A Short Critique of Herbert W. Armstrong’s British-Israelism
The United States and Britain in Fantasy
Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986), one of the most popular and controversial radio and television evangelists of the twentieth century, was one of the better known proponents of the teaching known as Anglo- or British-Israelism. His most popular book on the subject was The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy. According to this theory, there is a distinction between Jews and Israelites; the descendants of the Israelites are now the white, English-speaking peoples of Britain, the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc., as well as the majority of the people living in northwestern Europe; the above nations are the Israel of Bible prophecy, and the British Royal family is Jewish and descended from King David of Israel.
If any Worldwide Church of God doctrine can be considered Herbert W. Armstrong’s pet teaching more than any other, perhaps this is it. Armstrong was not, however, its originator. According to Ruth Tucker, the idea that British ancestry could be traced to ancient Israel originated in the seventeenth century with a man named John Sadler.
Later, Canadian-born Richard Brothers (1757-1824) claimed a right to the British throne based on his assertion that he was a descendant of King David of Israel. Brothers was committed to an asylum. In 1840, a man named John Wilson published a restatement of Brothers’ ideas in Our Israelitish Origin. This restatement of the probably mentally deranged Brothers’ ideas served to popularize the view. In 1902, J. H. Allen wrote a book called Judah’s Sceptre and Joseph’s Birthright. J. Gordon Melton writes: "Through the efforts of Merritt Dickinson, who had read and accepted the arguments in Allen, Anglo-Israel thought entered the Church of God (Seventh Day) [though it was not accepted as an official teaching of that church]." Armstrong, once associated with the Church of God (Seventh Day), based his book The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy (later renamed The United States and Britain in Prophecy) largely on Allen’s book.
As founder and "apostle" of the Worldwide Church of God, Armstrong considered British-Israelism to be one of most important doctrines in his church. Writing in the late 1970s of what he considered the treasonous watering down of the church’s teachings behind his back, Armstrong criticized those who tried to minimize this teaching: "Church teachings were being changed. The most resultful booklet of all, The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy, was attacked, greatly deleted and later put out of circulation." Armstrong ordered that the full-length version of the book be circulated once again.
As is all Anglo-/British-Israelism, Herbert W. Armstrong’s belief concerning the modern identity of Israel is heavily based on a mix of sloppy scholarship and pure myth. Yet, incredibly, Herbert Armstrong called this fantasy "the vital key necessary to unlock closed doors of biblical prophecy" and "the strongest proof of the inspiration and authority of the Holy Bible!" Armstrong even went so far as to claim, "It is, at the same time, the strongest proof of the very active existence of the living God!"
The United States and Britain in Prophecy was one of Armstrong’s larger works and to refute it point-by-point would take a good-sized volume. Fortunately, it is not necessary for our purpose to go into every particular to prove Armstrong’s claims false. Picking out only a few points will suffice.
First, an examination of some of the myths that Armstrong preached will help convey the flavor of this wild hypothesis. One was that the tribe of Irish mythology that Armstrong continually misspelled as the "Tuathe De Danaan" or "Tuatha De Danaan" was Israel’s tribe of Dan having migrated to Ireland. Armstrong claims, "Tuatha De means the ’people of God.’ The name Dunn in the Irish language, for example, means the same as Dan in the Hebrew: judge." The implication is that the name of this Irish tribe identifies it as the biblical tribe of Dan.
In reality, Tuatha Dé Danann (correct spelling) means "people of the goddess Danu." In Irish legend, the Tuatha Dé Danann were the fourth race to invade Ireland. According to Françoise Le Roux and Christian-J. Guyonvarc’h writing in The Encyclopedia of Religion, "They came from the north, according to a very old Hyperborean tradition." Israel is, of course, not to the north of Ireland.
The accounts of the Tuatha Dé Danann sound like they are straight out of "sword and sorcery" fiction. Apparently so as not to ruin his credibility, Armstrong never related the entire legend. Notice these far-fetched highlights from the Encyclopedia of Religion: The Tuatha Dé Danann invade Ireland, take it from the Fir Bholg, and "defend it against the demonic Fomhoire." They divide the land with the Goidels, "the Goidels on the surface of the earth and the Tuatha Dé Danann within the hills and beneath the lakes...symbolic and concrete representations of the otherworld." When Lugh (the shining one) enters Tara, the Tuatha Dé Danann’s royal court, "he enumerates all his abilities to the doorkeeper druid and is allowed to enter precisely because he possesses together all the capabilities of the other gods."
We have gone this far with the description only to impress the complete fantasy with which we are dealing. Yet this is one part of a doctrine that Armstrong says proves the existence of God!
After saying the tribe of Dan went to Ireland, Armstrong says that the prophet Jeremiah later joined them. According to this story, Jeremiah brought with him a stone that is supposedly the stone beneath the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey in London. British monarchs spend part of the coronation ceremony sitting on this chair with the stone beneath them. According to legend, this stone is "Jacob’s pillar stone," the stone upon which Jacob had his dream of a stairway to heaven on which angels were ascending and descending (Genesis 28:10-22). In reality, this stone has been proven to be from Scotland.
Jeremiah also brought to Ireland, according to Armstrong, the daughter of Zedekiah, king of Judah. When this daughter married the son of the king of Ireland, the Jewish royal family descended from King David was successfully transplanted to the British Isles. Eventually this Jewish royal lineage entered the British Royal family. The lineage of Queen Elizabeth II, then, goes back to King David of Israel.
All this is a twisted version of various legends. Yet, by this, Armstrong tries to prove that a descendant of King David is still sitting on a throne over the people of Israel (according to Armstrong, the British). This is based on Armstrong’s understanding of Jeremiah 33:17: "For thus saith the Lord; ’David shall never want [fail to have] a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel.’" After also quoting verses 25-26, Armstrong writes: "Unless you can stop this old earth from turning on its axis—unless you can remove the sun and the moon and stars from heaven, says the Almighty, you cannot prevent Him from keeping His covenant to maintain continuously, through all generations, FOREVER, from the time of David and Solomon, a descendant of David in one continuous dynasty on that throne!"
2. Herbert W. Armstrong, "Seven Proofs of the True Church, [part one]," The Good News, November 20, 1978, pp. 13, 16. This information is also found throughout Herbert W. Armstrong’s The United States and Britain in Prophecy. The edition used for this critique is the ninth edition (Pasadena, CA: Worldwide Church of God, 1986), November 1986 printing. Return
3. Ruth A. Tucker, Another Gospel, Alternative Religions and the New Age Movement (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1989), p. 207. Return
4. J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America, (New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1986), p. 53. Return
5. Herbert W. Armstrong, "What Is a Liberal?", The Worldwide News, February 19, 1979, p. 3. Return
6. Armstrong, The United States and Britain in Prophecy, pp. 2-3. Return
7. Ibid., p. 98. Return
8. Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 15, (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1987), s.v. "Tuatha Dé Danann." Return
9. Ibid. Return
10. Armstrong, The United States and Britain in Prophecy, pp. 98-102. Return
11. Melton, Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America, p. 59. Return
12. Armstrong, The United States and Britain in Prophecy, pp. 100-102. Return
13. Ibid., pp. 55-57. Return
Copyright © 1993-2009 Peter Ditzel