In the first installment of this series we explored the origins and history of the wider British Israelism (BI) movement up to the time when Armstrong got involved. The next part was devoted to the story of Armstrong’s personal attempt to make a name for himself in the movement as well as his peculiar contributions to and promotion of the BI myth itself. In this final part we will briefly lay out a strong case against British Israelism that will reveal it as preposterous nonsense.
The many proponents of British Israelism throughout history have offered up several lines of reasoning in support of their theory: arguments from prophecy (i.e., circular arguments), arguments from folklore, arguments from etymological parody and arguments from amateur speculation. We will address the last three of these approaches one by one and cursorily dispatch them. (We will completely ignore the first strategy, as there is no such thing as prophecy.) We will then offer up arguments and evidence that directly militate against the conclusions of BI mythologists, who may be said to be entitled to their own absurd opinions; however, they are not entitled to their own facts.
It should be clarified at the outset that there are two types of British Israelism. One is mystical and one makes claims that can be falsified. We are not interested in the mystical superstition concerning a “spiritual” lineage from alleged “Lost Tribes” and specific nations extant today. To argue for or against such propositions would be as foolish as debating whether the Celestial teapot is brewing Earl Grey or Darjeeling. Our concern is wholly with the falsifiable claims of the other type of British Israelism, which maintains an ethnic (i.e., genetic) legacy for Israel in the United States and Britain. Of course Armstrongism takes (and largely depends upon) this latter view, which Armstrong referred to as a “promise of race”. (If he had foreseen the advent of haplogroup population genetics he might not have been so cocky in his borrowed assertions–but then, he never was much of a prophet.)
So, let’s get started debunking the arguments used to support this pseudo-historical myth…
Arguments from Folklore
One of the most cherished canards in the British-Israelite arsenal is the legend of the Stone of Scone’s transport from the land of the Hebrews to Ireland and its identification with an apparently similar artifact of Biblical folklore, Jacob’s Pillar Stone. The Stone of Scone folk history has the “prophet” Jeremiah carrying this El cult relic across Europe to Ireland, where it subsequently continued in its utility as a coronation stone, only now, ostensibly, in the service of Israelite royals in Ireland.
You know the story. From there the stone was “overturned” a few times under Yahweh’s watchful guidance (for some cryptic, symbolic reason that I don’t care about) and eventually ended up in Scotland. None of this is original with Armstrong, mind you. This tall tale was not whispered in his ear by Jesus while he was stacking wood for pennies. No, it has been handed down from undereducated father to intellectually abused son for generations in Scotland, and has been a mainstay of the BI mythos for centuries. As a nationalistic yarn it is relatively harmless, of course, but many take it deadly seriously.
But the problem with revering such fanciful narratives (romantic and useful though they may be) is that they are supported by exactly zero evidence. Many such arguments from folklore are brandished with blithe confidence by proponents of BI, but it should be pointed out that if we are to accept them as persuasive then we are reason-bound to accept other gems of folklore that are equally factual–for example, (just to keep up the Irish theme) that Ireland has no snakes because St. Peter banished them. The truth is there never were any snakes in Ireland.
Similarly, Jacob’s Pillar Stone was never in Ireland (or Scotland), either. Geological study of the Stone of Scone shows it to be of a type of rock native to the immediate vicinity of Scone and geographically limited to the British Isles.
You like that? We’re just getting started…
Arguments from Etymological Parody
A favorite trick of BI promoters is to concoct puns out of ancient and modern place names and other words in a hilarious attempt at making them appear connected linguistically. Thanks to BI, we former believers now have little philological jokes running around in our heads: Isaac minus the i plus sons equals Saac’s sons, i.e. Saxons LOL! That’s how easy it is to establish an etymological connection for the BI enthusiast (and for such morons, this is in turn how easy it is to establish ethnic continuity).
It shouldn’t be lost on the astute reader, though, that for such connections to be valid, two things must be true: (1) modern English must be linguistically descended from ancient Hebrew (more on this later) and (2) the non-Hebrew word in question (Saxon, in this case) must actually mean what it is purported to mean! As you can probably guess, the Old English Saxon (derived from Late Latin Saxonem, itself derived from proto-Germanic sakhsan–which, incidentally, is not directly related to Assyrian, so don’t ask!) has nothing to do with the modern English word sons, much less (infinitely less, it could be said) with the ancient Hebrew Isaac. Saxon is attested to the 14th Century CE and meant, literally, “swordsmen”. See that? Not Saac’s sons, but swordsmen.
The formulation Saac’s sons is an absurd fantasy in every conceivable way. Compounding the dubious nature of the mythological etymology of Saxon is the proposed dropping of the initial i in Isaac. This more than anything reveals its originator as a likely duplicitous fraud. The reason given for dropping the i is that the Hebrew script does not include vowels. That is, the Hebrews didn’t write their vowels. But didn’t they speak them? Of course they did! And why dispense with the initial vowel and not the others? In any case, the original Hebrew word for Isaac (i.e., yishaq) doesn’t begin with a vowel, but a consonant–one that, it should be noted, doesn’t sound anything like the s in Saxon.
The answer to why these facts go undeclared by the ones promoting this nonsense is that they are fatal to the poorly manufactured etymologies they wish to foist off on their followers. Instead of referring to the thankless work of real etymologists, these dunces just make shit up! They’re trying to fool you, in some cases as they have fooled themselves and in some cases duplicitously. And if you are still not sure this kind of reasoning is indeed idiotic nonsense, let me provide an apt quote that will drive the point home.
To argue for Hebrew etymological connection on the basis of phonic similarity in English is to build a philological citadel on the foundation of a pun…if Edinburgh proves that Dan was in Scotland, then the Danikil tribe of North Africa are Danites as well. Other traces are Manasseh in Manchuria, Ham in Birmingham, Asher in Asia, Simeon in Siam and Korah in Korea. Armstrongite philology enjoys the intellectual stature of Mother Goose (Samuel R. Chambers. The Plain Truth About Armstrongism, 164-5).
Arguments from Amateur Speculation
The next class of argument we will cover is the argument from amateur speculation. British Israelism is chock-full of these. They all fail for the same reason arguments from folklore fail: no evidence. They also fail for another, special reason, namely, that speculations about the modern-day identity of Israel’s “lost tribes” are manifold. The Anglo-Saxon variant is merely one among many–all of which are characterized by the same non-objectivity and sub-standard research (if any at all)–and many are obviously mutually exclusive.
From India to Japan, from the Chiang Min people of China to the Cherokee Nation of North America, many regions and peoples have been put forward as remnants of the apocryphal exile of the tribes. All of these hypotheses are based on mere speculation, usually motivated by a religiously endowed confirmation bias. If we are to accept British Israelism on the thin stuff offered by its promoters, then we should be willing to accept Sino-Israelism, for example, on the same irrational basis.
To get a feel for how ludicrous these speculative hypotheses can be, we will briefly mention one example that is conducive to BI (or would be if it were supported by something other than hot air). This is the proposed Israel-Scythian connection. The whole argument here apparently rests on the fact that the Scythians were first mentioned in Assyrian records at roughly the same time as that of the supposed disappearance of the Northern House of Israel. Not a very strong argument, to say the least.
Such a connection would be convenient to BI because the Scythian peoples are thought to be associated with the Celts. However, those who argue for Scytho-Israelism must necessarily ignore the wide cultural, linguistic and genetic disparities between the Israelites and the Scythians. Legitimate scholarship regarding the Scythians reveals the Israelite-Scythian connection as pseudo-historical bunk, an unsupported ad-hoc hypothesis concocted for the purpose of manufacturing an ethnic continuity where none exists. Another case of British Israelists just making shit up. That’s why it can only be found kicking around pro-BI echo chambers, instead of being debated in academic journals. It is amateur speculation, conceived by amateurs who already believe BI for consumption by amateurs who already believe BI. It is a British-Israelist circle jerk, a baseless fantasy–just like the larger hypothesis it was (poorly) designed to support.
The Evidence Speaks
If one were to protest that none of this so far positively refutes the identification of the US and Britain as Israelite in origin, that we have merely debunked some (indeed, only three!) of the tenets of BI, that one would be technically correct. But what’s funny about this is that’s all they have! These species of arguments are their case. That’s it! And they are exactly the kinds of arguments that constitute neither proof nor even weak support for their position. To support their position in any meaningful way they would need evidence from, say, legitimate historiography, linguistics and genetics. And it just so happens that there is a wealth of information available from those fields that speaks to the question of BI. And this evidence does directly refute it–effectively decapitating what we have already cut off at the knees.
What we have done so far has been to provide the reader with clearly logical ways of dealing with the various classes of arguments used in any attempt to defend British Israelism. We have shown that BI proponents are merely relying on made up shit (arguments from folklore), making shit up about the life-history of certain words (arguments from etymological parody) and making shit up about ethnology (arguments from amateur speculation). We have not covered every particular, nonsensical statement because we don’t need to. You can discover for yourself that each individual argument for BI is vulnerable to the type of critical thinking displayed in the few examples we have pinned down here. As Ralph Orr put it in his paper dealing with a Biblical refutation of BI:
When reading Anglo-Israelite literature, one notices that it generally depends on folklore, legends, quasi-historical genealogies and dubious etymologies. None of these sources prove an Israelite origin for the peoples of northwestern Europe. Rarely, if ever, are the disciplines of archeology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics or historiography applied to Anglo-Israelism…Why this unscientific approach? This approach must be taken because to do otherwise is to destroy Anglo-Israelism’s foundation. Those who apply scientific disciplines and the principles of sound historiography to this subject eventually come away disbelieving the theory.
So, we have seen that the kinds of arguments offered in support of BI do not work. But we are not yet finished. We will now do a bit of what Orr speaks about: we will “apply scientific disciplines…to this subject” for the purpose of making a positive case against BI. That is, not only can we demonstrate that BI has no good arguments to support it, we can demonstrate further that its conclusions are positively not true. After all, just because apparent grade-school drop-outs are not capable of defending a position, it doesn’t mean the position is counter-factual. As we shall see, though, the evidence is not merely silent when it comes to BI–it speaks volumes.
We will cover only three areas of expertise, each of which alone yields evidence enough to sink BI completely. These disciplines are history, linguistics and genetics.
Exhibit A: The Historical Record
Thus far we have been considerably lenient in allowing BI its basic assumption that the 10 tribes comprising the “House of Israel” were deported en masse from the region of their origins, and were thereby “lost” to history. This allowance has not afforded the myth much in the way of defense anyway, and now the time for leniency is at an end. We will now examine the Lost Tribes premise to see if it has any merit, or if, instead, it will prove to be fatal to BI. For if the tribes were not lost to begin with, then they never were available to be found in the British Isles–or anywhere else.
Firstly, this “theory” (scare quotes to indicate the loosest sense of the word is intended) originated as nothing more than a religious fable, and therefore suffers from the same weaknesses as the argument from folklore discussed above. The whole notion of the 10 “lost” tribes was spawned by Biblical and Talmudic “prophetic” or “apocalyptic” literature (read “religio-political scam”), not ethnology. So, again, those who already believed in 10 lost tribes went looking for ways to confirm their bias (at least in their own minds)–and from this navel contemplation come the various forms of amateur speculation we have all grown accustomed to witnessing in BI literature. Note that none of these propositions are based on a pursuit of truth through objective and honest study, but rather on a need to find what one is looking for–the same way one might see a dragon in the noisy structure of a cloud if she or he were prompted in advance to look for one. The religious tradition of “ten lost tribes” primed the BI pump, so to speak, and the amateur pseudo-ethnologists of the genre merely followed the preconceived trajectory it produced. If it hadn’t been for those traditional preconceptions, we would not even be discussing BI.
Now for some facts.
- The tribe of Judah was not the only one left. The Hebrew word for “tribe” (shebet) can also be translated “scepter”, which has the meaning of “political standard”. Pro-Lost Tribes references to the passage in 2 Kings 17:18 assume that it means only the people of Judah remained in the region after the Assyrians deported “all Israel”. But this assumption is not warranted. It could very well mean that, of the “Two House” dual polity that had evolved in the region, only one (the Southern Kingdom of Judah) remained after the aristocratic classes of the Northern Kingdom had been decimated by the successive deportations by Assyrian kings. And, as we shall see, a deportation of the elites (and not the entire population) is as far as the available facts and reason will allow us to go. In fact, the records indicate that only a portion of the people from Ephraim, Gad, Manasseh, Naphtali and Reuben were exiled and that they were taken to known locations, namely, Gozam, Nineveh and Media (i.e., they were not “lost”). We have no evidence that anyone from any other tribe was taken into captivity.
- “Israel” does not mean what Armstrong thinks it means. We must bust another Lost Tribes assumption regarding Biblical language. The phrase “all Israel” or “Israel” is often a kind of hyperbole: many times it is in fact only referring to a section of the population–usually the military. This is a common occurrence, and in many cases it would produce amusing logical impossibilities if it were interpreted the way Lost Tribes enthusiasts must do in 2 Kings 17:18. One example is in 2 Samuel: when “every man of Israel” departs from David to follow Sheba instead, one of the party of David, Joab, goes “through all the tribes of Israel” to raise an army against Sheba. These apparently exhaustive phrases are clearly intended to be interpreted in a parochial way.
- Select elites were removed and replaced by foreigners, while the population at large remained as a subjugated people. Assyria had a policy of resettlement that was instituted for the purpose of eliminating the political cohesiveness of the nations they conquered. That is, they were not interested in merely relocating their problems; they were interested in destroying their problems. The Lost Tribes myth necessitates a relocation (and subsequent unaccountable misplacement) of an intact nation. These BI naifs would have us believe that the dread and masterful Assyrians, after defeating the nation of Israel, would waste precious resources scraping Samaria of all inhabitants and transferring all of this potential for social upheaval politically intact directly into the heart of their empire. The logistics of such a mass relocation alone would leave any reasonable person doubting its possibility. But its inefficiency is even more convincing. After all, the Assyrians had a more realistic and effective alternative: just take captive the elites and replace them with foreigners. This is an efficient way to destroy a nation: the ruling class is unavailable to the people and vice versa. It is also an efficient way to improve one’s own empire with a great influx of foreign talent, skill and knowledge. And from both Biblical and secular sources we find that this is exactly how things were done in the Ancient Near East–and it was certainly how the Assyrian resettlement policy was conceived and carried out. Through such a program of assimilation and colonization the national identity of the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed, and the tribes constituting its people were not in any sense “lost”, because they were not exiled as tribes, but as select individuals and their families. The numbers recorded for the deportations are a fraction (about one-tenth to one-sixth) of the population estimates for 8th Century Samaria (the region from which the exiles were taken–and supposedly emptied of original inhabitants according to Lost Tribes myth). It is likely that the 27,290 referred to by Sargon II were taken only from the capital city, and the archeological evidence seems to indicate that this was the approximate number of people that inhabited just this one city. In addition, ample evidence from both archeology and scripture indicates that a subjugated Israelite population remained after the resettlement was complete. For just one of many scriptural examples, take the reference in 2 Chronicles 30:1 to a Passover invitation from Hezekiah “to all Israel and Judah…also to Ephraim and Manasseh.” What were these tribes still doing hanging around there? Shouldn’t they have been on their way “north and west” to become “a great nation and company of nations”? There are many more instances where the tribes of the defunct Northern Kingdom are mentioned associating with the inhabitants of Judah, when the Lost Tribes theory would have the former off in faraway lands morphing into Scythians or some such nonsense. Archeological evidence includes analysis of pottery from the stratum corresponding to the relevant time period, which shows a mixture of foreign, Mesopotamian styles and a preponderance of the Palestinian tradition carried over from older strata.
Considering these facts, it seems unlikely to say the least that (1) all the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom were removed and that (2) they subsequently retained their tribal associations in exile long enough to (3) recapitulate themselves in the form of modern nations, without anyone knowing it except uneducated enthusiasts of Victorian Era pop-pseudo-ethnology with a basis in religious tradition. These three assertions progressively stretch credulity until it finally breaks with that final zinger. And a disbelief in the Lost Tribes hypothesis represents a cardinal death knell for British Israelism. But this sweet music continues…
Linguistics Takes the Stand
The claim is often made by British-Israelists that modern English is descended from ancient Hebrew, and they will usually provide examples of words that they have ignorantly decided sound similar enough to establish such a connection. This is a natural ad hoc rationalization: since their purpose is to defend an Anglo-Saxon destiny for their apocryphal Lost Tribes, they would want to present a picture of Hebrew gradually evolving into the modern languages of Northern Europe (although one may wonder: if Hebrew evolved into English, why is there still Hebrew?). Alternatively, they will also claim that the exiled Israelites lost their native tongue in captivity. Some may even wish to have it both ways, and may be just competent enough not to see the problem with that.
But is there any legitimate evidence from the discipline of linguistics that supports either (both?) of these views?
Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s discuss what linguistics tells us about the evolution of these two languages.
Firstly, Hebrew and English are about as far apart as two languages can be, both in terms of morphology and history. Hebrew is a Semitic language, while English is a Germanic language. The Germanic languages are but a branch on the Indo-European family tree, which diverged from Proto-Indo-European sometime after 3700 BCE. The Indo-European phylogeny looks like this:
You can see English if you squint; it’s way up there in the upper left. Hebrew, you’ll note, is nowhere in sight. That’s because it’s off on its own family tree. Yeah, a completely different family. The Semitic languages are proposed to have begun splitting off from a reconstructed Proto-Semitic about the same time as Indo-European languages got their start (4th millennium BCE). The proliferation eventually took this form:
So, what this demonstrates is that English and Hebrew are not even distant cousins. If we go back beyond the 4th millennium BCE to the next possibility of a common ancestor tongue (i.e., proto-language), things get a lot murkier. But our best bet is a proposed family called the Nostratic languages. These may have begun to differentiate off of Proto-Nostratic into several branches (including both the Afroasiatic, the progenitor of the Semitic languages, and the Indo-European branches) at around 8,000 BCE.
So, even if there is a relationship between English and Hebrew it is only through a common ancestor so remote as to be shrouded by the dust of 10,000 years of linguistic evolution. That is to say that even if Hebrew is related to English, the relationship is not nearly as immediate as BI demands. For the proponents of British Israelism would have English evolving directly from Hebrew (i.e., that Hebrew is the mother-tongue to English!), when the serious study of comparative linguistics can barely show that English and Hebrew may be related only by virtue of their sharing the same great-great-great-great-grandmother-tongue (and I think I left out a few greats). By way of weak analogy, they are related the same way I’m related to Stephen Flurry (shudder) or, more to the point, this guy (which is a thousand times cooler).
So what? How does this disprove BI? Couldn’t the Israelites have just forgotten their language during their exile? Maybe they started speaking those Indo-European tongues instead? Nope. Their captors spoke Akkadian, another Semitic language. Even those Israelites who were deported to Median cities would have, at worst, had to learn a different Semitic language: Medean. We’re still nowhere near Indo-European languages.
For a little perspective on the difference in distribution between these two language groups, watch the somewhat exciting video below, which covers the expansion of the Semitic family…
…and now contrast this with the spread of Indo-European languages in the following diagram.
Notice that these Indo-European languages are not only linguistically separate from the Semitic tongues, they are geographically disparate in their ranges and expansions (except for a relatively short period during which Arabic spread northeast as a result of Muslim conquest–but by this point, the Indo-European languages had already long ago been differentiated). There is a good reason for this disparity: the Indo-European peoples and the Semitic peoples are not closely related genetically.
The final nail in the coffin for British Israelism was delivered only recently, starting in 1997 with the Y chromosome research of Michael Hammer. Since that time, the fields of genetic genealogy and haplogroup population genetics have exploded, to the point where we now have maps of the genetic history of the world.
Here’s how it works.
What is being analyzed are variations in DNA sequence called single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced “snips” by the apparently very cute researchers who look for them). SNPs are passed down from generation to generation intact and thereby become markers of particular lineages. Those who have descended from the same ancient groups of people will share the same SNP markers. These ancestral lines have been classified into haplogroups. A haplogroup is all the haplotypes that share a single common ancestor, and these lineages can be traced back multiple thousands of years.
To put it another way, say Genghis Khan was born with a unique mutation in his DNA sequence (a SNP). All his descendants will now have that same mutation. So, if you get tested and that SNP is found, you are in the same haplogroup as Genghis Khan. And that wouldn’t be too shocking if you live in the area he came from, since eight percent of the men there (about 16 million people) are apparently descended from him.
Now we can look at the distribution of the various haplogroups that have been discovered to see whether descendents of the Israelites can be found in the British Isles, or whether those people instead came from somewhere else (the map below is meant to be representative of the global distribution before 1500 CE).
The two relevant lineages are haplogroup J and haplogroup R. The SNP markers of the former, J, are found most predominantly among speakers of Semitic languages in the Levant. J is the haplogroup most strongly associated with Israelite ancestry, while representatives of haplogroup R are found almost exclusively in Europe and Asia, where Indo-European languages flourished. The most recent common ancestor between haplogroups J and R is haplogroup IJK, which split off into IJ (progenitor of J) and K (progenitor of R, via K(xLT), via P) some 45,000 years ago. That’s long before the Hebrews coalesced into a discernible collection of tribes out of the Canaanite hill people from which they descended–long before there were Canaanites to descend from. We’re talking the Stone Age, here; I mean, this was before agriculture–before the extinction/absorption of Neanderthals! That’s how incredibly long ago these two haplogroups diverged from a common ancestor. They are about as unrelated as you can get within the same species.
Now, did you notice from the map that haplogroup J is nonexistent in the British Isles? The descendants of the Israelites did not end up there. Case closed.
So we see that the genetic evidence follows fairly closely the linguistic evidence, and both confirm what the historical evidence suggests: that the Israelite exiles were not removed (and did not migrate) far from where they were taken to by the Assyrians–certainly not to the British Isles. Taken together these evidences present an ironclad case against British Israelism.
Oh, SNAP! This Key Broke!
What? I didn’t even hit it that hard!
Armstrong asserted that British Israelism is the “key” to understanding Bible “prophecy” because so many of those “prophecies” refer to “Israel” rather than the modern nation in which he found himself proselytizing. Well, since we’ve proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the United States and Britain are not the “modern-day nations of Israel”, we have also proved that these passages referring to Israel cannot by any leap of logic be considered to be referring to the United States and/or Britain (or any other modern nation). The mythological “key” of Bible “prophecy” is therefore BROKEN! It is not available for Armstrongists to “unlock” the Bible for the purpose of promoting sadistic fantasies about national destruction and eating babies.
In other words, there’s no such thing as a fucking “soon coming Tribulation”, except in the pea-sized brains of morons and pious frauds who have a hard-on for reading their fantasies into Iron Age propaganda from a book full of superstitious myths. This nonsense has no connection with reality. Now, stop worrying and enjoy your goddamn life.
Recommended reading: The Plain Truth About Armstrongism, by Richard R. Chambers.