God changed Jacob's name to Israel (Genesis 32:28). Each of Israel's twelve sons (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin) were founders of one of the tribes of Israel, the Israelites e.g. from Reuben came the Reubenites, from Levi came the Levites, from Judah came the "Jews." Although the tribe of Joseph was later divided into two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:1-20), the number of tribes in the division of the land (see Tribal Lands) remained at twelve, because the tribe of Levi, as the priesthood, were distributed among the other tribes, and had no allotment of their own.
The Israelites were united as a single kingdom through the reigns of David and Solomon, but after Solomon's death they split into two completely separate and independent kingdoms - the southern kingdom of "Judah," consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (1 Kings 12:21) with their capital at Jerusalem, and the northern kingdom of "Israel," consisting of the other ten tribes, with their capital up in Samaria. Israel and Judah were never united again (see Kings of Israel and Judah). Surprisingly, they even fought wars against each other from time to time (see Jews At War With Israel). A very important fact that many do not realize is that Judah, that is, the Jewish people of today, are only one of the tribes of Israel - while all Jews are Israelites, not all Israelites are Jews.
Because of their forsaking of Him, God permitted the two kingdoms to be destroyed. First, the northern kingdom of Israel was gradually conquered by the Assyrians (see Ancient Empires - Assyria), and by 721 B.C. they had practically all been taken into exile to Assyria (2 Kings 17:1-23). The vast majority of them never returned, and have become known as the "Lost Ten Tribes of Israel."
Then, about 135 years later, in 586 B.C., the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians (see Why Babylon?), and the Jews were taken into captivity to Babylon. The original Temple of God in Jerusalem was destroyed at that time (see Temples and Temple Mount Treasures). The people of the southern kingdom of Judah however did return after the Babylonians fell to the Persians (see Ancient Empires - Persia), and their descendants have become the Jewish people of today.
An important point to realize here is that since that return, the religious practices of the Jewish people have evolved into something somewhat different than their ancestors practiced in earlier times. Many traditions and customs were gradually added by authorities such as the Pharisees and Sadducees. By the time of Jesus Christ, when the Jewish authorities accused The Lord of breaking the law, much of which was merely their law, not God's, He rebuked His own people for worshiping God according to their own traditions:
"And He said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men." And He said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!" (Mark 7:6-9 RSV)
The Lord's condemnation was aimed at their religious leadership of that time, not at the people themselves, since most of the first Christians, including Jesus Himself, were Jews.
What Is Anglo-Israelism?
Put most simply, Anglo-Israelism is a theory that explains what happened to the "Lost Ten Tribes" of Israel, where they went, what they did, and who their descendants are today.
A Northward Migration
According to the theory of Anglo-Israelism, also known as British-Israelism, after the Assyrian kingdom was devastated by the Babylonians, the people of the "Lost Ten Tribes" were freed, and most migrated north and northwestward into Europe where they settled and founded the countries known today as Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, (northern) France, (northern) Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, among a possible few others. Many of those in Britain, much later in history, continued their migration and founded what is today the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. As far as Bible prophecy is concerned, according to Anglo-Israelism, these nations are Israel, while the Jewish people are Judah.
Ephraim and Manasseh
Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph, who although actually Israel's grandsons, were adopted by Israel and established on an equal-footing as tribes with their uncles. According to prophecy, Manasseh would become a great single, or independent, nation, while Ephraim would become a great group of nations. According to Anglo-Israelism, the United States of America is Manasseh, while Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the Commonwealth are Ephraim. Anglo-Israelists believe that the wealth and power of these nations is due directly to the Biblical blessings that were bestowed upon Ephraim and Manasseh.
Anglo-Israelists also believe that, although all of the sons of King Zedekiah were killed, the throne of David survived the destruction by the Babylonians through the king's daughters (Jeremiah 43:4-7) who eventually made their way to the British Isles with the prophet Jeremiah. They also believe that the Stone of Scone, which Britain has used in the coronation ceremonies of kings and queens for centuries (it was just recently returned to Scotland, however it will still be made available for future coronations), was also used when David was made king. Further, according to the theory, Britain's Queen Elizabeth is today the current holder of that throne of David, and that she, or her successors, will continue to possess it until the ultimate heir, Jesus Christ, returns to claim it.
Anglo-Israelism has no shortage of critics who do present valid points of argument (without doubt, this study will attract a few dozen of them from all around the world). One could spend an entire lifetime reading the vast amount of work that has been written for, and against, the theory. Human nature, as always, tends to influence one's agreement, or disagreement, with it - those of the nations listed above tend to have an easier time believing it, while those from other countries are much more skeptical. It is however important to make clear that Anglo-Israelism is not about some sort of favoritism, as some critics seem to think, since God does not play favorites. It's about responsibility that some have been given to serve others, and through those blessings, all will be blessed.
All Mixed Up?
One of the critics' most common "proofs" that Anglo-Israelism cannot be true is the mixing of people throughout those nations. For example, they say that the United States cannot be Manasseh because Americans are descended from practically every nation of people on earth. So how can the U.S. be Manasseh when people from all of the other tribes, plus many gentiles, are citizens of the same country?
It's a valid point, except that it ignores that the Israelites have always mixed, with themselves and with gentiles, right from ancient times, and yet the ownership of the allotted territory was not affected. For example, Jesus Christ was of the tribe of Judah, whose allotted lands were to the south around Jerusalem, and yet He lived nearly His entire life up in the north, in Galilee, in the territory of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. His presence there did not affect His status as a Jew, nor did it affect the territorial status of that area. That fact is proven in prophecy: "and leaving Nazareth He went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles - the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned." (Matthew 4:13-16 RSV)
Where Did The Theory Come From?
Although a few modern-day writers are best known for it, some of whom claimed not only to be the first, but to have been given the knowledge directly from God, the theory of Anglo-Israelism is actually centuries old. Here are just a few from a very long list -
What Difference Does It Make?
As far as Prophecy is concerned, it literally makes all of the difference in the world. Many who read The Bible believe that end-time prophecies about "Israel" mean only the small country of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital - although Jerusalem is indeed going to be "ground zero" for the greatest events of the time just prior to The Return Of Jesus Christ, as well as for The Return itself. Anglo-Israelism (a term that this writer would not have chosen) means that, along with God's blessings, the tribulations that were prophesied upon "Israel" are going to affect vastly more people than many now realize.
But Is It True?
As already mentioned, the debate regarding the validity of the theory goes on. It's a very big subject (this study has presented only the barest outline) that one could spend months studying. And even then, it's impossible to know with absolute certainty, just yet, if it's correct.
However, if you're wondering what this writer believes about the theory, if you haven't already guessed, if I were a gambling man (which I'm not), and had a hundred dollars to risk, I'd bet ninety-nine of them that the theory is true.
Fact Finder: Did the blessing that Jacob gave to Ephraim and Manasseh state that they would be called by his name (i.e. Israel), and that they would increase greatly on the earth?