Monday, July 10, 2006

"i've seen ethiopians knocking out rome" (part 2)

As I said earlier, the recent case of the Seas of David got me reflecting on the Black Hebrew Israelites and other loosely related groups.

At least as far back as the mid-eighteenth century, Africans in the Americas were making metaphorical connections with the experiences of the enslaved children of Israel in Egypt. But later in the nineteenth century this had developed from identification with to identification as the children of Israel. And more generally, there have been a number of Black religious movements (like the Hebrew Israelites and Rastafarians) which, for whatever reason, play up and emphasize the Judaic aspects of the Bible.

In addition to the Hebrew Israelites and the Rastafarians, there is also the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (one of the most ancient forms of Christianity, predating every single Protestant group as well as the Great Schism which seperated Roman Catholicism from Eastern Orthodoxy).

I would say that a broad range of groups and individuals share the following beliefs or characteristics:

1. A belief that the original Jews were "Black"
I don't know if Moses (as) looked like Wesley Snipes. But according to the Bible, Jacob (Israel) and his sons went into Africa as a group of 12 households and hundreds of years later they came out of Africa as a nation of millions. Either the children of Israel are really really really inbred or they intermarried with the people around them and became basically an African group. The Bible even explicitly says that Abraham, Joseph and Moses married African (Egyptian and Cushite) women [Genesis 16:3, Genesis 41:45, Numbers 12:1].

2. The Old Testament Laws are still valid today
Most modern Christian groups downplay the commandments of the Old Testament. In some cases, I would even say it approaches a bizzare kind of anti-semitism. Many Christians see the commandments, at best as useless, at worst as burdensome and punitive things which were mercifully removed by Jesus. In contrast, the groups I'm talking about tend to see the Old Testament way of life as providing valuable guidance for today. Many prohibit pork, lean towards vegetarianism or adopt other aspects of the Jewish dietary code. These groups make some attempts to follow the various rules about grooming and hygine, regular prayer, learning a sacred language, animal sacrifice, fasting, pilgrimages etc.

In a lot of ways these groups are actually very similar to African-American Muslims. And it seems to me that one could probably find a great deal of solidarity and understanding among people who follow "Black Religion" (in Prof. Jackson's sense), are "Abrahamic" and follow a rich law-based lifestyle. Personally, I've tended to hae really positive interactions with the Rastas, Hebrew Israelites, Black 7th Day Adventists, etc. I've met. Furthermore, I would say that in terms of coming to Islam, I rode a certain "train of thought" but I also see that it is totally possible that if I had "gotten off at a different stop" I might have joined one of these other groups.

3. "We" are the Chosen People
Many of these groups have a strong sense of distintive peoplehood. To be a child of Israel is to be set apart, to follow a different way of life. The covenant is not for everyone, it is just for a few. Some groups are very dualistic and emphasize the contrast between "Israel" and the pagan Gentile/Babylon/Rome way of life. In the most extreme cases a siege mentality can develop and this is clearly exemplified in the Seas of David expressed interest in killing as many "devils" as possible.

In terms of the whole "train of thought" metaphor, this is one point where I definitely zigged instead of zagged. The Bible has a very strong emphasis on bloodline which comes a little too close to racism for my tastes. The curse of Ham. A God who makes bargains with individuals and their descendants. Tribalism. Hereditary priesthoods. Even genocide. Among the traditional rabbinical enumeration of the 613 commandments of the Torah one can find:

596. Destroy the seven Canaanite nations Deut. 20:17
597. Not to let any of them remain alive Deut. 20:16
598. Wipe out the descendants of Amalek Deut. 25:19
599. Remember what Amalek did to the Jewish people Deut. 25:17

I'll pass.

4. The authority of the Bible
Again speaking personally, if I had a stronger belief in the Bible I probably would have been some flavor of Afrocentric/Judaic Biblical religion follower. But because I had too many doubts and questions, I came to the conclusion that the Biblical tradition needed a reboot and so God returned to the purity of Abraham's faith with Muhammad who left behind the Quran and Sunnah.

Black Hebrew Israelites, Rastafarianism and Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity are the main religious movements I had in mind with the above discussion. Of some interest is also a tendancy known as Ethiopianism in American religion which predated and influenced Rastafarianism. But examples similar to these movements can also be seen in the Longhairz, Lauryn Hill's lyrics, and the Seas of David.

Planet Grenada's past:
the lemba


MBD said...

Well akhiy, i gotta say that taking those quotes as you have isn't a lot different than Christians quoting passages of the Qur'aan speaking of Jihaad, cutting off heads and fingers, etc. Context is key.

i'll be the first to admit that there is some pretty fucked up stuff that made it into the Canonical Bible, but there is also a lot that SOUNDS worse than it is (much the same as in the Qur'aan).

Just my two cents.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

I agree that context is important and I'm openminded and willing to hear a lot of different explanations. And I agree that sometimes things sound worse than they are.

I've actually thought about this particular issue for a while and have heard different explanations from the Christian side and didn't find them plausible. You can't really get around the fact that the text is saying God told the children of Israel to commit genocide.

As harsh as the commands about jihad might seem, they don't extend to a policy of total genocide.