The History of the Ten "Lost" Tribes/Part 1/Chapter 1




DEAR FRIEND,—I shall endeavour to comply with your request, and to give you in this Letter a few reasons for my rejection of the Anglo-Israelite theory. I can sincerely say that I am not a man delighting in controversy, and I only consent to your wish because I believe that you, like many other simple-minded Christians, are perplexed and imposed upon by the plausibilities of the supposed "Identifications," and are not able to detect the fallacies and perversions of Scripture and history upon which they are based.

The theory is that the English, or British, are the descendants of the "lost" Israelites, who were carried captives by the Assyrians, under Sargon, who, it is presumed, are identical with the Saxae or Scythians, who appear as a conquering host there about the same time. Or, to quote a succinct summary of Anglo-Israel assertions from a standard work:—

"The supposed historical connection of the ancestors of the English with the Lost Ten Tribes is deduced as follows: The Ten Tribes were transferred to Assyria about 720 B.C.; and simultaneously, according to Herodotus, the Scythians, including the tribe of the Saccae (or Saxae), appeared in the same district. The progenitors of the Saxons afterward passed over into Denmark—the 'mark' or country of the tribe of Dan—and thence to England. Another branch of the tribe of Dan, which remained 'in ships' (Judges v. 17), made its appearance in Ireland under the title of 'Tuatha-da-Danan.' Tephi, a descendant of the royal house of David, arrived in Ireland, according to the native legends, in 580 B.C. From her was descended Feargus More, King of Argyll, an ancestor of Queen Victoria, who thus fulfilled the prophecy that 'the line of David shall rule for ever and ever' (2 Chron. xiii. 5, xxi. 7). The Irish branch of the Danites brought with them Jacob's stone, which has always been used as the Coronation-stone of the kings of Scotland and England, and is now preserved in Westminster Abbey. Somewhat inconsistently, the prophecy that the Canaanites should trouble Israel (Numbers xxxiii. 55; Josh. xxiii. 13) is applied to the Irish. 'The land of Arzareth,' to which the Israelites were transplanted (2 Esd. xiii. 45), is identified with Ireland by dividing the former name into two parts—the former of which is erez, or 'land'; the later, Ar, or 'Ire.'"[1]

As to the Jews, quite a different history and destiny is marked out for them. They, as the descendants of Judah, are still under the curse. In fact, the Anglo-Israelite, by another and more mischievous method, is doing exactly what the allegorising, or so-called spiritualising, school of interpreters did. The method was to apply all the promises in the Bible to the "spiritual" Israel, or the Church, and all the curses to the literal Israel, or the Jews; but by this new system, while the curses are still left to the Jew, all the blessings are applied not even to those "in Christ," but indiscriminately to a nation, which, as a nation, is like the other nations of Christendom in a greater or lesser degree in a state of apostasy from God, though I thankfully recognise the fact that there are in proportion more of God's true people in it than in any other professing Christian land.

I shall endeavour later on to show you the baselessness of the distinction which Anglo-Israelism makes between the ultimate fates of Israel and Judah, but let me first say that the supposed historical and philological "proofs" by which the theory is supported, most of which have no more basis in fact than fairy tales, are utterly discredited by competent authorities.

"Philology of a somewhat primitive kind," writes a prominent and learned Jew, "is also brought in to support the theory; the many Biblical and quasi-Jewish names borne by Englishmen are held to prove their Israelitish origin. An attempt has been made to derive the English language itself from Hebrew. Thus, 'bairn' is derived from bar ('son'); 'berry' from peri ('fruit'); 'garden' from gedar; 'kid' from gedi; 'scale' from shekel; and 'kitten' from quiton (katon = 'little'). The termination 'ish' is identified with the Hebrew ish ('man'); 'Spanish' means 'Spain-man'; while 'British' is identified with Berit-ish ('man of the covenant'). Perhaps the most curious of these philological identifications is that of 'jig' with chag (hag = 'festival'). "Altogether, by the application of wild guess-work about historical origins and philological analogies, and by a slavishly literal interpretation (or misapplication) of selected phrases of prophecy, a case is made out for the identification of the British race with the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel sufficient to satisfy uncritical persons desirous of finding their pride of race confirmed by Holy Scripture. The whole theory rests upon an identification of the word 'isles' in the English version of the Bible unjustified by modern philology, which identifies the original word with 'coasts' or 'distant lands,' without any implication of their being surrounded by the sea. Modern ethnography does not confirm in any way the identification of the Irish with a Semitic people; while the English can be traced back to the Scandinavians, of whom there is no trace in Mesopotamia at any period of history. The whole movement is chiefly interesting as a reductio ad absurdum of too literal an interpretation (or misapplication) of the prophecies."[2]

To this let me add the verdict of a prominent Christian scholar. Commenting on Edward Hine's "Identifications of the British Nation with Lost Israel," Professor Rawlinson wrote that: "The pamphlet is not calculated to produce the slightest effect on the opinion of those competent to form one. Such effect as it may have can only be on the ignorant and unlearned—on those who are unaware of the absolute and entire diversity in language, physical type, religious opinions, and manners and customs, between the Israelites and the various races from whom the English nation can be shown historically to be descended."

The fact of the matter is that the so-called historical proofs, by which the theory is supported, are derived from heathen myths and fables,[3] and the philology which traces "British" to "Berith-ish," and "Saxon" to "Isaac's-son," etc., deserves no other characterisation than child-ish.

It is in a misunderstanding of Scripture, and especially of prophetic Scripture, to which the origin of Anglo-Israelism can be traced. Coming across some of the great and precious promises in the Bible in reference to Israel, for instance, such as that they should be a great and mighty nation, and rule over those who previously had been their enemies and oppressors, and overlooking the fact that these prophecies and promises refer to a future time, when Israel as a nation shall be restored and converted, and under the personal rule of their Messiah become great and mighty for God on the earth, evidence of their fulfilment has been sought in the present. Now certainly these prophecies of might and prosperity are not now being fulfilled in the "Jews"—on the other hand, see how great and influential the British nation is in the world—ergo, the British must be the "lost" Israel of the "Ten Tribes"! The "history" and philology is, so to say, an afterthought of Anglo-Israelism, by which an effort is made to support the false postulate with which it starts. The Scriptural "Identifications" with which Anglo-Israel literature abound turn out on examination to be perversions and misapplications of isolated texts taken from the English versions of the Bible without any regard for true principles of exegesis.

  1. From the article "Anglo-Israelism" in the Jewish Encyclopedia.
  2. Joseph Jacobs, B.A., in the Jewish Encyclopedia.
  3. See Note iv. in Part III.