3 British Israelism

British Israelism

   British israelism (also known as Anglo-israelism) is a pandenominational movement advocating the notion that the people of northern and western Europe, especially Great Britain, are the literal descendants of the ancient israelite people, specifically the fabled Ten Lost Tribes of israel. The Anglo-Saxon nations were thus the inheritors of God's promises to the ancient Israelites and destined to rule the world. While a number of similar ideas were expressed as early as the 17th century, it was first presented as a full-blown concept by Richard Brothers (1757-1824), who also claimed direct descent from King David of Israel.
   A more sober treatment of the idea emerged in 1840, when John Wilson (1779-1870) published his lectures on Our Israelitish Origin. Wilson had gathered as much supporting data as was then available from linguistic, archaeological, and historical sources. His book circulated throughout the English-speaking world and drew support from among various Protestant bodies. Later in the century, Edward Hine (1825-91) tied British Israelism to pyramidology, a belief that the Great Pyramid of Giza conceals secret meanings in its design and measurements.
   Hine formed the British Israel Identity Corporation in 1878, which in 1919 merged into the British Israel World Federation in the United Kingdom. Canadian affiliates were organized as early as 1907. The oldest American group seems to be the Anglo-Saxon Federation of America formed in 1928 by Howard Rand. other groups appeared in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
   British Israelism found confirmation in the 19th century expansion of the British Empire. By the beginning of the 20th century, it was finding further confirmation in various racist and white supremacist theories. In the latter half of the 20th century, it became associated with some of the more radical racist and anti-Semitic groups in North America.
   In the 1930s, British Israelism was adopted by evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong, whose Worldwide Church of God became in the 1980s the most successful organization ever to advocate the idea, circulating hundreds of thousands of copies of Armstrong's book, The United States and Britain in Prophecy. The Worldwide Church disavowed British Israelism, but it is still taught in successor groups such as the Living Church of God, the United Church of God, and the Philadelphia Church of God.
   The more racist and violent trend within the world of British Israelism is called the Identity movement, which is generally traced to the scurrilous anti-Semite Gerald L. K. Smith (18981976) and his follower Wesley Swift, who brought Sacred Name teachings into the movement. Swift founded the Church of Christ Christian (later adding the words of Aryan Nations).
   Mainstream Protestant leaders began to distance themselves from British Israelism in the 19th century and made serious efforts to refute it at the beginning of the 20th. They condemned its non-Trinitarian theology, but focused even more on the bad science and history behind claims for a physical relationship between Anglo-Saxons and the ancient Israelites. British Israelism has suffered greatly from the demise of the British Empire and the findings of modern archaeology, which clearly refute their ideas. The Identity movement has been additionally discredited by its association with racial violence.
   Further reading:
   ■ Herbert W. Armstrong, The United States and Britain in Prophecy (Pasadena, Calif.: Worldwide Church of God, 1981), various editions; Michael Barkun, Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994)
   ■ Anton Drams, The Delusion of British-Israelism (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, n.d.)
   ■ Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Press, 1981)
   ■ John Wilson, Our Israelish Origins (Philadelphia: Daniels & Smith, 1950).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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