7.2.2. From Hebraism to British Israelism

7.2.2. From Hebraism to British Israelism

At the time of the Industrial Revolution, compared to the period of the English Civil War, Hebraism enjoyed popularity among all social classes and an incomparable greater political and financial support. Charismatic figures such as Richard Brothers and John Nichols Thom are eloquent examples of the adepts of Hebraism from the bottom level of society, where it was rudimentarily and chaotically promoted. By contrast, the elites promoted their beliefs through culture and financial efforts. In 1809 William Wilberforce and Charles Simeon founded the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, where anyone who believed that the Jewish issue would be solved through conversion could contribute.862 It is true that the development of the means of transportation helped the missionary activities, but that did not mean that the number of converts was higher than in other periods, especially among the Jews.

Others lived under the impression that the only solution to the Jewish issue was the restoration. For religious, humanitarian, philosophical or imperialistic reasons, the British adepts of Hebraism learned Hebrew, wrote novels about the Jewish commonwealth, organized services of transport and exploration to the Holy Land and supported the restoration of the Jews in public and private environments. Lord Lindsay wrote that “the land [of Palestine] still enjoys her Sabbaths, and only awaits the return of her banished children, and the application of industry commensurate with her agricultural capabilities, to burst once more into universal luxuriance – all that she ever was in the days of Solomon.”863 The same idea was expressed in 1841 by Charles Henry Churchill, a British resident in Damascus, through a letter addressed to the Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore: “I consider the object to be perfectly attainable. But, two things are indispensably necessary. Firstly that the Jews will themselves take up the matter universally and unanimously. Secondly, that the European Powers will aid them in their views.”864

In 1828 Joseph Wolff, a German Christianized Jew, became a missionary and left to search for the Ten Lost Tribes in Anatolia, Armenia, Turkestan, Afghanistan, Calcutta and Simla. For a while he was a slave. After he was released he traveled by foot approximately 1,000 kilometers without clothes. He passed though Bukhara and Balkh and reached Kabul in a state of nudity. In his writings Wolff stated that he had found in Bukhara, at an isolated group of Arabs, the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ:

The Arabs of Hodeynah are in possession of a book, called “Seera,” which gives notice of the second coming of Christ, and His reign in glory; and it says that great events would take place in the year 1840. ... And Wolff found in their company children of Israel, of the tribe of Dan, who reside in Hatramawt, and learn the Hebrew from the Jews of Sanaa, Tanaan, and Hadoram. The children of Rechab say, “We shall fight one day the battles of the Messiah.”865

The reestablishment of the Jewish state was no longer only a religious matter, but also a political one. According to the biographer Edwin Hodder, the Jewish restoration and the coming of Christ were the guiding lines of Anthony Ashley Cooper’s life. On his right-hand ring he had engraved the words from Psalms 122:6: “Oh, pray for the peace of Jerusalem!”866 Allied with Prime Minister Palmerston and his successors in the government, Cooper made huge efforts to convince England to protect the Jews already settled in Palestine:

The inherent vitality of the Hebrew race reasserts itself with amazing persistence; its genius, to tell the truth, adapts itself more or less to all currents of civilization all over the world, nevertheless always emerging with distinctive features and a gallant recovery of vigour. There is an unbroken identity of Jewish race and Jewish mind down to our times: but the great revival can take place only in the Holy Land.867

In 1839 the Church of Scotland sent Andrew Bonar and Robert Murray M’Cheyne to write a detailed report about the condition of the Jews in Palestine.868 Their work was published in Great Britain and it was followed by a memorandum of Cooper in the London Times magazine through which he demanded support for the restoration of the Jews. The London Times also reported that the British government took into consideration the Jewish restoration, while Cooper advanced his investigations regarding the Jewish opinion toward the restoration, how fast they could leave for Palestine, if they were willing to pay for transportation and if they agreed to live under Turkish dominion, protected by European powers.

The British-Ottoman relations were excellent at the time. Mehmet Ali allied Egypt with France and in 1831 he rebelled against the sultan, invading Palestine and Syria. Almost ten years later the British allied with the Ottomans and helped them regain the control of the lost territories. In 1840 Cooper thought that the sultan could return the favor by creating a Jewish state in Palestine. Accordingly, he convinced Palmerston to write to the British ambassador in Constantinople about this idea:

There exists at the present time among the Jews dispersed over Europe, a strong notion that the time is approaching when their nation is to return to Palestine. ... It would be of manifest importance to the Sultan to encourage the Jews to return and to settle in Palestine because the wealth which they would bring with them would increase the resources of the Sultan’s dominions; and the Jewish people, if returning under the sanction and protection and at the invitation of the Sultan, would be a check upon any future evil designs of Mehmet Ali or his successors. ... I have to instruct Your Excellency strongly to recommend to hold out every just encouragement to the Jews of Europe to return to Palestine.869

The interest of Great Britain in Palestine was expressed through charitable actions, colonial settlements and research campaigns. Over 1,000 conferences and researches of the Middle East were made in the 19th century, especially after the Crimean War. Supported by England, in 1853 Napoleon III forced the Ottomans to recognize the Catholic Church and the Western powers as the supreme Christian authority in the Holy Land, to the detriment of Russia and the Orthodox Church. As a result, in the second half of the century the British presence in the region intensified in order to protect the route to India and to ensure the stability of the Ottoman Empire against Russia’s imperialistic tendencies. Thus, the idea that not long before seemed utopian became a more or less viable project and the Christian initiative for the restoration nourished the emerging Jewish movement of Zionism.

In 1863 Thomas Rawson Birks, an Anglican vicar and professor of moral philosophy at Cambridge, published The Exodus of Israel. In it, he analyzed the problems of logistic, organization, breeding, alimentation and hygiene of the Israelites in their journey from Egypt to Palestine. Although the analysis of Birks had a historical character, it stirred interest because it demonstrated that many of the problems faced by the ancient Israelites were going to resurface in the case of a modern repatriation. Previously, Birks was interested in the millennial week and the philosophy of historical progress, suggesting that the world could end until 1880.870 Likewise, George Eliot supported the restoration of the Jews and the establishment of a Jewish state in the novel Daniel Deronda from 1876. Laurence Oliphant, a member of the Parliament and supporter of Ashley Cooper, published in 1880 The Land of Gilead, through which he asked the British Parliament to materially support the restoration of the Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe. But, according to Oliphant, in order to make room and to avoid conflicts, the Palestinian Arabs had to be relocated in reservations after the model of Native Americans.871

The Hebraism of the Industrial Revolution was different than the Hebraism of the English Civil War, but not because it was more widespread, but due to the ideas it came to contain. At the end of the 19th century Hebraism generated the doctrine of British Israelism (or Anglo-Israelism or the Theology of the Two Kingdoms) – the belief that the Western European nations, especially those from the British Isles, are the direct descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. This theory is as fantastic as the medieval theories of Prester John or the identification of the Lost Tribes with Native Americans. While the modern Jews are the direct descendants of the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the British and Northern European white nations are, allegedly, the descendants of the other tribes of the House of Israel.

According to the Bible, Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes, was renamed “Israel” (Genesis 32:28). And, while all the Jews are Israelites, not all the Israelites are Jews. The Jews (the Judeans) descend only from the two tribes separated from the other ten at the moment of the collapse of the United Monarchy in 930 BC. After the separation, during the time of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, the ten northern tribes formed the Kingdom of Israel (with the capital at Shechem), while the tribe of Judah (and Benjamin) formed the Kingdom of Judah (with the capital at Jerusalem). Hence, the supporters of British Israelism argued (rather speculated) that after the ten tribes of the Kingdom of Israel were deported by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC, these have never returned to their homeland, but have spread throughout the world and have formed the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic nations.872

British Israelism has never had ... (This text is incomplete. If you wish to read it in full, please purchase the book)

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