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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 24.3 > The “Lost” Tribes of Israel

The “Lost” Tribes of Israel

Recently, a group called the Black Hebrew Israelites came into national prominence as a result of a video that went viral after a confrontation involving a number of groups that took place at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in early 2019. They were somewhat upstaged in the initial press coverage by what appeared to be smirking teenaged jerks who seemed to be mocking a Native American elder, Nathan Philips, as he was beating a drum and chanting. However, this was not the entirety of the confrontation:

But a longer video soon bubbled to the surface, widening the lens. It showed how a group of half a dozen Hebrew Israelites had, in fact, been goading and preaching at both the Native Americans and high schoolers, using profanity and highly provocative language, for nearly an hour…. Dressed in fringed black garb, some with scarves tied around their heads, they preached what to many were both abrasive and unfamiliar End Times messages…calling Native Americans literal descendants of the Israelite “Tribe of Gad,” the white students cursed “Edomites,” and preaching that a nuclear apocalypse was around the corner.1

These particular Black Hebrew Israelites were from a group calling themselves “The House of Israel.” Few had ever heard of them. Who are these people? An answer may be found in the fascination some have with the idea of the “lost” tribes of Israel, purported to be 10 of the twelve tribes of Israel deported from their kingdom after its conquest by the Neo-Assyrian Empire circa 722 BCE. Much has been made of this myth, with numerous peoples throughout history claiming to be descendants of one of the tribes.

Black Hebrew Israelites

A movement that arose among African American Pentecostals following the abolition of slavery claimed that the lost tribes of Israel ended up in Africa, where they were betrayed by other sub-Saharan Africans, who sold them into slavery to European slavers. Adherents of this movement variously call themselves Black Israelites or Black Hebrew Israelites, among other names. Some of these groups remained Christian, while others converted to an idiosyncratic form of Judaism. The movement was begun in Chattanooga, TN in 1886 by two men, F.S. Cherry and William Saunders Crowdy, both of whom claimed to have had divine revelations that those enslaved in America were the true Israelites. Some of these groups also claim that, just as they are the true Israelites—the descendants of Jacob, who was renamed Israel—Europeans are the descendants of Jacob’s brother, Esau, also called Edom, and are thus, the Edomites, who in the Bible were traditionally described as being evil.

British Israelism

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PINKER ON POST-TRUTH & REASON Steven Pinker on “Why We Are Not Living in a Post-Truth Era: An (Unnecessary) Defense of Reason and a (Necessary) Defense of Universities’ Role in Advancing it” COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Coconut Oil: Health Food or Health Hazard? by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: The Persistence of Memory… and of the Memory Wars, by Carol Tavris ARTICLES The “Lost” Tribes of Israel • The Pentagon’s UFOs How a Multimedia Entertainment Company Created a UFO News Story • The Problem with the Walking Dead And How They Flummoxed Science for Centuries • The Enigma of Stephen Jay Gould • Why the Human Brain Did Not Evolve to Accurately Represent the True Nature of Reality • Homeopathy’s New Clothes: Release Active Drugs • Pressured Apologies, False Confessions, and Witch Hunts • Two Kinds of Progressive Atheism • Surfing for Truth in All the Right Places: An Empirical Test of the Backfire Effect and How the Internet Can Reduce Anti-vaccination Attitudes REVIEWS Reviews of “A review of Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities” • “Spectacle of Illusion: Deception Magic and the Paranormal” • “The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost” • “Supernatural Entertainments: Victorian Spiritualism and the Rise of Modern Media Culture” JUNIOR SKEPTIC The Chilling, Changeling Chupacabra!