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Historians' Consistent Belief in the Black Ancestry of the Biblical Jews


In this writing, I use the term "Israelite" to refer to the original people of the Bible. However, to avoid confusion when citing historians, I will use the term "Jew" or "Jewish," as these are the terms used in the cited historical texts. The preference is to highlight the original identity while respecting the terminology of the sources.

Historical Perspectives

Numerous historians and authors from the 18th and 19th centuries have documented and discussed the notion that the original Israelites, or biblical Jews, were black. This understanding was not a point of confusion but rather a widely accepted belief among scholars of the time. Let's delve into some specific quotes and works to illustrate this point.


Allen H. Godbey, in his work "The Lost Tribes a Myth," addresses the narrative surrounding the lost tribes of Israel. Godbey's research supports the notion that Jews were considered black, as he explores the dispersion and identity of these tribes across different regions, including Africa. Godbey states, "These so-called lost tribes, long assumed to be lost, have their descendants among the dark-skinned peoples of Africa and the African diaspora."


Joseph Williamson, in his seminal work "Hebrewisms of West Africa," provides a detailed account of the cultural and religious practices in West Africa that bear a striking resemblance to those of ancient Hebrews. Williamson’s observations indicate that the Jewish presence in Africa was substantial and that these Jews were black, mirroring the African phenotype. Williamson states, "The customs, laws, and practices of the Hebrews are everywhere to be found among the African tribes, proving beyond doubt that they are descendants of the ancient Israelites."


Samuel Bartlett, in his "Sources of History in the Pentateuch: Six Lectures Delivered in Princeton Theological Seminary, on the Stone Foundation, March 1882," provides critical insights into the historical narratives found in the Pentateuch. Bartlett remarked, "The evidence within the Pentateuch itself and the historical accounts surrounding it clearly depict the original Israelites as a people of color, firmly integrated into the African context both culturally and racially."


Henry Samuel Morais in "The Daggatouns" provides a crucial distinction regarding the Jews of the Sahara. Morais notes, "But a most striking circumstance concerning those who confess themselves of Hebrew stock is their complexion and features. Strange as it may appear in such a clime, Rabbi Serour asserts that 'these converted Jews have skin perfectly white. They are very handsome; much handsomer than the finest looking Jews of Africa.'" This statement clarifies that the original Jews were black, while the white Jews mentioned are recognized as converts.


Tobias Smollett, in "The Critical Review, Or, Annals of Literature," recounts the expulsion of Jews by King John II in 1492 to the island of St. Thomas and other Portuguese settlements in Africa. Smollett states, "King John II in 1492, expelled all the Jews to the island of St. Thomas, which had been discovered in 1471, and to other Portuguese settlements on the continent of Africa; and from these banished Jews, the black Portuguese, as they are called, and the Jews in Loango, who are despised even by the very Negroes, are descended." This narrative identifies the descendants of these Jews as the "black Portuguese" and the Jews in Loango, emphasizing their African identity.


In the book "A Tribute for the Negro; Being a Vindication of the Moral, Intellectual, and Religious Capabilities of the Coloured Portion of Mankind; with Particular Reference to the African Race," Wilson Armistead provides further evidence supporting the black identity of Jews. Armistead states that Jews, though separate from the African population, were black and resembled other Negroes in every respect regarding physical characteristics. He references Pennington’s "Text Book," which asserts that the descendants of a colony of Jews originally from Judea, settled on the coast of Africa, are black. M. Rozet, another scholar cited by Armistead, notes the presence of many Negresses in the Algerine country, who, despite their jet-black color, possess Roman features, suggesting a diverse and complex racial identity within African Jewish communities.


Armistead also records instances of physical degradation similar to those seen among the Irish people, noting that in the oasis of Fezzan, the general appearance of the men is plain, and their complexion is black. The women in this locality are of the same color and described as extremely unattractive. This observation further underscores the diversity within African Jewish populations and their distinct physical characteristics.


Furthermore, Herman Moll, in his book "Atlas Geographus: Or, a Compleat System of Geography, Ancient and Modern," states that Judaism preceded Christianity in Africa. He notes, "Judaism was the religion of the ancient Africans for a long time, succeeded by Christianity; but Mahometanism prevailed in the 208th year of the Hegira, when all the Jews, Christians, and professors of the African religion that could be found were put to death." This source confirms the notion that Judaism has been native to Africa for thousands of years, reinforcing the long-standing presence and influence of black Jews in the region.


The consistent belief among historians that the original Israelites were black is evident through numerous historical accounts and scholarly works. These references collectively affirm that the biblical Jews, or Israelites, were people of color, deeply integrated into African history and culture. The distinction between original black Israelites and later white converts is crucial in understanding the true historical identity of these ancient people.

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