The Gates of Your Enemies:
Anglo-Israelism and the Problem of Iberia
Anglo-Israelism is a shaky theoretical structure but nowhere is it more vulnerable than in its treatment of Iberia: Spain, Portugal, and the Basque country. This opinion piece focuses on the people of the Iberian Peninsula and their erroneous categorization by the followers of the Armstrongist version of Anglo-Israelism. And this evokes a memory for me of an old World Tomorrow Broadcast. It was sometime in the Seventies and Garner Ted Armstrong (GTA) mentioned how that the fairest portions of the world were given to “Israel” (Northwest and North Europeans). And this included lands in the temperate zones in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Then he referred to Argentina, located in a temperate zone, as if it were an “Israelitish” nation. I remember mentioning this to a fellow Worldwide Church of God (WCG) member at the next Sabbath service and we found it an interesting departure. But I never, ever heard this mentioned again in my 30 years of membership. But, at that one point in time long ago, there was a hint of insight In GTA’s statement that I believe briefly and gingerly acknowledged historical fact that would require a revision to Anglo-Israelism. Let me hasten to add, that this opinion piece invokes the views of Classical Armstrongism. Post-Classical Armstrongism, as now practiced by the various denominations derived from the now-defunct WCG, may have updated views on this topic. Throughout this writing, the term “Anglo-Israelism” refers to the Armstrongist version of Anglo-Israelism as documented in Herbert W. Armstrong’s book “The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy”, 1967. The term “Israelitish” in quotations marks refers to the putative descendants of Biblical Israel as defined in Armstrongist Anglo-Israelism.
Iberia: Global Sea Power, Colonies and Sea Gates
Spain and Portugal both became major sea powers before Britain. Both became global colonial powers prior to Britain’s ascendancy. Both became a “company” of nations. And both Spain and Portugal controlled many strategic sea gates. It is useful to have a look at a map of the colonies that the Iberians established around the globe. Such maps can be found on the web. At their zenith, both Iberian nations held a collection of strategically placed sea gates and colonies that is quite impressive especially when considering that one putative “Israelitish” nation is landlocked. The following statement is from the World Atlas website:
“In fact, Spain held 35 colonies at various points in history, exacting its power so widely it was called "the empire on which the sun never sets," an expression that also began to be used in reference to Great Britain when the latter's prominence overcame Spain's.” (Note 1)
Anglo-Israelism makes much of the idea of controlling “sea gates” as a marker for the identity of “Israel” (Genesis 22:17). Spinning the commonplace Hebrew idea of “gate” into the imperialist “sea gate” just happens to fit nicely into the British colonial expansion scenario. In Hebrew, the word translated as “gate” has no maritime connotations. It simply means gate. City gates were a place of city government and public gathering. They were also weak points in the city wall. Hence, to possess your enemies’ city gates was to gain control of them. The idea of “sea gates” in the Genesis context would have puzzled the Israelite audience. Israel was not a maritime power until much later in history during the reign of Solomon and then Israel’s navy was likely really Phoenician. The concept of sea gates, rather than having Bronze Age substance, is a device of modern Anglo-Israelism.
But even if there were merit to the idea of sea gates as espoused by Anglo-Israelism, the Iberians controlled many sea gates. A case in point is Gibraltar. Gibraltar was originally held by Spain. Britain acquired control of Gibraltar in 1704 from Spain. One might assume that this meant that “Israelitish” Britain was in ascendancy and Gentile Spain was descending. But as I will establish this was actually a transfer between two branches of the same people.
A Brief Anthropology
Dr. Herman Hoeh, the one-time Armstrongist historian and apologist for Anglo-Israelism, identified the Iberians as the descendants Tarshish the son of Javan the son of Japheth the son of Noah. (Note 2) This is based principally on identifying the harbor city and surrounding culture of ancient Tartessos, on the coast of modern Andalusia, with the Biblical son of Javan named Tarshish. This is all semi-mythical and hinges on similarity in names. It is possible that some of the descendants of Tarshish, if he is not allegorical, settled in this area. Iberians do reflect some Middle Eastern heritage in their genetics. But this may have originated with the Sephardic Jews who have been in Spain, known to them as Sephard, since ancient times. Even if Hoeh’s historical connection between Tartessos and Tarshish has merit, this small population of Tartessians has apparently been absorbed into the Spanish population which is principally Indo-European. So, equating Iberia to Tarshish has no scientific traction.
An additional argument that is used in several places on the web by the followers of Anglo-Israelism to oppose the idea of Spain being an “Israelitish” nation is that they cannot be associated with any “Israelitish” tribe. All the tribes have been nicely mapped to various nations in Western Europe and there are no nations or tribes left over. This is a sophomoric argument and rests upon the shallow idea that political boundaries and racial boundaries must coincide. If one is going to be a follower of Hoeh, the Iberians can be easily connected to whatever tribe is in Scotland, for instance. The Milesian Scots allegedly resided in North Africa then Iberia and then migrated to Scotland. Opponents of Iberians as “Israelites” will likely argue speculatively that the Milesians Scots moved out of Spain to the last person to Scotland. This has more to do with bias than honestly interpreting Hoeh’s semi-mythic data. Now we will depart from interpretative mythology and move to science.
This will be to the point but requires some familiarity with genetics. Both the people of the British Isles and the people of Iberia are Indo-Europeans and they principally possess the same Y chromosome haplogroup. The haplogroup is R1b. I am haplogroup R1b M-269. This haplogroup is found densely in Iberia. But my ancestors are Scottish and other British Celts. R1b is also found densely in the British Isles. R1b is the genetic hallmark of the Celtic people of Northwestern Europe and Southwestern Europe. R1b has particular frequencies of certain genetic codes (called SNPs for single nucleotide polymorphisms). Geneticists refer to the modal frequency profile within R1b as the Atlantic Modal Haplotype (AMH). The term “Atlantic” refers to the people who live along the Atlantic littoral of Western Europe where this modal haplogroup is concentrated. This genetic tag occurs from Gibraltar to Denmark where it intergrades to Haplogroup I and R1a. People whose genome is marked by this AMH are referred to as Atlantics. I am an Atlantic as are many Americans of British or Iberian extraction in the New World. Some of the highest frequencies of the R1b haplogroup among Atlantics are found among the Welsh (92%), Basque (87%), Catalans (81%), and Irish (82%). (Note 3)
Sidebar: the nations of Fennoscandia, all traditionally considered “tribes of Israel,” are a problem for Anglo-Israelism. Denmark, Norway, Sweden seem to be haplogroups I and R1a and are not predominantly Atlantics. The Finns carry, in addition to I and R1a, a large percentage of haplogroup N that reflects Mongoloid ancestry out of the Siberian sphere. Further, if Britain is Joseph and Norway is Benjamin, the younger brother of Joseph as Armstrongists claim, then only 25% or Norwegian men have the right haplogroup to be related to the British. It is a big stretch to make the Scandinavian countries and Finland homogenous, stand-alone “Israelitish” nations. They are a mix of haplogroups R1b, R1a, I and N. In addition to the native haplogroup I, The people of Fennoscandia have genetic affinities for the eastern Germans, Slavs and, especially among the Finns, Asians. One can argue speciously that God conserved these people in a state of national purity in a miracle of logistics as they filtered through “the nations” but genetic science does not lie.
I anticipate that the first objection to this will be that the Spanish and Portuguese do not look exactly like the British. How could they be the same people? Most Iberians look like other Western Europeans but for those who differ there are two sources of this differentiation. First, the mitochondrial haplogroups (tracing female descent) among the Iberians though quite similar to the British are slightly more varied. Second, genetic studies indicate that there is a presence of Sephardic Jewish and North African ancestry among the Iberians. One study (Note 4) found the following Y Chromosome haplogroup frequencies among Iberians:
1. Haplogroup R1b (Celtic) – 66%
2. Haplogroup J (Jewish) – 19.8%
3. Haplogroup E (North African, Berber) – 10.6%
Although most Iberians look like light-skinned Western Europeans, some are olive-skinned. The profile cited above explains how this can be true. The North African contribution cited here likely represents the influence of the Moorish invasion. The Moors are North African Caucasians that are the antecedents to today’s Berbers. And the Sephardic Jews have a lengthy history in Spain. If we combine the Celtic and Jewish components, 86% of the haplogroups of the Iberians derive from what would be termed in Hoeh-speak as “Hebrews.” This would indicate that they belong in the “Israelitish sphere” – certainly more so than the people of Fennoscandia. (Let me be clear that in the real world of genetic science neither the British nor the Iberians are remotely descended from Israel. They are Gentile West Europeans and cognate branches of the same Indo-European people. But for this article, again, I am addressing the internal inconsistencies in the methodology used in Anglo-Israelism.)
I have no certain data on why the architects of Armstrongist racial theory did not regard the Iberians to be “Israelitish”. While they did not have DNA analysis available to them, it was well understood by anthropologists in that time that the British and Iberians were closely related Indo-Europeans. This is speculative but I believe that it is very difficult for White Armstrongists to consider the mixed people of Central and South America as peoples related to them and to some degree within the putative “Israelitish” sphere. Mexicans for instance are on average 52 percent European and that European component is principally Iberian which makes them closely related genetically to Northwest Europeans. The Mexican non-European component is Native American. (Note 5) I believe it is the higher melanin level among mixed peoples in Central and South America that make them seem foreign or “Gentile” to Armstrongists. And by the principle of syndoche, the darker Mestizo population represents to many North Americans the entire New World Iberian Empire including European Iberia itself. But on the other hand, many North Americans and Canadians are mixed with Native American ancestry though not as much as the Mexicans. And while there are many Mestizos in Latin America, there are also about 130 million White Europeans living in Argentina, Southern Brazil, and Uruguay - the temperate zone that GTA spoke about – people that might clearly be recognized as Israelitish based on appearance. It is the confluence of these factors that somehow make Latin Americans clearly “non-Israelitish” to Armstrongists. It is a rendition of the One Drop Theory prevalent in the Southern United States. We must finally ask ourselves if a pre-existing bias actually influenced the way Anglo-Israelism was developed – with a teleological focus on Northwest and North Europe.
In this article, I am not trying to improve and add consistency to Anglo-Israelism but I am, rather, critiquing the methodology used by Hoeh and others in identifying “Israel” among the modern nations. There are good reasons to believe that Anglo-Israelism is a convenient myth without a scientific foundation and I have written about this in other blog essays. The methodology used by early Armstrongists to identify the modern-day tribes of Israel did not work. The test of a theory is how well it describes reality. If Hoeh found clues in semi-mythological sources leading to the British being Israelites, why did he find no clues revealing the Iberian connection when it is clearly there: Indo-Europeans, sea power, sea gates, and colonial empires? Now we have the incontrovertible evidence of genetics. And from genetics, we know that the British and Iberians are essentially the same people. In fact, we know that there is a greater connection between the Iberians and the Jews than between the British and the Jews. What follows is an outline of the logical dilemma, based on genetic science rather than myth, that Armstrongism must confront just to address the single Iberian problem:
1. If the British are descended from Israel, then the Iberians are also descended from Israel. This is not based on semi-myth but on the repeatable science of genetics.
2. Honesty, integrity, and respect for truth require that Armstrongism corrects the dogma of Anglo-Israelism to recognize the nations in the Iberian domain, in Europe and the New World, as part of “Israel” as Armstrongists define Israel. (There is a solid scientific foundation for excluding the North Europeans, the Scandinavian nations and Finland, from the “Israelitish” domain and including the Iberians and, for that matter, western Germany.)
3. The concepts of “sea gates” and “a company” of nations and sea power can be and have been manipulated for political and racial purposes and can have no integrity as criteria in establishing the identity of the “Israelitish” peoples without acknowledging the Iberians.
4. If Armstrongist leaders make this correction, i.e., including the Spanish realm and presenting the scientific foundation for this to their congregants, one likely repercussion is that many of their members will reject this updated Anglo-Israelism.
I would conjecture that Armstrongist leaders who still affirm Armstrongist Anglo-Israelism, if ever confronted with this issue, will reject, with many watching, the idea of revising their doctrine of Anglo-Israelism and, in the final analysis, we will know that the dogma is not about anthropological truth but about the tribal promotion of Northwest and North Europeans only as the chosen people of God.
If it is a point of pride with you that you are a pure-as-the-driven-snow “Israelite,” you should gut up and take a genetic test. There are many available on the market, but get one that measures Neanderthal ancestry in addition to everything else. It will be a worthwhile and maturing experience. You will finish the project knowing more about genetics, your ancestry and you will get the concept of race in perspective. And the next time your odd uncle (maybe you are the odd uncle) starts his usual bragging about family pedigree at the next reunion, you will know he is blowing smoke.
1. World Atlas, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/former-spanish-colonies.html
2. Herman Hoeh, “The Origin of Nations!” p. 7, 1957.
3. See articles “Genetic History of the Iberian Peninsula” and “Haplogroup R1b” and “Atlantic Modal Haplotype”, Wikipedia.
4. These figures are approximate. And these haplogroups are detailed in the study as subclades. For brevity I have just used the basal form. The exact data may be found in the article: “The Genetic Legacy of Religious Diversity and Intolerance: Paternal Lineages of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula”, American Journal of Human Genetics, 2008 Dec 12; 83(6): 725–736. While these are not autosomal studies, the diversity of haplogroups points to the historical genetic influences on the Iberian population.
5. Another complicated issue for Anglo-Israelism concerns Native Americans. Ancient Native Americans who migrated from Beringia to North America are haplogroup Q. Q is closely related to haplogroups R1b and R1a, both Indo-European haplogroups, as the alphabetic designations indicate. Haplogroups Q and R are both children of haplogroup P. This means in genetic history, Atlantics are much more closely related to Native Americans than they are to Jews (modern Jews are haplogroup J mostly) – a conundrum for Anglo-Israelism. (See Wikipedia article, “Human Y Chromosome DNA Haplogroup,” for Phylogenetic Tree). Native Americans are best described as Eurasians. Geneticists estimate that ancient Native Americans were about 30% European with the remainder being East Asian. It is not unusual, then, for Mestizos, a mix of Native American and European, to have a strong European (and “Israelitish”) affinity. Phenotype also complicates matters. Ancient Native Americans who migrated from Beringia had a different appearance than modern Native Americas. Further, I know from experience that some modern Native Americans look more Caucasian than others. (For overview see journal article on the web: Ed Yong, “Americas’ Natives Have European Roots,” Nature, November 20, 2013, and also on the web: Genetics Society of America, "Native Americans and Northern Europeans more closely related than previously thought," ScienceDaily, 30 November 2012.) This means overall that the Mestizo population of Latin America has a much greater European affinity than is apparent. The status of Native Americans is then a complex and unresolved issue for Anglo-Israelism yet this loose end seems to decisively affect the Northwest European attitude toward the Iberian sphere.