremiah 1:10: "I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant."
Conservative Bible scholars interpret this to mean that Jeremiah prophesied to Israel, to Judah, and to the heathen nations round about, his word being God's word to them. They say that the Hebrew word gdyim, here rendered "nations," is also translated "heathen," or "Gentiles." 12 But the Radio Church of God takes the words "to build and to plant" and applies them to the emergence to a place of world dominance of the true Israel in the British Commonwealth and the United States (Ephraim and Manasseh respectively) in "this Time of the End in which we live today!" "
On the basis of Jeremiah 43:5 to 7 it is maintained that Jeremiah and "the king's daughters" (all other heirs to David's throne having been killed) were taken to Egypt. With the help of Isaiah 49:12 ("lo, these from the north and from the west") and Jeremiah 31:9, 10 ("declare it in the isles"), the remnant seed of Israel, after much wandering and many years, appears northwest of Jerusalem in the British Isles! "
The truth on these points is (1) that when the two kingdoms were swept away, the royal line was broken; (2) that Isaiah 49:12 is simply speaking of men from distant places, as in chapter 56:6-8; (3) that "isles" refers to coastlands, far regions, as in Isaiah 49:1, certainly not to Britain.
The Jeremiah link is developed in the British-Israel theory by having him turn up in Ireland with a Hebrew princess, daughter of King Zedekiah, last king of Israel. She supposedly married the Irish chieftain Heremonn, and they thus became the progenitors of the British royal line.
There is not a scintilla of Biblical or historical evidence that Jeremiah ever left Egypt. He was compelled by a band of Jews under Johanan, after the murder of Gedaliah, to flee with them to Egypt, as may be seen from Jeremiah 41. He prophesied about 586 B.C. to the numerous fugitive Jews who were in Egypt where, according to the best scholarship, he died and disappeared from history." Tradition says he was put to death by his enraged countrymen in Egypt.
The British-Israel Federation issues a genealogical chart tracing the descent of British kings back to King David, of which one author says:
This chart includes among the descendants of King David, such characters as Thor, and Odin and Frea, the old Norse divinities, and Dardanus, the mythical founder of Troy, and Priam and Hector and Memmon and Aeneas, the mythical heroes of the ancient classics. They have drawn up elaborate charts full of legendary names which they present as actual history. But sane historians don't include gods and demigods of ancient mythology in their genealogies of modern people or their rulers. We might as well construct the royal genealogy of the British monarchs out of such names as Robin Hood, Gulliver, Hiawatha, little Bo-Peep and Jack the Giant Killer. The whole thing is so fantastic as to be really ludicrous, and the most amazing thing about it is that there seem to be people who actually believe it.17
A certain British-Israel author, W. T. Jarrold, produced a book entitled Our Great Heritage, on page 160 of which he claims the late Queen Mary as the ninety-ninth generation from King David, and the one hundredth was his Royal Highness the then Prince of Wales (called David in his family). This is pursued in a pamphlet entitled "David's Imperishable Throne in Britain," by T. H. Whitehouse, who asked if there would be a British David ready to hand over the scepter, crown, and throne to the Lord Jesus Christ at His coming. Incidentally, the Prince of Wales in question became King Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1936 after a short reign, without impressing the world that he was the child of destiny.
1 The Discerner, vol. 2, no. 9, Jan.-March, 1958 (Minneapolis: Religious Analysis Service).
2 The British Israel Theory, 5th impression (London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd., 1941), p. 42.
3 Our Israelitzsh Origin; or British Christians a Remnant of the True Israelites.
4 See W. H. Poole. D.D., Fifty Reasons Why the Anglo-Saxons Are the Israelites of the Lost Tribes of the House of Israel, p. 5.
5 The Remnant Found, quoted in Poole, Fifty Reasons, p. 5.
6 American Antiquities, quoted in Brodie, No Man Knows
7 My History, p. 45.
8 See The Book of Mormon (Palmyra, 1830), pp. 267, 358, 363, etc.
9 Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960), p. 46.
10The United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy, pp. 1, 2. This is a 28-page pamphlet distributed free in large quantities by Herbert W. Armstrong, Pasadena, California. Ibid., p. 2.
11 The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 85.
12 The United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy, p. 10.
13 The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 354.
14 The United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy, p. 10.
15 Ibid., pp. 16, 17.
16 Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, art. "Jeremiah"; The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, D. 345.
17 A. E. Cooke, Why I Am. Not a British-Israelite, p. 8. H. W. Armstrong claims that the British royal family has a chart tracing its ancestry back to Adam, and he has a copy, as well as one showing his own genealogy through the ancient British kings to Adam. See The United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy, p. 20