British Israelites

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BRITISH ISRAELITES , advocates of the Anglo-Israeli theory, which maintains that the English and their ethnic kinfolk throughout the world are descended from the *Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. The theory is based on bizarre theological and linguistic assumptions. Christianity's claim to be the "New Israel" is reinforced by the legend that Joseph of Arimathea established an English church predating that of Rome; the belief that British monarchs, seated at their coronation on the Stone of Scone, are thus in fact consecrated by the patriarch Jacob's stone of Bethel; and the old Puritan idea that the English have refought Israel's battles against God's enemies. By a selective and – according to currently accepted criteria – utterly unscientific interpretation of the Scriptures, British Israelites are able to "prove" that the Japhetic Cymri or Cimmerians are the ancient Britons (Berit-Ish, or "Men of the Covenant") and the Saxons, "Isaac's Sons," while the wanderings of the "lost" tribe of Dan are traced from the Dnieper to Denmark and those of the Gadites, from Gotland to Cambria.

Anglo-Israelism's first manifesto was issued by the Puritan Member of Parliament John Sadler, author of Rights of the Kingdom (1649), but the movement began to gather force only at the end of the 18th century, when Richard *Brothers, a messianic prophet and self-styled "Nephew of the Almighty," began publishing a series of pamphlets. A later writer, Edward Hine, published the bestselling Forty-seven Identifications of the British Nation with the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel (1871), by which time Anglo-Israelism had crystallized into an organized movement. The British Israel World Federation, with headquarters in London, claims hundreds of thousands of supporters in English-speaking countries; but a kindred organization in the U.S., the Anglo-Saxon Federation of America, exploited antisemitism in order to further its claims. Anglo-Israelism has become part of the doctrine of various Christian sects, for example, the Mormon church. In recent years the long-established British Israelite movement has unquestionably dwindled in size, consistent with a loss of certainty about Britain's special status and the decline of unscientific ethnic theories.


Hyamson, in: jqr, 15 (1902/03), 640–76; A. Heath, A Reply [to] H.L. Goudge, The British Israel Theory (1933); C. Roth, The Nephew of the Almighty (1933); J.C. James, Hebrew and English: Some Likenesses, Psychic and Linguistic (1957).

[Godfrey Edmond Silverman]

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British Israelites

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