The notion that the original people of the Old Testament are people of African descent is not confined to the Black Israelite tradition, this belief is shared by both Black Christians (particularly those who have a proclivity towards cultural pride such as the AME Church founded by Absolam Jones and Richard Allen at the end of the 18th century and the Shrine of the Black Madonna founded by Albert Cleage in the mid- 20th century) and African American Muslims. That is to say, many African American religious groups that have allied themselves to one of the three great monotheisms have done so with their racial/cultural traditions at the forefront of their collective minds. Meaning, they interpret the characters and stories from their own cultural and experiential perspective despite the veneer of traditional belief. Black Judaic movements are no different in this regard.
Black Judaism in the United States has a very old history with respect the foundation of the country. For example, there are accounts of Black Judaism in the US that go back as far as the late 17th century (1600s). James Landing, in the text Black Judaism: Story of An American Movement, provides an extensive and highly varied analysis of Black Judaic movements and organizations. Keeping the highly diverse nature of Black Jewish belief in mind, this survey will discuss the differing notions of Black Judaism in order to understand the uniqueness of the beliefs systems.
To begin, the Rastafarians, being one of the groups that can be lumped in the rubric of Black Judaism, has an extremely interesting ideology and history. According to Leonard Bennet Jr. in the text The Rastafarians, the name Rastafarian is actually a variation of the name and title of Emperor Haile Selassie I, the first emperor of Ethiopia after Italy’s attempt to colonize the land in the early 20th century, whose military title and birth name are, Ras Tafari respectively. Ras means king or ruler in Ethiopia and Tafari was Selassie I’s family name before taking the throne of Ethiopia. Hence, Rastafarianism is basically a belief system based on the ideologies of Haile Selassie I. Further, because Selassie I defended the sovereignty of Ethiopia from colonization, a geographical location that is important symbolically for Africans of the Judaic persuasion, the devoted understand him as savior and Ethiopia as the promised-land. Bennet elaborates: Rastafarians “believe that Haile Selassie, former Emperor of Ethiopian is the Black Messiah who appeared in the flesh for the redemption of all Blacks exiled in the world of White oppressors. The movement views Ethiopia as the promised land, the place where Black people will be repatriated through a wholesale exodus from all Western countries where they have been in exile (slavery).” Moreover, Selassie I’s ideas were very Pan-African in scope as he fought not only for the freedom of Ethiopia but Africa as a whole and was very involved in the early organization of the African Union.
Rastafarianism has taken root in a variety of Pan-African settings. One key geographic location is the island of Jamaica, in large part because Marcus Garvey and his philosophy are a key element of the movement. Garvey is a deified personality for the Rastafarian movement, not because he himself was of the Judaic persuasion, but because he espoused the philosophy of Pan-Africanism. A righteous Rastafarian understands him or herself to be part of a larger Pan-African nation that has been scattered across the globe, as taught by both Garvey and Selassie I. Further, since geography plays a major role in the religious make-up of Rastafarianism, like many other belief systems, there are “promised lands” that give certain movements root. The land of Ethiopia is one such sacred land because of its significance in Old Testament literature. Jamaica, however, is a key locale for Rastafarians because it is the island of Garvey’s birth and a setting where the spirit of Pan-Africanism runs deep.
Similarly, the country of Ghana is another key geographic location for the Rastafarians mainly because it is a nation that was founded on and was nurtured by Pan-African ideals. Equally critical, Ghana, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, employed the symbol of the Black Star which was taken directly from the Black Star Line started by Marcus Garvey as a method for people of African descent to migrate back to West Africa. Nkrumah did this because he himself was a fervent Pan-Africanist, who strove to create and maintain a collective consciousness of Pan-African philosophy within the country of Ghana. To this day, the Black Star is a ubiquitous symbol in Ghana and by extension the Rastafarianism is a major component of the religious landscape of the country. More importantly, the attention Rastafarians give to these leaders provides weight to the notion that Black Judaic movements, particularly the Rastafarian movement, is centered on the philosophy of Pan-Africanism.
Continuing in this line of thought, outside of Selassie I, Garvey and Nkrumah the most sacred personality of the Rastafarian movement is Bob Marley. However, unlike aforementioned, Marley was an actual believer in the movement. The philosophy of the Rastafarians is replete throughout Marley’s music and excerpts. For example, from his song Rasta Man Chant, Marley sings, “And I hear the angel with the seven seals say: "’Babylon throne gone down, gone down; Babylon throne gone down.’" Notice the references to the book of Revelations from the Bible. Moreover, music for the Rastafarians, particularly Reggae music, is their Gospel. It is a way for them to commune with the divine. Rhythm, roots, rock, reggae, Rastafari; all work together to create a foundation and structure of this Judaic belief system.
Furthermore, Rastafarians use the Old Testament of the Bible as a distillery for understanding the world. As one of the tribes of Israel, Judah, they understand the Old Testament to be, in part, a record of their history as well as a guide to their ethics. Equally important, are images or renderings of the Lion of Judah which is often coupled with the Ethiopian flag. Further, with the Lion of Judah as their spirit animaland the Old Testament as their holy text, the Star of David is also critical to their symbolic representation. This symbol connects them to their belief that they are one of the twelve tribes of Israel. In essence, they believe themselves to be descended from the original Hebrew nations that are now scattered across the globe.
The Holy Sacrament of the Rastafarians, marijuana, is probably the most powerful and problematic element of their belief system. For, on the one hand, they understand it as the elixir that raises their individual and collective consciousness to be able to know themselves and to be in touch with the “most high.” However, on the other hand, because of the recreational nature of the drug, many outside of the belief system view Rastafarians as “the black guys with locks that smoke weed,” and rarely understand that the substance and its’ use is meant to be a holy rite done with the full intention of communing with their “higher self” or “God-self” within, and is not just a means to get high. It is not surprising that many outside of the Black Judaic movement may view Rastafarians as nothing more than just a cult group of stoners. However, closer examination reveals they are a serious element of the Black Judaic tradition in the Western hemisphere that centers on the spiritual unification and physical repatriation of African people.
 James Landing. Black Judaism: Story of An American Movement. (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2002), 5.
 Leonard Bennet Jr. The Rastafarians. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1997), 4.
 Ibid., 1.
 Ibid., 1. Bennet states, “Repatriation is inevitable, and the time awaits only the decision of Haile Selassie. Known only to the true believers, the details of the actual departure are secret.” Interestingly enough, like Garvey’s black star line, this departure was to be done via ship or some sea worthy vessel.
 James Landing. Black Judaism: Story of An American Movement. (Durham :Carolina Academic Press, 2002), 7. Here Landing is discussing a group of ex-Garveyites who called themselves “The Star Order of Ethiopia and Ethiopian Missionary to Abyssinia.” This is relevant because of the ease that many people of African descent had when moving from one movement to the other regardless of whether they were Christian, Jewish of Muslim, many were able to make this transition because the foundation for all these movements was Black agency.
 Tony Martin. Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggle of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. (Dover: The Majority Press, 1986).
 David Birmingham. Kwame Nkrumah: The Father of African Nationalism. (Athens, University of Ohio Press, 1990), 93-95.
 Bob Marley. Album: “Burnin’”; Song: “Rasta Man Chant.”
 The term spirit animal is of the author’s choosing, not a term Rastafarians would make heavy use of.
 James Landing. Black Judaism: Story of An American Movement. (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2002), 9.
 No pun intended, “most high” is a reference to their understanding of God.