One of the basic doctrines of Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert Armstrong was “British-Israelism,” also known as “Anglo-Israelism.” This theory says the Anglo-Saxon people of the United States and British Commonwealth are descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, which were carried into captivity by the Assyrians in 732 and 721 BC. According to this remarkable theory, the northern tribes of Israel lost their language, adopted different customs, and migrated into Europe where they settled in northwest Europe, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. The United States and the British Commonwealth are identified as the descendants of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were to become a “nation and a company of nations” (Gen 48:19). The tribe of Dan, in accord with prophecy and scriptural precedent (Josh 19:47; Judges 18:11-12; 18:29), is believed to have left its name’s “mark” in various areas of its tribal peregrinations, i.e. the Danube River, the Don River, Denmark, and so on. Early settlers of Ireland called the “Tuatha de Danaan” are also identified as of the seafaring tribe of Dan (Judges 5:17). A sheet used internally in Ambassador College classes gave suggested, less certain identities for the ancestries of other European nations as follows: Belgium is the tribe of Asher; Finland is Issachar; France is Reuben; Iceland and Norway are Benjamin; the Netherlands is Zebulon; Sweden is Naphtali; and Switzerland is Gad.
Jeremiah, the prophet, is believed to have transported a Tea-Tephi, daughter of king Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, to Ireland to marry into the line of a Prince Herremon, thus continuing Israel’s royal lineage. This royal line then continued unbroken through transfers to Scotland and finally England, where it continues down to the present day with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles. In this way biblical promises to David that his kingly line would never cease to reign on earth are believed fulfilled.
Herbert Armstrong wrote a book explaining the Anglo-Israel theory, which came to be titled The United States and Britain in Prophecy. It is probably the most persuasive presentation of Anglo-Israelism in existence. It certainly spread the idea more widely than any other means. The 1986 edition contained the impressive statistic that over 5,025,000 copies of this book had been distributed in the English language since 1942, not counting editions in Dutch, French, German, Norwegian, and Spanish. I would say the Anglo-Israel belief and Herbert Armstrong’s book on the topic was instrumental in more conversions to the Worldwide Church of God than any other single doctrine or piece of literature. In the earliest versions of the book Armstrong claimed the knowledge of modern Israel’s prophetic identity was specially and divinely revealed to him as the key to understanding end-time prophecy, not learned from any man. Even the 1986 edition retained statements such as “The Lost Master Key Has Been Found” (title of the first chapter), and “The prophecies come alive once their doors are opened by this now discovered master key!” (pp. 3-4). In fact, the majority of Herbert Armstrong’s book was copied, without footnote or acknowledgement, in many passages word for word, from an earlier book entitled Judah’s Sceptre and Joseph’s Birthright, written by Joseph H. Allen (first edition 1902). Surprisingly, this earlier literary source for Herbert Armstrong’s book was sold openly at the Ambassador College student bookstore at Big Sandy when I was there, and was purchased and read by many students. Successive revisions of Herbert Armstrong’s book published by the Worldwide Church of God never included this bibliographic reference, nor, incidentally, any information on how readers could check or even find another set of sources relied upon for the theory, the annals of ancient Ireland.
A brief word of explanation for the uninitiated
The appeal of Anglo-Israelism is fundamentally this: the prophetic portions of the Bible (which is the inerrant Word of God) are believed to be written for the end-time, which, as is plain to see, is now. Given the impeccable logic of this starting point, it is considered inconceivable that the United States–so dominant in the world today–would not play some central role in biblical prophetic texts dealing with the end-time. Now an external observer might suggest that seeing one’s own country as “Israel” is not the only conceivable option here. It is at least theoretically conceivable (the external observer might suggest) that one could go a different logical direction, and look at parallels between the United States of today and biblical imagery associated with one or another of the mighty gentile empires of old. Say for example Babylon, which turns up in the book of Revelation as a mighty end-time power who rules the world and its seas, and the reaction to whose downfall at the end sounds like that video of Osama Bin Laden laughing about the fall of the Trade Towers in New York City.
Critical scholars will tell you that the overheated images of Revelation and the allusion at Rev 18:20 to the saints laughing uproariously at the mighty city Babylon and its civilians within it going up in smoke is simply first century AD Christians absolutely gleeful about Rome burning to the ground–nothing at all to do with today. Therefore, these critical scholars try in vain to tell the fundamentalists of today, one can’t just go around saying that “Babylon” of Revelation is this or that power in the world today, far removed in time and space from those texts’ original context. (But then, “Babylon” already was being used as a cipher for some contemporary power at the time of the book of Revelation–so updating of ancient prophecies to one’s current last days is nothing new. If it was OK to reuse “Babylon” for an end-time then, what’s wrong with a few more reuses of “Babylon” in later end-times?–the fundamentalist might respond to the critical scholars.)
Of course not all ancient gentile superpowers were bad. There was an occasional good one [from the perspective of the Bible], like Cyrus’s Persia. One could have America be a good gentile superpower, if that is more to taste. But Herbert Armstrong did not go in any of these directions, of seeing the world’s superpower at the end time as reflected in biblical prophecies of end-time superpowers. Herbert Armstrong saw America not as ancient Assyria or Babylon or Persia allegorically replicated on the world stage today, but instead as … Israel, and not as metaphor but by genetic descent.
The argument that the United States is Israel basically consists of the following four points. First, some of the florid prophecies of physical blessings and greatness to Abraham’s descendants, if the wording is taken completely literally, it is argued, were not completely fulfilled by Israel anciently. Second, the house of Israel and the house of Judah were separate and never reunited. Third, prophecies concerning the house of Israel in the end-time show them to be in captivity, which means they must exist in our time as an identifiable people (and distinct from the Jews). And fourth (you already heard this once, but it won’t hurt you to hear it again), the greatest nation on earth in our time would not be ignored in Bible prophecy. Within this ideological template, the rest is more or less filling in the blanks. For good measure one will want to rig up a bit of ancient history to undergird it, stir thirty minutes, and cook until done.
Those were the days
“For over thirty-five years, on the WORLD TOMORROW program, and in the PLAIN TRUTH magazine, I have been shouting God’s prophecies to our people–that we are going to have such total DROUGHT and disease epidemics that it will take one third of our people! And, unless our people as a nation wake up and REPENT of these SINS, we shall be INVADED, and once more TAKEN CAPTIVE AS SLAVES! You may scoff. You may ignore. But NOT FOR LONG! In the near future it will STRIKE! You won’t scoff then!” (Herbert Armstrong, Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?, 1971)
Herbert Armstrong began his ministry in the early 1930s in the years leading up to American involvement in World War II. Herbert Armstrong broadcast a prophetic picture that saw a Mussolini-led revived Holy Roman Empire conquering Britain and America, the modern house of Israel. Israel (Britain and America) would be reduced to national captivity as punishment for its sins. In this, Herbert Armstrong departed from traditional Anglo-Israel or British-Israel teaching. Most Anglo-Israelites modestly saw the British Empire as the Kingdom of God on earth and destined for increased prosperity. According to articles in early issues of the Plain Truth, Mussolini, not Hitler, was to be the world-ruling Beast. This was because Mussolini was Italian or Roman.
The Axis powers were portrayed as the final revival of the Holy Roman Empire which was to be the end-time Beast Power. Hitler would become subordinated to Mussolini, who would take over Axis leadership. The Catholic Church would become allied with the Axis powers. The forces of Mussolini and the Pope would convene on Jerusalem, there meeting eastern armies in battle, which would be interrupted by the return of Christ. Detailed predictions were made for the outcome of specific battles and military strategies, which, however, all failed to materialize. A date for the return of Christ was set for 1936, 2520 years after 585 BC. (Armstrong believed the “times of the gentiles” had begun with the fall of Jerusalem in 585 BC.) Christ didn’t show up at the appointed time. When Mussolini was killed by Italian partisans, Herbert Armstrong said Hitler would be the prophesied Beast instead. Hitler would be victorious in his Russian invasion. Then he would turn on Britain and America and reduce our nations to captivity.
Again, things didn’t turn out as Herbert Armstrong predicted. World War II ended in victory for the Allies, instead of the predicted defeat and captivity. Hitler and Germany were in ashes, not dominating the world. But Herbert Armstrong did not give up. He did not believe his prophetic understanding had been wrong. Instead, after the Nazi defeat, Armstrong became convinced Hitler was really alive and in hiding in South America. The final beast, who “was and is not” (Rev 17:11), lived. World War II had merely set the stage for the true scenario which would be World War III. A revived Germany would lead a reunited Europe, which would be a Catholic-endorsed final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire. This German-led European power would carry Britain and America into national captivity. One-third of Britons and Americans would be killed in war. One-third would die of pestilence and disease. The remaining one-third of the people would be taken into captivity, deported over to Europe as slaves, and undergo a repeat of the Nazi concentration camps (Ezek 5:12). Germany might be devastated from war damage at the moment, but Germany would rise again and return to ascendancy. Hitler would return to lead the revived Nazis. Fueling Armstrong’s theory of a secretly alive Hitler (besides the absence of his body–he had been cremated) was Revelation 13:3, which says the whole world would “wonder” at his (believed) resurrection from a deadly wound to the head. (The world was under the impression Hitler died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.) The German people were identified as descendants of the ancient Assyrians. The coming captivity of the United States and Britain at the hands of the Germans would be a repeat of the ancient Assyrian conquest of the house of Israel. This is the background to why Herbert Armstrong focused upon Germany, rather than the more common fundamentalist Christian target of that time, the Soviet Union, as the coming evil empire and mortal enemy of America.
By the time I came to Ambassador College as a student in the early 1970s, the belief that a surviving Hitler would return to become world dictator had been dropped for obvious reasons of age. But the Beast’s nationality as German, heading a German-led United Europe and destined to be America’s and Britain’s captors, remained just as strong. West and East Germany would be reunited. The Beast would be a new German strongman. Particular attention was focused on West Germany’s right-wing Franz Josef Strauss (1915-1988) of varying political fortunes as a potential candidate for world Beast. West Germany’s surprising post-war economic recovery and ascendance were eagerly monitored. Plain Truth articles reported on the development of the Common Market and moves toward European unity. Herbert Armstrong frequently reminded his listening audience that he had predicted Germany’s recovery to economic and political might even in the face of general postwar despair over the bombed-out nation’s prospects. Now, finally, one of Herbert Armstrong’s predictions was coming true.
It is true that Germany of the postwar era is a friendly ally, not an enemy, of the United States and Britain. But this was no real objection to Plain Truth staff writers and news analysts. They believed West Germany could “change overnight.” The new, industrialized Germany was viewed as a Frankenstein monster built by the West which would bring about the West’s ultimate downfall. (Franz Josef Strauss, incidentally, was invited and came to Ambassador College in Pasadena as an honored guest in 1969, with Worldwide Church of God leaders carefully attempting to conceal from Strauss the real reason for their interest, which was having him pegged as possible future world-ruling Beast!)
With this background I come to the story of my own attempt to improve the Anglo-Israel theory. According to the theory, the United States is identified as Manasseh, oldest son of Joseph. (Joseph, the favored one of Jacob’s twelve sons, inherited the birthright promise which originally had been made to Abraham and passed down through his son and grandson Isaac and Jacob.) The British Commonwealth is identified as from Joseph’s younger son Ephraim. Ephraim was prophesied to exceed his older brother Manasseh in greatness and to become a “company of nations” (Gen 35:11; 48:8-22). The terminology of “Manasseh” meaning the United States, and “Ephraim” meaning the British Commonwealth, though it may sound strange to non-biblically attuned ears, was commonly used in the Worldwide Church of God.
One night in the winter of ’73-’74, while I was at my midnight to 3:00 a.m. student job at the night switchboard, the blinding realization suddenly struck me that the prevailing identification of the United States as Manasseh was wrong! We were not Manasseh but Ephraim! It was Britain who was Manasseh! I saw as clear as day that the church had these identifications precisely the reverse of what they ought to be.
It happened that Mr. Dart was not only the resident administrator at Big Sandy but also personally taught men’s second-year speech class. (Women took a first year of speech class but then home economics after that, not public speaking.) At the time I was struck with my brilliant idea about Ephraim, Mr. Dart had just given our class one of the most memorable speech assignments of the year. This was the “hostile audience” speech, also known as the “heckle speech.” Each of us were to choose a controversial topic for our subject. We would then attempt to persuade our audience to a different point of view than our listeners would normally hold on whatever was the topic. Two students in the class (unknown to the speaker) would be selected by drawing lots to be allowed two heckles apiece during the course of each six-minute speech. The heckles could be any questions or comments one wished to say to interrupt or contradict the speaker. (Plus, Mr. Dart reserved unlimited heckling rights for himself.) Mr. Dart explained that a clear question from an audience normally ought to be addressed by a speaker. But if the question couldn’t be heard or understood, we should simply assume the audience couldn’t hear or understand it either and ignore it. Talk about live drama! Some of the funniest moments of the whole year came during these heckle speeches.
I decided my topic would be to prove the United States was Ephraim instead of Manasseh. Just to make sure I was not stepping out of bounds and being a bit too controversial in challenging a church doctrine in a classroom situation like this, I took the precaution of calling Mr. Dart at home the evening before my speech was scheduled. I asked if he would have any objection to my proposed topic. Mr. Dart responded with a chuckle. He said, “I think you’ll have a hard time proving it, but go ahead.”
Six minutes is not a long time to develop any topic. I knew in that time period I would have to cover ground quickly. The big moment arrived and I launched into my subject. I set up the issue, made one or two points quickly, and was picking up steam when a question came from the audience: “But what about Ezekiel thirty-two verse forty?” (Or whatever the verse was.) I couldn’t mentally place that scriptural reference. I answered, “What about it? What does it say?,” hoping to quickly find out what the point was so I could refute it or use it to further my own purposes and move on. My heckler, Guy Swenson, normally a friend outside the classroom, persisted: “Look it up for yourself!” A second heckler chimed in and demanded an answer to the same verse, too. With valuable time and momentum slipping away, I quickly tried to find the chapter and verse … and discovered it didn’t exist! I had been thrown a chapter and verse number which didn’t exist! I looked up and there was Swenson with a big grin on his face and the rest of the class enjoying the drama as I acidly pointed out I couldn’t answer objections based on verses that don’t exist. I returned to my sequence of argument, but my hecklers had done better than I, and before I knew it my six minutes were over.
In his evaluation, Mr. Dart pointed out I had made a double mistake. The first was asking my heckler what the verse said. That gives the floor to the heckler. A smart heckler will simply seize the opportunity to start making his own speech and the original speaker will be without an audience. Second, when I didn’t get an answer when I asked what the original verse said, I should have treated it like any other unintelligible question or comment, ignored it, and proceeded as before. Of course my subject was too broad for six minutes. As for my argument itself, Mr. Dart commented that Britain as Ephraim, as the leading tribe, would also lead the rest of Israel in its decline.
In spite of the above comic relief I forged ahead with my research over the coming months. I wrote a lengthy, formal paper on the subject at my parents’ home in Akron, Ohio, at the end of that summer in 1974. My paper was entitled “The United States in Prophecy: The Case for Identifying the United States with Ephraim (not Manasseh)” (September 30, 1974).
Lest there be any misunderstanding, I do not hold to these beliefs today. In fact in the next two chapters I intend to thoroughly dismantle the Anglo-Israel argument. Friends have told me, however, that that particular paper was one of the most compelling papers I ever wrote, if one overlooks the slight problem that it is not true. It has produced remarks such as, “You’ve got me convinced the United States is Ephraim, and I don’t even believe in this stuff!” and so on.
The argument that the United States is Ephraim, not Manasseh: how I did it
It starts with the blessing on the biblical patriarch Jacob. In Genesis 35:11, Jacob was promised his progeny would become “a nation and a company (qahal) of nations.” In Genesis 48:19-20 Jacob blesses his two grandsons, Manasseh the older and Ephraim the younger, but Jacob pointedly gives the greater blessing to the younger Ephraim. Jacob said that although the older Manasseh would become “a great nation,” he would be surpassed by his younger brother Ephraim who would become “a fullness (melo) of nations.”
The expression “company of nations,” as the King James Version rendered Gen 35:11, was interpreted by Anglo-Israelites as fulfilled in the British Commonwealth. This is the “trunk of the tree” as to why Britain is identified as Ephraim by Anglo-Israelites.
But, I pointed out, this was based on a misunderstanding. Analysis of the word qahal, “company,” in its uses in the Hebrew Bible shows it is used of armies or assemblies and refers to a single political unit. The plural goiim, “nations,” on the other hand, does not mean multiple political states (as in “British Commonwealth of nations”). Rather, goiim means peoples or tribes or ethnic groups. I read the blessing on Ephraim as that Ephraim would become one political entity (“a company”) consisting of multiple ethnic groups. Therefore “company of nations” is a misleading rendering if “nations” is understood in the modern sense of nation-states. The expression qehal goiim is better rendered “company of peoples” and means a single political entity, a single state, composed of multiple goiim, multiple “tribes.” This is what was promised to the younger Ephraim, who was to be greater than his older brother Manasseh.
The whole key to this, as I saw it then, was in the earlier typical fulfillment of “company of nations” as the ancient house of Israel. Here I have to explain “typical fulfillment” for the benefit of any unfamiliar with this term. The notion of duality of prophecy is central to all who see biblical prophecy as written for the end-time. In this view, the biblical record has earlier, partial fulfillments of prophetic themes. Very commonly there will be a prophecy directed toward a particular ancient empire which is the target of God’s wrath at the moment (according to the prophet). Depictions of disaster to befall the ancient evil ruler or power will be given in florid detail, usually accompanied by or embedded within an oracle foretelling the end of the present order of the world in a cataclysm ushering in a new age. Often these ancient empires did suffer downfalls in agreement with the biblical oracles. (Biblical scholars and historians will tell you that many of these prophecies were written after the fact, ex eventu, and then attributed to earlier times, so that it only looks like fulfilled details of ancient true prophecy.)
But even when there were downfalls of ancient empires that fulfill biblical prophecies, if there is an eschatological overlay to the prophecy, that part of the oracle did not come to pass. (After all, the mere collapses of world-ruling Assyrian or Babylonian empires anciently were not actually associated with the dawning of a new everlasting age of peace, and so on.) The end of the present age continues to be still future, after all of these thousands of years. And so the ancient fulfillments of these prophecies are understood to have been only forerunners, “types,” prototypes, trial runs, or whatever word you want to give it. They illustrate some of the themes of the prophecy (and are useful to study for that reason). But they are not the real fulfillment of those prophecies, which is for our time. This schematic understanding of prophecy is basic within this way of looking at the world. The earlier partial fulfillments long ago in history are “types” or echoes of what is to come. The true fulfillment which will happen in the latter days (that’s our time) is the “antitype.”
I noted that the ancient ten-tribed house of Israel, which was distinct from the southern house of Judah, was the type of the “company of nations” promised to Jacob. The “house of Israel” consisted of multiple distinct ethnic components, the ten tribes. And yet the whole house of Israel was often called (for example throughout much of Hosea) “Ephraim,” by the name of the leading tribe. So “Ephraim” was both the leading tribe of the house of Israel and also the name which came to be used for the whole house of Israel. This was the type, the typical or partial fulfillment, of the “company of nations.” This was my point: the ancient house of Israel was a single political entity. It had multiple tribes or ethnic components, but it was a single political entity. It was not a “commonwealth” of multiple nation-states. It was a single state, analogous to the United States.
In my paper I noted that “United States” means in English, literally, a “company of political states,” and “state” is, of course, used synonymously in English for “nation.” Therefore “United States” is, by a pun, “company of nations” in its very name. Of course the fifty states in the United States are not independent, but then neither were the goiim or “nations” in the earlier fulfillment of “company of nations,” the ancient house of Israel. This I saw as the point missed by Anglo-Israelites. The problem was caused by semantic confusion over the meaning of goiim which is sometimes rendered into English as “nations” and then confused with the modern English use of “nation” as a state, which is not the sense of the Hebrew goiim. I tried to cut through the semantic confusion. The biblical “company of goiim (peoples)” was to be a single nation or political entity, not multiple nations or political entities. This was fulfilled in type by the house of Israel anciently, and, I argued, by the United States today.
The other part of Jacob’s blessing of Genesis 35 was that another part of his descendants would become a single “nation” or people, goi (as in “a nation and a company of nations”). The ancient typical fulfillment of this, I argued, was the house of Judah anciently, which was considered–at least according to one biblical tradition–a single tribe (1 Kgs 11:36; 12:20-21). So qehal goiim is actually misleadingly translated “company of nations.” It does not mean a commonwealth of multiple states. That confuses the biblical meaning of goiim with the modern meaning of “nation” as “political state.” The “company” is the political state foreseen for Ephraim, and it is singular–a single political state. Again, the proof of this, I argued, was in the nature of the ancient typical fulfillment, the house of Israel of old.
“. . . The United Kingdom and the United States. A nation and a company of nations. To those of us who have strongly believed that the United States is Manasseh this requires some adjustment in thinking. The important thing to grasp is that the United States fits both the type and the biblical interpretation of ‘company of nations.’”
After making this positive argument based on the meaning of the expression qehal goiim, I then argued that there were contradictions in the existing view as commonly held. Believers in Anglo-Israelism kept insisting Ephraim was the British Commonwealth, then often in the next breath would speak of Ephraim as if it was just one of those multiple nations, namely the United Kingdom, or even just England.
“. . . Perhaps it seems like belaboring the subject, but it is essential to understand this matter first, as it is the trunk of the tree, and virtually 100 percent of the objections to the identification of the United States with Ephraim are sure to arise from this single point of the ‘company of nations’ Ephraim was to become. Those who support the traditional view must deal with the inconsistency of holding that Ephraim is the British Commonwealth and then applying prophecies concerning Ephraim toward only one of that ‘company of nations’ instead of all of them … The other settlements of Britain are Manassite just as French settlements are French (of Reuben) and Dutch settlements are Dutch (of Zebulon). The fact that Britain has colonies in no way proves she is a company of nations. Britain is a single nation in the same way that other Israelite nations with colonies are still single nations.”
After arguing this foundation, I then argued that other features of the promise to Ephraim pointed to the United States rather than England. Ephraim was younger than Manasseh. Isn’t the United States younger than Britain? Younger Ephraim was to surpass older Manasseh in greatness. “His younger brother (Ephraim) shall be greater than he (Manasseh),” said Jacob. Hasn’t the younger United States surpassed older England in greatness, in that order? Manasseh was to be great first, in relative sequence. Then Ephraim was to be greater, second. (This is Jacob’s blessing sequence, in Genesis.) Wasn’t Britain great first, then the younger United States surpassed Britain in greatness? Ephraim was to have greater population than Manasseh. Hosea 13:15 alludes to Ephraim being “fruitful among his brethren.” The very name Ephraim itself means “doubly fruitful.” Wasn’t Britain’s population (1970s numbers) about 60 million, against the younger United States’ much larger 200 million?
When Isaiah 49:2 says, “These [Jacob] shall come from afar, and lo, these come from the north and from the west, and from the land of Sinim,” isn’t North America an equally good, if not better fulfillment of the “northwest” direction from the Middle East, as the British Isles? And what about the prophecies in which Israel is pictured as returning from the “isles” (Isa 49:1; Jer 31:9-10)? Anglo-Israelites said this was the British Isles. But critics of Anglo-Israelites kept pointing out that the Hebrew for “isles” is better rendered “coasts.” I argued that this perceived criticism of Anglo-Israelism actually became an argument in support of Anglo-Israelism if the United States is Ephraim (“. . . the United States which has one of the longest usable coastlines of any nation in the world . . .”).
Then I focused on Canada, the “lesser” Israelite country in North America, like a rather to the north of the United States, although (unlike the United States) it is attached to England. I noted that of all the ancient tribes of Israel, Manasseh was the only one divided geographically. I suggested it was no coincidence that of all modern Israelite nations it is Britain whose settlements are so widely separated.
Anciently the Israelites after leaving Egypt are said to have come into Transjordan with the Jordan River to their west, and then crossed the Jordan to enter the Promised Land to the west. But part of Manasseh (along with the whole tribes of Gad and Reuben) chose not to cross the Jordan. The rest of Manasseh crossed to the west with the other tribes of Israel (Numbers 32). I saw a parallel. In our time part of Manasseh chose to cross westward and become Canada, while the rest of Manasseh remained behind as Britain. All of Ephraim crossed over westward, then as now. I listed what I saw as parallels between Canada as the lesser Manasseh to the north, compared to the greater, more powerful Ephraim of the United States on its southern border. (This gets really creative here, so hang on.)
“In one sense, modern Manasseh can be considered Britain and Canada both, corresponding to the two parts into which Manasseh anciently was divided. At West Manasseh’s southern border was Ephraim, the longest border between any two tribes of Israel. Canada and the United States share the longest unprotected border in the world, and the longest border between Israelite nations. West Manasseh was also bordered on the west by ‘the great sea to the west,’ the same great sea that all Israelites pushed toward when they first settled the Promised Land. As Joshua 17:10 puts it, ‘the land to the south being Ephraim’s and that to the north being Manasseh’s, with the sea forming its boundary.’ Very similar to the United States and Canada. West Manasseh had ‘ten portions’ of Canaan (Josh 17:5). Canada has ten provinces. West Manasseh’s land area was larger than that of Ephraim’s. Canada occupies a larger land area than the United States … “Such are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and such are the thousands of Manasseh” (Deut 33:17). The populations of the United States and Canada are about 200 million and 20 million respectively, the exact proportion of Moses’s statement. East Manasseh was probably greater in numbers than West Manasseh (1 Chron 12:31, 37). Britain’s population is greater than Canada’s. East Manasseh settled before West Manasseh and Britain. Britain was a nation before Canada and the United States … The North American continent, from Jerusalem’s latitude northward, has been given to the descendants of Joseph–the better portion going to Ephraim, the lesser to Manasseh.”
I even had Alaska and Australia worked into this scheme in terms of “polar opposites” or “ends of the earth,” with Israel in the latter days extending to the northwest and southeast extremities of the world, from the perspective of the Middle East. To the extreme northwest is Ephraim–Alaska. To the extreme southeast is Manasseh–Australia. (I told you I was creative.) And it is basic in Anglo-Israel theory that there was a “seven times” postponement of blessings on Israel, interpreted as 2520 (360 x 7) years from 721-718 BC when the Assyrians took the northern house of Israel into captivity. Church literature always said this time period ended with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Wasn’t it the United States (rather than Britain) which fulfilled this to the exact year? In every way, I argued, the younger, greater United States is the correspondence with younger, greater Ephraim [and] England is Manasseh: ”To say that Britain at one time was greater than the United States–that she used to be greater in the 1800s–is entirely unsatisfactory. What about now? Prophecy was written for the twentieth century, not the eighteenth or nineteenth.”
As clear as I thought my argument was up to this point, I realized that right about now an alert British-Israel theorist, even if unable to immediately answer the foregoing, might come back with a trump card objection, which goes like this. It is basic to the theory that the throne of England is the throne of David. (According to the theory, when the house of Judah went into captivity the throne of David was transplanted to the house of Israel [Ezek 17:22-23].) Would not the throne of David be in Israel’s leading tribe? Does this not weigh in favor of England being Ephraim?
To which I answered in my paper, no, just the opposite, it weighs in favor of the United States being Ephraim. Look at the American Revolution, I argued. The American Revolution parallels the revolt of Ephraim against the throne of David. Anciently, a company of tribes led by an Ephraimite (Jeroboam) revolted from the throne of David over the issue of taxation (1 Kings 12). Thousands of years later, American colonists revolted from the throne of David [according to the theory] in England over the same issue–taxation. In both cases the rebels rejected monarchies. In both cases the king was arrogant and unwise, would not listen to sound advice from counselors, and ordered collection of taxes which made revolution inevitable. Just as in times of old, modern Ephraim would not have David’s throne rule over them: “So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day” (1 Kings 12:19). Ephraim anciently separated from the mother nation ruled by the throne of David. The United States separated from Mother England ruled by the throne of David. Just as the ten tribes led by Ephraim and the name of Israel were rent away from David’s throne (1 Kgs 11:11), in modern times the name of Israel, prophetically speaking, was taken from David’s throne in England and given to Ephraim, the United States.
“Ephraim was to separate from Manasseh (Genesis 48). Past history suggests that Ephraim would rebel against David’s throne … We thus see two independent prophetic lines converging on the American Revolution. It was a rebellion against both David’s throne and Manasseh–because David’s throne was in Manasseh! … Can we see the connection between the throne of David and Manasseh?”
I noted additional biblical clues suggesting a throne of David/Manasseh connection. 1 Chronicles 12:19 says, “Some of the tribe of Manasseh deserted to David when he came with the Philistines for the battle against Saul.” See? Manassites in affinity with David.
At the time of the entrance into Canaan, five prominent Manassite women are said to have come to Moses and asked for a land inheritance (Num 27:1-11). They got the inheritance. I counted a total of five women, all of David’s line, who solely ruled Britain. They are: Mary I (1553-1558), Elizabeth I (1558-1603), Anne (1702-1714), Victoria (1837-1901), and Elizabeth II (1952- ). Five Manassite women received inheritances. Five women on David’s throne exercised sole reign of Britain. Now are you seriously going to tell me that is coincidence?
(Those versed in English history might object that Mary II, who reigned 1689-1694, is missing in this list, which would make the number six instead of five. But I had that covered. I quoted a reference work which said that her reign was jointly with her husband William III and “the administration was exclusively in the hands of William.” So she doesn’t count.)
I noted that in 1 Chronicles 2:21 the granddaughter of Manasseh married into the family of Judah from which King David was descended. Centuries later the throne of David was transplanted when the daughter of the king of Judah married into the royal family which now rules in Britain, modern Manasseh. Almost the same circumstances, but in reverse. I was just amazed.
Then I gave the coup de grace, a point which I titled in my paper “The Sting,” because I thought it so elegant. Of all of the kings of Israel and Judah, there was only one whose name was the same as one of Israel’s tribes. That was king Manasseh of Judah, descendant of David, the longest-ruling king of either house. And it was because of king Manasseh that the house of Judah went into captivity (according to the authors of the Bible). “Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done” (2 Kgs 24:3; 2 Kgs 21:11; 23:26; and Jer 15:4).
I wrote: “The captivity of Judah was brought about because of king Manasseh’s wickedness. It was because of Manasseh that David’s throne was transplanted! Transplanted to where? To England–modern-day Manasseh! How ironic. Truth is stranger than fiction. King Manasseh sat on the throne of David. Now David’s throne sits in Manasseh. Because of king Manasseh.” (Now aren’t you amazed too?) I noted that Hosea and other prophets are filled with allusions to an end-time witness coming out of Ephraim. Wasn’t the headquarters of God’s Work in the United States? I cited John 11:54 as symbolism of the true church at the end situated in Ephraim: “Jesus therefore no longer continued to walk publicly among the Jews, but went away from there to the country near the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there he stayed with his disciples.”
Finally, in any argument challenging a paradigm it is necessary not only to make a positive case for the new view but also to offer an explanation for why the mistaken idea formerly seemed convincing. I had that covered too. I closed on this note:
“Why, then, is the belief so prevalent that the United States is Manasseh, and Britain Ephraim, when every indication is to the exact opposite? The answer is very simple. Everyone who teaches the truth of Israel’s identity has been strongly influenced by the original British-Israelites. The British-Israel people teach that Britain is Ephraim. The reason they teach this is because British-Israelism began, and was popular the past century or two, in Britain. At that time Britain was greater than the United States. Seeing the prophecies of Ephraim being the greatest of Israelite nations, they logically applied the designation of Ephraim to themselves. They did not foresee the United States surpassing and eclipsing Britain in terms of power. In fact, this very turn of events has caused embarrassment to British-Israelites as well as delighting skeptics of the theory. Britain’s decline is difficult to explain when Gen 49:22 plainly says that Ephraim would be greater than Manasseh and the greatest nation on earth. This is why the belief was begun that Britain is Ephraim. The theory was propounded in Britain at a time when Britain was the greatest nation on earth up to that time. The British-Israelites were right about Britain being Israel, but they had the identities of the United States and Britain backward. Perhaps the time has now come to unravel the confusion . . .”
Well, dear reader, there you have it. I had a few other things thrown in, but that was the core of the argument. I thought at the time that the argument was practically open and shut, a dunk shot. I had little doubt that when people had time to think it over and consider it, it would be seen as just obvious. I put my heart into preparing this paper explaining this. I did little else for about five weeks but write this paper at my parents’ home in Akron, Ohio, setting my accumulated thinking and notes of the past months into this single organized presentation. I saw my paper as changing the Worldwide Church of God, and the Worldwide Church of God as changing the world. In this way I saw the potential of my paper to impact history.
How would headquarters react? What would happen after that? How would it all turn out? These were my questions as, tingling with excitement, I left my parents’ home to return to Big Sandy.
Unexpected reaction at Big Sandy
Back again at Big Sandy I gave this paper to a good friend on the faculty, the resident instructor in Hebrew. I sought his critique and comment preparatory to submitting my paper to headquarters. I was completely taken by surprise by his reaction. Unfortunately, my faculty friend, quite knowledgeable on historical matters due to having had Orthodox rabbinical training and now zealous for the church interpretations of scripture, took strong, emotional exception to my research.
In the first place, he felt my conclusion was wrong because I didn’t realize, he said, that the British Empire in its prime had been greater than the United States is currently. But even more importantly and seriously, he went on, I was questioning Mr. Armstrong. This was very serious. As a student having completed only two years of Ambassador College, I did not, he said, have the background or training to be qualified to do this.
This was the only instance of any of my papers throughout my Ambassador College years receiving a negative response. In retrospect, that has got to be regarded as something close to miraculous, in light of the experiences of so many others. I attribute my good fortune, if not to a sort of perverse divine humor, to my evident and transparent sincerity of attitude as well as my careful exercise of good judgment on where to submit new ideas. Even in this instance, my faculty friend’s reaction, however discomfiting in its effect, was conveyed in sincerity as a friend to a friend. He earnestly pleaded with me to reread Herbert Armstrong’s book, The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy, with a prayerful attitude, in order, he hoped, that I would see where I was wrong. He said he regretted having to say such harsh things and hoped I would understand he meant his words in the sense of Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
For my part, I felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had viewed my research not as questioning Mr. Armstrong, but as improving upon Mr. Armstrong’s work! It was not a challenge but a contribution! It grieved me that I had been so misunderstood. I decided to put the paper aside until a later time when I could feel emotionally clearer about it.
Meanwhile, still reeling from the unpleasantness of having a respected friend question my attitude toward the church (I being a sensitive soul), I was stopped on a sidewalk by one of the ministers and speech instructors, Richard Ames. Mr. Ames wanted to speak to me about my talking to other students about the United States being Ephraim. A coed student had overhead me discussing this idea and had come to him quiet upset about it. How could she know what was true anymore if everything was being questioned like this? I felt dismayed to hear this. I said I had not meant to upset anyone, felt very badly that I had, and that I had always tried to exercise discretion in talking about ideas but apparently had misjudged this time. I asked Mr. Ames who it was so I could go to her and try to make things right. He declined to say who it was. I asked him to convey my regret and apology for upsetting her. (I never knew whom I had upset.) The conclusion, Mr. Ames said, was I was not to discuss any further ideas of the United States being Ephraim with other students. Mr. Ames didn’t object to my believing what I liked on the matter. No judgment was expressed on the idea or me, nor was any curiosity expressed on the topic. It was simply communicated to me that I was not to talk about it anymore.
Later that day at supper in the student dining hall I experienced my first test in obedience to this edict. The word had spread to a few more student friends of my interesting idea. One was a senior who was later hired and sent out as a ministerial trainee after graduation. He was as faithful and believing in the church as he could be. He frequently came to me to discuss biblical things or get my opinion on certain scriptures. He sat down and with much eagerness said, “So and so said you believe Ephraim is Manasseh. Tell me why you think this.”
I felt on the spot, mindful of the instruction I had received not to discuss it. I carefully answered, “No, that’s not correct. I believe Ephraim is Ephraim.” I hoped somehow the subject would be changed.
My poor friend looked completely nonplussed and persisted. “But so and so said you believe Ephraim is Manasseh. I want to know why you think this. Tell me–I’m really interested!”
I replied, “No, I’ve never thought Ephraim is Manasseh. I think Ephraim is Ephraim.” By now other students at the table who saw the semantic confusion could barely restrain their mirth. I began to feel ashamed of myself for taking advantage of my friend’s unwitting misstatement of words. I explained as simply as I could that I was not allowed to discuss it, and the subject was dropped.
I complied with the instruction I had received. I did not discuss the idea further. I never submitted my paper to anyone else. It wasn’t long before I began to suspect flaws here and there in the historical evidence for Anglo-Israelism. I even began to suspect the theory might have been fabricated to justify English hegemony. This removed my incentive to do anything further with the paper.
[The above is from pp. 173-197 of Greg Doudna, Showdown at Big Sandy (2006).]