'Israelism in Modern Britain' by Aidan Cottrell-Boyce
by Mikkel S. Kragh
There has not been written many books and articles concerning the history of the people and movements which have believed that the descendants of the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel are the modern western nations. Furthermore, the rather few books and articles which have been written on this subject are virtually all either for or against this belief.
Recently I read Israelism in Modern Britain by Aidan Cottrell-Boyce, published in 2022. The book is about the people and movements in Britain which have believed, and do believe, that the British and related peoples are the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel. What makes this book unique is that it both goes into great details, and also that it truly is a book ABOUT British-Israelism, and not a book for or against British-Israelism.
Aidan Cottrell-Boyce is English and is born in 1987. He completed his PhD in Theology at the University of Cambridge, and has also been a candidate for the Green Party in Watford, a city on the outskirts of Greater London. The Green Party is a Leftist party, so Aidan Cottrell-Boyce can certainly not be accused of being a proponent of British-Israelism. But this is also what makes his history of British-Israelism credible, because he is an outsider who is not an advocate for British-Israelism, and still his book is ABOUT British-Israelism and not for it or against it.
Books and articles on British-Israelism and related beliefs which believe that the Western nations are the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel are almost all either for or against this belief. They are therefore biased, and often very biased. It is therefore refreshing to read an in-depth history of British-Israelism written by an unbiased outsider who doesn't have an axe to grind.
The book is only about 'Israelism' in the UK. Not about 'Israelism' in other countries. There are various groups around the world who have different theologies who believe that the Western nations are the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel. Most of these do not call themselves British-Israelites. For example myself. Even though I do agree with most of what most British-Israelites believe in, I do not consider myself a British-Israelite, because I am Danish and not British. In this book review I will use the terms 'Israelism' and 'Euro-Israelism' for all those various schools of thought who believe the Western European nations and their descendants across the world are Israelites.
Origin of British-Israelism
Those who do an honest study of the history of British-Israelism and related 'Euro-Israelisms' are well aware of the fact that it was started by the Scottish Presbyterian clergyman John Wilson from Ayrshire. John Wilson held a series of lectures on the subject in the 1830's and wrote the book Our Israelitish Origin in 1840. John Wilson's lectures and book started a mass movement of British people who believed they indeed were Israelites. After the death of John Wilson, the torch of British-Israelism was taken up by Edward Hine and Edward Wheeler Bird, a.k.a. Philo-Israel. After them, the various British-Israel associations united in 1919 into the British-Israel-World Federation which is stilll the flagship organization for British-Israelism.
Splintergroups have left the British-Israel-World Federation, and other British-Israel groups have been formed independently. And other groups with different theologies have also achieved various degrees of success. The most successful in terms of the number of people who have believed in it would be the American radio evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong, who formed the World-Wide Church of God. Other schools of thought which have picked up this belief are the Anglo-Israelites, the notorious Christian Identity movement, and in recent decades some Orthodox Jews, and a larger number of Messianic Jews.
Those who write against British-Israelism and related beliefs often make the false claim that British-Israelism, and by extension all other 'Euro-Israelisms', were not started by John Wilson, but rather by one Richard Brothers. Richard Brothers wrote a book in 1794 where he said that a minor part of the British people descended from the Lost 10 Tribes, but that the British nation as a whole did not. Brothers also claimed that he was some sort of latter-day Elijah or Messiah ben Joseph who would lead the British Hebrews to Palestine and set up a kingdom in Jerusalem. Brothers also prophesied of the death of the King of England and the end of the monarchy, and because of this latter false claim – and not because of his belief in the identity of the Lost Hebrews - he was locked up in a psychiatric asylum. His books and false claims did not result in any large number of people believing that the British people were Israelites, so obviously he cannot be said to be the father of British-Israelism. And yet, many people who write against British-Israelism and related beliefs make this false claim. It is therefore nice to read that Aidan Cottrell-Boyce makes it perfectly clear that it indeed was John Wilson who was the father and founder of British-Israelism, and not Richard Brothers.
Just to make it crystal clear who the founder of British-Israelism is: There were several people we know of, before John Wilson, who believed in and wrote about more or less the same message as British-Israelites. But these people and their writings did not start any popular movement which also believed that Westerners were Israelites. Their work did not bear fruit. But John Wilson's work did. Some of the people we know of who believed and wrote that Western Europeans were Israel were:
The French Huguenot counselor and magistrate LeLoyer who in 1590 wrote the book The Ten Lost Tribes,
another French Huguenot Jacques Abbadie who was a pastor in England and Ireland and wrote a book on the subject in 1723,
the Swedish Lutheran pastor Johannes Eurenius who wrote about the subject in the book Atlantica Orientalis from 1751,
as well as the Englishman Richard Brothers who wrote about it in 1794.
The first three did believe that the Western Europeans as nations were Israelitish in their descent, but Richard Brothers only believed that a minority of the Western European nations were of Israelite descent. But the common denominator for these four men is that “they came, they wrote, and then nothing happened”, to paraphrase Julius Caesar's words “I came, I saw, I conquered”. John Wilson's preaching and writing was, on the other hand, fruitful. John Wilson “preached and wrote, and then the British-Israel movement started”.
Notable British-Israelites after John Wilson
As mentioned, the two most influential proponents of British-Israelism in the late 19th century after John Wilson death were Edward Hine and Edward Wheeler Bird.
But there were an abundance of famous and noticeable Brits who believed in British-Israelism. I have studied this subject since 1994, but I have never come across a book that mentions so many Brits who believed in British-Israelism as this one. I haven't read it in any book promoting our Israelite origin, and certainly not in any which is against it. So if you are intered in the history of British-Israelism, or if you are interested in the general history of the people who believed in our Israelite origin, you should get a hold of this book.
Just to give some examples of prominent British-Israelites mentioned in this book. Some of them I have also come across in other books and lectures concerning this subject, but some of them I had never heard of until I read this book:
Admiral Lord John Fisher, First Sea Lord in the Royal Navy: In 1919 he wrote a letter to the Times of London arguing that the headquarters of the newly-formed League of Nations should be in Jerusalem and not Geneva, wherein he wrote that “the only hypothesis to explain why we win in spite of incredible blunders is that we are the lost ten tribes of Israel.” (pp. 7, 64, The Times, 7 May, 1919)
Aidan Cottrell-Boyce confirms a claim which I personally have heard many times when I have talked with British-Israelites in Britain, and that is that “There have long been rumours that the crowned heads of Britain were secret supporters of the British-Israel cause.” (p. 8) Cottrell-Boyce continues that there is one British king who is no longer a secret British-Israel, but a confirmed British-Israelite. And that is King George VI, who was the British king from 1937-1952. He was the father of the late Queen Elizabeth II and the grandfather of the present King Charles III. King George VI was not supposed to be king, but his brother abdicated the British throne in 1936 in order to marry an American commoner. His brother was also a well-known Nazi sympathizer. Before George VI assumed the throne, his name was Duke Albert Frederick Arthur George of York. In 1996 a series of letters from the then Prince Albert were made public. In a letter from 1922, Duke Albert of York, the future King of Britain during WWII, wrote that:
“I am sure that this British-Israelite business is true. I have read a lot about it lately and everything no matter how large or small points to our being 'the Chosen Race.'” (pp. 8-9, The Independent, April 6, 1996)
Princess Alice, Duchess of Athlone (1883-1981), the last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria. For much of her life Princess Alice was the chief patron of the British-Israel movement and attended the annual congress of the BIWF for several decades. (pp. 7-8)
General Sir Walter Walker, Chief of NATO's Northern Command and NATO's Commander in Chief of Allied Forces in Northern Europe from 1969 to 1972. In case of a war with the Soviet Union, General Walker would have become supreme commander of all NATO forces in Norway, Denmark and northern Germany. General Walter Walker was a staunch anti-Communist and British-Israelite as well as a prolific writer in British-Israel various magazines in the 1970's and 1980's. So if WWIII had started between 1969 and 1972, the armed forces of my country, Denmark, would have been under the supreme command of a British-Israelite general! (p. 190)
Lord John Moore-Brabazon was an aviation pioneer and Conservative politician. He was the first resident Englishman to make an officially recognised aeroplane flight in England, which took place on May 2, 1909. He was also a member of the House of Lords, and member of Churchill's cabinet during WWII. (p. 8, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Moore-Brabazon%2C_1st_Baron_Brabazon_of_Tara)
Sir Edward MacMillan “Teddy” Taylor, Conservative MP, was also a British-Israelite and spoke at the BIWF conference in Glasgow in 1976. He was MP from 1964-2005. (p. 9)
Cottrell-Boyce continues to write that the British-Israelite movement has always been the strongest in Northern Ireland, among the Loyalists who want to keep Northern Ireland a part of the United Kingdom. He mentions William Grant, an MP who spoke alongside the British-Israel preacher Maxwell Carnson at a meeting in Belfast in 1931. (p. 9, https://www.orangeheritage.co.uk/post/ni-centennial-rt-hon-william-grant-mp-6-april-1883-15-august-1949) The British-Israelite William Grant was both Minister of Security, Minister of Labour and Minister of Health in the government of Northern Ireland.
The MP Robert Bradford was a Methodist minister and MP from 1974-1981, as well as a British-Israelite. He was assassinated by the IRA. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Bradford_(Northern_Irish_politician)
The MP John Dunlop was MP from 1974-1983, and likewise a British-Israelite.
Nelson McCausland is cited as the most prominent British-Israelite in Northern Ireland. Nelson McCausland was Minister of Culture and Minister of Social Development in the Northern Ireland parliament.
Cottrell-Boyce also mentions Clifford Smyth, who besides being a British-Israelite was also a pundit on BBC Northern Ireland and a regular columnist in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper.
Among other prominent Northern Irish British-Israelites, he also mentions the late Pastor Alan Campbell, who was the head of Open-Bible Ministries. When I visited Northern Ireland in 2005, I met Alan Campbell and his congregation and had a wonderful time in Belfast and Northern Ireland. Alan Campbell passed away in 2016. (p. 10)
Another well-known British-Israelite is the poet Patience Strong, whose real name was Winifrid May. She is most known for her poems, most of which were published in the Daily Mirror, to this day one of the leading English newspapers, from the 1940's to the 1970's. Before reading this book, I knew very well about Patience Strong. But Cottrell-Boyce mentions that “many of the poems that Strong published in the pages of the Daily Mirror express definitively British-Israelist sentiments.” For example, on page 7 of the Daily Mirror from the 27th of June, 1940 – during the height of the Battle of Britain – Patience Strong wrote the poem entitled “Israel”:
“The veil is lifted. Now we know our name, our task, our place. God is working out His purpose through the British race. And will set His kingdom up according to the Word. Israel must contend with Satan. Let these truths be heard and understood.” (p. 11, Daily Mirror, 27 June, 1940)
Bob Danvers-Walker was a top media personality in Britain from the 1940's to 1970's. As Cottrell-Boyce writes, his name is practically forgotten now – I had never heard about Danvers-Walker before reading this book – but for several decades his name was familiar to the majority of the British public. He was broadcaster to the British troops on Radio Normandy during the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944. Later he hosted a number of talk shows and game shows, including the British version of Wheel of Fortune and Take Your Pick. Danvers-Walker was also a staunch British-Israelite and spoke at many British-Israel meetings (p. 11)
The Welshman George Jeffreys (1889-1962) was one of the leading voices in the Pentecostal awakening in Britain in the 1910's and founded the Elim Pentecostal Church. George Jeffreys was also a firm British-Israelite. This, among other things, caused him to leave the church he had founded and start a new church in 1939. Before his death, George Jeffreys was visited by a 21 year old German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, and passed on “his mantle” to Bonnke. Reinhard Bonnke went on to become one of the most successful evangelists in Africa. (pp. 75-76)
British-Israel & the Jews
British-Israelites' view on the Jews have been quite diverse. According to Cottrell-Boyce, most early British-Israelites were either pro-Jewish or very pro-Jewish, especially after Britain took Jerusalem from the Turks in 1917 and Palestine became a British protectorate. But after the Jews in Palestine launched a number of terrorist attacks against the British forces in Palestine, which culminated in the proclamation of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948, British-Israel attitudes towards the Jews cooled down.
Still, according to Cottrell-Boyce, British-Israelites have never been really anti-Jewish. There are some people who are not British-Israelites who believe that the Western nations are Israelites and who are outright anti-Jewish, such as the Christian Identity movement in the U.S., but British-Israelites have a different view on the Jews than these people do.
The decline of British-Israel in the 1970's
I once talked with a Danish evangelical pastor about our Israelite origin, and he said that the reason that British-Israelism and the belief in our Israelite origin declined in popularity was because of the founding of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948. This pastor also happened to be a member of an Evangelical Christian Zionist church.
But in his book, Cottrell-Boyce writes that the British-Israelite movement prospered and continued to be a noticeable part of the mainstream in Britain, albeit a fringe part of the mainstream, until app. 1970, and that the popularity of British-Israelism marked its high point in the 1950's and 1960's. But from app. 1970 British-Israelism began a decline in popularity and has never reached the popularity it enjoyed in the late 1800's and the first half of the 1900's. (p. 70)
The claim that British-Israelism lost popularity because of the founding of the Jewish State of Israel therefore is to be incorrect.
Teutonists & anti-Teutonists
The British-Israelite movement was started by the Scotsman John Wilson who held a series of lectures on the subject in the 1830's and wrote the book Our Israelitish Origin in 1840. In this book, John Wilson wrote that the Germans were also Israelites, just like the British and Scandinavians. The two most influential British-Israelites who succeeded John Wilson were Edward Hine and Edward Wheeler Bird, a.k.a. Philo-Israel. Edward Hine took the extremely different position and claimed that ONLY the British people were the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel, and that neither Germans nor Scandinavians nor the Dutch nor the French were Israelites. Edward Wheeler Bird took the middle ground position and believed that the Lost 10 Tribes were to be found in Britain, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, but that the Germans were NOT Israelites.
The British-Israelites who saw the Germans as Israelites were called the 'Teutonists', while the ones who did not view the Germans as Israelites were called 'anti-Teutonists'. Since Germany started to compete with the UK to become the dominant power in Europe after the reunification of Germany in 1871, it is the 'anti-Teutonist' school which had dominated British-Israelites. After the end of WWII, more British-Israelites have started to view Germans as Israelites, but as far as I know most still do not.
Is Israelism an excuse for nationalism?
An often repeated claim by those who attack British-Israelism and related beliefs is that it is simply an excuse for white nationalism, or 'jingoism with Biblical sanction'. But Aidan Cottrell-Boyce rejects this claim, and writes that Israelism is not an excuse for nationalism or for promoting imperialism when Britain had an empire. Rather, he says that Israelism is 'allo-semitism'. Allo-semitism means that you mirror yourself in the Jewish people and see yourself as living a parallel existence with the Jews, but not replacing the Jews. Cottrell-Boyce writes that because British-Israelites are allo-semitic, they view themselves and the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel as living a parallel existence with the Jews, and not superseding or replacing the Jews as Israel. Cottrell-Boyce also writes that allo-semitism also explains why British-Israelites can both have certain positive as well as negative views of the Jewish people at the same time, because they view themselves as living parallel with the Jewish people, but different than the Jewish people. In other words, they view the Jews as equals, but different than themselves.
If you already believe that the Western nations are Israelites, this accusation by opponents might mean nothing to you, because you know it is a false claim. But it is nice to hear that it indeed is false by an outsider who is neither for or against British-Israelism.
Aidan Cottrell-Boyce's book is an unexpected detailed, honest and unbiased look at the world of British-Israelism in Britain. It puts to shame some of the false claims of the opponents of British-Israelism and related 'Israelisms'. But it also hightlights the unfortunate fact the the British-Israel movement in Britain is far less popular than used to be.
This, however, should not just be a cause of concern for Israelites. It should also be recognised as a sign that God's intervention in human affairs is nigh. Prior to the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were in a hopeless situation, but it was the time that the God of Israel intervened on behalf of His people. In the first two decades after the birth of Christ, God's people were more or less reduced to Judah – just one or two of the 12 tribes of Israel - and most of the religious Jews of those days even followed a seriously corrupted version of the Law Moses. Not only were God's people tiny and corrupted, but they were also ruled by pagan Romans. And yet, this pretty hopeless time was the time when God chose to intervene by personally incarnating Himself into the Son of Man Jesus Christ.
The times we are living in are both full of godlessness and hopelessness. But this should not just be a cause of concern. It should also be a sign for God's people that the Final End Times and the 2nd Coming of Christ is on our doorsteps.