Chosen People

Chosen People : The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions

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Jacob S. Dorman offers the first comprehensive study of the rise of black Judaism in America. Beginning with an examination of black interactions with white Jews during the Civil War, Dorman traces the influence of Black Israelite practices and philosophies on the Holiness Christianity movement of the 1890s and the emergence of black Jewish synagogues in the early twentieth century. Most fascinating is his focus on a number of residents of 1920s Harlem who, adopting the guise of spiritual merchants, drew on profoundly stereotyped visions of the "Mystic East" for radical, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist purposes. They formed their own new religions based on the belief that the ancient Hebrew Israelites were black and contemporary African Americans their descendants. This gave rise to many of the African-American sects of the twentieth century, including the Rastafarians, the Black Muslims, and the prosperity gospel of Father Divine. This fascinating but little-studied group of "mystic professors" was founded by a Barbadian Rabbi who dreamed of resettling African Americans in Ethopia. The settlement scheme failed, but the black Israelite theology had captured the imagination of settlers who returned to Jamaica and transmitted it to Leonard Howell, one of the founders of Rastafarianism and himself a member of the mystic subculture of Harlem. The Black Israelite movement was carried forward in the US by several Harlem rabbis, including Wentworth Arthur Matthew, who creatively combined elements of Judaism, Pentecostalism, Freemasonry, the British Anglo-Israelite movement, Afro-Caribbean faiths, and occult kabbalah. Drawing on hitherto untapped archival sources as well as personal interviews, Dorman provides a vivid portrait of the Black Israelites, illuminating their place in the creative ferment of spirituality, art, and commerce that characterized African American life in the early twentieth century. Scholars have traditionally attributed the cultural significance of the Harlem Renaissance to the productions of the black elite. Chosen People helps to rectify that imbalance by drawing attention to the distinctive movements and ideas that engaged the black working more

Product details

  • Hardback | 320 pages
  • 160.02 x 238.76 x 30.48mm | 566.99g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 25 black and white illustrations
  • 0195301404
  • 9780195301403
  • 1,659,517

About Jacob S. Dorman

Assistant Professor of History and American Studies, University of Kansasshow more

Review quote

This significant book makes a valuable contribution to the literature on cultural synthesis and African American history. Regennia N. Williams, Journal of American History Chosen People is a deep and resonant work of scholarship, and one with rami cations that should be felt far beyond the literature on Black Israelites that Dorman has so elegantly and persuasively extended. Daniel Matlin, Journal of American Studiesshow more

Table of contents

Acknowledgements ; Introduction ; 1. "This is our Red Sea:" Exodusters, Prophet William Saunders Crowdy, and the Beginnings of Black Israelism ; 2. "Equivalent to Israelism": Inheritance, Freemasonry, and the Ancient Israelites ; 3. "We are Israelites but not Jews:" Orientalism and Israelism in the Holiness-Pentecostal Movement ; 4. "Our Only Hope, Our Only Salvation as a Race" Rabbi Arnold Josiah Ford, Ethiopianism, and African American Settlers in Ethiopia ; 5. "I Saw You Disappear with My Own Eyes": Hidden Transcripts of Rabbi Wentworth A. Matthew's Black Israelite Bricolage ; Conclusion ; Appendix: "Short History of The Congregation BETH B'NAI ABRAHAM, New York, N.Y." ; Bibliographyshow more

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