Most of the British Israelists whom I've encountered in my own lifetime are sabbatarian folk,
who are accustomed to receiving their spiritually related input from amongst their own. However,
one thing I've discovered over the years is that these sincere individuals are open to, and will
entertain direct scriptural input which might occasionally be called to their attention by outsiders.
It is in that spirit that I would like to share some of the overlooked scriptures related to this topic.
They are passages that I know I and others had not factored into our beliefs on this topic. What
anyone chooses to do with these verses is entirely up to them, either in working out their own
personal relationship with God, or in simply broadening their own personal perspectives.
They're all in the Bible, they won't bite us, and they deserve careful consideration.
The verses which I am about to discuss in this article present solid scriptural evidence that
large groups of the much discussed lost ten tribes, from the northern covenant lands of Israel,
were never really lost. And, the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, the tribes which are the focus
of British Israelism are specifically mentioned in these verses. I am going to present post exilic
evidence, pre-exilic evidence, and evidence from the actual time of the exile, all directly from
the pages of the Old Testament of the Bible.
Post-exilic Scriptural Evidence
The scriptures which we will examine are easy to understand. The prophet Zechariah lived,
wrote, and prophesied in post-exilic times. This was the time during which the Israelites and
Jews were being repatriated, or returned to their covenant lands. The temple was being rebuilt in
Jerusalem, and there was incredible interest in the reimplimentation of God's laws, so that there
would be blessings rather than future captivities. In Zechariah 7:1-3 we read:
In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth
day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer
and Begem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord by asking the priests
of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, "Should I mourn and fast in the
fifth month as I have done for so many years?"
What can we learn from this? First, Bethel was located in the north, in the territory of the tribe of
Ephrahim. The decree which Cyrus had issued freeing the captured peoples applied not only to
those from the tribe of Judah, but also to those exiled from the other tribes. It was a "blanket"
decree. In the absence of exigent or extenuating circumstances, one of which we will discuss
related to the time of King Asa, returning exiles would be expected to return to their own
covenant tribal lands, not to the lands covenanted to other tribes. So, it is nearly certain that
these people of Bethel would be Ephraimites.
Commentaries on this verse, however, do note that this verse is somewhat obscure, in that the
original Hebrew can be translated in two different ways concerning the number of emissaries
traveling to the temple to consult with the priests. One fact is certain. Regardless as to whether
one or two made the trip, the names Sharezer and Begem-Melek are Babylonian names.
Sennacherib, who orchestrated a large part of the exile, had a son named Sharezer. II Kings
19:37 tells us that two of Sennacherib's sons, Sharezer and Adram-melek killed him as he
worshipped his pagan god, fulfilling one of Isaiah's prophecies. These two sons then fled to
Ararat, in Armenia. A parallel scripture describing the same event is Isa. 37:38. In Jer. 39:3 and
13, a Nergal-Sharezer is described as a high official of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. This
establishes scripturally that the names of the emissaries are Babylonian.The aforementioned
obscurity in Zech 7 does not alter the core meaning of this passage, but unfolds as follows.
Begem-Melek means "friend of the King." There was no punctuation in ancient Hebrew. Some
translators see the Hebrew words as meaning that Sharezer was a friend of the king, while others
understand that Sharezer was accompanied by another emissary whose name meant "friend of
the king." Regardless as the number of emissaries, someone was sent by the people of Bethel
in Ephraim to consult with the priests about a fast day.
Babylonian names would not be unusual for returning Ephraimite exiles, as we know from the
accounts of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, that it was the Babylonian custom to
rename captured subjects. These emissaries wanted to know something important which they
were concerned would directly relate to having the blessings of YHWH. This would be very
natural for a group of recently returned exiles, who hoped at all costs to avoid another captivity!
These were apparently some Godly people, who had been fasting annually on the anniversary of
the the destruction of the Temple, and wanted to know whether God would be pleased in their
continuing to do so. The answer which they received is that God is not pleased by ritual, but
rather in His people Israel's daily attitude towards Him. This is very familiar information about the
character and nature of God, and is a recurring theme throughout the Bible. We read a similar
message in the first chapter of Isaiah, and it is very graphic. Zech 7:13-14 is no less graphic:
When I called, they did not listen, so when they called, I would not listen, says
the Lord Almighty. I scattered them with a whirlwind among all nations where they
were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled
through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.
Conclusion: Zechariah 7 provides substantial evidence that Ephraimite exiles had in fact been
repatriated to their covenant land following the Babylonian captivity, and in their initial enthusiasm
were inquisitive regarding matters which would be pleasing to God. This is evidence that
Ephraim was not lost.
Pre-Exilic Scriptural Evidence
We also have pre-exile evidence that large numbers of Israelites had emigrated from Israel to
Judah during the reign of King Asa. II Chronicles 15:9 tells the story:
Then he assembled all Judah and Benjamin and the people from Ephraim,
Manasseh, and Simeon who had settled among them, for large numbers had
come over to him from Israel when they saw that the Lord his God was with him.
This happened roughly two centuries prior to the fall of the northern ten tribes to Assyria, and
nearly three hundred years prior to the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. Those familiar with the
history of the kings of both Israel and Judah, following Jereboam's rebellion, know that the kings
of Israel were mostly described as being very evil, while there were frequently kings of Judah
who like Asa, based their leadership on obedience to God. What is interesting is that Ephraim
and Manasseh, the tribes on which we have already acknowledged that British Israelism
is based, are specifically mentioned connected with this mass migration. The passage says
"large numbers." So, we now have both pre-exilic, and post exilic evidence that significant
numbers of Ephraimites were never lost, while the post-exilic reference from Zechariah shows
that large numbers of Manassites and Simeonites were also not lost. A pattern has emerged.
Centuries prior to the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, "large numbers" of Ephraimites and
Manassites migrate to Judah, where God is obeyed. Then, in the post-exilic period, returning
exiles to Bethel in Ephraim are inquiring as to whether certain fastings will please the Lord.
There is also a scripture covering the actual time of the exile.
Scriptural Evidence from During the Captivity
Samaria had fallen to the Assyrian king Shalmaneser during the sixth year of the reign of King
Hezekiah of Judah. (II Kings 18:10) Hezekiah was one of Judah's most righteous kings. In II
Chronicles 30:6-12 (which parallels the timeline of the scripture in II Kings) we learn that
Hezekiah sends couriers all through Israel to invite people to return to the God of Abraham, to
come to Jerusalem and to keep the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. In verses 9-11,
we read that:
If you return to the Lord, then your fellow Israelites and your children will be shown
compassion by their captors and will return to this land, for the Lord your God is gracious
and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.
The couriers went from town to town in Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun,
but people scorned and ridiculed them. Nevertheless, some from Asher, Manasseh,
and Zebulun humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem.
The actual wordage of these verses corroborates what historians have told us about the exile
era. Not everyone inhabiting these lands was exiled! In many cases, the nobles, and the natural
leaders were the ones who were carried off, while the average working agrarian types were left
behind to continue working the land, and to be profitable to their captors via the tributes which
were demanded of them. This
scripture is very telling. While noting that "some" humbled
themselves, and responded to Hezekiah's invitation to travel to Jerusalem to worship the Lord,
the verse also makes us conscious of the majority of the inhabitants who scorned and ridiculed
the couriers. So, during the actual exile, we find significant numbers of members of the tribes of
Ephraim, Manasseh, Asher, and Zebulun who were not exiled, and could not be legitimately
described as having been lost!
One wonders how much more specific these scriptures would need to be. They track
Ephraimites and Manassites through three separate Empires, over a period of several hundred
years! However, if there were one single factor which might open the door to speculation about
peoples being lost, it would be the fact that Jeremiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah provide us with a
certain amount of numeric accountability for the Jews, while there are no similar figures provided
for the northern tribes. The final chapter of Jeremiah informs us that 4,600 exiles were taken
from Jerusalem to Babylon. Neh. 7:66 tells us that 42,360 returned. Presumably the difference
in numbers is due to births amongst the exiles while they were in captivity, or displaced people
who had lived in cities which Sennacherib had previously destroyed relocating to Jerusalem.
In the absence of Biblical figures, surviving Assyrian records can help us to partially fill in the
blanks. The emperors themselves kept records of their conquests. However, by the time the
exiles were released, these Assyrian emperors were dead, and their empire had been
vanquished, first by the neo-Babylonians, and then by the Medes and Persians. So, the lack of
return numbers is totally understandable. We should also note that because of their commission
to rebuild the temple, it is logical that Ezra and Nehemiah would provide specific names and
numbers related to those returning to Jerusalem, and their roles in performing that work.
Insights from the Assyrian Records
The Assyrian policy of exile and repopulating was designed specifically as a strategy to prevent
revolts and uprisings. Exile was usually used in the case of noble families, a relatively small
percentage of the general population. Common people involved in agriculture were left
behind, worked the land, and paid the captors tribute. There is evidence that the first
deportations occurred under Tiglath Pileser III. Later, following Samaria's fall, Sargon II's
inscriptions boast of having carried away 27,290 inhabitants of that city as booty. II Kings 17:6
describes these people as having been sent to Halah and Gozan in Assyria, and to towns of the
Medes, (most probably somewhere near Ecbatana.) In repopulating the Israelites' covenant
lands, the Assyrian king brought in people from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath, and
Sepharvaim. Josephus uses the term "Cuthites" to describe these people.
Sargon describes them as Arabs.
Judah had been under seige by the Assyrians long before Jerusalem eventually fell to
Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Sennacherib kept an historical record of his reign and conquests
on several clay prisms which survive today. On the Taylor Prism, now in the British Museum, it is
recorded that he carried off 200,156 people into exile from 46 cities of Judah which he sacked.
This is also repeated on the Sennacherib Prism in the Israel Museum. This siege is also
described in II Kings and II Chronicles, and is confirmed by Herodotus.
The book of Daniel provides many insights into the time of Nebuchadnezzar, who had carried
away some of the royals and nobles to assist in his palace. Daniel and his friends resolved not
to defile themselves by assimilating into their captors' culture. When Cyrus finally initiated the
repatriation of the exiles, the Jews were allowed to govern themselves according to their own
laws. They returned to Jerusalem in three waves, the first being under Zerubbabel in 538 BC,
the second under Ezra in 438 BC, and the final group under Nehemiah in 432 BC. Ezra
compelled all of the returning Jews under his charge to put away their gentile wives. The Jews
have maintained a separate, identifiable presence regardless as to where they might have have
lived throughout the diaspora for millenia! The Israelites intermarried with and assimilated
amongst both Jew and Gentile.
In post-exilic times, the Jews were still a conquered people. They were under Cyrus, who was a
benevolent king. Josephus tells us that Cyrus was particularly fond of the Jews because he
knew that their prophets had foretold his role in their history, their God being on his side. Prior to
Saul, Israel had been a theocracy. Under the kings, it was a theocratic monarchy. Under Cyrus,
there was no Jewish king, and some scholars have observed that Israel appears to have
returned to atheocratic form of government, having learned over centuries that Samuel's words
had been true. It could more accurately be said that Cyrus was their king.
Much has been made over the death of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, and his sons.
It is helpful to remember that the Jews were incredible keepers of geneologies. King David, and
King Solomon had been very prolific procreators, and the Jews would have known from their
geneologies precisely who and where the descendents from the Davidic royal line were. The
death of Zedekiah and his sons was simply the end of their particular branch of this family tree,
not a case similar to our modern "Last of the Mohicans" scenario. We know that the ultimate
descendent from the Davidic royal line is and was Jesus Christ, whom we Christians believe to
be our King.
There are certainly many other factors which tend to cast doubt on the theory of British Israelism,
and the application of this doctrine most definitely has its own identifiable collection of "fruits."
However, it is and was my hope that in ratcheting down the rhetoric a bit on some of the more
incendiary aspects of this, and perhaps concentrating on scripture, we could promote civil
discourse, and perhaps find common ground. Ultimately, what a person believes ends up
being a matter of choice, and hopefully our choices can be rooted in fact.
More by this author:
"Does Queen Elizabeth Sit on the Throne of David?"
And another author:
British Israel Propaganda and Deceit
If you have anything you would like to submit to this site,
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