JP is an Israelite


I. About a week ago, Christian Parker, Jabari’s older brother, posted the above clip from youtube to his Facebook page. It shows a group of black men telling Jabari that he is an Israelite. Jabari, as is his nature, listens politely, interacts with them a bit, and then goes about his business. I can’t make out what he says, but the men seemed happy, so I’m guessing that maybe he acknowledged that yeah, he was an Israelite. When I first watched the video it made zero sense to me, the conversation just seemed a curious oddity, and I quickly put it out of my mind and went on to other things.

II. (Interlude). Yesterday on the commuter train in to the City I saw a (positive) review of a new film titled “The Women’s Balcony,” an Israeli film (Hebrew with English subtitles) about a close-knit Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem whose religious world is turned upside down by a new, much more conservative rabbi, and how the women eventually join together to thwart him. I knew I was going to be slow in the afternoon, and there was a 2:00 pm showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center on North State Street, so I decided to slip out of the office and see the movie. I quite enjoyed it.

III. So after the movie I’m walking south on State Street back towards my office when I see a group of black men in colorful clothing standing on boxes and preaching through some sort of a sound system to a crowd who had gathered. There was a guy in the crowd handing out flyers, and I didn’t think anything of it and was just going to pass on by, but just then the speaker said something about blacks being Israelites. Some dimly lit bulb went on in my brain, and I remembered the video Christian had posted to FB, and I wondered whether this was the same group that had talked to JP. So I walked back a few steps and took a flyer.

IV. This particular group’s name is ISUPK, which stands for Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge. Their main teaching is that blacks, latinos and indians are the descendants of the 12 tribes. They break it down this way:

Judah – The Negros

Benjamin – West Indian

Levi – Haitians

Simeon – Dominicans

Zebulon – Guatemala to Panama

Ephraim – Puerto Rico

Manasseh – Cubans

Gad – North American Indians

Reuben – Seminole Indians

Napatali – Argentina to Chile

Asher – Columbia to Uruguay

Issachar – Mexicans

V. I don’t know whether this was the same group that spoke to JP, but at a minimum it’s the same type of group. Here are a couple of sources that talk about these groups:

These groups come in three general flavors:


  • Black Jews, who maintain a Christological perspective and adopt Jewish rituals.
  • Black Hebrews, who are more traditional in their practice of Judaism.
  • Black Israelites, who are most nationalistic and furthest from traditional Judaism.

This identification with the Israelites began in the late 19th century and was a response to the sociopolitical realities of the situation of blacks in the United States, including discrimination.

VI. I find it interesting that Mormon ideas of descent from the Patriarchs also developed in the 19th century and also laid claim to an Israelite heritage for a persecuted people. We used to be much more hard core about this; if you’re not familiar with the Mormon embrace of British Israelism, read this BCC introduction to that topic. (I wonder whether Jews, so thoroughly persecuted as a people, find it strange that other persecuted peoples would claim a similar heritage to them.)

VII. Of course, the Mormon practice of declaring lineages through patriarchal blessings has a dark underbelly, because it used to be policy not to declare the lineage of black members (a practice I only learned of recently from this BCC post.)

Do any of you have any experience with Black Hebrew Israelites? (They tend to congregate only in large cities.)



  1. I do actually! I was the branch mission leader at a YSA and one of the investigators we were teaching had a brother that was really into this. I was never able to talk to the brother directly but even getting it second hand from our investigator it sounded really interesting.

  2. Whenever you associate Mormonism with British Israelism, it would be good to point out that the Mormon interest in British Israelism of the 1910s-1930s predated the current adoption of British Israelism by the white supremacist/white nationalist/Christian Identity movement in the US (but not in Britain, apparently). Mormonism was/is not free of racism/anti-Semitism, but nobody should mistake Mormon injustices of the early 20th century with the violence and hate crimes of those who currently embrace the claims of British Israelism.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Ardis, I was only familiar with the Mormon interest in BI so I appreciate this caution.

  4. Jason K. says:

    Fascinating stuff, Kevin!

  5. I was highly amused by a Black Hebrew preacher outside the World Trade Center when my family made a trip to NYC in summer 1998. There were more than a few black men and (especially) women walking by giving him serious side-eye, and a goodly number of bemused white tourists listening to him.

  6. Based on the Book of Mormon aren’t these guys right? Aren’t we all Israelites? After reading the OT with the Jewish I got the impression that much of the OT is trying to explain why the Temple was destroyed and the Israelites defeated by “heathen” nations who were worshiping the wrong gods. (Again, this was my take away from the Jewish Study bible, but I am NOT a bible scholar, so you real bible scholars feel free to correct the record and set me right where I am wrong.) Since then, as I read the Book of Mormon it occurred to me that 1 & 2 Nephi as well as Jacob also touch on this issue, many times echoing some of the bible authors hypothesis (Israel sinned and didn’t keep its end of the covenant) but there also seemed to be another hypothesis that Nephi and Jacob push, most fully in Jacob 5. God said that through Abraham’s seed the whole earth would be blessed. By scattering Israel, God was making it so that promise to Abraham could come true because his seed would be all over the world. Again, not a scholar, so if I am getting the bible or the BOM wrong my apologies. I just mention this because when they Elders asked me what I though about what the investigator had said about how his brother believed he was part of the 12 tribes of Israel my response was, “well. doesn’t Jacob 5 kind of say he’s right? After all that grafting, I always got the impression that each tree had a few branches from the ‘Israel’ tree. So, he probably has as much Israelite or more than you or I have.”

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Jason, if I understand it correctly they would argue that blacks, latinos and Indians are Israelites but nobody else is, not even Jews. So yes, our modern understanding of population dynamics suggests that they are indeed descended from the 12 tribes (assuming the patriarchs have descendants that survived till today), but so is everyone else.

  8. They are often at the Chinatown metro in dc

  9. Tiberius says:

    In Seattle I walked past a street corner that had LDS missionaries tracting on one corner, Black Israelites on another corner, and JWs on another corner. In hindsight I should have taken a picture–it would have a made a good cover image for a textbook on NRMs.

  10. The truth is in the simple math of genealogy. if you assume 25 years for each generation on average; 10 generations takes you back 250 years, 20 generations takes you back 500 years, 40 generations a thousand years and so forth. Then you consider how many ancestors do you have back then. That would be 1024 10th generation great grandparents, over 1 million 20th generation great grandparents, over 1 billion 30th generation great grandparents, over well 1 trillion 40 generation great grandparents; and all the generations in between multiply it further and further. We have not even gotten back past the Vikings yet.

    Of course distant relatives marrying each other with common ancestors duplicates names in the family tree and reduces the total numbers. But throw in even 1 or 2% matings across cultural or geographic groups (marriage, mistress, concubines, cheating, slavery, rape during plundering, prostitution, etc), you are going to have at least one of those millions and billions of limbs on the family tree filled by hundreds of not thousands of ancestors from just about anywhere.

    Another way to look at it; given any period of time in history back beyond 1 or 2 thousand years ago, there are two kinds of people alive at that time; those with living descendants today, and those without. Every one of us has most of those ancestors with living descendants in our lineage, the only difference is how often they appear. Do they form one small remote twig, a larger branch or many distant branches of the millions of branches. The only exceptions might be peoples in complete extreme geographic isolation. Even that will change in another century of genetic mixing with the effective shrinkage of the size of the world. And population isolation? That would not be the middle east or most of Africa with its thousands of years of exporting slavery and its hundreds of thousands of years of human history.

    The list of tribes of Israel and different peoples above is ridiculous. Especially stupid is the inclusion of the Seminoles who are a confederation of tribes that formed only in the past 300 years from known and well documented refugees of many other defeated tribes and escaped slaves who hid in the vast Florida swamps for a few decades before being mostly packed off to Oklahoma. But the essential truth is that we all have the blood of almost all peoples of history back beyond a not-to-distant point in the past flowing in our veins, just at different doses.

  11. One other point: if you consider the war tactics of the Assyrians who conquered the 10 tribes of Biblical Israel, they practiced total annaliation. It is likely that the 10 tribes of Israel at that time do not have living descendants today. The only likely exceptions might have been a few young girls who were worth enough as sex slaves to escape that most thorough genocide.The text of the Bible is a good source of this event as is the archeology of that time. The tribe of Judah and part of the tribe of Benjamin had mixed with the other tribes previously and survived that horrible time and of course a few of their descendants survived into modern times.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Yes, Mike, thanks for the lucid description of our modern understanding of population dynamics. The mistake people make is they assume our near-term genealogy ideas apply, as in this person is descended from X but that person isn’t. But the further back you go, the less that applies, and at a certain point it doesn’t apply at all. (BY would be horrified to learn that he definitely had “one drop.”)

  13. Great stuff. Learning more about Israelite culture should be observed more often. It’s a serious eye opener

  14. When we lived in Harlem, yes. We see them sometimes in Baltimore now, too.

    Like the Five Percent Nation, Black Hebrew Israelitism is off most white people’s radar because they’re not generally engaging with white people, but it’s been around and influential in black communities for a long time. BHI has gotten a bit more attention lately due to a bunch of references on Kendrick Lamar’s newest album.

  15. Mike’s comments above remind me/educate me that a large part of genealogical diversity has come about by way of women being bought and sold and raped. It is interesting/disturbing/frightening to contemplate how that affects the stories we tell, the narratives we avoid, and the (generally patriarchal) lineage we declare.

  16. Kullervo: I don’t think Kendrick himself is a BHI adherent, though–for one, he made an unfortunate public visit to Louis Farrakhan in Chicago soon after DAMN. dropped.

    As I mentioned above, I think a lot of Black folks are kinda jaded to groups like BHI and the Nation.

  17. APM, don’t be too dismissive though. I know a lot of black pastors and teachers engaged in urban ministry who are talking about how BHI and 5% are strong competing narratives for black youth, and because they’re just not on the white church’s radar, there are not a lot of resources for confronting them. That’s why organizations like the Jude 3 Project exist.

  18. Kullervo, I could see that, yeah. It probably doesn’t help that so many independent black pastors engage in blatant priestcraft; it’s very easy for movements like BHI and 5% to attract disaffected youth when they see the ways that their parents’ and grandparents’ spiritual leaders have exploited them. Another brilliant young rapper from southern Los Angeles County, Vince Staples (who’s about to destroy everyone’s summer with the album he’s dropping Friday), has mentioned this quite a bit both in his lyrics and in interviews.

    (And no, this isn’t a motes-and-beams issue. As much as we fret about the paychecks of General Authorities, there are no Creflo Dollars or Eddie Longs in Mormonism.)

  19. I mentioned Vince Staples in a discussion at BCC. I WIN.

  20. It probably doesn’t help that so many independent black pastors engage in blatant priestcraft

    Tread carefully here. Creflo Dollar is high-profile but hardly representative of the average black pastor. The prosperity gospel and prosperity preachers are a huge problem, but there are are a lot of other complex, interconnected reasons that the black church is having a hard time reaching black youth.

    The issue is less motes-and-beams and more you-don’t-actually-seem-to-know-about-what-you’re-talking-about.

  21. I mentioned Vince Staples in a discussion at BCC. I WIN.

    On this we can certainly agree.

  22. Even setting aside the prosperity gospel preachers, priestcraft is a big deal among black and white independent ministries alike. You’ve read some of Todd Boyd’s work, right?

    It’s a big deal for Mormons, too, but we at least have the institutional capabilities to deal with it if we wanted to. Independent ministries have no accountability except to their flocks; the IRS isn’t exactly aggressive about going after abuses by ostensibly charitable organizations.

  23. The monks who live in the small church of Saint Mary of Zion — also known as the “Chapel of the Ark” — in the sacred Ethiopian city of Aksum Would probably agree, since they’ve been guarding the lost ark of the covenant on behalf of their Israelite great grandfather king Solomon for years now.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    I just came back from Transformers: The Last Knight (a hot mess of a movie). Part of the plot is that a woman, an Oxford professor, is the sole descendant of Merlin (from the fifth century A.D., and thus the only one who can wield Merlin’s scepter. This reminded me of The Da Vinci Code, part of the plot of which was a girl and her brother were the sole descendants of Jesus Christ. Hollywood needs to get it’s act together on these kinds of plot lines, which are preposterous.

  25. There is certainly a great deal to find out about
    this subject. I like all of the points you made.