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British Israelites

Those who hold that the British and American peoples are part of the ten “lost” tribes of Israel. Sometimes known as Anglo-Israelism, the idea probably originated with John Sadler (Rights of the Kingdom, 1649), but in its modern form it dates from John Wilson's book Our Israelitish Origin (1840). The first Anglo-Saxon Association was founded in England in 1879. British Israelites vary in their views, but the following is typical. The kingdom, though promised to David's seed in perpetuity, failed to survive in Israel so that we must look for its continuance elsewhere. The connection with England is through Zedekiah's daughters (Jer. 41:10), who escaped death in Egypt (Jer. 44:12-14) and took root elsewhere (Isa. 37:31f.), that is, in Ireland, one of the “isles of the sea” (Jer. 31:10), to which they sailed in a ship with Jeremiah. From Ireland they or their progeny reached England and became the royal house. The common people reached England after much continental wandering, being “sifted through many nations” (Amos 9:9), but some remained in western Europe.

Many OT prophecies about Israel are said to have been fulfilled in the history of the British Empire, e.g., that Israel would lend and not borrow, would possess the gates (such as Gibraltar, Singapore, and Hong Kong) of her enemies; that Joseph's branches would run over the wall (Gen. 49:22), which means that the Pilgrim Fathers belonged to the tribe of Manasseh, but left their Ephraimitish relatives behind in England. The Great Pyramid is said to enshrine these truths. British Israelites do not form a separate sect, but belong to many churches.

Critics urge that the evidence for British Israelitism is very slender; that if true, British Israelitism is not important (Col. 3:11); that the promises of God are sometimes conditional (Deut. 28:68; 1 Sam. 2:30) while 2 Sam. 7:16 is messianic; that the “lost” tribes were largely absorbed into Judah, and that there are better claimants than the British.

H.L. Goudge, The British Israel Theory (1933)-against; H.W. Armstrong, The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy (1967)-for; B.R. Wilson (ed.), Patterns of Sectarianism (1967), chap. 10-history.