Deuteronomy 28: The Curse of Israel & The Black Israelite Theory

The basis of the Black Israelite movement and the pronouncement of the curses that will befall God's people when they turn away from Him. Are they on to something?

Introduction

I've known that there were people who believed Blacks were actually the Israelites for quite some time. Many Afro-centric forms of Christianity have emerged throughout the years, which only seems logical. Many ask the question how can a slave and a master serve the same God. When you see the tremendous whitewashing of the Bible Europeans accomplished—Adam and Eve weren't White, Moses blended in with the Egyptians (who weren't White), Jesus has black African ancestry (Tamar, Rehab, and Bathsheba were all of Hamitic descent and all ancestors of King David[1])—it's no wonder that Blacks would be put off from the whitewashed ideas. Often referred to as "the White man's religion" in pro-Black circles, Christianity is often blamed for the demise of Blacks, despite the fact that it is actually the misinterpretation and misuse of God's Word (i.e. man not God) that led to men justifying the horrors of slavery. This history has split Blacks into 3 general groups: those who follow traditional Christianity, those who reject Christianity, and those who have formed pro-Black Christian ideologies.

The first pro-Black Christian ideology I was ever introduced to is the Rasta movement. Born in Jamaica in the 1920s and 1930s, Rastafarianism isn't even considered a religion by some followers (they'd probably not like for me to call it an "ism" now that I think about it). Rastafari doctrine includes many practices that have nothing to do with Africa, but some of the most recognizable practices and beliefs, such as their signature dreadlocks, point back to African roots. Within Rastafari doctrine are the following Afro-centric beliefs: Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I as a divine or messianic figure, pride for one's African heritage, heavy influences of Jamaican culture (note that dreadlocks are not just associated with Rastas, but Jamaicans as a whole), along with strength and resistance to oppression.[2]

Some time in college, I came across another movement that professes the Israelites of the Bible were actually Black or African. I never followed their theology much, from my understanding the Israelites were quite diverse in race. Not only did God command them to be acceptant of strangers (i.e. foreigners) who would become part of Israel by following God's law, but there are specific examples of Israelites marrying Africans. Moses married an Ethiopian woman while Joseph married an Egyptian. It seems self-explanatory that the Israelites of the Bible would have had both Arab and African ancestry, accumulating European ancestry once the Romans invaded. To me the Black Israelite theory, even more so than the Rasta movement, seemed like a way of answering the question of why everyone seems to hate Black people. It wasn't until I finished re-reading Deuteronomy 28 that I had to go back and look at the ideology of this theory.
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Deuteronomy 28

Deuteronomy 28 conveys a blessing or a curse upon Israel contingent upon their decision to follow God. Deuteronomy 28:1-14 tells of the blessings Israel will receive if they follow the Word of God, while Deuteronomy 28:15-68 outlines the curses that will befall them if they do not follow the Word of God. Deuteronomy 31 already confirms that Israelites will not be able to keep God's law and will fall into idolatry. Today, the people identified as Jews and considered descendants of the Israelites are only descendents of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, which contained the tribes of Judah and Benjamin along with a few Levites. The other 10 tribes of the Israelites are referred to as the lost tribes.[3] Assumably they are still under the curse presented in Deuteronomy 28. One of the many curses God places on the Israelites is that they will be scattered from end to end of the Earth.
And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.Deuteronomy 28:64 KJV

To me, this implies that the Israelites, no matter what their original race may or may not have been, are now a very diverse group of people. The fact that the were to be scattered from one end of the Earth to the other and worship other gods implies that they would try to blend in or be like the people of these foreign places, which would likely include relationships leading to racial mixing (this already occurred at Baal-peor and in Egypt, so why not in these foreign lands?).

While this whole passage is often used by those who claim the Blacks of America must be the Israelites of the Bible, it is Deuteronomy 28:68 that comes to the forefront.
And the Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships, by the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again: and there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you.Deuteronomy 28:68 KJV

My study Bible denies that Egypt was meant to refer to the literal land of Egypt as the Israelites would not need to be transported to their neighboring country by boat.[4][5] Many sources believe that Egypt was used as a symbol in this verse to represent bondage and oppression. Others suggest that this was fulfilled during the reign of Titus.[5][6] The verse goes on to predict that they will not see "it" again and will be sold to their enemies as slaves, where no man will buy them. Scholars assert that "no man shall buy you" refers to the process of redemption.[5] Remember the Israelites could be redeemed from slavery through monetary means, and were also meant to be set free in 7 years. This would not hold when they were cursed and no man would be able to buy them their freedom. The "it" in the verse may be speaking of Egypt. It seems as though being transported to Egypt is only the beginning of their punishment as it from "there ye shall be sold;" this implies that as scholars suggest, the Israelites would be sold into slavery in Egypt. The question is whether it is Egypt or Israel that they won't see again.

Photocredit: ShutterStock.com/michaeljung
It is common knowledge that the only people to literally be sold into slavery and transported away from their home via ships are Africans during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. This is part of why those who follow this movement believe this verse is referring to those descending from African slaves. Many scholars say the reference to ships is not to be taken as literal ships, but to be a reminder to the people that when they came out of Egypt God parted the Red Sea, but when they went back He would not be with them. From this verse alone, I see the trouble of interpretation, as it really could go either way. Everything seems to hinge on whether it's Egypt or the ships that are figurative or symbolic, and whether either or even both may be literal.

However, as we step through the whole passage, there really is a great similarity to the experience of the descendants of the African Slaves.
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Plagues

In Deuteronomy 28:59-61, God says He will unleash plagues and sickness upon the Israelites as part of this curse. God says there will be plagues upon them that are not recorded in the book of law (i.e. not leprosy or boils, but something new). A professor at the Harvard School of Public Health was quoted by ABC News as stating that of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S., Blacks have higher death rates in 12 of them.[10]
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STDs and HIV

Though Blacks make up only 13% of the U.S. population, 44% of new HIV cases were among Blacks and 41% of those living in America with HIV are Black. All sources confirm that HIV disproportionately effects Blacks in America.[7][8] In the year 2000, it was found that STDs in general are disproportionately effecting Blacks as well. Gonorrhea rates in the Black community were found to be 30 times higher than in the White community. Black women were found to be at the highest risk for Genital Herpes (HSV-2).[9]
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Cancer

Treatments for cancer have increased rapidly over the years, making many of them less likely to cause death. Yet for colorectal cancer, Blacks have a higher death rate than Whites, even with treatment. Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer, despite getting mammograms at similar rates to White women. Death rates from all types of cancer are at least 30% higher in Blacks.[10] Although Black men have lower exposure to tobacco fumes, they are 50% more likely to develop lung cancer.[11]
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Heart Disease

Minorities, specifically Hispanics (who can be Black or White) and Blacks, are more likely to be affected by obesity and hypertension which makes us more susceptible to heart disease.[10] Hypertension, or high blood pressure, effects Blacks at much younger ages than Whites. Nearly half of Blacks (42% of Black men and 45% of Black women) over the age of 20 suffer from hypertension.[11] While Whites, Hispanics, and Asians saw a decline in instances of cardiovascular disease between 2006 and 2010, Blacks and Native Americans saw an increase.[10]
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Diabetes

Hispanics, who can identify racially as White or Black and may also have descendants from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, have the highest rate of diabetes in the U.S.; they are twice as likely to die from the disease. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, Mexican Americans were 87% more likely to have diabetes and Puerto Ricans were 94% more likely! While Hispanics lead in diabetic cases in the U.S., Blacks are still 60% more likely than Whites to acquire the disease. In fact, Blacks who have diabetes are 2.5 times more likely to need an amputation because of diabetes, and 5.6 times more likely to develop kidney disease as a result of the disease, than people of other races also living with diabetes.[11]

Asthma

Blacks are 3 times more likely to die from Asthma than Whites.[11]

Stroke

First time stroke risk is twice as high for Blacks. Blacks in the age range of 34-54 are 4 times more likely than Whites to be killed by stroke.[11]
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What Diseases Don't We Lead In?

There are a few health problems we don't lead in, however. Asian American women have the highest risk of osteoporosis.[10] There are also several diseases that are more prevalent in the Ashkenazi Jewish community.[25]
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Loss of Family

Deuteronomy 28:30 says that the Israelite men will seek to marry a woman, but another man will sleep with her. Later, in Deuteronomy 28:32, God says the sons and daughters of the Israelites would be taken from them and given to another people.

This may or may not apply to the Holocaust (many of the people supporting the Black Israelite Theory deny the Jews of today as Isrealites at all—I don't necessarily agree with this, but we'll talk about that in depth later). Families were split in the concentration camps, though I'm not certain that they were sent to different places so much as some were sent directly to the gas chambers while others were forced into labor. I'm also not sure if the Nazi's were raping Jews.

The parallels to American Slavery, however, are quite apparent. Blacks were denied the right to legally marry, though they were sometimes allowed to do so by their owners. However, this didn't prevent the owners from raping Black women they wanted to sleep with or selling one of the spouses to another place.[12][13] Research has validated that more than 32% of slave marriages were dissolved due to the master selling one of the spouses.[14] Not only were spouses sold away, children could be sold from their parents. Sometimes they were sent to nearby plantations, other times to completely different states. Slave owners didn't care about the family structure, they simply sold for profit (or to make a point).

Today, Child Protect Services (CPS) takes children from families accused of abusing the child. Of the children removed by CPS, Whites claim the majority, however, Blacks are removed from families at the highest rate: 14.5 per 1000 children. Essentially, Black children are taken in to custody disproportionately to the number of Blacks in the population.[15] Not only are Black children taken from their parents at a higher rate, children of color are less likely to be reunited with their families, less likely to be placed in a permanent family, and more likely to experience poor educational, social, or behavioral outcomes.[16] In the year 2000, Blacks made up 15% of the U.S. population, but 36% of the children in foster care. In 2004 and 2009, Blacks had the highest rate of disproportionality among minorities by a landslide. Whites, Hispanics, and Asians were found to be "underrepresented" in the foster care system, with Blacks and Native Americans being overrepresented in the foster care. Blacks were found to be overrepresented by a factor of 2.36 and Native Americans at a factor of 1.76 in 2009.[17]

Whether the children are actually being abused at a higher rate or not is not the point; the fact is children are still being taken from the Black community at a higher rate than normal. God didn't say why the children would be given away (aside from the Israelites being disobedient, which could involve child abuse). Jewish children in the U.S. are not singled out for examination to see if this problem persists in their families as well. Most Jewish children are probably counted under "White," though there are Jews of other races in the U.S. as well.
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Other Parallels

A verse by verse description of the parallels can be found curtesy of Hebrew Israel (if you're reading this post after July 25, try looking for this reference at here; Hebrew Israel is in the process of moving their site). It is quite an interesting read.
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Are Blacks The True Israelites

Many who follow this theory believe that Blacks are the true descendants of the Israelites and that the Jews of today are imposters. One site based their theory of the Jews being "imposter" Israelites on the fact that most Jews of today are either Ashkenazi Jews or Sephardi Jews, the bulk being Ashkenazi. Yet, Ashkenaz was a descendant of Gomer, son of Japheth and clearly defined as a Gentile.
2The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. 3And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. 4And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. 5By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.Genesis 10:2-5 KJV

A scientific study actually confirms that the majority of Ashkenazi Jews descend, maternally, from Europeans. This confirms that many of the women were converts to Judaism.[18] This does not discount them from being descended form the Israelites, however! Not only was conversion perfectly acceptable in God's law (strangers could become part of the Israelite community by following God's law), but the husbands of these converts were likely Israelite. Just as Joseph was an Israelite and his wife was an Egyptian, but their sons Ephraim and Manasseh were Israelites. Though we are not told who they marry, it is possible that they married Egyptians as well. No one is suggesting that because Joseph's wife was Egyptian the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh are not Israelite tribes, though.

As I mentioned before, God Himself said that the Israelites would be scattered across the globe. There are groups of people from every continent that claim to be descended from the Israelites. The Conchin Jews of India,[19] the Bene Israel also of India,[20] the Bnei Menashe of India,[21] and the Beta Israel of Ethiopia,[22] are all recognized as Jews. In addition there are tribes that have claimed Israelite heritage that have not yet been recognized as Jews. These include the Lemba of South Africa,[23] and the Igbo Jews.[24] It is very possible that Blacks in the U.S. today are descended from African Jews. However, the same truth exists in Asia and Europe. God's people are not restricted to one race or phenotype.

Another issue I take with the conclusions made by those who promote the Black Israelite theory, is that they neglect the binary nature of Deuteronomy 28. Yes, the curses listed were predicted to befall the Israelites if they disobeyed God, but those who returned to Him would again reap the benefits. Most of the people I've met that claim Jewish descent are actually practicing Judaism. Whether it's Rabbinic Judaism or Torah based Judaism I can't be sure, but if they are in fact following God's law (minus the sacrifices which are both unnecessary thanks to Jesus and impossible now that the Temple is gone). Would they not still be keeping His covenant and thus reap the blessings? Not only would this would explain the wealth those promoting the Black Israelite theory use against the Jews of today, but exempt them of the curse.
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References

  1. McCray, Walter A. "The Black Presence in the Bible: Discovering the Black and African Identity of Biblical Persons and Nations. December 1995
  2. "Rastafarianism". Religion Facts. November 2015
  3. "Where are the Ten Lost Tribes?"". PBS. November 2000
  4. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 347. 2014
  5. "Deuteronomy 28:68 Commentaries". Bible Hub. 2016
  6. "Deuteronomy 28:68 Commentary". Bible Study Tools. 2016
  7. "HIV Among African Americans". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. February 2014
  8. Guo, Jeff. "HIV in America has disproportionately hurt blacks — even after treatment". Washington Post. July 2014
  9. "2000 STD Prevention Conference - African Americans Disproportionately Affected by STDs". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 2003
  10. Carollo, Kim. "5 Diseases More Common in Minorities". ABC News. October 2011
  11. DeNoon, Daniel J. "Why 7 Deadly Diseases Strike Blacks Most". WebMD. 2016
  12. Hunter, Tara. "Putting an Antebellum Myth to Rest". New York Times. August 2011
  13. "Slave Marriages, Families Were Often Shattered By Auction Block". NPR. February 2010
  14. Simkin, John. "Slave Marriages". Spartacus Educational. August 2014
  15. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. Child Maltreatment 2012. pg. 20,37. 2013
  16. The Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare. Disparities and Disproportionality in Child Welfare: Analysis of the Research. December 2011
  17. Padilla, Joshua and Summers, Alicia. Disproportionality Rates for Children of Color in Foster Care". pg. 2-3. May 2011
  18. Yandell, Kate. "Genetic Roots of the Ashkenazi Jews". The Scientist. October 2013
  19. Johnson, Barbara C. "The Cochin Jews Of Kerala". My Jewish Learning. 2016
  20. Isenberg, Shirley B. "The Bene Israel". My Jewish Learning. 2016
  21. Epstein, Steven. "A Long-Lost Tribe is Ready to Come Home". Bnei Menashe. 2013
  22. Winchester, Atira. "The History of Ethiopian Jewry". My Jewish Learning. 2016
  23. "Lemba tribe in southern Africa has Jewish roots, genetic tests reveal". World Jewish Congress. March 2010
  24. Oduah, Chika. "Nigeria's Igbo Jews: 'Lost tribe' of Israel?". CNN. February 2013
  25. "Ashkenazi Jewish Genetic Panel (AJGP) - What Are Ashkenazi Jewish Genetic Diseases?". WebMD. March 2014
  26. Dan Witters and Jade Wood. "Blacks Suffer Disproportionately from Chronic Conditions". Gallup. December 26, 2014

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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