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“Hebrew Israelites” of the street proselytizing variety — the best known of the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement — usually trace their theological roots back to a small New York City-based school, initially called the Israelite School of Torah.1 The school, launched in 1969, was at one time located at 1 West 125th Street in Harlem. Christian urban apologists have dubbed adherents to this vein of Hebrew Israelism as “1Westers.”2 The 1West “camps” (roughly equivalent to denominations) have many theological distinctives, one of which is captured in their 12 Tribes of Israel Chart; this chart is likely familiar to those who have encountered these street-preaching type of “Hebrew Israelites.” Another distinctive is codified in their 18 Nations Chart.3 1West “Hebrew Israelites” often carry a laminated poster of this “breakdown” (their word for an interpretation) with them as they proclaim their message in city centers across the United States and abroad. The 18 Nations Chart features a total of seventeen non-elect nations considered to be Gentile heathens who cannot be redeemed (one of the nations listed on the chart is Israel, so the 18 Nations Chart features only one “elect” people group). This 18 Nations Chart of the 1West Camps is primarily, but not solely, derived from their esoteric view of Genesis 10.4
This breakdown is important to 1Westers for many reasons; one being they believe every people group in the modern age can and must be viewed through the lens of their true, ancient, and biblical designation. For example, “East Indians” (their term) should not be called or thought of as “Indians” but rather, Elamites, per Genesis 10:22 and 1 Chronicles 1:17.5 In the mind of a 1Wester, knowing these designations informs them about who to condemn and who to evangelize. If a person’s “true nationality” is only on the 18 Nations Chart, it’s the former; if a person’s “true nationality” is covered on the 12 Tribes Chart, it’s the latter.
The first part of this article details the reasons 1West “Hebrew Israelites” give for two of the eighteen nations: Moabites (Chinese) and Edomites (whites).6 The last section touches on what this fabricated ethnic hierarchy means for redemption and salvation (especially as it is taught in the New Testament).
WHY DO 1WEST “HEBREW ISRAELITES” CALL CHINESE “MOABITES”?
1West “Hebrew Israelites” believe that modern people groups correspond specifically to eighteen different ancient people groups. Some associations in the 1West understanding of the 18 Nations Chart reflect popular (though overly simplistic and even wrong) ideas found more broadly among some Bible affirming groups (e.g., associating Arabs with Ishmael7); others are innovative, peculiar, and abjectly outlandish. One particularly curious — and egregious — example concerns their assertion that the Chinese descend from Biblical Moab.
It is important to recognize that not all “Hebrew Israelites” hold this view.8 Here’s an example from the Facebook page of the “Hebrew Tribes Channel”: “I have seen post after post and comment after comment and charts where folks have the Moabites and Ammonites listed as Chinese and Japanese. This is how I know brothers who made those charts are NOT studying who and where these nations are according to scripture. And others are sharing this information as if it is fact.”9 This denial of the 18 Nations Chart represents the average non-1West “Hebrew Israelite” perspective.
Conversely, the 1West “Hebrew Israelites” do teach that modern-day Chinese are actually Biblical Moabites.10 When they first began to preach this publicly in Times Square and on Public Access TV throughout the Tri-state area, their case hinged entirely on Genesis 19:36–37, which reveals Moab was conceived in incest. The 1West leadership would couple that with a blurring of the different usages within the semantic range of the word “Mongoloid.” That is to say, while they teach Israelites are “Negroid” (their words)11 and Edomites are “Caucasoid,”12 they also believe that Chinese are “Mongoloid” in multiple senses of the word. 1West leadership would explain it this way: as Moabites, the Chinese were the offspring of incest and this incestual foundation explains their physical features. Believe it or not, 1Westers argue that Chinese people suffer from a form of Down Syndrome or “retardation” (their words).13
For example, the 1West “Hebrew Israelite” camp GMS (GreatMillStone Israelites) in Atlanta has a video titled “The Chinese are the Biblical Moabites.” One comment mirrors the video’s thesis: “they are Moab meaning ‘from the father,’ they are the fruit of incest between Lot and his daughter, hence the fact they have Mongoloid Down Syndrome on their faces, yellow skin, short, etc., as diagnosed by Dr. John Langdon Down.”14 This absurd sentiment — that Chinese people look deformed because they are ultimately a product of incestuous relations between Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19:30–38) — is quite common among the 1West camps.
Some 1Westers appeal to an alleged affinity for Chinese cuisine among “Jakes” (the black American populace)15 as being alluded to in Psalm 60:8 and Psalm 108:9; both passages declare “Moab is my washpot.”16 The Virginia-based Israelite Saints of Christ camp connects food to Moab in this way: “Many Israelites love to eat foods from the other nations, especially Moab (Chinese) whom the Lord considered a wash pot (Psalms 60:8). Moab is called a wash pot because of their filth and how they will consume anything.”17 Other 1West “Hebrew Israelites” believe “Moab is my washpot” refers to Chinese-Americans owning laundromats18 or even that wealthy Chinese financiers and businessmen are going to financially “clean out” America before the nuclear missiles hit.19 Still others claim the Chinese-Moabite connection is evidenced in the fact that some “washpots” are made with material called “China.”20
While the crudeness of this explanation may strike most readers as utterly unbelievable, they need to be understood within the context of 1West’s low tolerance for dissent from members. The group has certain arguments that converted believers find persuasive; if other teachings (such as the Moab-China connection) seem less persuasive, the rank and file do not have much space to question them. Those who express doubts face expulsion. Moreover, a certain epistemology is encouraged and nurtured, where even if a given doctrine does not strike one as well grounded, one can still be confident it is accurate because it comes from the prophets of the Lord. As a result, the doctrine about Chinese being Moabites was (and is) passed down with little opposition among 1Westers.
Recently, 1West apologists have attempted to buttress the Moabite-Chinese connection. One newer argument notes that Deuteronomy 23:1 refers to the exclusion of anyone from the congregation who has had their genitals severed, while verse 3 refers to the exclusion of Moabites from the congregation. The approach to this text treats verses 1 and 3 as being related; as in, the severing of genitalia is considered by 1Westers to be especially prevalent among Moabites (and Ammonites, whom 1Westers consider to be Japanese).21 From there it is proposed that sex reassignment surgery is particularly prevalent in east Asia, thus providing grounds on which to conclude Moabites (and Ammonites) are currently in east Asia.22
Another argument notes that Judges 3:17 describes an obese Moabite king. Then it is argued this parallels the popularity of Sumo wrestlers and corpulent depictions of the Buddha in east Asia.23 These arguments strain credulity, but we must remember the primary focus of 1Westers is “Israel” (blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans) and “Edom” (white folks); thus their defense for their other “breakdowns” is less fleshed out.24
WHY DO 1WEST “HEBREW ISRAELITES” CALL WHITES “EDOMITES”?
In their attempt to assign modern people groups into associations with ancient Biblical nations, 1West “Hebrew Israelites” focus most of their energy on identifying Israel and Edom.25 The association of Europeans with Edomites begins with Genesis 25:25, which states Esau was “red” when he emerged from the womb. 1Westers interpret this as referring to the way in which fair-skinned persons (especially those of a stereotypically European morphology) can display redness in their face (e.g., blush). They confidently assert that there is “no such thing as white people, they are red.”26 While street preaching, 1Westers have been known to point to a white person wearing a white shirt and note how different their skin color is from their shirt. It’s an added bonus if a portion of their skin, such as their neck or face, is displaying a certain redness (i.e., sunburn). 1Westers also appeal to the hairiness of Esau as typical of white men.27
The European-Edomite association continues with Genesis 27:40: 1Westers interpret the reference to the sword as a blessing that explains the military prowess of European colonialists and the modern U.S. The 1West association of whites with Edomites continues on in the book of Obadiah. Obadiah 1:3 states that Edom’s “habitation is high.” This is interpreted as an allusion to tall buildings and skyscrapers supposedly erected by whites.28 When Obadiah 1:4 states that Edom exalts itself like an eagle, 1Westers point to the eagle being a symbol for the United States of America.29 When the same verse refers to Edom setting its nest among the stars, they associate that with the moon landing (they cite Neil Armstrong’s famous line, “the eagle has landed”) and the nest with space stations.30
More recently, 1Westers have added more details to their argument for the identification of Europeans with Edomites. One such approach is to connect verses that call Haman an Agagite (Esth. 3:1; 3:10; 8:5; 9:24) and a Macedonian (Esth. 16:10 in the KJV Apocrypha). Noting that Agag was the name of an Amalekite (Edomite) king (cf. Num. 24:7; 1 Sam. 15:8-32), 1Westers argue this combination of verses proves Macedonians are actually Edomites.31
Besides the Apocrypha, some appeal to other extra-Biblical texts, especially polemics against Rome within the Rabbinic corpora. There are texts that associate Rome (or even Christendom) symbolically with Edom.32 While 1Westers do not consider such texts authoritative, they are happy to appeal to them where they superficially line up with their own position. Peter and Leonold Sherrod (known as Yaiquab and Ahraya, respectively) were founders of the original 1West school who also had a somewhat Rabbinic past. It is likely the literal association of Europe with Edom may have originally been acquired from an incorrect misappropriation from these symbolic Rabbinic texts.33
There is also a possible sociological explanation: the environment in which 1West “Hebrew Israelism” formed was saturated with interplay between black Americans and white Americans. Therefore, a hermeneutic that associates those two cohorts with Israelites and Edomites will likewise make them the interpretive focus of the Bible, just as they are a major focus of their immediate experiences beyond the pages of the Bible. 1Westers feel there is justification for such a focus based on 2 Esdras 6:9 (1Westers believe the Apocrypha is biblical): “Esau is the end of the world, and Jacob is the beginning of it that followeth”34 and Romans 9:13: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”35 In plain speak this means, “God loves people on the 12 Tribes Chart but hates people on the 18 Nations Chart” (except Israel).
WHAT ABOUT SALVATION FOR “OTHER NATIONS”?
“Hebrew Israelites” are usually Black, Hispanic, and Native American individuals who claim they are the true biological descendants of Jacob from their paternal line. In addition to self-identifying as the Biblical Israelites, most “Hebrew Israelites” influenced by the 1West school of thought usually teach salvation is only for Israelites (read: them).36 This doctrine is based on a number of Biblical and Apocryphal proof texts, such as the following:
Ironically, 1Westers say they affirm the New Testament. Their bigoted soteriology has long raised questions about how one is to understand the plethora of explicit New Testament texts37 that plainly refer to salvation being available to believing Jews and Gentiles. As a result, 1Westers have developed innovative explanations to reconcile their indefensible position with the relevant passages.
John 3:16 famously declares that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. In response, 1Westers appeal to John 17:9, where Jesus declares, “I pray not for the world.” From there they argue John 3:16 must be referring to a more limited and specific “world.” And from there, they turn to Isaiah 45:17, which mentions Israel and closes with the phrase “world without end” (this translation is distinct to the King James Version). They interpret that phrase, which is an allusion to eternity, as conveying that Israel is a “world,” and more specifically, the precise “world” mentioned in John 3:16.38
Acts 10 details the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile.39 Originally, 1West developed a peculiar rationalization known as “the trick bag doctrine” (“trick bag” is slang for a situation that appears positive but is a trap).40 The “trick bag doctrine” posits that salvation for the “Edomite” Cornelius was merely feigned.41 This way, “Edomites” would wrongly think salvation was extended to them, and thus they would not destroy the Bible while Israel was in captivity. The phrase “Cornelius got the trick bag” was bandied about by 1Westers for more than two decades.
In Acts 15:17, James quotes a version of Amos 9:12 that differs from how the latter verse reads in the Masoretic text (and thus in the KJV). 1Westers interpreted the KJV reading of the verse in Amos as referring to Edomites being put into captivity. Truthfully, the verse quoted by James (which lines up with the reading in the Septuagint) alludes to the salvation of believing Gentiles. Proponents of the “trick bag doctrine” assert that the variant reading was due to James deliberately twisting the text so as to further the relevant deception of Gentile inclusion (which, according to the “trick bag” schema, was a ruse). Some “trick bag doctrine” advocates even hint that James purposefully quoted and misused Amos 9:12 with Cornelius in the room, all the while turning to the apostles and winking, so they would know Cornelius was getting the “trick bag.”
However, the “trick bag” doctrine did not sit well with all 1Westers. “Tahar” (a leader who some members believe is the Apostle Paul reincarnated) sought to avoid its awkwardness by proposing an alternative: Cornelius was actually an Israelite. This led to conflict. Tahar (who is now the Apostle, Prophet, and Elder of the GMS “Hebrew Israelite” camp) was pushed out of the school (in part) because he suggested the “Cornelius was an Israelite” alternative.42 Since then, most 1West descended splinter groups have embraced the idea that Cornelius was indeed an Israelite.43
The idea that Cornelius was an Israelite is derived from a broader presupposition rooted in 1West soteriology: non-Israelite peoples are damned because they belong to a non-elect ethnicity. Consequently, any text that refers to a Gentile being saved is either being interpreted wrongly or is actually referring to “Israelites in a Gentile state of mind,” a stock phrase among 1Westers. 1Westers argue that “Israelites in a Gentile state of mind”44 were descendants of Jacob who lived according to Gentile customs and were referred to as “Gentiles.”
How do the adherents of 1West Hebrew Israelism defend such a blatantly false claim? One approach notes that Paul addresses “the saints” in Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:2, and Ephesians 1:1, and yet those same epistles address Gentiles in Romans 15:10–11, 1 Corinthians 12:2, and Ephesians 2:11. From there, they backtrack to Psalm 148:14, which reads “all his saints, even…the children of Israel.” The KJV reading is seen as meaning that only Israelites (descendants of Jacob) could be saints. Therefore, if Paul was addressing persons who were both saints and Gentiles, this must mean those Gentiles were, in fact, Israelites.45
Another approach rests on the 1West abuse of Romans 9:24–26, a passage which defeats their own position. The text states that not only Jews are called, but so too are Gentiles. The Apostle Paul quotes Hosea as referring to people who were not God’s people being called and becoming children of God. This is a clear text contra 1West soteriology. Undeterred, 1Westers note that the texts being quoted (Hos. 1:10 and 2:23) are referring to Israelites. Therefore, they argue, that Paul took verses referring to Israelites and applied them to Gentiles precisely because those Gentiles were actually Israelites.46
The 1West faction of Hebrew Israelism believes all modern peoples must correspond to ancient biblical peoples. Using esoteric, obscure, and bizarre interpretations of the Bible and history, the 1West groups have assigned people of European descent as the “Edomites” and people of Chinese descent as the “Moabites.” Then, they assign these two groups of people as non-elect Gentile heathen nations (they do the same to other people groups in order to create their 18 Nations Chart, supposedly comprising people groups damned to God’s wrath by their ethnicity alone). This article barely scratches the surface regarding how badly 1Westers twist the biblical text to defend their patently prejudiced soteriology. Indeed, 1West Hebrew Israelism misuses the Bible in the most disgusting way possible: to justify naked bigotry and gross hatred toward other humans, humans who have been made in the image and likeness of the Triune God (Gen. 1:26; 9:6; Jas. 3:9).47
Vocab Malone holds a master’s degree from Phoenix Seminary and has engaged in postgrad studies at Talbot School of Theology and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He hosts a weekly livestream urban apologetics show, The Street Apologist, online at youtube.com/vocabmalone. Vocab is the author of Barack Obama vs. the Black Hebrew Israelites: Introduction to the History and Beliefs of 1West Hebrew Israelism (LionHouse Publishing, 2017) and a contributing author to Our God is Triune: Essays in Biblical Theology (Church Militant Publications, 2018).
“Too often in our contemporary culture, theologically informed beliefs are not considered a legitimate claim to knowledge.” — Frank Beckwith