Author endorsed by David Barton claims founding of America was prophesied in Genesis

Tracking down a claim that David Barton views America as a covenant nation, a commenter provided a link to Timothy Ballard’s book, The Covenant: America’s Sacred and Immutable Connection to Ancient Israel.  Barton endorsed Ballard’s book in a manner which indicates that he agrees with the central concept of America having a covenant with God. About the book, Barton wrote:

The concept of what a covenant truly is and means is unfamiliar to most today, for it far surpasses any legal understandings or obligations with which our current culture is acquainted. God established a covenant with Abraham and his posterity, the Bible recounts not only the duties but also the remarkable benefits produced by that mutual accord. Tim Ballard documents the “extension” of that covenant re-invoked during the establishment of this nation… a covenant made between God and America’s early colonists and Founders. The Covenant not only shows the unprecedented blessings America has received as a result of obedience to God but also what every citizen today can do to honor our national covenant with God and thus ensure His continued blessings.

This quote leaves little doubt that Barton believes America is a covenant nation. However, there is much more to this book than a claim that the English settlers made a pact with God. Ballard asserts that the arrival of the Europeans in the New World was prophesied in Genesis, and furthermore that the British are descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. This belief, sometimes called British Israelism, is commonly held by Mormons and adherents of Herbert Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God. For Ballard (who is Mormon), this belief has political consequences. He believes the country that is now America was destined to be settled by the descendants of Joseph and Ephraim due to promises made in Genesis 49. I am going to examine the basis of this claim later in this post, but first I want to provide some quotes from Ballard’s book which illustrate his positions.

At locations 1164-1167 of the Kindle edition of the book, Ballard writes:

…this study of ancient scripture and modern history will lead us to the powerful conclusion that modern-day citizens of the United States have fulfilled ancient prophecies—they have become the American Covenant-makers. Consequently, the story of the American Covenant—including the promised blessings and obligations given through Abraham to Ephraim and on to George Washington and others—becomes our story.

Speaking of the lost tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Ballard writes:

Indeed, Joseph/Ephraim was led out to become a multitude of people. They were led to the north country, to the coastline, to the isles of the sea. They were carried over the wall of water to another land. That land is America. (Kindle Locations 1028-1030)

Ballard quotes Herbert Armstrong as an expert on the subject of the lost tribes, saying

The renowned Christian pastor/author, and founder of the Worldwide Church of God, Herbert Armstrong, has perhaps studied this issue as much as any other Christian writer. (Kindle Locations 617-618)…

Indeed, as Pastor Armstrong noted, Joseph/Ephraim “never returned to Jerusalem from Assyria, where they were driven with the ten tribes after 721 B.C., and were never again mixed with the Jews from that time!” Instead, they would become completely independent and inherit a new promised land. They would inherit America. (Kindle Locations 631-634).

It is jarring to read Armstrong referred to as a Christian, given that his heterodox views and his frequent criticisms of orthodoxy have been rejected by the church he founded. The full story of the journey of the World Wide Church of God becoming the evangelical Grace Communion International can be read on the church’s website.

Ballard cites Armstrong to help him summarize his contention that the British are related to the lost tribes.

In the final analysis of these Old Testament promises, and with the advantage of historical hindsight, it is difficult to argue with Pastor Armstrong: “God did cause the birthright nations—and them only—to become suddenly the recipients of such national wealth, greatness and power as no nation or empire ever before had acquired! Together they—the British and Americans, descendants of only one tribe, Joseph—came into possession of more than two-thirds—almost three-fourths—of all the cultivated resources and wealth of the whole world. It sounds incredible!… The most amazing fact of all history is this sudden skyrocketing from virtual obscurity of two nations to the most fabulous wealth and economic power ever possessed by any people. Britain became Great Britain—a gigantic, stupendously wealthy commonwealth of nations—the United States, the greatest nation of history.” (Kindle Locations 1057-1065)

Eventually, Ballard addresses how Americans can keep the covenant by recognizing their place in Israel’s history.

Indeed, what is American history if not Old Testament history? American history, after all, is the story of a chosen people, with ties to the blood and promises of Israel, who were given a promised land by covenant. It is a story of this people’s struggle to live righteously as a nation so as to be blessed with the covenant blessings (liberty, protection and prosperity) required to realize God’s work and glory. It is a story of war against evil and oppression. It is also a story of miracles and conversions. It is a story of prophecy and fulfillment, a story of God’s efforts to save His people. And at the core of this story is the one thing that ties all elements together, the one thing that, if adhered to, will allow the blessings of liberty, protection and prosperity to thrive, thus securing the opportunity for salvation for this and future generations. At the core of this story is God’s holy covenant, the American Covenant. (Kindle Locations 6116-6123).

Ballard believes the covenant allows freedom of religious conscience but requires believers to keep the Old Testament commandments. There is much, much more that I could write about but I want to use the rest of this post debunking the key Scriptural claim Ballard makes. He claims that the prophecy of America as a covenant land is found in Jacob’s words to his sons in Genesis 49. Specifically, Ballard claims that Jacob’s address to Joseph contains the key predictions. Ballard says

Before Jacob-Israel died, he gathered his twelve sons—twelve carriers of the covenant—around him. There, he gave answers to these questions. To Judah, he promised that the Messiah would come through his tribe—a prophecy fulfilled in the New Testament. And to Joseph he promised a land where the covenant would be restored. He promised a nation that God would raise up for His purposes in the last days. He promised America. (Kindle Locations 665-668).

According to Ballard, the key passage in Genesis 49 predicting America to be the promised land is Jacob’s words to Joseph. According to Genesis 49:22-26, Jacob said:

Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall. The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him and hated him: But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob…[T]he Almighty…shall bless thee with blessings from heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts and of the womb: The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the head of him who was separate from his brethren. (Kindle Locations 669-674)

Ballard then explains why this passage, especially the references to branches running “over the wall” and “everlasting hills” mean Jacob was speaking of America.

Jacob’s blessing also indicates that Joseph’s “branches” (posterity) would “run over the wall.” Exodus 14:22 uses the word “wall” to mean great waters. As such, it can be inferred that the above-referenced promises to Joseph’s posterity were connected to a land across the seas from the Old World. Jacob’s concluding words to his son substantiate this by indicating that Joseph’s people would be “separate from [their] brethren.” We are also told that this land would extend to “the utmost bound” (to a distant place?). In addition to being located far away, and across the sea, the blessing suggests that the land would also contain “everlasting hills.” The longest mountain range in the world—the Andes—stretches 4,300 miles and resides in the Americas. The second longest mountain range in the world—the Rockies—stretches more than 3,000 miles through North America, boasting widths of up to 300 miles and ages of up to 3.3 billion years. (Kindle Locations 690-697)

Incredibly, Ballard offers a spurious inference from Genesis 49:22 to make his case that Joseph’s descendants would eventually cross the Atlantic Ocean and found America. He also offers some verses from Jeremiah which I will take up in a future post. However, the inference about the Joseph’s land being “over the wall” is used at least 12 times to drive home his contention that the tribe of Joseph’s son Ephraim migrated to the British Isles and then to the New World.

What is Ballard’s basis for assuming the image of branches running “over the wall” refers to the Atlantic Ocean? In the citation above, Ballard says that “Exodus 14:22 uses the word “wall” to mean great waters.” Thus, he interprets the Genesis passage as predicting that the descendants of Joseph would go beyond a great body of water. However, this is wrong on at least two counts.

First, note the use of the word wall in Exodus (adding verse 21 for context):

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall (chomah) of water on their right and on their left.

The word wall here is used to describe the appearance and function of the water. It looked like a wall and functioned as a wall. The meaning of the word wall is not changed based on the substance used to create it. For instance, Jeremiah 15:20 uses the same word (chomah) in reference to a “wall of bronze.” By Ballard’s logic, wall would then sometimes mean bronze, and Joseph’s descendants would have to go beyond bronze somehow.

Second, and more important in the analysis of the text, the Hebrew word for wall used in Exodus 14:22 is not the same word as is used in Genesis 49:22. The word for wall (shur) in the Genesis passage is used only three other times in the Old Testament, each time to mean “a wall” or “walls,” never water. The word can also refer to Shur, a region of Palestine bordering Egypt (that makes sense for Joseph as a description of his influence outside of Palestine), and the root of the word is “shor” — an ox or a herd of oxen. There is nothing about water or bodies of water in any usage.

There is another problem with this passage as a proof text for seeing America in Jacob’s poem. There are three different wordings of the verse in three different Hebrew texts – the Septuagint, the Masoretic and the Samarian Pentateuch. While I don’t want to take time to go into the differences and what they might mean, it is worth noting that precision is not possible with this verse. See this article for more on the different texts.

Ballard’s inference from Genesis 49:22 is crucial to his case. As noted, he refers to it 12 times in the book as the key prediction of America as covenant land given to Joseph and Ephraim. Since this inference is faulty, his entire argument is reduced to asserting that America must be a covenant land because the nation has been blessed.

It is distressing that both Glenn Beck and David Barton would throw their weight behind a book which rests on so many faulty assumptions and questionable authorities (e.g., Herbert Armstrong).


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  • Lynn David

    When does a need for confirmation bias born of a faith in a belief become delusion? Is that simply not a tenable psychological position (deeply held religious belief cannot be considered pathological) or does the break with realities become so great as to overcome that rule?

  • Yogi29073

    Professor Throckmorton, do you actually expect to have Beck and Barton to ever tell the truth?? (It’s more a rhetorical question Professor, but I thought I’d ask it anyway).

    I have followed your remarks and corrections to Barton’s outlandish claims for well over a year now. My expectation is that Beck and Barton will continue to bend facts, break facts, fabricate facts to fit their twisted ideal of what they think this nation should be, and look forward to your particularly correcting and exacting details of how these two morons twist facts around.

    I am learning more about the Bible through your blog and Politicus USA, and I read articles by a Heathen, so between the two of you, I am getting a very good idea about God or Gods, how the documents that make up the Bible were actually gathered together (an interesting and bloody story) and religion in general.

    I find the History of the documents that have made up both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible have a really interesting history. God may have inspired the writing of these documents but it was man and all of his phobias that are what have basically made the Bible what it has come to be. We, as human’s have changed our views about life since Roman times and have come to believe the Slavery is really a bad idea, to name just one of the ancient items that are still in the Bible.

    Our views change, and our views of the Bible and its word should change as well, but the likes of Beck and Barton will have none of that!!!

    It is because of individuals like you and others that I read that base their arguments are well established facts, and it is because of that that I will listen to Beck and Barton with a bolder of salt.

    I look forward to your next post to refute these two fools and their total rubbish. Unfortunately, people still believe in what they say, and that is a shame, and dangerous.

    Thank you Professor.

  • Bill Fortenberry

    Just to let you know: Barton’s book endorsements do not necessarily reveal his personal beliefs and opinions. I wanted to find out how he conducts his reviews, so I sent in a request for a review of my own book. The instructions which I received in response, included a requirement that I “write a proposed endorsement that David can tweak/edit to his style.” This would seem to indicate that Barton does not actually read the books which he endorses. He probably just skims over a few random pages and then signs his name to whatever the author wrote for him. Personally, I think that this is a very bad policy, and I am not at all surprised that it has led to an endorsement of a book like Ballard’s, but this policy does make it difficult to argue that Barton actually agrees with Ballard’s conclusions.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Bill

    I would be most surprised if Barton endorses a book without being aware of its central themes, your observations above notwithstanding.

    I agree that what is suggested by your own experience is somewhat ‘odd’!

    @ Yogi29073

    I would agree with your suggestion that the story of how ‘the Bible’ (which is not a book – hence the inverted commas – but a collection of texts … a library perhaps) came to be in its present form(s) is not a straightforward one. I remember well a sermon at what might reasonably be regarded as a ‘bible-based’ church in CT: the preacher reminded those present that there was considerable debate in the early Church about whether the OT should be included in the Canon of Scripture, and that this indicated the need for care when interpreting what is said therein. I thought he made a good point, and made it well.

  • Father Z+

    @Richard, Yogi: I appreciate your comment, Richard, about the Bible-based church… One of the things too little remembered is that Christianity is not a Bible-based Church, but rather, the Bible is a Church-based Book (of books and letters, etc.). The Church existed for over three centuries before any real decision was made, by the bishops and leaders of the Church, about what books should be in the New Testament and which should not… and some 1400 years before making it official.

    Yogi, I disagree completely that it was human “phobias” that created the Canon– almost universally, it was devout church leaders doing the very best they could with the documents, etc. to which they had access. Remember, this was a time of poor communications between cities– for an Epistle written by Paul to, say, the Church in Ephesus to then become part of the writings used by the Church in Alexandria, it would first have to be copied by hand, then entrusted to someone who happened to be going there (a significant distance, at a time before cars, trains or planes), and if no one happened to be going as far as Alexandria, then someone had to found to carry it part way, and someone else to finish the journey… all at a time when the Church was undergoing persecution. The fact that the Christian Church spread as rapidly as it did is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit– remember, it was a tiny splinter of Judaism, which itself was a tiny minority religion from a backwater province of the Roman Empire, and yet the much larger religious faiths of the First Century AD (CE) such as Isis worship, Mithraism, etc. have all disappeared.

    I also would disagree with the pastor about there having been “considerable debate” about the use of the Old Testament in the early Church. If you read the Apostolic Church Fathers– the five earliest– or the Didache (which in all probability predates some of the Epistles), you’ll discover that in the earliest years of Christianity, the Old Testament was the only Scripture that was universal to the Church. Initially, John’s community would have had the Gospel he wrote, Mark’s his, etc., while the various communities to which Paul had written had his Epistles– and almost immediately, the slow process of sharing such writings began. This was a period not merely pre-Internet but pre-decent roads; if it weren’t for the fact that many early converts to Christianity were merchants who traveled from place to place (and could carry letters from one church community to another), the process would have lasted far longer. Thus, writers such as Bishop Ignatius of Antioch (who, during his long trip in chains from Antioch to be martyred in Rome, wrote instructive letters to the various nascent churches of what is now Turkey, as well as to the Christian community in Rome) give us an excellent view of what it meant to be “the Church” at a time when there was as yet no New Testament and very little Tradition. The Old Testament (for Jews, the only Testament), and especially Isaiah, was widely read in the early Church, as it was seen as pointing directly to the coming of Jesus, his death and Resurrection. This was based in part on The resurrected Christ’s meeting with Clophas/Cleophas and his companion on the road to Emmaus.

    While there was a move to abandon the Old Testament altogether, it came largely from a single source (the heresiarch Marcion), and was challenged by the great majority of Church leaders at the time. While Marcion did lead a number of Christians into apostasy, he was far less a challenge to the Church than, say, Arius or the Docetists.

    However, the real debates about what would be included in Holy Scripture had little to do with the Old Testament and a great deal to do with the contents of the New. The four Gospels and the Pauline Epistles were givens, but the debates over the other books were heated. Should the Epistle to the Hebrews be included, despite not having been written by St. Paul? What about the Gospel of Hebrews, or of Thomas? How about the Shepherd of Hermes, or the Revelation to St. John, or the Epistles of James or Peter or John? The two Epistles FROM the Corinthians? The Acts of the Apostles? The Epistle to the Laodiceans? All these were roundly debated– Laodiceans actually appeared in all German Bibles printed prior to Martin Luther’s translation, despite having been left out of Athanasius’ list of canonical books or listed by the Council of Rome in 382 (not an Ecumenical Council, so not considered binding on the Church as a whole),and declared spurious by the translator of Scripture from Greek to Latin in the 4th Century, St. Jerome.

    It wasn’t until 1439-1443, at the Council of Florence, that the Roman Catholic Church officially set the list of books in the New Testament (although the order wasn’t set until later– in the late 15th Century, the Book of Acts appeared just before the Revelation to John, rather than after the Gospels in its current position.

    In other words, t’ain’t nothin’ as simple as we think it is!

  • BJ Swearer

    Perhaps this writer should have been better versed with John Quincy Adams who cites the correct prophecy regarding America’s founding… it wasn’t in Genesis, but in Isaiah:

    “This was indeed a great and solemn event. The sublimest of the prophets of antiquity with the voice of inspiration had exclaimed, “Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once?” (Isaiah 66:8) In the two thousand five hundred years, that has elapsed since the days of that prophecy, no such event had occurred. It had never been seen before. In the annals of the human race, then, for the first time, did one People announce themselves as a member of that great community of the powers of the earth, acknowledging the obligations and claiming the rights of the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God. The earth was made to bring forth in one day! A Nation was born at once!”

  • Tim Ballard

    Professor Throckmorton,

    Hello. This is Tim Ballard, the author of The Covenant. Again, I break my code of not responding to bloggers about my books (as I simply don’t have time to respond to every blog, whether I feel they are treating my work fairly or not). However, I am making an exception here. Why? Because I actually think much of your analysis about my “over the wall” material was sound. Indeed, by quoting Moses’ use of “the wall”, which does seem to be referring to the functionality of water, and not the actual substance, I can’t readily connect it back to Jacob’s use of the word “wall” and call it water. In addition, you point out that the words in each instance are derived from completely different Hebraic words/meanings. In fact, so compelling was your argument, that I have contacted my publisher and asked that those approximately 5 lines of text be deleted in the next print run. I thank you for that. My editor did warn me before the first printing about this tenuous conclusion I was making. Somehow I ignored it and got it passed by my publisher. If I had had your insights earlier on, those lines never would have made it into the first print. Academic honesty is important to me. Thank you.

    I would like an opportunity, however, to address my major concern about your critique. You say that this Jacob-Moses “over the wall” connection is “crucial to [my] case” and that since my “inference is faulty, [my] entire argument is reduced to asserting that America must be a covenant land because the nation has been blessed.” I feel this statement is quite misleading. It seems you have found one weak argument I made (out of dozens that I make), and lead your readers to believe that this is the major point—that all things now hang on whether Moses’ use of “the wall” really is the same as Jacob’s usage.

    My book contains over 400 pages of text. The “wall” discrepancy you identified is no more than five lines of this work. Furthermore, I admit in that text itself that the connection is tenuous. I quote myself from the book, “Even if the reference to Exodus 14:22 [Moses’ usage] is not a hint, at the very least “the wall” over which Joseph’s posterity would run, certainly implies that some great obstruction stands between the land of Joseph’s old world and the promised land of his new world. Either way, great waters certainly fit the description” (p.42). This is the point (not Moses’ usage of the word). So, in the end, the connection you say is “crucial to my argument” is anything but.

    What other evidences, not discussed in your critique, do I put forth that support the claim that “the wall” (the obstruction) may be the Atlantic Ocean, over which the settlers traveled to America?

    1. Before giving the blessing, Jacob says he will predict things about the “last days” (Gen. 49:1)

    2. Jacob is clear that a specific land in the last days will be given to Joseph. (Gen.49)

    3. This land, according to Jacob, will be great and prosperous. (Gen.49)

    4. This land will be separated from the old world by “a wall” (an obstruction) (Gen.49)

    5. The land, given as part of Abraham’s covenant, will be a covenant land. It will be an extension of Israel.(Gen.49)

    6. The settlers and nation builders of America arrive to America calling themselves “the New Israel” and they refer to the Abrahamic covenant in building the nation. Old Testament-like miracles then follow and are documented throughout American history—from settlement through the Revolution and onto the creation of the Constitution. (Refer to a new book called American Zion by a Jewish professor named Eran Shalez of Haifa University. I make the same arguments in my book, but I’m pretty sure your readers won’t see the same research in my book as credible).

    7. On April 30, 1789, George Washington gives his first inaugural address and invokes the covenant in no uncertain terms. Then he places his hand over Jacob’s blessing in Gen 49 as he gives his oath. Yes, you may balk…but I believe there may be spiritual meanings in such things.

    8. Other prophets like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea predict that Joseph’s seed will be lost and move northward, perhaps even northwesterly, and land on islands. Jacob indicates, in his blessing, that Joseph’s s seed will land by “a well” before crossing over “the wall.” (Yes, I read your analysis on my Jeremiah conclusions—I agree that Jerusalem will be restored too. I believe they saw two promised lands and that it is possible they referenced both America and Israel/Jerusalem.)

    9. There is an array of linguistic, anecdotal, historical, even genetic evidence that indicates an Israelite migration to Western Europe….perhaps all in preparation to cross “the wall” upon God’s orders.

    These ideas are better explained, documented and cited in my book. There is even more I’m not bringing out here. But this is the point—there is enough here to find something of interest. A possible connection. And that is what I call it. I make it very clear in this chapter you refer to that this British/American Israelism is “theory,” that there are “other interpretations” and that the real evidence and main point of my book is to show that America was founded on covenant theology and that this covenant is real. I make the point that this British-Israelism theory is not necessary to support this main point about America, which the book is really all about. (See pgs 38-39 of my book, where I assert this disclaimer very strongly).

    Again, in a book over 400 pages long about the history of covenant theology in America, you focus on five lines in a chapter I call “theory” to attempt to discredit the work. Is that fair?

    I can’t help but wonder what your intent is here. Like I said, I appreciate your compelling critique about what I now consider an irresponsible few lines I never should have added. But, based on your other article published on your blog, “The Covenant: A Mormon Mission Tool?”, I wonder what this is all about.

    You seem very concerned that my book may be connected to a possible Mormon conspiracy to trick or ruse people into Mormonism. I have already posted my response on that article you wrote and I explained there is no such plan or conspiracy and that your two “Internet Sources” are exactly that—Internet Sources completely taken out of context.

    You seem to think that the idea of the United States of America as an extension of Israel is a Mormon idea, and that I’m trying to use this idea to convert people to Mormonism. Funny. This is NOT even a Mormon doctrine that I’m aware of. Mormon doctrine does state that groups of ancient Israelites came to ancient America to settle—yes, that is doctrine. But the idea I play with—that this same thing happened in modern days with the creation of the United States—I would not necessarily call Mormon doctrine. In my LDS books, I make an inference about it, yes. And it is true that some early LDS leaders published remarks about this possibility, just as their contemporaries of other faiths did throughout the 18th-19th centuries. Yes, multiples of Christian denominations (or least their members) have taught this idea and still do! (Research it! You will see. Many of them have read my book and have contacted me and conducted interviews with me for radio and publication. They don’t believe in Mormonism, but they do believe what I’m teaching about the covenant).

    So, by playing with this idea that is in fact prevalent among many denominations, how do you figure I can use it to convert people to Mormonism?

    Like other Christians, Mormons believe in a living God, they believe Christ was born in Bethlehem and later crucified. We believe in the Holy Ghost and in the Bible as well. If I teach these ideas to those of other Christian faiths, does this mean I’m secretly intending to send a Mormon Trojan horse into their lives—trick them into converting to Mormonism? This is silly.

    The bottom line: Based on my faith (yes, my Mormon faith), and based on my own experiences and my own study of Scripture and American history, I believe there is a covenant on this land. It is NOT a Mormon covenant, it is an American Covenant. It is for all people and all faiths. Its purpose is to bless America and the world with the liberty necessary for mankind to access God and salvation. I want all America to know about this covenant, because I believe it is the key to securing liberty under God. That is why I wrote the book. The ONLY reason.

    I don’t know that I’ll be back here, but I imagine there will be responses to this posting. My response to your readers’ responses is this: if you have cared to read this far, please pick up the book and read it for yourself. That way things stay in context.

    Professor, I thank you again for your insights and you will see that future printings of The Covenant will not include those five lines of text you based your article on. Well done. And yet, the references to “the wall” will remain…and they will remain unhurt without those five lines of soon-to-be deleted text.