Around 926 b.c., the kingdom of Israel split in two. Up to that point, all twelve tribes of Israel (plus the priestly tribe of Levi) had been united under the monarchies of Saul, David, and Solomon. But when Solomon’s son Rehoboam ascended to the throne, the ten Northern tribes rebelled and seceded from the union. This left only two tribes—Judah and Benjamin (plus much of Levi)—under the control of the king in Jerusalem. From that time on, the tribes were divided into two nations, which came to be called the House of Israel (the Northern ten tribes) and the House of Judah (the Southern two tribes).
This situation continued until around 723 B.C., when the Assyrians conquered the Northern kingdom. To keep conquered nations in subjection, it was Assyrian policy to break them up by deporting their native populations to other areas and resettling the land with newcomers. When the House of Israel was conquered, most people belonging to the ten Northern tribes were deported and settled elsewhere in the Assyrian kingdom, including places near Nineveh, Haran, and on what is now the Iran-Iraq border. They were replaced by settlers from locations in or near Babylon and Syria.
These settlers intermarried, together with the remaining Israelites, and became the Samaritans mentioned in the New Testament (a few hundred of whom still survive today). The Israelites who had been deported also intermarried with the peoples of the places where they had been resettled. They eventually lost their distinct identity, disappeared, and their culture was lost to history. Some refer to them as "the lost tribes of Israel."
A movement called "British Israelism" claims to have found the ten "lost tribes," however, and in some very unlikely places.
For many years, one of the leaders in the British Israelism movement was Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Church of God." Especially for Americans, Armstrong was just about the only person they ever heard advocating British Israelism. With his own paid television program, Armstrong regularly advertised his book The United States and Britain in Prophecy, which advocated the view.
British Israelism was not Armstrong’s only eccentric view. Among other things, he believed in Saturday rather than Sunday worship and, most seriously, he rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and claimed that individual humans could be added to the Godhead.
After Armstrong’s death, the Worldwide Church of God did a serious review of the doctrines it had taught up to that point and moved to a more biblically and theologically orthodox position. Today, the organization is basically another Evangelical Protestant church (they have even been admitted to the National Association of Evangelicals), though with a few distinctive practices. Many of their congregations still worship on Saturdays, for example, but they no longer regard keeping the Jewish Sabbath and feasts as points of doctrine. They have embraced the doctrine of the Trinity, denied that created beings can become part of the Godhead, and acknowledged that other churches contain true Christians. They have also rejected the distinctive idea behind British Israelism—the claim that the lost tribes of Israel are to be specially identified with the Anglo-Saxons.
Unfortunately, there are still advocates of British Israelism out there (including some groups that split off from the Worldwide Church of God when it underwent its doctrinal renewal), and, though the book is out of print, Herbert W. Armstrong’s The United States and Britain in Prophecy continues to circulate.
The United States and Britain in Prophecy teaches the notion that the Lost Tribes of Israel are really the descendants of Anglo-Saxons, which is to say the British and Americans of British extraction.
This exotic doctrine had been around for decades before Herbert W. Armstrong founded his church in 1933, and it...