A Note on British Israelitism: an extract from my book, Jerusalem, Sion & Zion

zaidpub (old blog)
zaidpub (old blog)

From:  I. Hexham, Ph.D. Bristol University,

Elwell Evangelical Dictionary, 09/07/2008 [i]

The ideas of this group can be traced back to John Sadler’s book, The Rights of the Kingdom (1649), but its modern form originated with John Wilson’s Our Israelitish Origin (1814).  The first society to propagate British Israelite views was the Anglo-Saxon Association founded in England in 1879. Today, British Israelitism is in decline and only a few scattered groups remain; however, their influence in a somewhat distorted form is to be found in publications like Herbert W. Armstrong’s The Plain Truth.
There is no authorized version of British Israelitism, but the following outline summarizes their main views.  In the Bible God promised Abraham that as long as the sun and moon and stars endure Israel would survive as a nation.  From promises found in the OT it is clear that Israel must exist somewhere today and must have had a continuous existence as a national entity right back to the time of Abraham. This required continuity means that the state of Israel, which came into existence in 1948, cannot be the nation of Israel. The present state of Israel is Jewish and therefore must not be confused with the historic nation of Israel. Marshaling a variety of arguments from the Bible and history, British Israelitism argues that the Anglo – Saxon people are the true Israel.
British Israelites claim that after the destruction of David’s kingdom, Zedekiah’s daughters (Jer. 41:10) escaped death in Egypt (Jer. 44:12-14) and took refuge (Isa. 37:31-32) in one of the “isles of the sea” (Jer. 31:10) to which they sailed in a ship with Jeremiah. These “isles” were Ireland, from where their descendants reached England and became the royal house. Thus the British royal family is directly linked to the House of David. The common people, however, reached England after wandering through the continent of Europe, where they were “sifted through many nations” (Amos 9:9). In the course of this sifting some true Israelites remained in Western Europe, enabling British Israelitism to claim members in Germany, the Netherlands, and other parts of the Anglo – Saxon world.

  • This group of Israelites established what later became the Church of the Culdees in Wales that is linked by legends to Joseph of Arimathea who allegedly emigrated with his family after the Roman purge in 70 A.D. — oz [ii] 

With the Israelite origins of the British people established, OT prophecies are applied to the history of the British empire.  America is included in the scheme by the application of Gen. 49:22, which is said to predict the emigration of the Pilgrim fathers, who left their relatives behind to establish a new nation. In addition to taking a highly literalist view of the Bible, British Israelites believe that the Great Pyramid of Egypt enshrines these truths in its measurements, which are sacred.
British Israelitism is not a sect or a cult but rather a fellowship which is to be found in many churches.  At its height, around 1900, it claimed over two million members. Today its membership consists of several thousand rather elderly people. Careful examinations of texts used by British Israelites in support of their arguments show that they flout the rules of biblical exegesis.  Even if their arguments were true, Paul’s comment in Col. 3:11 would indicate that they are unimportant. British Israelitism fails to recognize that the promises of God in the OT were sometimes conditional (Deut. 28:58 – 68; 1 Sam. 2:30), while in other places prophetic language has a symbolic or poetic quality. The historical arguments of British Israelites are equally tenuous and no reputable historian supports them. Although the Bible does not explicitly state the fact, it is clear that the so-called lost tribes of Israel were largely absorbed into the tribe of Judah.

[i]       Bibliography: H L Goudge, The British Israel Theory; M H Gayer, The Heritage of the Angl-Saxon Race; B Wilson, ed., Patterns of Sectarianism, ch. 10; J Tuit, The Truth Shall Make You Free; L Deboer, The New Phariseeism.
[ii]      The existence of Culdees is authenticated by the oldest existing records, viz., the Old Registry of Aberbrothoc, the Registry of the Priory of St Andrews, Chartulary of Glasgow, Charters of Holyrood, Chartulary of Aberdeen, Register of Dunfermline. See also Robertson’s Scholastic Offices of the Scottish Church; Miscellany of the Spalding Club, vol. v., 73, 74.  For this Welsh genesis, see: See The Holy Kingdom, by Adrian Gilbert, Corgi Book, Bantam Press, 1999  ISBN 0 552 14489 4.