Who Is A Jew? British-Israelism Versus the Bible
If a Jew is not a Jew,
then who’s a Jew?
Of late I’m told that I,
a Gentile, am a Jew —
are you one too?
Now I’m confused!
Will someone please provide a clue.
Who on earth is a proper Jew?
“It’s right there in your Bible. The plain truth is you’ve been wrong all along about those people called Jews. Now let me give you the facts about the nation Christians have mistakenly identified as Israel and reveal the secret of the true Jew. . .”
The radio voice was polished and persuasive — it was also disseminating theological absurdities. Upon listening, one would chuckle were it not for the fact that this revival of prophetic gobbledygook called British-Israelism has captivated the minds of so many people.
British-Israelism, or Anglo-Israelism, came into existence slightly more than one hundred years ago. Richard Brothers, an Englishman, is given the dubious distinction of originating this method of biblical interpretation which promotes the idea that the Anglo-Saxon peoples are in fact Israel, and, consequently, are the true heirs of all God’s promises to the Jewish nation. The movement came to its zenith when the British Empire held sway over a sprawling colonial system upon which “the sun never set.” Credulous religionists saw in Anglo-lsraelism an answer to the perplexing question of what to do with the vast repository of promises to Israel, especially since it seemed quite apparent that Jews were in no position to experience literal fulfillment of the long sought blessings of the covenant God entered with Abraham and his posterity. It also provided, through a new form of theological anti-Semitism, a satisfactory method of maintaining a sense of spiritual superiority which paralleled the pride of the empire.
As the moths began to chew away at England’s colonial system and deterioration set in, British-Israelism became dormant for a time. Many years later, with the rise of the United States as the dominant power on the world scene, it would be dusted off, given a new coat and presented to the world as a startling revelation just off the wire from God, Most Americans who are familiar with the system have been exposed through The Radio Church of God, The World Tomorrow broadcast and THE PLAIN TRUTH magazine, all arms of the cult developed by Herbert W. Armstrong, Others espouse the theory with some variations, but all are, whether they will admit it or not, disciples of the inventors of British-IsraeIism.
The phrase “the lost tribes” emits a certain ring of mystery which tends to create a romanticized desire to find the answer to the baffling disappearance of the captive Israelites. Although the phrase is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures, it is indispensable to the entire structure upon which the adherents of Anglo-lsraelism have built their system. As a matter of fact, they hold fast to the claim that the identification of the true Israel, a few short years ago, is the key to understanding the message of the Bible. One is, by their standard judged a biblical ignoramus if he does not possess this alleged key to interpreting the Sacred Word.
British-Israelism rests on four central postulates.
(1) The ten northern tribes of Israel were deported by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. In this captivity all Israelites were removed from the land, none remained. It is essential to the integrity of the system that this be historically true. Furthermore, none of the Israelites thereafter mixed with Judah, or returned to the southern kingdom. The nation would endure as an identifiable national entity. Accordingly, Herbert Armstrong states, ” . . . When the southern kingdom of Judah was taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Assyrians had migrated northwest — and the tentribed Israelites with them! Utterly lost. They were utterly GONE! They were lost from view!” Again he declares, “The house of Israel did NOT return to Palestine with the Jews in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, as some erroneously believe.”
With the decline of the Assyrian Empire, the tribes began to wander westward across northern Europe. In the process of time, they lost their identity. Later these people would become the Saxe, or Sythians, who subsequently moved through Europe to one day invade England as the Saxon people.
(2) Henceforth, the British would be identified as Israelitish Ephraim, with the fledgling United States later properly installed under the mantle of Manasseh, thus fulfilling the prophecy by Jacob regarding the two sons of Joseph in Genesis 48. In this relocation process David’s throne was transferred from Jerusalem to England. Armstrong endorses a concept by one Herman L. Hoeh; “Elizabeth II actually sits on the throne of King David of Israel — that she is a direct descendant, continuing David’s dynasty — the very throne on which Christ will sit after His return. Other devotees identify biblical Bethel with Glastonburg and Jerusalem with Edinburg, Scotland.
(3) Israel (the ten northern tribes) is to be forever distinguished from Jews (the louse of Judah), which has been left under a permanent curse emanating from the idea that it was Judah and Levi who put Christ to death while saying, “. . . His blood be on us and our children.” Therefore, the terms Israel and Jews or Judah are never used synonymously in the Bible. When Israel is referred to, it always indicates the ten northern tribes. Jews or Judah are exclusively the southern tribes.
(4) All of the divine promises to Israel find fruition in God’s blessings upon England and America, who will prepare the kingdom and deliver it to Jesus Christ. The occupant of the throne of England will relinquish the seat of authority to Christ, thus completing the process of the restoration of Israel.
The Biblical Record
What does the Bible tell us about the ten “lost tribes”? Were they in fact carried away in their entirety? Is it possible to associate England and America with Ephraim and Manasseh?
Let it first be emphatically stated, all romantic conjecturing aside, Israel was never lost! Certainly through the vicissitudes of the long years of their dispersion Jews have ranged far and wide across the face of the earth. In the process, evidences of their religion and culture have been deposited and endure. However, to cite these evidences as confirmation of the British-Israel hypothesis is simply preposterous. The Scriptures and corroborating historical records abound with testimony confirming that the majority of the peoples of the northern tribes never left Israel at all; Ephraim and Manasseh did not move to England and America; portions of the northern tribes were assimilated by Judah; and Israel and Judah eventually fused as one national entity.
All Israel Was Not Taken Captive
The demise of Israel and the subsequent deportation is recorded in 2 Kings 17. The chapter lacks specific details concerning the proportion of the nation carried away by Assyria. It is claimed that the statement,”. . . the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah only” suggests that the nation was removed in its entirety. We shall see, however, that this must be applied contextually in the same manner in which we understand statements like “all Israel went to battle” , or “all Israel appeared before the Lord “. All of Israel did not go to the battle, only military representatives. Nor did every Israelite appear before the Lord, only those who comprise a proper representation of the nation. So it was in the case of Israel’s going into captivity.
Other portions of Scripture clarify the fact that the deportation was partial, restricted to the ruling political and military class. Clear evidence of this is seen during the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah, who came to the throne some sbc years after the Assyrians had carried away their captives (715 B.C.). His invitation to come to Jerusalem and keep the Passover was issued from “. . . Beersheba even to Dan . . .throughout all Israel and Judah . . . to the … children of Israel . . . who are escaped out of the hand of the king of Assyria” (2 Chronicles 30:5, 6). In response to this invitation, “… even many of Ephraim, and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulon, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover . . ” (2 Chronicles 30:18). It is also observed that “… all the congregation of Judah, with the priests and Levites, and all the congregation who came out of Israel . . .” (2 Chronicles 30′.25) were participants in the feast.
Eighty years later, this condition persisted. Josiah led Judah through a period of religious revival. In the process of making repairs on the Temple, monies were collected from “the hand of Manasseh and Ephraim and of all the remnant of Israel, and of all Judah and Benjamin…” (2 Chronicles 34:9). By this time it would appear that many pious Jews from the northern kingdom had moved south into Judah to escape contamination from the heathen peoples the Assyrians had settled in the area.
Further documentation of a partial deportation is provided by the conqueror himself, Sargon II. He says, “I besieged and conquered Samaria, led away as booty 27,290 inhabitants of it.” After this he established his own political structure in the land to rule over those who remained in Israel.
The captives, who were settled to the northeast, in the area of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, later joined their Judean brothers under the rule of the Babylonians and the Persians. Some of their number would be among those who returned to Jerusalem in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Cyrus, king of Persia, ruled the territories formerly held by the Assyrians. He decreed that all Jews “throughout all his kingdom” who wished to return and assist with the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem were free to do so. At the dedication which followed the return of the exiles, the Scripture records:
And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy. 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, twelve he-goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel (Ezra 6:16, 17).
So we have before us conclusive evidence that Israel remained in the region of their inheritance without a massive and mysterious exodus into Europe.
Jews And Israel Are Synonymous Terms
With the Babylonian captivity came the dissolution of a dual national identification for Israel. The divided kingdom, in humanly definable terms, ceased to be. Israel and Judah, thereafter, were synonymous words which were frequently employed to identify the entire host of Jewry. British-Israelism’s heated denial of this dogmatically asserts that this is almost never the case; the division of terms, they say, is constant. They must react thus, because the entire system of interpretation hinges on their being correct at this point. Their fondly held point, however, is patently ludicrous.
Walter Martin, in his book, Kingdom of the Cults, fully exposes this fallacy. “ … After the Babylonian captivity, from which the Jews returned, Ezra records the remnant were called by the name of Jews eight times, and by the name Israel forty times. Nehemiah records eleven times they are Jews, and proceeds to describe them as Israel, twenty-two times.” The New Testament is no less emphatic. Peter, at Pentecost, addresses himself to all the house of Israel (Acts 2:36). It is interesting to note that in this one chapter alone, “Jews” are referred to (vs. 5), “men of Judea” are mentioned (vs. 14), “men of Israel” is used (vs. 22), followed by the reference to ‘all the house of Israel “ Walter Martin observes further, “The New Testament uses the word ‘Jew’ one hundred and seventy-four times and the term ‘Israel’ seventy-five times.” It is easily demonstrated, beyond rational doubt, that the promoters of British-Israelism are guilty of attempting to manipulate the Bible in order to make an untenable position appear to represent factual analysis.
Ephraim and Manasseh Are Not England and America
One will remember the prominence of Ephraim and Manasseh in the passages quoted above. They are repeatedly said to have been in Israel following the captivities — not in London or New York. Ephraim is specifically identified and related to God’s future purposes for the Jewish people. In the book of Ezekiel, chapter 37, written during the captivity in Babylon, the prophet looks forward to the official union of Judah and Israel. He is directed to symbolize this by placing two sticks together, “. . . for Judah, and for the children of Israel . . . and they shall become one in thine hand” (vss. 16, 17). When pressed by the people for an explanation, he states, “… Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, to which they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall no more be two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all” (vss. 21, 22). The context leaves no doubt that the location to which the scattered tribes will return is the Israel of the Middle East. It is also clearly shown that Ephraim shall be gathered from among the nations, to which they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land (vs. 21). The people who have been scattered through the torturous dispersion will be gathered out of the nations and brought back to the land of promise. This is a marked contrast to the British-Israel fantasy which has Ephraim at home already, in his English Promised Land, waiting to deliver the kingdom.
We may rest assured that there is no dark mystery about the true identity of the Jewish nation. All segments of Jewry are represented in the people historically identified as Jews. British-Israelism has not unearthed a new key to biblical interpretation. This system is but one more weapon in the satanic arsenal brought on the scene in an attempt to bring confusion, diversion and promote an anti-Semitic flavor among another generation of professing Christians. One might well expect, in this day when Jewish hearts and minds are open to a witness of the Christian message, our old enemy to rush to the stage with some new scheme for mischief making. Those of us who revere the historic message of God’s Word and take seriously our commission to share the message of the Messiah with the Chosen People need urgently to bend every effort to accomplish our task.