What is British-Israelism? Why is it a severe problem to be avoided at all costs?
When the Two-House teaching began to grow in adherence in various Messianic sectors in the late 1990s to 2000s, many leaders and teachers within Messianic Judaism were understandably very disturbed. They were disturbed because it appeared that many of the components of the Two-House teaching were not only disrespectful and unfair to Judaism and evangelical Christianity, but that various concepts and ideas had been appropriated, somehow, from Nineteenth/Twentieth Century British-Israelism. Perhaps some adherents and proponents did not know that various points of view or interpretations of some Tanach passages were quite similar to those of British-Israel advocates. Others, however, in promoting a dispersion of the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel into Northwestern Europe and the British Isles, strongly believed that British-Israel proposals had various, if not many, components of presumed “truth.”
British-Israelism gained a wide degree of adherence during the Victorian Era of the Nineteenth Century, when the British Empire was at its zenith, and when, as can be historically recognized, “The sun never sat on the British Empire.” Many in Britain and its colonies felt that the Empire was some kind of new manifestation of the Kingdom of Israel on Earth, with the British monarchy in actuality being the throne of King David. Heraldic symbols such as the lion of England, the unicorn of Scotland, and the harp of Ireland—quickly got associated with representing the lion of Judah, a unicorn of Ephraim or Manasseh, and the preferred musical instrument of King David. British-Israel doctrine later influenced the Twentieth Century work of Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God (WWCOG).
Being a Law- and festival-keeping, Sabbatarian group, many from the former WWCOG were left without a home following Armstrong’s death in 1986 and his organization’s subsequent collapse. Many of these people have gone on to other religious pursuits, but many have found a new home within not only the Two-House sub-movement, but even within Messianic Judaism itself. For many former members of the WWCOG, entering into the Messianic movement has been a positive experience, and they have been able to jettison some of Armstrong’s problematic theological views about the nature of the Messiah and human destiny, among others. At the same time, other former members of the WWCOG have entered into Messianic congregations, and have brought their problematic doctrines with them. Within the Two-House sub-movement and its pseudo-denominations, these kinds of people (who may have even thought Armstrong to be a kind of “prophet” or “apostle”), have been allowed to have a voice of, at least semi-major influence.
British-Israel doctrine is very easy to poke fun at. Most of us just get a good laugh out of thinking that King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne for Wallis Simpson in 1936 and who was actually called “David” by his family, could honestly be a legitimate royal heir to the rather godly King David. British-Israel doctrine attempts to make many connections between the symbols of Great Britain and things witnessed in the Bible, which are also present in other European countries, and most importantly originate from the Middle Ages. But these things are not at all the result of Ancient Israelite migration; they are the result of people adapting Biblical imagery for themselves, their families, and their leaders. (The two keys on the Vatican flag, for example, are most likely based on the words of Revelation 1:18.) When one visits the city of London and goes to have a pint at the George Inn, the sign depicts St. George slaying a dragon, which is a known legend going back to the Crusades. What kind of Biblical imagery is this? It is Medieval lore, even if we might be respectful of it in a somewhat less-than-serious way.
This is not why British-Israel doctrine is so much of a problem. There are many offshoots of the WWCOG, and associated Christian Identity groups, who think that deportees from the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel migrated into Northwestern Europe, and that white people or Caucasians are the only “true Israelites” on Planet Earth today. It is these groups who largely deny that the Jewish people are legitimate Israelites, have a right to the Holy Land of Eretz Yisrael, and they are extremely anti-Semitic. These are the kinds of people who would actually think that the known forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, is real history, and that there is a secret Jewish conspiracy of some kind of “Satan worshippers” to control the world and its banking system. British-Israelism has often been closely linked to the Christian Identity movement, many of whose members are opposed to the American government, with some of them actually having participated in domestic terrorism. Bruce Hoffman summarizes the following in his book Inside Terrorism (which was among the course materials I had to read for Prof. Stephen Sloan’s Study of Terrorism class at the University of Oklahoma in 2003):
The connecting thread in this seemingly diverse and disparate collection of citizens’ militias, tax resisters, anti-federalists, bigots and racists is the white supremacist religious dogma espoused by the Christian Identity movement, itself based on the ‘Anglo-Israelism’ movement that emerged in Britain during the mid-nineteenth century. The core belief of Anglo-Israelism was that the ten lost tribes of ancient Israel were composed of Anglo-Saxons, not Jews. However, in marked contrast to the present-day Christian Identity movement in the United States, nineteenth-century Anglo-Israelism embraced an entirely pacifist doctrine. The basic tenants of the contemporary American version of the Identity movement include the beliefs that:
- Jesus Christ was not a Semite; but an Aryan;
- the lost tribes of Israel are not composed of Jews, but of ‘blue eyed Aryans’;
- white Anglo-Saxons and not Jews are the true ‘Chosen People’;
- the United States is the ‘Promised Land’.
In this context, Jews are viewed as imposters and Children of Satan who must be exterminated.
Identity theology, combined with militant tax resistance and a form of regressive populism, figures prominently in Christian Patriotism doctrine subscribed to by the ‘marching’ militia groups today. The ideological hermit to the Posse Comitatus with its hard-line anti-federalist principles, Christian Patriotism goes one step further by embracing a salient theological component that combines Identity interpretation of scripture with the myth of the Illuminati—the global conspiracy theory, first promulgated in the late eighteenth century in respect of Freemasons and later adapted to include Jews, worldwide banking interests and other dark, mystical forces. According to its modern-day American interpretation, the so-called ‘two seed’ theory embraced by Christian Patriotism, there are two races on earth: one godly and one satanic—the former comprised of white, Anglo-Saxon Christians and the latter of Jews and all non-whites…
The kinds of statements made above should make anyone who approaches the subject matter of the prophesied reunion of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel, be very conscientious about the connections that some people will make between hearing about Judah and Ephraim, British-Israel, Christian Identity, and then Christian Patriotism with its anti-government and anti-Semitic viewpoints. The only way that anyone can quantitatively break out any false connections that people might make, is by non-Jewish Believers who examine this subject matter closely cooperating with Jewish Believers, supporting the State of Israel, and being respectful to mainline Jewish customs. The message needs to be kept well within the confines of the Jewish theological expectation of the restoration of Israel, and highly regard and value mainline Jewish traditions (i.e., Matthew 23:2-3, Grk.; Romans 3:2; 11:29).
Does any teaching on the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel to be reunited in the future, actually mimic those who believe that the British Crown has some supernatural connection to the throne of David, and that the British Empire and Commonwealth is really the Kingdom of Israel? When you encounter various teachers and people within the Two-House sub-movement, who were a part of Armstrong’s WWCOG, then you may be very likely to hear things such as English, Scottish, and/or Irish royal heraldry being “Israelite” to some degree, or that the Empire had a destiny to play in history far beyond that recognized by fair-minded and secular historians (i.e., opposing Nazi Germany long before the United States did).
One of the major points that is made by British-Israel proponents, is the widespread claim that the term British is actually a Hebrew word. In actuality, the national designation British is derived from the Roman name for what is modern-day England and Wales: Britannia (modern-day Scotland was actually called Caledonia by the Romans; Great Britain is considered to be the whole island). British-Israel proponents actually claim that the term “British” is a combination of the Hebrew words b’rit or “covenant,” and ish meaning “man,” likely implying that God’s covenant is with those of British ancestry. In his book The “Lost” Ten Tribes of Israel…Found!, Steven M. Collins confirms for us their view: “The ancient Hebrew word for ‘covenant’ still forms the root word for the modern English word ‘British.’ Since ‘ish’ is also a Hebrew word meaning ‘man,’ the word ‘Brit-ish’ is also Hebrew for ‘covenant-man.’” Collins’ publication is one which has most lamentably had an influence on a wide number of people within the Two-House sub-movement.
Quite contrary to the claim that the word “British” is somehow of Semitic origin, Walter Martin appropriately details in his classic work Kingdom of the Cults,
“It is sufficient to point out…that the Hebrew words berith and ish literally mean ‘covenant and man,’ not, ‘men of the covenant,’ as Armstrong and Anglo-Israelites maintain. When to this is added the unbiased and impeccably researched conclusions of the venerable Oxford English Dictionary and every other major English work on etymology, there is absolutely no connection between the Anglo-Saxon tongue and the Hebrew language.”
It is worth noting, perhaps in response to Martin’s comments that English and Hebrew are completely unrelated, that a resource released by a Jewish teacher named Isaac E. Mozeson, The Word: The Dictionary That Reveals The Hebrew Source Of English—which does float around a variety of Messianic groups—proposes there are connections between English via Greek and Latin to Hebrew. In Mozeson’s view, “Greek and Latin are merely grandfathers, while Hebrew is the patriarch.” Whether or not Mozeson’s work is at all credible can be vigorously debated. Yet, it is important that nowhere in Mozeson’s book does he make a connection between the English term “British” and the Hebrew words b’rit and ish. I personally would not put too much stock in Mozeson’s The Word or his theories, but it is quite poignant that he does not claim that “British” is a Semitic word. The modern Hebrew term for “British” is actually Briti (breetee), which is hardly what one would expect if “British” were indeed a Hebrew word.
British-Israel proponents, as should be expected, propose that various other nationalistic terms also originate from Biblical Hebrew, when in actuality they do not. I am in full agreement with William Varner, who notes the following in his book Jacob’s Dozen:
“British-Israelism maintains that the lost tribes left landmarks on their trek across Europe. Thus, the Dan and Danube Rivers, as well as the city of Danzig and country of Denmark are clear indications to them of the tribe of Dan! The term ‘Saxons’ is supposedly a contradiction of ‘Isaac’s Sons’…These linguistic arguments have been rejected by every reputable Hebrew scholar as absolutely groundless.”
 British-Israel doctrine is particularly marked by a work like J.H. Allen, Judah’s Sceptre and Joseph’s Birthright (Merrimac, MA: Destiny Publishers, 1902), many of whose ideas have filtered down into the popular literature of certain leaders within the Two-House sub-movement.
 The full name of King Edward VIII was Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.
 “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades’” (Revelation 1:17-18, NASU).
 Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 112.
 Steven M. Collins, The “Lost” Ten Tribes of Israel…Found! (Boring, OR: CPA Books, 1995), 392.
 Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1985), 309.
 Isaac E. Mozeson, The Word: The Dictionary That Reveals The Hebrew Source Of English (New York: SPI Books, 2000), 5.
 Concurrent with this, I would also frown extensively on so-called Hebrew letter pictures, which are affluent through the broad Messianic world, including much of “safe” Messianic Judaism.
Consult the FAQ, “Hebrew, Letter Pictures.”
 Hayim Baltsan, Webster’s NewWorld Hebrew Dictionary (Cleveland: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 1992), 497.
 William Varner, Jacob’s Dozen: A Prophetic Look at the Tribes of Israel (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1987), 94; cf. Martin, 308.