English. Are they Jews?

One of the weirdest historical claims  is the idea that the Anglo-Saxon peoples  of England and the US are descendants  of the Ten Lost Tribes. The British-Israelite  movement was a catch-name for the  diverse individuals and groups that believed  in the idea. The movement thrived  during the last decades of the 19th century,  when the powerful British Empire  seemed a good candidate for membership  in the Chosen Nation. At the beginning  of the 20th century, the movement may  have enjoyed a membership of some two  million in England and the United States.  But nowadays, with Britain a shadow of  its former glory and the United States a  nation of many nations, the British-Israelite  movement has dwindled to perhaps  twenty or thirty thousand adherents  worldwide. No one has bothered to count.
Rooted in Madness
Strangely enough, one of the first advocates  of the idea of the British-Israelite  concept was a Frenchman. In 1590,  French magistrate M. Lelayer published  a long volume titled The Lost Ten Tribes  Found, which theorized that the lost tribes  had coalesced into the English speaking  peoples. Almost sixty years later, an Englishman,  John Sadler, repeated the idea in  his book, Rights of the Kingdom.  But it took a madman to popularize the  concept. Believing that he was destined  to lead the English people to the Promised  Land, Richard Brothers (1757-1824)  “proved” this theory in his 1794 work,  A Revealed Knowledge of the Prophecies  and Times. This book purported to  be “the fi rst sign of Warning for the benefit of All Nations; containing with other  great and remarkable things not revealed  to any other Person on Earth, the Restoration  of the Hebrews to Jerusalem by the  year of 1798 under their revealed Prince  and Prophet, Richard Brothers.”
The crown regarded Brother’s claim  as treasonous and he was thrown into prison on the grounds of criminal insanity.  Brothers scrawled a number of pamphlets  in jail, which gained him many followers,  until he made the fatal mistake of  claiming he would be revealed as Prince  of the Hebrews on a precise date — November  19, 1795. When the promised  date came and went without incident, his  disappointed constituency evaporated  into thin air.
Ashamed to trace their origins to a  madman, present day English-Israelites  deny Brothers was founder of their doctrine.  “This is not British-Israel belief,”  they protest. “We teach that it is the royal  family of Great Britain who are descended  from King David, not Richard Brothers.”  Instead, they claim as granddaddy  the imaginative J. Wilson, whose work,  Our Israelitish Origin (1845), neatly  split the Hebrews of the world into two  groups: the Ten Tribes (Anglo Saxons)  supposedly on the road to world dominion,  and the tribe of Yehuda (the Jews)  who were still suffering persecution for  their past sins.
English-Israelites’ proofs for their beliefs  are generally absurd. They prove  that the Ten Tribes would end up in the  cold climate of England from the verse,  “They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither  shall the heat nor sun smite them  (Yeshayahu 49:10). They even recruit alcoholism  for the cause, citing Yeshayahu  28:2, which refers to the Lost Ten Tribes  as the Drunkards of Ephraim. “This  means they must be found in alcohol consuming  countries,” the argument goes.  “The USA, Australia, Britain, and related  nations fi t the bill along with other attributes  unique to themselves… The British,  Americans, and Australians are amongst  the foremost consumers of alcohol in the  world both in absolute numbers and per  capita consumption.”
British Israelites placed great weight  on verses that mention islands, obviously  referring to the British Isles. A popular  example is the verse from Yeshayahu (11:11): “On that day Hashem will extend  His hand yet a second time to recover  the remnant left of His people from Assyria,  from Egypt… and from the islands  of the sea.”
British-Israelites also sought avidly  for lingual similarities between Hebrew  and English. The word “British” seemed  similar to Brit Ish (Man of the Covenant),  and “Saxon” was contorted into  the phrase “Saac’s (Isaac’s) son. They  pointed out that berry is similar to pri, kid  to gedi, scale to shakal, kitten to katan,  and jig to chag. The termination “ish” in  English was related to ish (man). Accordingly,  Spanish means “man of Spain” and  English means “man of England.” One  critic found such claims a trifle childish.
As for the historical connection between  the British and the Ten Tribes, it  went something like this: When the Ten  Tribes were moved to Babylon, simultaneously,  according to Herodotus, the  Scythians (an Iranian people), including  the tribe of the Saccæ, appeared in the  same district. These progenitors of the  Saxons afterward passed over into Denmark—  the ‘mark’ or country of the tribe  of Dan—and thence to England. Tephi,  a descendant of the royal house of David,  arrived in Ireland, according to the  native annals. 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 forever and ever’ (II Divrei Hayomim  13:5; Jewish Encyclopedia).
“Altogether,” the Jewish Encyclopedia  concludes, “by the application of wild  guesswork about historical origins and  philological analogies, and by a slavishly  literal interpretation of selected phrases  of prophecy, a case was 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 United States
The person responsible for introducing  the British-Israelite idea to the United  States was Edward Hine, author of the wildly popular Identification of the  British Nation with Lost Israel (1871)  that sold a quarter of a million copies.  In 1884, Hine left for the United States  to promote the idea that Americans were  descendants of the lost tribe of Menashe  and that England was home to  the lost tribe of Ephraim. Some Americans  were attracted to the idea, despite  the objection of some British Israelites  that Americans could not possibly be  British-Israelites, for they had rebelled  against the British monarch in 1776.  During the 1930s, British-Israelitism  took an ugly turn when a US leader,  Howard B. Rand, integrated it with anti-Semitism. His spiritual heir, Dr. Joseph  Jeffers, constantly urged the lost Ten  Tribes (aka white supremacists) to wage  war against the Zionist occupational  government of America.
Although the idea that Europeans  were descended from ancient Israelites  was publicized in S. Backhaus’ German  book, Di Germanen ein Semitischer  Volksstamm (1878), few Germans were  delighted at the idea of having kinship  with Jews, and during World War II, the  Nazis persecuted adherents of the idea  on the grounds that they were promoting  a Jewish agenda. Many ended up in  concentration camps.
Back to the Land
In tandem with the belief that they  belonged to the Ten Tribes, most early  British-Israelites believed that the Jews  must also return to the Holy Land. They  had a strong Zionist streak. George  Gawler, a prominent British-Israelite,  argued that a loyal Jewish population in  Palestine would enhance communications  and trade in the Middle East; he  accompanied Montefiore to Palestine in  1849, and he helped form the Association  for Promoting Jewish Settlement in  Palestine. His son, John Cox Gawler,  published a blueprint for settlement in  1874 and in 1878, which Jewish settlers  used, with funds from Edmund Rothschild,  to establish a successful colony in Palestine. In 1859, British Israelite Major J.S.  Phillips proposed resettlement of Jews  in the Promised Land with biblical  boundaries. His plans even included  building a railway from Antioch to  the Persian Gulf in accordance with  a verse he interpreted as referring to  railways: The chariots flash with the  fire of steel in the day of his preparation  and the fir trees are shaken terribly.  The chariots rage in the streets,  they jostle one against another in the  broad ways… their appearance is like  torches…they run like lightning (Nachum  2:3-4). British Israelites were exultant  when English Prime Minister Benjamin  Disraeli (of Jewish parenthood)  bought the Suez Canal in the 1870s  with the help of a £4 million loan  from Lionel de Rothschild. At last,  Jews and England were working in  tandem to gain control of the Middle  East. One British Israelite wrote at the  time, “We identify Benjamin Disraeli,  Esq., as one called in a most distinguished  manner to lead the Nation to glory, and by the Identity, we see  clearly how Judah and Israel became  united, how Palestine comes into the  possession of the British Nation.” On the other hand, they viewed the Balfour  Declaration with mixed feelings  since it only promised Palestine to the  Jews. British Israelites were left out in  the cold.
In 1993, a Torah observant Australian  Jew, now residing in Israel,  established Brit-Am, the first Jewish  organization to identify the Ten Tribes  with British related peoples. Although  his organization is unique in using  rabbinical sources to back up the idea,  the arguments of Brit-Am seem much  the same as those used for the past  hundred years.
In 1880 a critic of the British-Israelite concept wrote: “It remains absolutely  unintelligible to outsiders, who  regard with a wonder mixed with disdain  its arguments and its conclusions  alike yet it seems to exercise over a  continually widening circle of adherents  a considerable attraction.” Except  for the fact that the circle of adherents  is no longer continually widening, this  critique seems as germane now as at  the time it was written.

(Sources: Richard Simpson, “The  Political Influence of the British-Israel  Movement in the Nineteenth Century,”  Victorian Studies 30th September,  2002; Wikipedia.)

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