What is the religion’s origin?
In discussing the origins of this the Black Hebrews (from this point forward cited as B.H.I.s) I must explain that there are two distinct origins. The actual origin of B. H. I.s stretches back to before the Civil War. In 1896 there was a sect founded in Kansas by William Crowdy. Shortly after that, new congregations sprouted in several major cities, and by the 1980s other sects began to appear.
One sect is the infamous Miami based sect which was started by Yahweh Ben Yahweh, otherwise known by the authorities as Hulon Mitchell, Jr. This sect will be discussed in greater detail later in this article. Other sects include the Commandment Keepers, The Law Keepers, House of Judah, and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem (just to list a few). Ben Israel, originally named Ben Carter (from the south side of Chicago), started the latter sect, The Kingdom of Yahweh, around 1967.
Ben Israel impressed upon other blacks the belief that African-Americans descended from the biblical tribe of Judah. He led others to believe that because of this, Israel was the true land of their birthright. He is said to have received a vision in which the angel Gabriel revealed that the time had come for the biblical Israelites among the African-Americans to return to Israel (the promised land) and to establish the kingdom of God on earth. As a result about three hundred and fifty people from Chicago, along with Ben Israel, journeyed to Liberia, West Africa on their way to Israel. In 1969 they made it to Israel and set up what they believe to be the foundation for the kingdom of God.
Unfortunately, despite all the promotion of building the kingdom of God and “righteousness” the B. H. I.s members in Ben Israel’s sect were later engaged in criminal activity. In 1986, Ben Israel and his aide, Prince Asiel Ben Israel were convicted of trafficking stolen passports and securities and forging checks and saving bonds. While in Israel, Ben Israel’s community had a counterpart sect forming in the United States. This sect was being led by Yahweh Ben Yahweh and was called the Nation of Yahweh. Those who followed Yahweh Ben Yahweh viewed him as the Messiah.
Yahweh Ben Yahweh (Hulon Mitchell, Jr.) was born in Oklahoma, 1935. He founded N. O. Y. in 1979. He originally tried to base his teachings on twisting Christian doctrine. In recent years, the N. O. Y. was involved in a large amount of conflict with the people and government of Miami, Florida where it was founded. The N. O. Y. is an offshoot of the sect created by Ben Israel. Members of the N. O. Y. were convicted in 1990 of conspiring to commit RICO (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization statute), and although they were not found guilty of the RICO charge, Yahweh was sentenced to serving an eighteen-year sentence for another crime. In conjunction with the negative view of this sect, Yahweh and his followers are referred to as a “killer cult,” notorious for their violent background.
There are many other branches of B. H. I.s that come from the perverted biblical beliefs and teaching of Ben Israel’s misunderstanding of the Holy Scriptures. In spite of many obvious errors in interpreting the bible, those who practice this religion in any form perceive their history to be exceptionally divine. They believe that the descendants of African American slaves (and the indigenous peoples of America) make up the twelve tribes of Israel. They also believe that their story began in Ur where Abraham was from and had an affinity with Elamite (a people who were the very first Semitic group mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 10:22). Elamites were a dark-skinned people with wooly hair, and based upon this, B. H. I.s assume that Abraham was black and that black people are the original people.
B. H. I.s believe that as a direct result of disobedience to the laws and the commandments of God the Hebrew Israelites were held captive by various nations. They also believe that in 70 C.E. remnants were driven from Jerusalem, by Romans, into various parts of the world, including Africa. They believe that blacks were enslaved and brought to America because of this and that this led to the remnants being spread abroad. This is the main part of their origin, as they perceive it to be.
What are the customs and practices of this religion?
A lot of the customs and practices of B. H. I.s have been handed down from generation to generation or were taken on during processes of “redemption” from the effects of slavery. B. H. I.s also try to live lives founded on the laws in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). They also attempt to live lives founded on not only the laws of righteousness in the Old Testament but also on customary laws such as: wearing only natural fabrics, maintenance of purification laws for women and the maintenance of a vegan diet void of all animal by-products. The ceremonies/celebrations of the Pentateuch that they ascribe to are: Passover, Shavout (Pentecost), Memorial Blowing of the Trumpets, Yom Kippur, and Succoth. Some also celebrate the Day of Atonement (www.israelite.net).
So, what exactly do they believe?
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article it is difficult to pinpoint one set of doctrinal beliefs for Black Hebrew Israelites. There are too many variations within the cult in regards to beliefs. Basically, there are a lot of sects and because of this the beliefs are all over the place. It is for this reason that I will choose to focus on the unbiblical teachings that totally contradict the essentials of the Christian faith. I chose to do this because this religion uses the Holy Bible (as does Christianity) to allegedly govern itself. The problem is that although it seems as if they believe the Bible, they do not practice, pursue, or promote what God has revealed through it. They take God’s word and add to it, take away from it, or misinterpret it. It is my hope that those who are confused about whether or not this religion is similar to or the same as Christianity will gain a clear understanding that the two are not the same and that the Black Hebrew Israelite religion, in essence, is a cult. It is a contradiction to what the Bible teaches and the essentials of the Christian faith.