It is a scene that has played out often on the streets of many large cities in the United States. Now, it is increasingly becoming a common occurrence in the large cities of the United Kingdom. A group of Black men stand in the street, preaching in loud voices what at first appears to be a group of Christian street preachers. But, they are dressed in outlandish costumes, an eclectic mix that echoes Afrofuturism and post-apocalyptic American movies. They always seem to have a Bible verse ready to explain their ideology, or respond to questions. They shout. They use profanities. They are the Black Hebrew Israelites. Their videos are seen by thousands of viewers across the world on YouTube.
They claim that they represent the ancient Twelve Tribes of Israel and have been sent to inform all the other Israelites of their identity ahead of the imminent Second Appearance of Jesus. These Twelve Tribes, after a long history of being enslaved and oppressed by every nation on earth, are today known as African Americans, Hispanics, Caribbeans and Native Americans. Any ethnicity outside these groups cannot claim an Israelite ancestry or identity. In reality, The Black Hebrew Israelites are a latter day manifestation of the Black Jewish movement established by Wentworth A. Matthew, William S. Crowdy etc. There are many religious communities who have adhered to the teachings of the aforementioned Matthew et al, but these new groups distort the Bible to teach racial hate, particularly antisemitism.
Sometimes, a member of their street audience identifies themselves as Jewish. Their response is to shout, “Ata goy, lo Yehudi !” Often, this has to be repeated before the Jewish person realises that they are trying to speak Hebrew and meant to say, “You are a Gentile, you’re not Jewish!” Sometimes it takes longer for the Jewish person to realise that the preacher is serious.
The Black Hebrew Israelites teach that, according to the Bible, they are the physical descendants of the ancient Israelites, and that the people we know as Jews are impostors who usurped their identity thousands of years ago. To support their views they cite one verse from the Jewish Bible and a second verse from the Christian Bible. There are two main passages they use to base their belief system: Deuteronomy 28:68 and Revelation 2:9. In this essay, I am going to examine these verses and their Hebrew Israelite interpretation. I will demonstrate that their interpretation is based on eisegesis and historical errors .
Before we analyze these verses, it is important to understand, exegesis is the critical explanation or interpretation of a religious text. In contrast, eisegesis is the process of interpreting a religious text in such a way as to introduce one’s own presuppositions, agendas or biases. The Hebrew Israelites force their own ideas onto the text to promote their own agenda, which serves no purpose at all except to engender antisemitism in Black communities in western countries.
Into Egypt with ships.
And the LORD shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships by the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again: and there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you- Deuteronomy 28:68
The Hebrew Israelites say that this verse clearly points to them (and no one else) as the true Jews, since they are descended from people who were kidnapped from Africa and taken to the New World in ships to be sold as slaves. When were the people we know as Jews ever sent back to Egypt to become slaves? they ask, rhetorically. Why would they be sent back to Egypt in ships, given that the Land of Israel and Egypt are neighbours? Since it was only Black people who have ever been taken into slavery in ships, this verse clearly demonstrates that only African Americans and Hispanics and West Indians and Native Americans are the true House of Israel, right? And Egypt is clearly a metaphor for America, right, since Egypt means House of Bondage? Clearly, these interpretations are completely wrong, they are based on forced metaphors rather than historical reality.
Obviously, Black people are not the only people in the history of the world to have experienced slavery, whether as slaves or owners. Roman society had no problem at all with one man owning another as his property, and slaves came from different parts of the Roman Empire to be traded in like cattle. Slavery is not a uniquely Black experience, nor does it form the essence of any Black history or identity.
Were Jews ever put on ships to be sold into slavery? Did they ever go back to Egypt as slaves. Oh, yes. This happened after the Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and the Bar Kochba Revolt. Josephus records:
Because the soldiers were now growing weary of bloodshed, and survivors appeared constantly, Caesar orders to kill only those who offered armed resistance and to take alive all the rest. (415) The troops, in addition to those covered by their orders, slaughtered the aged and infirm; people to their prime who might be useful they herded into the Temple area and shut up in the Court of the Women (lcl. (416) Caesar appointed one of his freedmen as their guard, his friend Fronto, to decide the fate appropriate to each. (417) All those who had taken part in sedition and brigandage (they informed against other) he executed. He picked out the tallest and handsomest of the lot and reserved them for the Triumph (418). Of the rest, those who were over seventeen he put in chains and sent to hard labor in Egypt while greet numbers were presented by Titus to the provinces to perish in the theaters by sword or by wild beasts; those under seventeen were sold- Josephus, The Jewish Wars, Book 6, Chapter 9:2
Innumerable was the multitude of those who were sold away as slaves. At the Annual Market of Terebrinth of Hebron they were offered for sale in such numbers that a Jewish slave was of no more value than a horse. –Emil Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ.
This means that when Moses told the Israelites that they would be sold into slavery in Egypt if they disobeyed the Covenant that they had made with the LORD, he literally meant Egypt. The claim is made that “Egypt” in the verse does not refer to the land that we know as Egypt, but rather metaphorically to the Americas. This interpretation is based on the idea that the Bible calls any land where the Israelites have been taken into captivity “Egypt”, because this word can also figuratively mean “bondage.” The problem is that the Bible does not always use the term “Egypt” in a metaphorical sense. For example, the Israelites were taken into captivity to Babylon and at no time in the story of this terrible event is Babylon called “Egypt.” Although it is true that Jewish people sometimes use the word “Egypt” poetically to mean “captivity,” it is not true that the word “Egypt” can always be metaphorically interchanged with the word “captivity”. It comes to us from the Greek a-ku-pi-ti-yo , which in turn comes from the Egyptian ḥ wt-kȝ -ptḥ , i.e., “The land of the temple of the ka of Ptah.” The original Hebrew name in the Bible for Egypt is Mizraim, an ethnonym based on the belief that descendants of Mizraim, son of Ham (Genesis 10:6) settled in that land after the Flood. A Hebrew reader would have never imagined that Mizraim could mean anywhere else besides the land settled by the descendants of Mizraim, son of Ham, son of Noah.
OK, what about ships? Egypt and Israel are geographical neighbours, so why would the Romans need to use ships to transport slaves? Yes, the two lands are neighbours, but the Roman Empire found it easier to use ships of its vast navy to link the different parts of its domain that were located around the Mediterranean Sea. And it is documented that Jewish slaves were taken to Egypt in ships. The aforementioned Schürer continues from above:
What could not be disposed of there was brought to Gaza and sold or sent to Egypt, on the way to which many died of hunger, or of shipwreck.
Another source records:
Now that Betar had been captured, everything came under Human control, while Palestine [Judah] was reduced to a desolate mound. Captives were sold into slavery in numbers too great to count. First they were brought to the grand annual market at the Terebinth-Eloh tree in Hebron, or in the words of Hyranumous, to the Tent-Ohel of Abraham near Hebron. Each slave sold for the price of a horse. Those captives who were not sold there were brought to the market place in Azza [Gaza] which, because of the great multitudes of slaves who were sold there, was called Hadrian’s marketplace. And those who were still not sold there were herded into ships and were taken to Egypt. Many died in transit, whether by starvation or by shipwreck, while many also were killed by cruel masters.- Friedrich Münter, Primordia Eccl. Africanae
So, it is an historical fact that slaves from Israel (or the Roman Province of Judea) were transported to major Roman cities like Alexandria by ship. It is reported that the price of slaves dropped drastically, hence and no man shall buy you . In contrast, the Transatlantic Slave Trade endured for so long, the greater part of half a millenium, because it was that profitable for Europeans and Africans alike.
In contrast, the Hebrew Israelites falsely claim that there was a Kingdom of Judah established in West Africa by their ancestors. However, there is no proof for this claim, rather a fictional connection to the historical Kingdom of Whydah in West Africa. It was located in what is now the modern Republic of Benin, and its economy was founded on slave trading. Its name is from the Yoruba Xwéda, but Europeans distorted it variously to Whydah, Hueda, Whidah, Ajuda, Ouidah, Whidaw, and Juda. It is that last version of this name that Hebrew Israelites have erroneously seized on to claim that there was a Kingdom of Judah established by their ancestors in West Africa, after they fled Israel following the Destruction of Jerusalem. The only primary source to support this claim of a mass migration of Jewish refugees to Africa that I have come across is a book called From Babylon To Timbktu by Rudolph R. Windsor, first published in 1969. Mr Windsor claims that millions (p84) of Jews fled into Africa following the Destruction of Jerusalem, but is shy with his sources. Contemporary Roman sources however have it that 100000 Jews were taken to Egypt in ships to be sold as slaves. More were sent to other parts of the Roman Empire.
The history of the Kingdom of Whydah’s history is adequately documented. It was founded around 1100 C.E. (the Fall of Jerusalem happened in 70 C.E, what were the Jews doing in West Africa for a whole thousand years before finally being sold to European slave traders?)
Thus, it can be established as a historical fact that, contrary to the teaching of the Black Hebrew Israelites, that the people we know as Jews have at some point in their history been transported in large numbers in ships to be sold as slaves in Egypt, and that their presence created a glut in the slave markets and many were unsold. This ignoble chapter of Jewish history would actually be closer to the prophecy of Deuteronomy 28 than that of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
By the way, Native Americans and Hispanics did not get to the New World on slave ships, except those who today have some African ancestry…..
And, by the way, there is no Arab record of kidnapping and enslaving Jewish people out of West Africa. Given that the Arab Slave Trader was longer and captured people, it is quite remarkable that there is no mention of Hebrews at all. They documented Christians and Jews everywhere else they met them, including other parts of Africa.
Now, let us move onto the second verse upon which the ideology of the Black Hebrew Israelites is based on:
The Synagogue of Satan.
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan-Revelation 2:9
From this comes the notion that Jews are not really Jews, but evil impostors. Further “proof” is found in the famous but discredited Thirteenth Tribe by A.Koestler, and then the wild claim leaps into texts loved by antisemites the world over. I am not going to list them here because I do not wish to make them any more famous. Besides, once we understand that this verse does not validate them in any way, they can go back into the dustbin where they belong.
With the first part of the verse, I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, they make the rhetorical leap into the conclusion that this indubitably speaks of African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Caribbeans because they are experiencing tribulation and poverty. As with the Biblical reference to slavery, the Black Hebrew Israelites hold the assumption that poverty in America and Europe is a uniquely Black experience, and Jews and other people have never known poverty. In the video I cite as a source below, the preacher states that this verse could not possibly be referring to Jews, because Jews are rich and control the financial system. Once again, antisemitic tropes are brought in to play.
Jewish history, on the other hand, paints a very different picture. Jews have experienced
poverty in their long history in Europe and America. Jews in America and Europe may enjoy the status of a model minority today, but that was not always the case. Britain’s first Jews are believed to have come with the Normans. There were subsequent migrations, but mostly wealthy merchants. However, the Ashkenazi Jews who came in the eighteenth century as refugees from eastern Europe were mostly poor, lacking in skills and unable to speak English. The website The Ultimate History Project says “Christian Landowners saw only the poverty and “foreignness” of these Jewish immigrants and the mainstream press as well as many Christians themselves routinely blamed these newcomers for a host of different ills, including London’s high levels of unemployment and poverty.”
In London: The Biography , Peter Ackroyd quoting Christian Charles Booth, records, “the old settlers [the wealthy, mostly Sephardim Jews] held aloof from the newcomers, and regarded them as a lower caste fit only to receive alms.” Henry Mayhew also writes about the poor Jews of London in his London Labour and the London Poor: Volume I, which came out in 1851, which demonstrates that poverty was still an issue among Ashkenazi Jewish migrants a century after they came to the UK. For a long time, Jews were forbidden from becoming apprentices to Christians, which denied them access to acquiring important skills. There were even Jewish criminals, such as the internationally notorious Isaac “Ikey” Solomon, who many scholars believe to have been the inspiration for Charles Dicken’s even more internationally notorious Fagin. Surprisingly, at this time, there were many rich Blacks and poverty was not considered a natural attribute of Black people. ( Ironically, the Hebrew Israelites contradict themselves and like to recall these Black aristocrats when claiming that Europe was once ruled by Black Israelites.)
Even in the United States, the desperate poverty of Jewish immigrants from Europe is documented. Golda Meir describes the difficult circumstances her family faced in their native Ukraine, the United States and Israel. TV mogul Aaron Spelling grew up in poverty. There are very few biographies about successful American Jews that do not mention the poverty endured by the first and second generation to migrate to the United States endured. So, I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty cannot honestly point to only Black people in the ghettos of the United States , or the inner cities of the United Kingdom and deny the historical poverty of the Jewish people. That Jewish people have become successful in many of the countries that they have settled in is a testament to the power of a set of ethics that other minorities have emulated and achieved similar results. Social media is full of accounts of how the various Hebrew Israelites leaders shun actual work, preferring instead to live off female members of their sects, moving from one woman’s house and wearing out her hospitality before going to the next.
and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan
It is this last part of Revelation 2:9 which gets the Hebrew Israelites quite excited. Presto chango, the people we know as Jews are not Jews, but blasphemers and are in fact the synagogue of Satan. Nothing could be plainer, right? If you see a person who calls themselves Jewish but is not descended from people who came to America on slave ships, that person is either lying or deluded, and is in fact a worshiper of Satan, right? This interpretation of the verse propels the hate speech that we see directed at Jews by Hebrew Israelites. Ancient and discredited antisemitic canards are exhumed and brought to bear. In one tirade, a street preacher told a stunned Jewish member of the audience that it was “fake Jews” who were responsible for the Transatlantic Slave Trade. His evidence was, of course, the Nation of Islam’s The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews.
So, why does the Book of Revelation describe a group of Jews in the city of Smyrna as “the synagogue of Satan”? Well, in Greek, the word “synagogue” has two meanings: it can either refer to a place of worship for the Jewish people, or it can mean a gathering of people. So it can also be translated as “assembly.” But, some critics hold that the King James translators intentionally chose to target the Jews by using the word “synagogue,” when “assembly”or “church” had been used throughout the rest of the book for the same word. I think that the translators understood that it was not only Jews who gathered in “synagogues” or Christians in “churches,” and the context in which “synagogue” was used in Revelation 2:9.
Minister Ernest Martin explains the background:
It is often assumed, because most Gnostic groups had Christian beliefs associated with them, that the Gnostics would have called their meeting places ekklesias (churches) and not synagogues. But the contemporary evidence from Irenaeus and other sources show that Gnostics were conducting their meetings in synagogues (even though ekklesia and synagogue meant practically the same thing in this early period). This shows that any archaeological discovery of an ancient synagogue should not automatically justify the conclusion that the synagogue was a mainline Jewish building. It could very well be a Samaritan synagogue, or even a Gnostic synagogue – The People That History Forgot.
The early church historian Iraneus of Lyon writes about the “synagogue of the heretics” (Against Heresies 4, Chapter 18:27), while making a clear distinction between these heretics and Jews. So, another possibility is that “synagogue of Satan” could quite easily refer to a heretical sect in the city of Smyrna, which claimed to be Jewish, and was giving the Christians a hard time. The whole Book of Revelation was written to comfort and strengthen various Christian communities which were facing brutal persecution from the Roman Empire rather than act as a prophetic book, and assure them that if they endured bravely, they would see the Messianic Age that they believed Jesus would bring in their lifetime. Even the poverty that the writer highlights when speaking of the Christians at Smyrna is linked to the persecution; Christians endured poverty because they could not join the various guilds as they were associated with the veneration of various pagan gods in that city.
The “blasphemy” was not the claim to a Jewish identity as such, but their overall doctrine. It is hard to trace this “synagogue of Satan” because, although they might have been significant enough to warrant a mention in the Book of Revelation, they eventually became extinct when the Christianity that we know ascended to supremacy and suppressed the movements it regarded as heretical. There are other such groups mentioned in Revelation we know next to nothing about either, such as the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6). There are several commentaries on Revelation, but it is only with the rise of antisemitic movements that claim that the Bible supports their ideologies that Revelation 2:9 came to be used to deny the Jewish people their identity.
The most vocal elements of the Hebrew Israelite movement have distorted the Bible (both Jewish and Christian) to give antisemitism a place among Black people. I hope this information will equip members of the public of any background to challenge these distortions. There must be some way to explain the conditions that many Black people in western countries are facing, and a way to chart a better future. But hating Jewish people and denying their history and identity is not it.
A.O.C. Israelites General HaShar Real Jew vs Fake Jew- https://youtu.be/xRyvmRZDwms
4. Mayhew. H., London labour and the London poor; a cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work, Vol. 1, The London Street-Folk, George Woodfall & Son, 1851
6. Schürer, E., A history of the Jewish people in the time of Jesus Christ, Scribner, 1891
7. Windsor, R. R., From Babylon To Timbktu, Windsor Golden Series; Reprint, Subsequent edition (1 Sept. 2003)