How do we know who a Jew is? Are Black people the real Jews? Are Christians the new Jews? The book “13th Tribe” by Arthur Koestler was published in 1976, and although it has now largely been discredited (and redacted by it's author) much like the heresies of Marcion it's message has woven itself into the popular culture and persists to this day.
Let's examine this issue step by step.
The Jews are a people who were chose by God. You can't choose to be a Jew without God agreeing because being a Jew means you are part of the covenant made at Mt. Sinai.
Setting aside all historical context, at Mt. Sinai God entered into a covenant with the Hebrews. At this time he stated the contract for Israel (ex. in Exodus 19 and onwards). In this covenant God defines the nation of Israel as the people who keep his covenant. In doing so God himself makes the following inclusional, conditional, and exclusional statements:
Deuteronomy 29:10-16 is perhaps the most important inclusionary passage so we list it first. Following are several others (this is not meant to be an exhaustive list):
The above list is not intended to be exhaustive in order to save space. However one is free to check the exhaustive list from which the following themes are observed:
- Inclusionary – God's people are wholly created out of those people who accept his commandments (esp. Deu 29:10) and not solely out of the seed (physical descendants, or race) descended from Abraham, Issac and Jacob. – Specifically the inclusion of anyone present at the assembly including other tribes which have cleaved to Israel, including servants, and specific other races such as Edomites which are the kin of Israel as stated by God. - Conditional – Membership in Israel is conditional on whether or not Israel keeps the covenant. – It is noted that the continuance of the nation Israel depends on the continuance of keeping the word of God (however, uncircumcised hearts may still repent and return, see again Lev. 26). – For example, if one does not keep the sabbath laws he is cut off from Israel. – For example, illegal unions, certain tribes, etc. are not to be admitted. – Thus we note membership in Israel is again dependent on keeping the covenant made with God. – Continuing the theme that Israel is solely the people who keept God's word from Sinai. - Exclusionary – A number of statements demonstrating the idea that it is possible for individuals to be cut off from Israel completely, and that Israel as a whole may also be cut off, albeit as a nation only temporarily.
Thus we see an immediate and jarring problem with the idea that “Black people” of any country in Africa would be “True Jews” simply because of the very obvious; they failed to continue in the traditions of the Lord and to keep God's laws and his traditions. There are also numerous other problems; even if they were “true hebrews” in any sense of the word, this does not exclude any other race or culture from claiming that title as well, and specifically the Edomites (whoever you assume them to be) – going so far as to specifically state that they are direct kin and it is forbidden to exclude them (and any others who were there) from the assembly of God. It would also be noted that the commandments not to add to the torah would logically forbid the exclusion of any race or culture not mentioned as to be excluded (Ammonites, Moabites, Amalekites, etc.)
Thus, while it is possible and in fact extremely likely that the “true hebrews”, i.e. descendants of Abraham who are Jews and who are covered by the covenant (SEE: LEV. 26) can be found in modern day Africa, this does not at all imply that ALL Africans or ALL “black people” are under the covenant, nor does it exclude any other race or culture from being a “true hebrew”. Specifically, the Edomites. This is God's word.
A summary of the Christian position that the Christians are the new Israel (see: replacement theology) appears on biblestudyproject.org, but of course you would have to take this with a grain of salt depending on which Christian denomination you follow. For everyone else, the sola scriptura is below.
The Abrahamic covenant was not made solely with the seed of Abraham.
In Genesis 12 we read, “4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.”
In Genesis 17 we read:
While this technically establishes that Abraham may bring anyone he chooses into the covenant, we read next in verse 23:
Abraham took every male, not just slaves as slaves are mentioned separately, as well as his family members into the covenant.
The historical context of who Israel became over time is too large to exhaustively discuss here. I will instead present three key areas, while drawing conclusions based upon the exhaustive body of evidence. References will be provided where appropriate if one wishes to explore the subject in greater detail.
One, the covenant was not made with a race, or a nation. God made the people of Israel out of all those who were present at the assembly as mentioned in Deuteronomy 29. This included other tribes who were not descendants of Abraham (the woodcutters, etc.) These were various other tribes, such as Canaanites who came to embrace Judaism, (SEE: the wood-cutters and water-drawers of Joshua 9:21-27) and the mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38). It also included the Israelites' slaves, people of the gate (righteous gentiles) and so forth.
Therefore the primary defining issue of who is an Israelite has nothing to do with race, although even if it was said that most Israelites were black, not all blacks were Israelites, nor were all Israelites black, or African, or Egyptian, or anything. Thus, race can never be a deciding factor in who is a member of Israel; it is defined solely by who has historically kept the covenant and who has not.
This one is huge, no TL; DR sorry.
In the time of King David, Benjamin rebelled and caused a civil war, which eventually led to the split of Israel the nation created by God's covenant into Israel the northern Kingdom also called Samaria under the rule of King Absalom (vs. King David of Judah). This split took place around 1,000 BC shortly after King David was appointed to rule over all of Israel the nation created out of obedience to God. Thus begins the typification by God of Northern Israel as a rebellious nation fighting against God's appointer ruler, God's will, God's commandments (the covenant).
As a result of this (as prophesied) by 722 BC, the Assyrians conquered Israel. The Assyrians were aggressive and effective; the history of their dominance over the Middle East is a history of constant warfare. In order to assure that conquered territories would remain pacified, the Assyrians would force many of the native inhabitants to relocate to other parts of their empire. They almost always chose the upper and more powerful classes, for they had no reason to fear the general mass of a population. They would then send Assyrians to relocate in the conquered territory.
When they conquered Israel, they forced the ten tribes to scatter throughout their empire. For all practical purposes, you might consider this a proto-Diaspora (“diaspora” meaning “scattering”), except that these Israelites disappear from history permanently; they are called “the ten lost tribes of Israel.” Why this happened is difficult to assess. The Assyrians did not settle the Israelites in one place, but scattered them in small populations all over the Middle East. When the Babylonians later conquered Judah, they, too, relocate a massive amount of the population. However, they move that population to a single location so that the Jews can set up a separate community and still retain their religion and identity. The Israelites deported by the Assyrians, however, do not live in separate communities and soon drop their Yahweh religion and their Hebrew names and identities.
In any case a major theme of the Bible is that the legitimate ruler of greater Israel is always a descendant of David, who was the King of Judah. Along these lines, the Hebrew Bible makes sure that it is clear that all the kings of the kingdom of Judah were, in fact, descendants of David. For instance, though at one point all the descendants of David had apparently been slaughtered, the narrative recounts that a legitimate Davidic child, Joash, was hidden by the priests and later emerged to restore the throne to the Davidic line (2 Kings 11:1-12). Other biblical and apocryphal texts take care to note whether Jewish rulers in late antiquity were of David’s house.
So then, the continuance of Israel the nation created by God is unquestionably that of Judah, although the individual descendants of the “lost” northern tribes are certainly free to return to Judah and legitimate rule under the Judean kingdom under King David's descendants (ex. Lev. 26).
In fact, by 1 Kings 18 Northern Israel's idolatry had already extended to their chief priests being Baal worshippers; all of which Elijah (through God's might) killed. Thus it is seen that no priests remained in northern Israel, northern Israel had become utterly destroyed and cut off from God's promise, just as God stated in Leviticus 26 and other places.
And, further to this, as Israel did not repent even after this, Jeremiah indicates that in the time of King Josiah (See; Jeremiah 3) God issues Israel (Samaria) a bill of divorce but not to Judah, and subsequently Israel is carried off by Assyria.
Thus we may conclude conclusively that the nation of Israel, the “True” chosen people, are not at all represented by the lost tribes of Northern Israel but instead are represented by the nation of Judah upon which God appointed a chosen and holy King David.
Again I stress that individual Isrealites were (and still are, theoretically) free to return to God's appointed Israel by submitting to the Israel continued by the tribe of Judah.
In Ester 8:17 and 9:27 we find as follows:
17 And in every province, and in every city, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.<cite>Esther 8:17</cite
26 Therefore these days are called Purim, from the word Pur. Thus because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, 27 the Jews established and accepted as a custom for themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would continue to observe these two days every year, as it was written and at the time appointed.<cite>Esther 9:26-27</cite
Opponents of these passages will point out then than some translations such as the NRSV state “professed” in 8:17 and that 9:27 does not refer to conversion but just to co-celebrants. This is contrary to a plain reading of the scriptures in Hebrew (ref. מִֽתְיַהֲדִ֔ים, “miṯ·ya·hă·ḏîm,”). Additionally, the Septuagint translation (which is a paraphrase of the Hebrew and contains many additions) specifically mentions a conversion ceremony was performed which included circumcision and instruction in Jewish life:
When the LXX translators translated Esther 8:17, they said הנלוים were περιετεμοντο και ιουδαιζον – circumcised and living like Jews. Thus it is entirely acceptable, and not theological gymnastics (as some claim) to see then how they would have understood נלוים of Esther 9:27 as the נמלים (περιετεμοντο) of Esther 8:17.
LXX Esther 8:17
κατα πολιν και χωραν ου αν εξετεθη το προσταγμα ου αν εξετεθη το εκθεμα χαρα και ευφροσυνη τοις ιουδαιοις κωθων και ευφροσυνη και πολλοι των εθνων περιετεμοντο και ιουδαιζον δια τον φοβον των ιουδαιων
from 4012 and the base of 5114; to cut around, i.e. (specially) to circumcise:–circumcise. G4012 G5114
from 2453; to become a Judaean, i.e. “Judaize”:–live as the Jews. G2453
We find the use of these two terms by Paul himself in Galatians chapter 2. περιετεμοντο which is the same idea found in Galatians 2:3 where Titus did not feel “compelled to get circumcised”:
TR GALATAS 2:3
αλλ ουδε τιτος ο συν εμοι ελλην ων ηναγκασθη περιτμηθηναι
Also regarding ιουδαιζον Paul also uses the same word in Galatians 2:14 to further describe what happens when one gets circumcised like Titus would have been:
TR GALATAS 2:14
αλλ οτε ειδον οτι ουκ ορθοποδουσιν προς την αληθειαν του ευαγγελιου ειπον τω πετρω εμπροσθεν παντων ει συ ιουδαιος υπαρχων εθνικως ζης και ουκ ιουδαικως τι τα εθνη αναγκαζεις ιουδαιζειν
So we see from Paul’s use of the terms for “circumcision” in Gal 2:3, and “live like Jews” in Gal 2:14, are the same concepts used generations before him by the LXX translators of Esther 8:17.
LXX Esther 9:27
και εστησεν και προσεδεχοντο οι ιουδαιοι εφ εαυτοις και επι τω σπερματι αυτων και επι τοις προστεθειμενοις επ αυτων ουδε μην αλλως χρησονται αι δε ημεραι αυται μνημοσυνον επιτελουμενον κατα γενεαν και γενεαν και πολιν και πατριαν και χωραν
קימו וקבל היהודים עליהם ועל-זרעם ועל כל-הנלוים עליהם ולא יעבור להיות עשים את שני הימים האלה ככתבם וכזמנם בכל-שנה ושנה
(English Translation from LXX:) And favorably received it the Jews for themselves and for their seed, and for the ones purposed unto them to observe it nor in fact otherwise shall they treat it. And these days were a memorial being completed according to generation and generation, city, and family, and place.
These “ones purposed” τοις προστεθειμενοις called הנלוים are the very same as those that previously were called περιετεμοντο by the LXX translators, which means the translators could have read הנלוים as הנמלים and still would have produced τοις προστεθειμενοις.
middle voice from 4253 and 5087; to place before, i.e. (for oneself) to exhibit; (to oneself) to propose (determine):–purpose, set forth. G4253 G5087
This understanding is based on the use of the word נמלים in Genesis 34:22 describing Jacob and his sons.
אך-בזאת יאתו לנו האנשים לשבת אתנו להיות לעם אחד בהמול לנו כל-זכר כאשר הם נמלים
So then it is entirely possible that when the LXX translators translated Esther 8:17, they understood those “circumcised” as נמלים.This isn’t eisegesis. It’s clearly seen for all that the LXX translators would have seen the הנלוים of 9:27 as the περιετεμοντο και ιουδαιζον – circumcised and living like Jews of Esther 8:17.
Whether one calls this “conversion” according to modern day terminology, or “circumcision” as Paul warned certain Gentile disciples about, it doesn’t matter. The concept was well known in Paul’s day. If Paul warned the Galatian disciples to not go through “circumcision and live like Jews,” it could only have been so for a reason other than what Esther indicates was acceptable (fear of the Jews). Thus something worse than “fear of the Jews” was a reason those in Galatia, according to Paul, were pursuing conversion. Paul indicates that that “reason” was something equated to a “false gospel” and on the level of “justification.” When looking at the historical understanding of Jewish conversion, it is clear that conversion (for a time until the promotion of Noachide theology) was believed by many as the only means to enter into the World to Come – justified by Jewish identity, not by faith in the Messiah.
In short, one can’t dismiss the fact that what the LXX translators understood happened in Esther 8:17, was the very same concept Paul was warning his Galatian disciples against in Galatians 2. If one believes Paul was warning his Galatian disciples against Jewish conversion, then one must also believe the LXX translators were describing that Jewish conversion was happening in Esther 8:17. If one calls it Jewish conversion in Galatians 2, then one must agree that the LXX translators would have called it conversion in Esther 8:17.<cite>http://jerusalemcouncil.org/halacha/giyur/orthodox-jewish-conversion-esther-817/</cite
“Thus,” as the above continues, Esther 8:17 stands out as a legitimate example of Jewish conversion that was accepted in those days, not only by the author of the book of Esther, but by Paul and all Christians in his day, and all Jews to this day.
It is utterly vital to understand that by the time of Jesus, 1000 years after David and 700 years after the loss of Northern Israel, Judah (whose capital of Jerusalem) continued in the traditions of God and had received God's direct blessing on many occasions;
We therefore note that no matter what happened before or what arguments would be given, it is a centrally held belief that the Pharisees and associated other Jewish denominations at the time of the Roman occupation of Jerusalem represented the sole and true nation of Israel as appointed and sanctified by God.
If we frame discussion about the Ashkenazi as an issue of race it fits in very neatly here in point #2.
Sometime in the 8th or 9th century, a mass conversion of the Khazarian people to Judaism is said to have taken place. It is possible to deal with this issue very simply:
The simple fact is that the Ashkenazi converted to Judaism in much the same way as shown by the multitude out of Egypt (Exodus 12) or the woodcutters et. al or slaves of those-of-the-covenant (ex. Joshua 9:21-27), and those in Esther (Esther 8:17 and 9:27 above). And, once they had converted to Judaism they were full fledged Jews just as the Jews who had converted them. This is vital: Both the rightful historical Jews from the tribe of Judah who had descended from the rightful Jews of Judah in the time of the Romans in Jerusalem, so did these Khazars act and behave like Jews and keep the covenant and thus were rightfully accepted into Israel.
And, it is interesting to state once again that if any of these people could be considered Edomites, it is explicitly stated by God that Edomites are not to be denied entry to the assembly, and that they are the kin of the physical seed of Abraham(!!) regardless of anything else to the contrary.
Thus two important points may be concluded: - One, yes, the Ashkenazi are converts - Two, this means they are full-fledged Jews just as the Jews who converted them are and continue to be - Three, provided and solely attributable to whether or not they keep the covenant.
It's also important to understand the place of the Ashkenazi Jews in the history of Judaism. Today, just as in the 8th and 9th century, there are Jews living all over the world. When the Ashkenazi converted, it did not automatically un-convert Jews living in places like Ethiopia, Yemen, Babylon(Iraq), Jerusalem, Egypt, so on and so forth. And in fact, all of those other Jews would have recognized the conversion as valid – as they do even to this day.
We therefore question the claim that any one can be Jewish “by race”, as it seems to completely disagree with the biblical account and history of the nation of Israel – a people whom God made at Sinai by the acceptance of a covenant. And, that based on the ecumenical authority and examples we find all over the bible (ex. the acceptable assembly, Abraham's made souls, Ruth, Esther, etc.) even if the original Abrahamites, Israelites or Hebrews were somehow a single race of people (or a majority of a single race) this form of identification quickly became obsolete. Even a moabite (Ruth) converted to Judaism and gave Israel it's greatest King – David!
This is less a conclusion than a paraphrase of the historical definition and evolution of Israel from the bible, as a group of people who kept God's covenant, and never as a race or secular nation of people.
Special proofs and claims in support of the above.
As noted earlier, no one denies that the Jews of Jerusalem in Roman times were the continuance of the nation of Israel. There are two basic camps of people; Christians and Jews, who weigh in on this. One, the Christians are forced to admit it because Jesus appeared to these as Jews, and secondly because Jesus ordered his followers to obey the Pharisees because “they sit in the seat of Moses” (Matthew 23:2-3) and such an office must be obeyed by a Jew (even, irregardless of, possible hypocrisy).
(As an aside please note that not all pharisees would have been hypocrites, surely the people who would have become rabbis of the next generation we would presume to have followed Jesus' teachings and not be hypocritical in their approach. This is confirmed in general by the Hillelian revivalism which shortly preceded and lasted until just after Jesus' ministry).
On the hand of the Jews, all Jews who can trace their history trace it back to Judah eventually. There are no such practicing Jews in the world today who trace their identity back to Northern Israel.
Thus we note that until the time of the Khazarian conversion no one denied Jerusalem was the centre of Jewish life, and since then the existing 'other' Jews have not denied the Judaism of the Ashkenaz.
Even if one denies the Khazars a place in Jewry (which is explicitly forbidden as stated above) one must contend with the massive other numbers of Jews, which show strong continuity with Judah and Jerusalem. One such group are the Moroccan Jews.
Moroccan Jews are the Jews who live or lived in the area of North Africa known as Morocco. The first Jews migrated to this area after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem and settled among the Berbers. Thus, this is a perfect example of a community of Jews who retained continuity amongst themselves from the time of Jesus/the Roman occupation. It should be uncontestable by anyone that these Moroccan Jews are authentic Jews.
But what happened in 1492? The Moroccan Jews were met by a wave of migration from the Iberian peninsula in the period immediately preceding and following the 1492 Alhambra Decree – when the Jews were expelled from kingdoms of Spain, and ortugal. This case is exceptionally important as an example because the immigrants were all Sephardic Jews – not Ashkenazi. The influx was significant enough to shift their cultuee away from a specifically Andalusian Sephardic liturgy towards a purely Sephardic identity.
At its peak in the 1940s, Morocco's Jewish population exceeded 250,000. After the formation of Israel more than 240,000 of the Jews there chose to move to Israel. The Moroccan Jews who now live in Israel are famous as they constitute the second-largest Jewish community (approximatively 1 million). Other communities are found in France, Canada, Spain, the United States and South America, mainly in Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina.
The example of the Moroccan Jew is very educational. It shows many basic facts about who is a Jew and what a Jew is. Almost based solely on a study of Moroccan Jewish relations, if one had to, one may conclude the following:
- The original Jewish state of Israel, as a continuance of Judah, fully accepts Ashkenazi jews as full jews, both in Israel and from Europe into communities outside of Israel. This would be impossible if the true, authentic Chosen People did not consider the Khazar conversion as valid. - Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Sephardic Jews – not Ashkenazi Jews – existed alongside Ashkenazi (Khazarian Convert) Jews for over 1,000 years in Europe, and would freely intermingle, even to the point where the entire community of Moroccan Jews would move to Israel, which at the time was predominated with Ashkenazi Jews.
With respect to Torah observance and religious observance, it is noted that without exception all Jews as defined by the above follow the exact same Torah and set of religious ordinances as set out by God in the Sinai covenant, and accept as canon the exact same Hebrew Bible. It does not matter if they are Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Yemenite, or any other kind of Jew. It is also noted that this is in full accordance with the actual text of the bible; nothing seems to be missing or out of place here.
Further, all of these Jews (Ashkenaz, Yemenite, Moroccan, Sephardic, etc.) recognize all the other branches as authentic Jews, and state that there is no such Jew in any other case.
On the surface, it seems abundantly obvious that some black people in Africa and some people in other countries would be “true Hebrews”, physical descendants of Abraham. And, that based on Leviticus 26, they would have a full share in the world to come, a full share of Israel. However this is predicated on two things:
- A full repentance and return to observance of the covenant which defines Israel as a nation – (which would naturally include) submission to the current generation of Israel's rabbis, priests, judges, etc.
Any “true Hebrews” who were unwilling to do this would be forbidden to rejoin the assembly, not just by the current generation of representatives of Israel, but also by God. It is not enough to simply be a descendant of Abraham. One must keep the covenant, this is the word of God.
Secondly there is an incredible problem with any particular African of any country culture or descent claimng to be a true Hebrew. On one hand, when the ten tribes were replaced into other countries, as noted Assyria certainly left some jews in Israel; also certainly the Isrealites were moved to other countries and were assimilated into those countries; meaning, that some of the Africans (who were in the other lands prior to the Assyrian removal) are not part of Israel, and there is really no easy way to tell who these people are or who the Israelites are.
Secondly, as a people who did not keep the covenant on a historical basis, they would be cut off from the tribe of Israel. These people are said to have been perished. There is also the problem of intermarriage which disqualifies the son or daughter from inheritance for ten generations. If there was no Jewish community to repair this damage, the net effect would be to erase the Israelite nation in those lands, reverting it's inhabitants to permanent non-Israelite status. In such a case, even if an African felt they would be entitled to a place in Israel, the continuance of covenant-abiding Jews from Judah (shown to be modern day Jews) are forbidden from accepting them for ten generations(!!)
It would be simpler in that scenario to simply submit to a full conversion and not have to go through such a lengthy and needless process. However the issue is one of authority, and in this case it is ironically observed that the tribes of Northern Israel still choose to rebel against God's appointed ruler – Judah.
What an interesting place we have been led to in examining this issue. It is both complex and simple. We now know who the true Jews are, and who are not, and the path of redemption for anyone who wishes to join the nation of Israel and be God's Chosen people– Shem-ite, Edomite, Moabite (i.e. Ruth and eventually King David), all included. Specific examples are given by God which neatly mirror the analogies of claims made today – the deceptive Gideonites (Joshua 9), the shocking nature of the Edomites as being Abraham's kin, the nature of even the excluded Moabites being able to convert (and eventually producing King David), and so forth. All of this just goes to show, that while the issue is both complex and simple, it is only complex in that the simple conclusion isn't what is commonly believed.
Yours in truth!
(We welcome any comments, help us improve this article by pointing out errors and suggesting new information, thank you.)
We believe this conclusion to be based on an exhaustive analysis of all relevant scripture. We welcome the addition of any scripture which can inform a different view. After all, maybe we are wrong and you can just wave a magic wand, make some claims, and presto – you're Jewish. We doubt it, but hey, maybe we missed something.