One of the reasons I’ve been picking on America Unearthed and its weird vision of an early America overrun with manly European knights in armor raping and pillaging their way across hill and dale is that this type of historical revisionism—which lacks any factual basis—has historically served as the entrepôt for racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic political ideologies. So naturally it should surprise no one that Glenn Beck supports these odd theories. A few years ago, he tried to rehabilitate the Bat Creek Stone, excited by Scott Wolter’s attempt to authenticate the alleged piece of prehistoric Hebrew writing. This week Beck went on a bizarre historical rant about the Bible and Jews that deserves a closer examination, both for its mind-boggling inaccuracies and its insight into the conspiratorial mindset of so many.
On Wednesday, Beck told his listeners that the Bible is the key to understanding history, which he accused Oprah Winfrey of purposely altering to deny Biblical truth. No, I have no idea what that means since I don’t keep up with Oprah’s theology. Instead, he offered an overview of Biblical history, saying this about the Assyrians:
Here’s what I find very fascinating on who they were. When they were finally defeated, they had all of these, this tribe of Israel as captives. But when they were finally defeated, the Assyrians and the Israelites, they fled, and they went north. And they fled out of captivity through the Caucasus Mountains. The Caucasus Mountains are where you hear the word Caucasian, the Caucasus Mountains.
Beck implies that white people are white because they came from God’s Chosen, which well-matches historical Mormon ideology, which originally held that God cursed sinful people with dark skin while rewarding the righteous with milky white hues (Alma 3:6-7; 4 Nephi 1:10; 2 Nephi 5, etc.). In 2010, the Mormon church revised portions of text to remove overt references to dark skin.
But listen to what Beck says next, an extremely strange version of genetic destiny:
What’s interesting is the Assyrians who were very good, meticulous record keepers, and who were just brutal, they settled in Italy and in the Germany area and the Russian area where Fascism comes from. But the Israelites, the lost ten tribes, they went north, and they started to scatter the other direction, and they went to the coastlines, generally in the area where our pilgrims came from.
Beck implies that the Assyrians invented oppression and have somehow kept the flame of tyranny in the interior of Europe for more than 2,500 years while the Jews somehow lived on the coasts (!) and became Christians and Puritans and Pilgrims and Americans. And neither ever moved or had a new idea again. Where does he get this stuff?
It’s a claim that comes from British Israelism, this belief that the Anglo-Saxons (and thus also white Americans) are the descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. According to this theory, the Assyrians migrated to Germany, which they base on the strength of Pliny the Elder’s claim that a tribe called the Assyrani lived north of the Black Sea (Natural History 4.12 [Latin], 4.26 [English]) and the claim in the Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax, which mistakenly claims that the Assyrians had conquered north of the Black Sea, probably because the Persians, who conquered the Assyrians, really did reach that far, and the conquests were projected backward.
Weirdly, the Assyrani are listed in the Latin text of Pliny, but the standard English translation gives their name as Lagyrani. So, since I don’t like leaving loose ends, I got out critical edition of Pliny, which records variants. According to the various critical editions, the manuscripts of Pliny list “Assyrani” at 4.12, but the parallel passage in Ptolemy (Geography 3.6) gives Lagyra, so the scholarly edition of Pliny has corrected this under the assumption that copyists misread or corrupted the original. (The Greek Λάγυρα could be mistaken for the Latin Assyra or Greek ’Ασσυρα with bad handwriting, I suppose, to the eyes of Greek-trained scholars, or maybe LAG looked like ASS to somebody.) This was proposed first by Pintianus in the 1500s. The English translators have followed this assumption.
There is no historical or archaeological evidence that the Assyrians ever traveled beyond the Caucasus. However, in the nineteenth century, John Wilson began to argue that all the Teutonic peoples were Lost Tribes on the evidence of their manly vigor and white skin. Wilson’s successor, Edward Hine (1825-1891), a bank clerk, argued that the Teutonic peoples were closely related to the Anglo-Saxons, yes, but only to the extent that they were the Assyrians to the British Israelites. It is Hine’s version of British Israelism that proved most influential among white supremacists in the United States, who hold to this very day that the “Jews” are “really” the Canaanites, who must be destroyed for the “true” Chosen People, white Anglo-Saxons, to flourish. The Worldwide Church of God has also adopted this Assyrian-German connection from Hine. It is this set of disturbing racist and anti-Semitic lies that Beck has adopted.
Beck then asserts that the Statue of Liberty is “really” Moses because she is crowned with light and holds tablets representing the Law, even though they are in the style of pagan Roman offering tablets to Venus.
There’s strong symbolism with the number 13 being represented everywhere, 13 arrows, 13 stripes, 13 stars, 13 olives, 13, 13, 13. Yeah, I know, well that’s the 13 colonies. […]Well, there’s only 12 tribes, Glenn. What do you do with 13? Hmm, except the tribe of Joseph split into Manasseh and Ephraim, and those were in northern Israel. That’s the northern Kingdom of Israel. That’s the 13 tribes. Okay, hogwash. That’s all garbage. Okay, you say that’s not what any of these symbols mean on this flag. Okay, that’s reasonable, okay.
Imagine if Maine had broken from Massachusetts earlier; Beck would be scrambling to try to explain how to make 14 colonies into ten tribes. But the real issue arises in this incoherent blathering:
The people of Jerusalem, we owe our existence in many ways. We owe our laws to them. Do you really think that we – I am a religious guy. Others who are not will think this is hogwash, but I don’t care anymore. I haven’t for some time. I’m stating who I am.
Notice the eliding of pseudo-fact and personal identity. Personal identity is constructed from historical fantasy, and an attack on the conspiracy at a factual level is by definition an attack on the core of one’s being, the nature of his humanity.
Beck wraps up with a maudlin appeal that the Bible must not be “thrown out” because, even if it is a lie, it’s the only thing standing between us and anarchy because, if I understand him correctly, he feels no one would behave civilly or peacefully except under threat of divine punishment.
I feel like I have to shake the shoulders of some of my friends and look ’em in the eye and say without the Torah, without the people of Judah, you have no law. Ours doesn’t exist. Our country doesn’t exist. Nothing exists. You get rid of the Torah, you get rid of the Bible, nothing works anymore. Then what are our laws based on? Opinion, man’s opinion. Oh, well that’s good.
American law descends from English common law, which was notably not based on the Bible but rather on the opinions—yes, opinions—of judges and jurists, who interpreted past precedent and adapted past practice and statutes to fit contemporary needs. This is in contradistinction to Continental law systems, which trace their origins to Roman law, again not based on the Bible. Somehow the Romans and the Greeks and the Imperial Chinese managed to run societies without the Mosaic Law for thousands of years, though I suppose one could argue they feared retribution from Pluto, Hades, or Yan. The early Romans, famously, didn’t care what faith a person followed so long as they paid their taxes, obeyed civil law, and made a token gesture toward Jupiter.
Christians also fail to agree on whether the Mosaic law (“the Torah”) applies to Christians. Thomas Aquinas argued that it did not, and the Catholic Church holds that parts of it apply while others have expired. Calvinists believe that only the laws repeated in the New Testament still apply, and the Anglicans disclaim all civil and ritual laws, preserving only the moral laws. Several fundamentalist groups claim that all of the Mosaic laws apply, though in practice they pick and choose among them. It sounds like the “law” has been on its way out since at least the early Middle Ages, and yet somehow we’re still here.
Beck’s final thoughts are a warning that without the Bible we must choose between Chinese-style “state capitalism” and Islamic sharia law as our “model” (a false dichotomy if ever there was one), so we must all teach our kids British Israelism…er, “biblical history”...to protect America. Beck complains that critics call him “Anti-Semitic,” and he wonders why. Well, it’s because he has aligned himself with pseudo-historical fantasies that were used in the past to support Anglo-Saxon claims to be the “true” Jews and to demand the extermination of the “false” Jews. While Beck holds that Anglo-Saxons are the Lost Tribes, he’s OK with the traditional Jews still being Jews. So in that sense he’s slightly ahead of traditional British Israelism. But it will all come to naught, for Jesus will soon return to turn all the Jews Christian anyway. And if Beck’s Mormon faith is right, that will happen in Missouri, which also housed the Garden of Eden.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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