Who are the Black Hebrews / Black Israelites?
Question: "Who are the Black Hebrews / Black Israelites?"
Answer: The terms “Black Hebrews” and “Black Israelites” refer as a categorical whole to several independent sub-sects whose unifying characteristic is that their members are of black African descent who claim Hebrew / Israelite ancestry. Apart from this unifying characteristic, however, these sub-sects are very distinct from one another.
For example, members of the Original African Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem (or the African Israelites, for short) believe that, after the Roman expulsion of the Jews from the land of Israel, many Jews migrated to West Africa. From there, their descendants were transported by slave ship to the United States, where the group began in the 1960s. According to this view, the biblical Hebrews of the Old Testament times had multiracial descendants.
Members of the Nation of Yahweh, on the other hand, believe that all of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus Christ, and God Himself are all black. They believe that all whites, but especially Jews, are infidels, whom they call “white devils.” Only blacks are “true Jews.” This group is considered a black supremacist group by many and has a history of violence and terror.
In 1966, African Israelite founder and leader Ben Ammi (the name literally means “Son of My People,” formerly Ben Carter of Chicago) claimed to have been visited by the angel Gabriel. According to Ben Ammi, Gabriel instructed him to “lead the children of Israel to the Promised Land, and establish the long-awaited Kingdom of God.” Ben Ammi then established the Original African Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem and led approximately 400 members to the West African nation of Liberia for a two-and-a-half year period of purification. From there, those who remained for the entire two-and-a-half years began migrating to Israel in waves, beginning in 1969.
The authorities in Israel did not accept Ben Ammi and his followers as biblical Jews and did not deem them entitled to citizenship under the Israeli “Right of Return” law. Instead, the African Israelites were granted temporary tourist visas. Legal troubles ensued when it became apparent that the African Israelites had no intention of ever leaving. The Jewish authorities did not want to expel them, however, and face accusations of racial discrimination. After much perseverance, the group was finally granted residency in 2004. This allowed them to stay in Israel, but not as full citizens. In 2008, there were approximately 2,500 African Israelites living in Israel. They adhere to strict dietary and behavioral laws, which include veganism and Old Testament Mosaic Law.
These are just two of many Black Hebrew / Israelite sub-sects, each one distinct and independent from the others. Other Black Hebrew / Israelite groups include the Church of the Living God, the Pillar Ground of Truth for All Nations, the Church of God and Saints of Christ, and the Commandment Keepers. What they have in common is their race (i.e., black African descent) and their claim to have descended from the biblical Hebrews of Old Testament times.
Is it possible that Old Testament Hebrews left behind some black ancestors? Yes. Given Israel’s proximity to Africa, it is plausible that there are African Jewish groups, especially following the Roman expulsion and the Diaspora of the Jews. In fact, the entire Jewish nation spent four centuries in Africa before returning to the Promised Land (modern-day Israel), and interactions between the Hebrews and African nations are documented throughout the Old Testament.
There is a group of black Jews living in Africa today who practice a very ancient form of Judaism. Unlike the modern Original African Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem, the Beta Israel group of Ethiopia is accepted by the majority of Jews and by the nation of Israel as being historically Jewish. When it comes to the question of Black Hebrews / Israelites, it is not so much a matter of whether there are groups of blacks with partial Jewish ancestry living in the world today. The question is whether these particular groups claiming Jewish ancestry truly are descendants of the biblical Hebrews.
Whether or not any of the Black Hebrew / Israelite groups have Jewish ancestry is not the most important issue. Even if it could be conclusively proven that a Black Hebrew / Israelite faction is partially genetically descended from the biblical Israelites, what these groups believe is far more important than their ancestry. Each of these groups, to varying degrees, have beliefs that are unbiblical. Above everything else, the most crucial error is a misunderstanding, or in some cases denial, of who Jesus Christ is, what He taught, and how His death and resurrection provide the way of salvation.
Recommended Resource: Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper
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