The Unbiblical Teachings of the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement
Celebrity rapper Kanye West came under fire recently regarding an array of antisemitic remarks, some of which stem from Black Hebrew Israelite ideology. These remarks included statements like, “Jewish people have owned the Black voice,” Jews are “the 12 lost tribes of Judah, the blood of Christ, who the people known as the race Black really are [sic],” and “When I wake up, I’m going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE. The funny thing is I actually can’t be Anti Semitic because black people are actually Jew also [sic].”
Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem strongly repudiates such antisemitic rhetoric and stands with the Jewish people against all forms of antisemitism. We believe the Jewish people are God’s chosen people, whom God will preserve, and with whom He will fulfill His covenant as the true physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We believe Black Hebrew Israelite ideology is seriously flawed and unbiblical, as we will outline in this article.
The Black Hebrew Israelite movement began in the late 1800s when two men, Frank Cherry and William Saunders Crowdy, said they received visions revealing that African Americans are the true descendants of the biblical Israelites, as opposed to those we know as Jewish people today. Now, the movement has more than 1.8 million adherents in the United States.
While various sects of the movement adhere to different beliefs, and not all members and subgroups are hateful or antisemitic, the following unbiblical doctrines are characteristic of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement as a whole:
(1) Only African Americans and Hispanics are the true children of Israel. Jewish people are imposters.
(2) Salvation comes through keeping the Law of Moses.
(3) In the future, the Jewish people and white nations will serve as slaves to the Black Hebrew Israelites.
(4) Jesus is the Messiah but not God.
This article will respond to the first tenet––the belief that African Americans are the true Israel and modern-day Jewish people are frauds––and part two will respond to the final three tenets of Black Hebrew Israelite ideology.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization committed to combating antisemitism and hate, describes the Black Hebrew Israelite (BHI) movement in the following way:
The Black Hebrew Israelite (BHI) movement is a fringe religious movement that rejects widely accepted definitions of Judaism and asserts that people of color are the true children of Israel. Followers, who are also referred to as “Black Hebrews” or “Hebrew Israelites,” believe that Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans are the descendants of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. It should be noted that not all BHI adherents include Native American populations in the Twelve Tribes, but they all agree that white people or conventionally accepted Jews are not members of the tribes. This is a departure from the mainstream understanding of the Twelve Tribes as a reference to Jacob’s twelve sons, who each represent a different genealogical thread of the Jewish population.
According to BHI adherents, Jewish people today are ethnic and religious imposters, since African Americans are the true descendants of the biblical Israelites. Some groups, such as the One West Camp, even claim modern Jewish people are actually Amalekites (like Haman in the story of Esther), enemies of the Israelites. BHI adherents believe they are reclaiming their lost heritage and American pastors have lied to them about their true identity as Israelites. Adherents of this movement incorrectly cite two specific Scripture passages to support their claim––Revelation 2:9 and Deuteronomy 28.
Revelation 2:9 reads, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” BHI adherents incorrectly apply this passage to themselves, claiming Jesus was speaking to them about the Jewish people who falsely claim the identity of Israelites. But this interpretation is baseless.
In Revelation 2:9, Jesus was speaking to persecuted Christians in Smyrna who were living under the reign of Roman Emperor Domitian who was ruthlessly persecuting believers in Jesus, both Jewish and Gentile. In addition, unbelieving Jewish people in Smyrna were also persecuting their Jewish brethren who believed in Jesus at the time. That is why, in this verse, Jesus called specific non-believing Jewish people who were persecuting His followers and handing them over to the emperor “of the synagogue of Satan.” He did not say they were not ethnically Jewish, but that they were following the devil by persecuting followers of God.
Under the Roman Empire, the Jewish people were exempt from the requirement to worship the emperor, but since they disassociated themselves from Jewish followers of Jesus, Jewish Christians did not have the same protections. Thus, the Romans could persecute and kill them for refusing to worship the emperor. Commenting on Revelation 2:9, New Testament scholar Craig Keener explains,
The strength of the Jewish community in Smyrna is well attested. In denying that his [Jesus’] opponents are spiritually Jewish, he seems to return the charge they had made against the Christians; in calling them a “synagogue of Satan,” his rhetoric resembles that of the Dead Sea Scrolls, where a persecuted Jewish sect that considered the rest of Judaism apostate called its opponents “the lot of Belial” (Satan).
People were betrayed to provincial officials by delatores, “informers,” and by the early second century it is attested that Christians in Asia Minor were generally charged only if accused by such informers. By the early second century, Jews in Smyrna were reportedly fulfilling this function against Christians (such as Polycarp). But simply claiming publicly that Christians were no longer welcome as part of the synagogue community was a form of betrayal; Christians who were not seen as Jewish had no protection against civil requirements for participation in the emperor cult.
The apostle Paul used similar language when he wrote, “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:29). Paul was not calling Gentiles “true Jews.” He was saying it is more important for Jewish people to be spiritually Jewish and part of the “Israel of God” by trusting in their Messiah (Galatians 6:16), and not to rely on their Jewish ethnicity (of the “circumcision”). Nowhere in the Bible does Scripture call Gentiles “true Jews” or displace God’s purpose and covenant with national Israel, the Jewish people. On the contrary, Paul wrote about how the Jewish people remain “beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28–29) and his heart’s desire was for their salvation (Romans 10:1). BHI adherents completely take Revelation 2:9 out of its correct historical context and misapply it to themselves. In addition, they miss and ignore verses about God’s continuous love for the Jewish people, even those who were complicit in His death (Luke 23:34).
Black Hebrew Israelites also appeal to Deuteronomy 28 to support their cause. Deuteronomy 28 contains a list of blessings and curses from God concerning the Jewish people—promised blessings for obedience to God’s laws and promised curses for disobedience to God’s laws. BHI adherents claim this chapter proves they are the true chosen people since they endured the curse of slavery and oppression. The ADL explains,
Black Hebrew Israelites believe they are members of the Twelve Tribes based on biblical interpretation that teaches that their population will be spread across the globe, which they tie to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. BHI presents slavery, racism, incarceration and other social ills as divine punishments for disobedience that can only be cured through BHI ideology. Teachings assert that the Israelites were warned of repercussions for breaking the Commandments but did not abide, resulting in enslavement as punishment and another race inhabiting Israel in their place. Preachers use Deuteronomy 28:15-68 to encourage individuals to embrace their true title as God’s chosen children or continue to suffer in society as their ancestors have.
No evidence exists to support the BHI claim that African Americans are the true Israelites as opposed to modern-day Jews. Moreover, this passage cannot refer to the transatlantic slave trade, which did not scatter African Americans “among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth” (Deuteronomy 28:64). In addition, the transatlantic slave trade involved the kidnapping and enslavement of black people, as opposed to the slavery mentioned in Deuteronomy 28, where the Israelites would offer themselves for sale to their enemies, but no one would buy them (v. 68).
Some black people are indeed Jewish, such as the Ethiopian Jewish tribe Beta Israel. However, the Black Hebrew Israelite claim that all African Americans are the true Israelites—to the exclusion of most people considered Jewish today—lacks any evidence. Rather, the evidence we do have confirms that modern-day Jewish people are indeed descended from the ancient Israelites. In addition to DNA evidence confirming Jewish heritage, ancient bas relief carvings of Israelites and other Semitic people reveal they look much like the Middle Eastern people of today:
The biblical Israelites were the descendants of Israel (Jacob), the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. The Bible doesn’t mention skin color, facial features, or hair, but the biblical Israelites weren’t as “white” as many Jews are today after 2000 years of intermarriage with Europeans.
Abraham was a descendant of Noah’s son Shem. Shem was the father of many tribes (Semites) who settled in today’s Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, including the Assyrians, Elamites, Aramaeans, and the Israelites. (See Genesis 10-11)
The Israelites intermarried with Egyptians. Abraham’s second wife (concubine) Hagar was Egyptian, Israel’s son Joseph married an Egyptian princess, and Solomon had an Egyptian wife. A host of Egyptians left Egypt with the Israelites (Exodus 12:36) and became part of Israel’s nation.
Ancient bas relief carvings of Israelites from around 840 BC (here[i]) and other Semitic people like the Assyrians (here,[ii] here,[iii] and here[iv]) show them looking like typical Middle Eastern people today: long curly dark hair, long beards. . . . It’s hard to discern skin color from the ancient carvings.
To summarize, the Biblical Israelites were mostly Semitic with some African DNA, and they were similar to today’s Middle Eastern people.
In conclusion, we reject the Black Hebrew Israelite movement’s antisemitic claim that modern-day Jewish people are imposters and not the true descendants of the biblical Israelites. We believe this claim is contrary to the biblical, historical, and archaeological evidence; and we affirm God’s enduring covenant with national Israel, the Jewish people.
by Jennifer Miles
 “Unpacking Kanye West’s Antisemitic Remarks,” ADL, October 19, 2022, https://www.adl.org/resources/blog/unpacking-kanye-wests-antisemitic-remarks.
 “Our Hope for Peace: A Statement on Israel, the Nations, and the Gospel,” Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem, accessed October 20, 2022, https://allianceforthepeaceofjerusalem.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/APJ-Statement-Formatted-Final.pdf.
 Fritz Chery, “Black Hebrew Israelites Exposed,” Bible Reasons, October 17, 2022, https://biblereasons.com/black-hebrew-israelites-exposed.
 Mikel Del Rosario and Vocab Malone, “Religions: Engaging with Black Hebrew Israelites,” Dallas Theological Seminary, February 1, 2022, educational video, https://youtu.be/dntZmXwXd5Q.
 “Backgrounder: Extremist Sects Within the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement,” ADL, August 7, 2020, https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounders/extremist-sects-within-the-black-hebrew-israelite-movement.
 Some groups include Native Americans as Israelites. Ibid.
 It is important to point out that BHI adherents are not the same as black Jews, such as Beta Israel—a group of black Ethiopian Jews who immigrated to Israel—or Sephardic (Hispanic) Jews.
 Mikel Del Rosario and Vocab Malone
 Mikel Del Rosario and Vocab Malone
 David Guzik, “Revelation 2– Jesus’ Letters to the Churches,” Enduring Word, accessed October 25, 2022, https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/revelation-2/.
 Craig S. Keener, “Revelation 2:9,” The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 733.
 “Backgrounder: Extremist Sects Within the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement.”
 Dr. Michael Brown, “Deuteronomy 28 and Black Hebrew Israelite Deception,” ASKDrBrown, August 9, 2018, educational video, https://youtu.be/tcOAwc-9i3U.
 Maya Mirsky, “Who Is a Jew? DNA Home Testing Adds New Wrinkle to Age-Old Debate,” The Jewish News of Northern California, November 29, 2019, https://jweekly.com/2019/11/29/who-is-a-jew-dna-home-testing-trend-adds-new-wrinkle-to-age-old-debate/.