It is sometimes helpful to take a look back in time and see how we can learn from the past. Reading through British-Israel journals of a hundred years ago provides some interesting insights as to how our teaching today compares with earlier exponents.

A century ago the world was embroiled in World War I, and the politics of the era found its way into Christian teaching all across the denominational spectrum. Allied politicians caricatured the German enemy as “Huns” and “Assyrians,” and the politics was transformed into theology in the churches. Christians wanted to get behind the war effort, and British-Israel leaders of the period joined the politically-correct chorus. Our leading journal, the Banner of Israel, often repeated statements such as this: “Thus we recognize Israel as Great Britain, Edom as Turkey, and some think Germany as Assyria, and possibly Austria as Moab…” (xlii:33)

Looking through several years of British-Israel journals during the World War I era, the constant refrain was “the unspeakable Turk” and the repeated statement that Turkey was Edom. You might think that someone would have instead realized that, unlike Edom, the Turks are not a Semitic people at all, but rather classified by ethnologists as “Altaic.” The Altaic peoples originated in the Altaic Mountain region of eastern Asia, and arrived in the mid-east nearly a millennium after Christ walked the earth. The Turkish tribes are most definitely not descendants of Edom, a fact well-documented even a century ago.

Historians report that about 129 B.C., Jewish general Hyrcanus conquered the Edomites and they were forcibly converted to Judaism, becoming a constituent part of the Jewish people of today. None of this appears in British-Israel literature of a century ago. The only reference to the conquest and conversion of the Edomites was a brief comment in the Banner of Israel in an article about Edom, stating, “Then they [the Edomites] prospered for 400 years, after which the Maccabees subdued them and made them submit to law and order.” (xlvii:340).

What? The only result of the Edomite conquest was to make them law abiding citizens? British-Israelite scholars have long been well familiar with the writings of Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus. This historian wrote, “Hyrcanus also took Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea, and subdued all the Idumeans [Edomites]; and permitted them to stay in the country; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers that they submitted to the use of circumcision, and all the rest of the Jewish ways of living; at which time therefore this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Jews.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book xiii, Chap. 9, p.279)

Of course British-Israel scholars had to be aware of these facts, but politics got in the way. The Turks controlled Palestine, and were allies of the German enemy in World War I, so they were plastered with the Edomite label because that people were ancient Israel’s long-time enemies. There was a sort of spiritual parallel that got carried to excess as a physical identification of Edom as Turkey. This was the state of things among all of the Christian denominations.

However, there was a “silver lining” to this. British-Israel teaching of a century ago in many ways was very similar to mainstream church theology of the era, but with the added component of the lost ten tribes teaching. This similarity made it possible for new enquirers to find much in common with B.I., and provided a comfort factor for those hearing our message for the first time. There was much less to argue about theologically, and time and focus could be profitably spent on the identity rather than a host of side issues.

Similar to today, a century ago there was an effort to commandeer the British-Israel movement with various hobby-horses. During the World War I era, a “California Stone” discovered in Hollywood (!) was pawned off by a few American Anglo-Israelites as somehow prophetic. Another small group of “flat earth” adherents also tried to inject their beliefs into our movement. In our own day my church encounters modern hobby-horses such as the “1611 King James only” and “Sacred Name Yahweh” folks who are capable of exceptional rudeness toward anyone disagreeing with them. We would do best to follow our late CBIA chairman, W.H. Bennett’s advice to stick to our message and not get sidetracked by going down any of these or numerous other alleyways.

One other big factor of the era was the British conquest of Jerusalem, driving out the Turks. On December 10, 1917, General Allenby and a British army peacefully entered the city as the Turkish soldiers fled. Christians saw this as having prophetic significance and were open and eager to hear British-Israel teachers expound on a range of facets of our message. It was reported in the Banner of Israel, “This is the Identity’s opportunity, but it will help us much to guard against loud whistling before we are out of the wood. I find it not at all difficult now to reach the ear of serious people. The entry of the British into Jerusalem has been a great impetus to our contention.” (xlii:52)

God has a way of so ordering world affairs to catch people’s attention and adapt their thinking. One seemingly small event or decision can sometimes change history. The Banner of Israel ran a story in 1918 explaining how a single error brought Turkey into the World War on the side of Germany; and that being on the losing side of the war caused the Turkish loss of Palestine. “Very rarely in a war has a single error had more far-reaching consequences.” Until the war, “For many decades it had been British policy to uphold the Turkish Empire” due to a perceived “balance of power.” (xlii:93) One small “mistake” ultimately brought about the British conquest of Palestine and ushered in the thirty-year “golden era” of British-Israel growth and success. As a philosopher once said, “There is a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we may.” How will God change history in our lifetime? Do not ever doubt that he will!