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Black Hebrew Israelite groups gather and proselytize in Central Phoenix. This group is made up of black Americans who claim to be the true Israelites and that modern day Jews are impostors. The BHI presence has been much more noticeable over the past 2-3 years. They have stepped up their efforts and are growing locally. This is a current cultural issue, especially in the urban community in Phoenix, so I submitted the piece to six different black and Jewish publications. As of now, none of the publications have published the piece, although one editor reply saying they may decide to publish the piece at a future date.

My main goal in this piece is to give the reader the basic about the Black Hebrew Israelites. It is not intended to be an all-out rebuttal; I’m writing more in the vein of “heads up my man, coming at you.”

If you haven’t met a Black Hebrew Israelite yet, give it time, you will. Whether clad in camo or purple and gold, the Hebrew Israelites in Phoenix go where you go. Yelling, swearing, debating, pointing, and loudly pontificating; they go hard. The light rail stop at Camelback and 19th is their favorite spot. I’ve also seen them at the State Fair, Super Bowl XLIX, ASU, and Occupy Phoenix protests. In some cities, they’ve been known to storm in and disrupt church services. If you still don’t know, Google “Black Hebrew Israelites Arizona”.

Some think this group is so obscure, that they’re irrelevant. Amar’e Stoudemire disagrees. The former Phoenix Sun and NBA star identifies as a Hebrew Israelite. When SB1070 (a controversial immigration bill) was the hot topic in Arizona, Stoudemire tweeted out his disagreement with the legislation. The reason? The “Latin community” is part of “the 12 ttribes of Israel,” which is, “one nation under Yah.” Stoudemire is an executive producer of a documentary called “Village of Peace,” about Chicago-based Hebrew Israelites moving to Israel in the 60’s. He’s applied for Israeli citizenship and is part owner of an Israeli basketball team. I could go on: St. Louis rapper Chingy of “Right Thurr” fame and Antoine Dodson of “Bed Intruder” fame both came out as Hebrew Israelites. Boyz II Men crooners Shawn Stockman and Wayna Morris claim this faith. Hebrew Israelite influence outweighs their numbers.

If you run into a BHI member in Phoenix, you’d be wise to know what they believe. Even though they often yell and curse, knowing something about their ideology can assist you in having a more productive dialogue.

10 Key Black Hebrew Israelite Beliefs

1: Hebrew Israelites believe that modern American minorities – both black and brown – are the true descendants of Biblical Israel.

2: Hebrew Israelites believe that modern day Israelites and Europeanized Jews are impostors and not the real descendants of true Israel.

3: Hebrew Israelites usually hold the King James Version of the Bible as authoritative. Some only hold to the Old Testament and many hold to the Apocrypha as well.

4: Hebrew Israelites believe the “time of the Gentiles” means “the time of the white Europeans.” They believe this time is almost over; America and its allies will soon be judged.

5: Hebrew Israelites believe salvation is achieved by keeping the Law. Strict Sabbath-keeping, dietary restrictions and a certain physical appearance are important (e.g., beards are good, hats are bad).

6: Hebrew Israelites believe that Jesus was a black man.

7: Many (not all) Hebrew Israelites believe that white people can’t be saved. Instead, they are destined to be servants for African Israelites after the Black Messiah returns.

8: Hebrew Israelites believe both heaven and hell are merely “states of mind.” Neither are viewed as metaphysical realities as they are in orthodox Christianity.

9: Hebrew Israelites believe you must refer to God as “Yah” and Jesus as “Yahshuah Ben Yah.”

10: Hebrew Israelites believe that by spreading their message they are helping to gather the scattered Israelites who do not yet know the truth of their ancestry and heritage.

Bonus: Five

Common Practices/Characteristics

1. BHI members tend to be boisterous, big, burly and bold. They tend to blurt, blare and bellow. If you decide to engage a BHI member on the street, be prepared for a noisy encounter. They seem to enjoy shouting obscenities at pedestrians and onlookers, especially those whom they deem to be morally repugnant (e.g., women wearing pants, black-and-white couples, etc.).

2. The BHI craft their own signage. Common images include politicians with devil horns, “white Jesus” portrayals, images of slavery (men with scarred backs, slave ship
diagrams, etc.) and the all-important 12 Tribes of Israel genealogy chart. For example, the Tribe of Judah are said to be the ancestors for black folk,
Isaachar for Mexicans and Gad for North American Indians.

3. Black Hebrew Israelites travel in groups. I’ve seen anywhere from three to a dozen congregate.

4. BHI members love to carry tattered old big Bibles. Their message is usually peppered with various Scripture passages. Usually, there is a primary speaker and then a Scripture reader. The speaker will shout a verse to the reader and then the reader yells it out – loudly.

5. Most BHI will engage – to a certain extent. If they view you as “having a demon” (a common accusation they make against opponents), they will act dismissive and aggressive. If they see you as interested (but not too “talky”), they love the chance to lecture and even “cross-examine.”

As a member of a downtown church, here’s the part where I wax theological: if you are a Christian, you should engage Black Hebrew Israelites when you see them. Why? They will benefit from well-informed brothers and sisters in Christ dropping knowledge. If you call yourself a Christian but don’t know your stuff, study up and come back later – they eat the biblically ignorant alive!

Remember, it’s not just knowledge the BHI need; the Hebrew Israelites need to see authentic love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control and patience. If you are going to converse with the BHI, ask the Lord for a double-dose of the last one – patience.

If you know the Bible well and are quick on your feet, they may show some extra respect to you, but then again, they may become more irritated than usual – it all depends on the makeup of the group and the nature of the crowd. As you can imagine, engaging a Hebrew Israelite in this environment can be intimidating.

I’d love to tackle some of the truth claims Hebrew Israelite adherents make. Maybe I’ll be graciously invited back for a follow up piece?

Vocab Malone

Host, Urban Theologian Radio

Phoenix, Arizona

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