By: Vocab Malone of Urban Theologian Radio

Hebrew Israelite groups gather and proselytize in metropolitan areas. This group is usually made up of black and brown Americans who claim to be the true Israelites and that modern day Jews are impostors. Their presence in America has increased over the past decade. They have stepped up their efforts and are growing - both online and on the streets. This is a current cultural issue, especially in the urban community.

If you live in a major city and haven’t met a Hebrew Israelite yet, give it time – you will. Whether clad in camo or purple and gold, the Hebrew Israelites go where you go. Yelling, swearing, debating, pointing, and loudly pontificating; they go hard. They usually pick a favorite spot and post up every Saturday. In Phoenix, I’ve seen them at the light rail station, the State Fair, Super Bowl XLIX, Arizona State University and the Occupy Phoenix protests. They’ve even been known to storm in churches and disrupt services. 

Some think this group is obscure and 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 tribes of Israel,” which is, “one nation under Yah.” Stoudemire is an executive producer of “Village of Peace”, a documentary 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. Whitney Houston visited a Hebrew Israelite leader when she went to Israel. Hebrew Israelite influence outweighs their numbers.

If you run into a Hebrew Israelite, 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 Hebrew Israelite Beliefs

  1. Hebrew Israelites believe those whose ancestors were put in bondage during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade are the true descendants of Biblical Israel.
  2. Hebrew Israelites believe 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. Most hold to the Apocrypha as well.
  4. Hebrew Israelites believe the “time of the Gentiles” means “the time of the white Europeans”, whom they refer to as Edomites or Esau. They believe this time is almost over; America and its allies will soon be judged.
  5. Hebrew Israelites believe righteousness is achieved by law keeping. Strict Sabbath-keeping, dietary restrictions and a certain physical appearance is important (e.g., fringes and beards are good).
  6. Hebrew Israelites believe Jesus Christ (although they use a different name - “Yahshuah” - or some other name) was a black man.
  7. Many (not all) Hebrew Israelites believe “Edomites” (white people) can’t be saved. They are destined to be killed or slaves for Hebrew Israelites after the Messiah returns. Others believe “Gentiles” (non-Hebrew Israelites) can be grafted into the Kingdom if they keep the law and are under the authority of a Hebrew Israelite.
  8. Hebrew Israelites believe both heaven and hell are conditions – mere “states of mind”. Neither are viewed as metaphysical realities as they are in orthodox Christianity.
  9. Hebrew Israelites are usually part of the Sacred Name movement: they believe you must refer to God as “Yah” (or some other name). Their preference for God’s name usually depends on their individual sect (which they call “camp”).
  10. Hebrew Israelites believe by spreading their message they are gathering the scattered Israelites who do not yet know their true ancestry and heritage. In essence, their mission is to build a nation.

Five Common Practices/Characteristics

  1. On the street, Hebrew Israelites tend to be boisterous, belligerent and bold. They blurt, blare and bellow. If you engage a member on the street, be prepared for a noisy encounter. They often 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. Hebrew Israelites 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 is said to be the ancestors of black Americans, Isaachar for Mexicans and Gad for Native Americans.
  3. Hebrew Israelites travel in groups. I’ve seen anywhere from three to a dozen congregate.
  4. Hebrew Israelites members love to carry tattered old Bibles. Their messages include heavy doses of Scripture. Usually, there is a primary speaker and then a Scripture reader. The speaker will shout a verse to the reader - “Give me that Deuteronomy 28!” – and then the reader yells it out – loudly.
  5. Most Hebrew Israelites will engage you – to a certain extent. If they view you as “having a demon” (a common accusation they make against opponents), they act dismissive and aggressive. If they see you as interested (but not too “talky”), they love the chance to lecture and even “cross-examine” you (“What does ADAM mean?” “What does Judah mean?”).

If you are a Christian, you should engage 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 – they eat the biblically ignorant alive!

Remember, it’s not just knowledge they 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 them, 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.

My main goal in this piece was to give the reader the basics about the Hebrew Israelites. It is not intended to be an all-out rebuttal; I’m writing more in the vein of “heads up, coming at you.” In the future, I’d love to tackle some of the truth claims Hebrew Israelite adherents make.

For more information about Black Hebrew Israelites, check out Vocab's interview with the Jude 3 Project below:

Vocab Malone is a Christian hip hop artist and slam poet as well as Pastor of Teaching and Outreach at Roosevelt Community Church. He obtained a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary. Vocab is currently enrolled at Talbot School of Theology, working on a doctorate of ministry under philosophers Garrett DeWeese and JP Moreland. Vocab loves to geek out with his wife, Nicole. Together, they have four children who have been adopted.