Book endorsed by David Barton claims American colonists were Ephraimites

Last week, I critiqued one of the central claims in the book, The Covenant, by Timothy Ballard. To help prove that the British and Americans are descended from the lost tribes of Israel, Ballard claims Genesis 49:22 as a prophecy of America. In fact, his rendering is tendentious and completely untenable. He also claims that Jeremiah 31 predicts the gathering of the Israelites in America. However, the text of Jeremiah 31 clearly designates where a future gathering will take place, and it is not America.

To fully understand Ballard’s claim, you should read the post on Genesis 49. His basis for seeing America in Jeremiah is his faulty reading of Genesis 49:22. When he claims Joseph’s posterity was a land “over the wall (he says this means over the Atlantic),” he begins his reading of Jeremiah on a false foundation. Ballard writes:

He [Jeremiah] declares that they will be gathered from “the coasts of the earth” (Jeremiah 31:8). (Recall that Joseph’s posterity was given a land “over the wall” of water and separate from the rest of the tribes of Israel. If they were to travel over this wall, of course they would begin at “the coasts of the earth.”) He further details this migration, stating that “Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion.” Jeremiah foresees them traveling from the “north country” (Europe?), being gathered from “the coasts” (the British Isles?), and delivered into this new land of its inheritance (America?), saying they will come “with weeping, and with supplication” (the historical record is clear on the difficulties faced by our American founders’ early migration and settlement).* (Kindle Locations 851-857).

Jeremiah 31 specifies where the restoration of Israel will take place. You can read the entire chapter here; I have selected verses which designate the specific elements of the restoration.

Jeremiah 31: 1“At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.” This is what the Lord says:

I will build you up again, and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt. Again you will take up your timbrels and go out to dance with the joyful. Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the farmers will plant them and enjoy their fruit.

There will be a day when watchmen cry out on the hills of Ephraim, ‘Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.’”

This chapter refers to a future time when the tribes of Israel, including Joseph’s descendants, will be restored to Palestine. Three locations are named here – Zion (Jerusalem) and the hills of Samaria and Ephraim) – and they are not in America.

See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return. They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son. 10 “Hear the word of the Lord, you nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: ‘He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’

16 This is what the Lord says: “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. 17 So there is hope for your descendants,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.

It is very clear that this chapter pictures a return to the ancient homeland and not a new nation somewhere else. Verse 17 says that Ephraim’s children will return to their own land. There is nothing here about going elsewhere. The following verses make it even clearer where the restoration will take place.

23 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “When I bring them back from captivity,[c] the people in the land of Judah and in its towns will once again use these words: ‘The Lord bless you, you prosperous city, you sacred mountain.’24 People will live together in Judah and all its towns—farmers and those who move about with their flocks. 25 I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”

27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals.

38 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. 39 The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. 40 The whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, will be holy to the Lord. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.”

This prophesy is quite specific, referring to the “land of Judah” and “its towns.” Towers, gates, hills and valleys are named with precision. None of these locations are in America.

Another aspect of Jeremiah 31 which undermines the British-Israelism argument is in verse 27 where Judah and Israel are referred to as being planted together. According to the Ballard, the northern kingdom of Israel included the sons of Ephraim, who eventually became English settlers in America. In his book, he even calls the settlers “Ephraimites.” Ballard writes

And who were these chosen ones that would settle the New World? They were, for the most part, the European descendants of Joseph, even the Ephraimites, whose responsibility it would be to establish a national covenant in America, and then, building upon this covenant, usher in a renewal and expansion of Christianity. It was to be a covenant land that would bless Judah, help restore ancient Israel, and spread God’s truth and salvation. (Kindle Locations 1744-1752)

Clearly, Jeremiah 31 is about a return to the ancient homeland, and a restoration of the Jews, both Ephraim and Judah.  There is nothing in this passage that refers to a re-gathering anywhere else and no American covenant.

There are so many problems with Ballard’s approach to these texts that it becomes clear that he is interpreting them in light of Mormon theology and the Book of Mormon. In the first book, titled The American Covenant – the LDS version – the Book of Mormon is cited frequently.  As I pointed out on Friday, these references were removed as an aspect of a possible mission effort to expose non-Mormons to Latter Day Saint theology. Mormons see their membership as being primarily descendants of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.  From the LDS church website:

On another occasion President Joseph Fielding Smith emphatically stated: “The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph.” (Improvement Era, Oct. 1923, p. 1149.)

Mormons view Joseph Smith as a direct descendant of Ephraim.

“It is the house of Israel we are after, and we care not whether they come from the east, the west, the north, or the south; from China, Russia, England, California, North or South America, or some other locality. … The Book of Mormon came to Ephraim, for Joseph Smith was a pure Ephraimite, and the Book of Mormon was revealed to him.” (Journal of Discourses 2:268–69.)

Essentially The Covenant is an elaborate effort to bring Mormon beliefs to the masses with Glenn Beck’s help. About the book, Beck gushed:

“I’ve been looking for a way to articulate this message for years. Ballard finally did it! Everybody needs to read this book, it is the key to restoring America.”

In other words, the key to restoring America is a Mormon slant on history and theology. How oddly disturbing, then, for David Barton to also endorse the book in an effusive manner:

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.

Given his endorsement, Barton seems to believe there is some relationship between the Abrahamic covenant and the arrival of the English to American shores. Barton’s endorsement probably means his evangelical followers will put stock in the Book of Mormon inspired interpretations of history.  If what some of Ballard’s fellow Mormons have said is true, this is exactly what Ballard and Beck hope to accomplish.


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  • William Birch

    That stuff would make for good comic book material. :^)

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Given his endorsement, Barton seems to believe there is some relationship between the Abrahamic covenant and the arrival of the English to American shores.

    Thomas Paine, Common Sense: “Even the distance at which the Almighty hath placed England and America is a strong and natural proof that the authority of the one over the other, was never the design of Heaven. The time likewise at which the Continent was discovered, adds weight to the argument, and the manner in which it was peopled, encreases the force of it. The Reformation was preceded by the discovery of America: As if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety.”

    Weird, huh? Thomas Paine, the big unbeliever. Who’d-a-thunkit? [Don’t tell David Barton.]

  • JRichard

    Tom Van Dyke – What do Paine’s views have to do with the Abrahamic covenant? I think Barton has betrayed his evangelical supporters by endorsing this book. I know a lot of my friends are re-thinking what Barton’s motives are. to me, it looks like he is mostly interested in being accepted by Glenn Beck, and his Mormon audience.

  • Jon Rowe

    David Barton should just get it over with and convert to Mormonism.

  • Carol A Ranney

    “Among them will be the blind and the lame…” Don’t think so. My grandfather came to the US from England in 1910 with a “one armed chap” he met enroute. At the Ellis Island processing facility, that man was turned back and presumably returned to England. The human genome project should be helpful in tracing the so-called migration from Israel to Europe to the US…or in proving it doesn’t exist. Barton/Ballard are the blind leading the blind, and both have fallen in the ditch.

  • ken

    JRichard says:

    April 8, 2013 at 11:14 am

    “it looks like he is mostly interested in being accepted by Glenn Beck, and his Mormon audience.”

    Not so sure it is as much about being accepted as more quid pro quo for the support Beck gave Barton for Barton’s books. Plus, I suspect Barton supports the notion that America is the “promised land” given by god to the christians.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Tom Van Dyke – What do Paine’s views have to do with the Abrahamic covenant?

    Paine’s argument is similar, is all. If you need to get more literal about it, we have the infidels Jefferson and Franklin proposing as the reverse side of the national seal God leading the Israelites as a Pillar of Fire.

    The problem with these Barton-bashes is that people end up even more ignorant than they started. But now we begin to see how common the idea of God having a special relationship with America actually was.

    I think Barton has betrayed his evangelical supporters by endorsing this book. I know a lot of my friends are re-thinking what Barton’s motives are. to me, it looks like he is mostly interested in being accepted by Glenn Beck, and his Mormon audience.

    Or, as Bill Fortenberry says,

    Barton isn’t too thorough in reading what he endorses. Which fits. Sort of like many of his factoids. And it would be an irony if he were brought down for his lack of rigor by his own customers rather than the usual left-wingers, whose motives are no less questionable.

  • Patrocles

    “British Israelism” was rather widespread in the 18th and early 19th century – you’d find the idea in most respectable Christian churches. It became a Mormon peculiarity only afterwards (there were British Israelites in England still between the wars – Agatha Christie depicted two of them in “Dumb Witness”). So why should Barton have “betrayed” Evangelicals and would have to convert to Mormonism?

    • Warren

      Pat – British Israelism is only one aspect of Mormon doctrine asserted in the book and it is not held by any evangelical group today that I know of. The book is an historical justification for the Book of Mormon without references to the BoM or an alert to the reader that it functions that way. Whether knowingly or not, there is great potential for his endorsement to confuse a lot of people.