By: D.A Horton (Article Originally Posted on dahorton.com on Sept. 26, 2015)
Heads up: since there is no “one set of beliefs” that all Black Hebrews, Black Hebrew Israelites, and Hebrew Israelites fall under, this blog will highlight a few of the movements that are often identified as having similar beliefs. This section will be longer than others as I’ve attempted to consolidate several different movements under the term Black Hebrew Israelite while giving each respected entity recognition for it unique nuance and history.
The Founders: Most groups that identify themselves with being Black Hebrew Israelites residing in America trace their inception back to the Pre-Civil War era of American History. One of the first preachers known to harmonize the American slaves with the biblical account of the Israelites was Martin Prosser, a slave preacher in Richmond, VA. In 1800 he helped his brother Gabriel organize what is now known as Gabriel’s rebellion. The first known leader to organize a movement around the connection between American slavery and the Israelite narrative recorded in the Bible was William Saunders Crowdy.
Crowdy, a Civial War veteran established the establishing of The Church of God and Saints in Christ (COGASC) in 1896. Crowdy began to preach new revelations that God gave Him known as the “Seven Keys” that make up the doctrine of the COGASC. Crowdy remained the leader of congregation until his death on August 4, 1908 after which Bishop James M. Grove was elected as the new leader.
In 1866 F.S. Cherry organized the Church of the Living God, Pillar of Truth for All Nations in Chattanooga, TN. Cherry’s doctrine focused on the blackness of Adam, Eve and Jesus while arguing the white/white Jews altering of the blackness of biblical figures to fit their purposes. Cherry claimed his call to ministry was given by God to make Blacks aware that their true religion was indeed Judaism. Cherry also taught Blacks were of the lineage of Jacob and God hated White Jews because they rejected Jesus while using Revelation 3:9 as his proof text. Cherry moved the church from Chattanooga to Philadelphia in 1915 and remained the leader of the church until his death in 1965 after which, his son Benjamin Cherry took over as the leader.
In 1919 in Harlem, New York the Commandment Keepers of the Living God (also known as the Royal Order of Ethiopian Hebrews) began assembling under the leadership of Rabbi Wentworth A. Matthew. The group gained momentum due to their response to the Great Depression, World War II, and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Matthew, born is West Africa but raise in the Caribbean created a hybrid theology that had influences from March Garvey, Arnold Josiah Ford to the point he took over Ford’s congregation when he left for Ethiopia. Matthew’s congregation stayed in tact while other organizations around them were closing their doors, most notably Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. Matthew’s views and practices were known to be the closest of all Black Jewish movements to Orthodox Judaism yet at the same time, he taught; original Jews were black and white Jews are products of generational intermarriage with Europeans and the sufferings of Blacks was caused by their violation of God’s commandments. Before his death in 1973 Matthew ordained his grandson, Rabbi David Dore to be his successor. At the time of his ordination, Dore was only seventeen years old. His ordination caused a great division between Dore and Rabbi Chaim White that lasted for over three decades that eventually led to self-destruction.
In the 1960’s Ebner ben Yomin (also known as Abba Bivens) left the Commandment Keepers and began the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge. Three of Bivens’ followers teamed up with four “high priests” to take over the school and were collectively known as the “Seven Heads”. These leaders later changed the name of the school to the Israelite Church of Universal Practical Knowledge and then changing the name again to rebrand because of a failed prophecy of Christ’ return in 2000, the name became the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, Inc. The current leader, Apostle and Chief High Priest Tazadaqyah, born Jermaine Grant, rose to power after Ahrayah’s, one of Bivens disciples, prophecy of Christ’s return in 2000 to “slay or enslave” all the Edomites (whites) failed to come to pass. Tazadagyah is known by his followers as the Comforter, a direct reference to Holy Spirit and is propagated as such at the website dedicated to him.
Yahweh ben Yahweh was born Hulon Mitchell, Jr on October 27, 1935 in Kingfisher, OK to a pentecostal minister. After graduating high school he served in the Air Force, earned a degree in Psychology from Phillips College in Oklahoma before earning a master’s degree in economics from Atlanta University. He was briefly involved with the Nation of Islam before moving to Miami, FL in 1979 when where he declared himself as Yahweh ben Yahweh and began the Nation of Yahweh.His ministry was to rebuild the Liberty City section of Miami and by October 7, 1990 Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez declared the day to be Yahweh ben Yahweh Day all the while a federal grand jury was preparing to indict he and over a dozen of his followers with charges ranging from extortion, racketeering and over a dozen murders.The trial ended with a conviction that landed him in prison for 18 years but only served 11 of those years and after his release was informed he could not have any contact with any of the members of his group. On May 7, 2007 he passed away from cancer.
The Followers: It is hard to identify how many followers in the United States align themselves with the various groups that identify with the Black Hebrew Israelites. Part of the challenge is due to the strong emphasis put on a Jewish bloodline as being a prerequisite. According to an article by Michael Gelbwasser published in 1998 there were he cites Robin Washington (who organized the Alliance of Black Jews) claim of 260,000 black Jews practicing Judaism in America.Although the entirety of this number does not state how many align with Black Hebrew Israelite teachings, those who do would argue there are more since Black Hebrew Israelites include Latino and Native American heritages as well.
The Focus: The overall focus of all groups regardless of Scriptural interpretation is to bring an awareness of Israelite identity to those living in America that are unaware of such heritage. In addition, they live to see all true Israelites obey the Commandments of the Only True and Living God and forsake all forms of paganism. Some groups such as African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem go as far as mandating a migration to Israel.
The Faith: Many Black Hebrew Israelites affirm the King James (1611) Version of the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice and the interpretation of it is reserved for their ordained leader. Some groups accept some books of the New Covenant (New Testament) yet, many reject Paul’s writings on the idea, they were used often by White masters during the American slavery years.
The Friction: In addition to a high regard for the KJV, other Black Hebrew Israelites look to the Torah alone or Talmud while others the Apocrypha, Book of Enoch, Book of Jasher, andPseudepigrapha texts as being with equal with the KJV. Many Black Hebrew Israelites reject God’s nature being triune and separates Jesus from God the Father by forcing a dichotomy between the Supreme Being in the Universe and Jesus the “mere human being, a noteworthy prophet”.Jesus is then also seen as one who practiced Judaism, did not change any laws in Torah, lived an exemplary life.
According to the Hebrew Israelites sin is defined by 1 John 3:4 which says, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness”, but on their website they quote the KJV which says, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (italics original). They go onto to explain the “laws of Yah can be found in the first five books Scripture which are known as the Torah or Instructions” which include the Ten Commandments and various dietary laws. In addition, many Black Hebrew Israelites teach the only days that are to be celebrated are the Feasts found in Scripture.
Salvation to many Black Hebrew Israelites is defined by one of two schools of thought; it is obtained through total obedience to the Law of Moses and calling on the Hebrew name of God (or Jesus for those who see Him as the Messiah) or exclusive to those who have a bloodline that leads back to Israel. According to the ICOGIJC, different nations who believe in the Lord Jesus “will not be spared from God’s wrath” using Isaiah 14:1—3, 34:1—3, and 66:15—6; Jeremiah 3:23; Daniel 2:44; Micah 4:11—3; and Revelation 19:11—5 as proof texts. They also say only the 12 Tribes of Israel will be saved and spared from His wrath. Heaven and hell are seen as states of mind not literal locations.
-  Slave Rebellions, http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery-iv-slave-rebellions, accessed on June 6, 2014
-  Israel Unite. “Brief Israelite History”, http://israelunite.org/archives/2710, accessed on November 28, 2012
-  Church of God and Saints of Christ.“What are the Seven Keys”,http://www.cogasoc.net/faq.php, accessed on November 28, 2012. The document authored by Crowdy can be viewed via the Library of Congress; http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage
-  Church of God and Saints of Christ.“Bishop James Grove”,http://www.cogasoc.net/jamesgrove.html, accessed on November 28, 2012.
-  Anthony B. Pinn, African American Religious Culture: Volume 1 A-R, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2009), 167—168.
-  Ibid
-  Benjamin Sevitch, “When Black Gods Preached on Earth: The Heavenly Appeals of Prophet Cherry, Daddy Grace and Father Divine”,https://umdrive.memphis.edu/ajohnsn6/voices%20of%20the%20black%20church/articles/when%20black%20gods%20preached%20on%20earth.pdf, accessed on November 29, 2012, 27—28.
-  Black Jews. Rabbi Sholomo Ben Levy, “The Destruction of Commandment Keepers, Inc. 1919-2007”, http://www.blackjews.org/Essays/DestructionofCommandmentKeepers.html, accessed on November 28, 2012.
-  Pinn, African American Religions Culture, 169.
-  Tribes of Aboriginal Nations. “Rabbi Wentworth Matthew”,http://tribesofaboriginalnations.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=90&Itemid=1, accessed on November 27, 2012.
-  Levy, “The Destruction of Commandment Keepers”
-  “History of Hebrew Israelism”, Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center, Fall 2008, Issue Number: 131.
-  “’Ready for War’”, Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center, Fall 2008.
-  Ibid.
-  The Comforter. http://www.thecomforter.info/
-  Martin, Douglas, “Yahweh ben Yahweh, Leader of Separatist Sect, Dies at 71”,http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/us/09yahweh.html?_r=0,
-  http://www.yahwehbenyahweh.com/
-  Scheeres, Julia, “Yahweh ben Yahweh Day”,http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/classics/yahweh_cult/13.html
-  Fox News, “’Temple of Love’ Black Supremacist Cult Leader Yahweh Ben Yahweh Dies at 71”, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/05/08/temple-love-black-supremacist-cult-leader-yahweh-ben-yahweh-dies-at-71/
-  Jweekly.com, Gelbwasser, Michael, “Organization for black Jews claims 200,000 in U.S.”, http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/8029/organization-for-black-jews-claims-200-000-in-u-s/%20:%20’Organization%20for%20black%20Jews%20claims%20200,000%20in%20U.S.’
-  The Real Hebrew Israelites, “Negroes, Latinos, and Native American Indians are the real Hebrew Israelites by Heritage and Bloodlines”, http://www.therealhebrewisraelites.com/. In addition many Black Hebrew Israelites have a breakdown of the ethnicity of each of the 12 Tribes the the people group they correspond with today,http://www.therealhebrewisraelites.com/12tribesofisraelnow.htm
-  African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, “About us”,http://africanhebrewisraelitesofjerusalem.com/?page_id=2
-  FAQ, “Why does our Congregation’s doctrine not embrace the Trinity?”,http://cogasoc.org/wordpress/faqfeed/#Q4
-  “Frequently Asked Questions”,“What is Sin”,http://www.hebrewisraelites.org/faq.html#WHAT IS SIN? , accessed on November 29, 2012.
-  “Why Should We Keep the Feasts of God? Because we Love the Law”,http://www.yahwehbenyahweh.com/GN/GnewsNovDec07.pdf
-  “Is Your Church Teaching the Truth According to the Holy Bible?”,http://www.icgjcpgh.org/images/pdf_flyers/Church.pdf, accessed on November 29, 2012