To date, scholars have tended to view Black Israelites as mercenary, derivative, or imitative. However, this microhistorical reading of the public, partial, and hidden transcripts of New York Rabbi Wentworth Arthur Matthew's beliefs and ritual practices demonstrates that Black Israelites did not simply imitate Jews, but rather they were bricoleurs who constructed a polycultural religion that creatively reworked threads from religious faiths, secret societies, and magical grimoires. Black Israelite religious identity was imagined and performed in sidewalk lectures and in Marcus Garvey's Liberty Hall; it was embodied through Caribbean pageants, and acted out in parades. Black Israelism was lived through secret Spiritualist and Kabbalistic rituals, and taught openly through Sunday Schools and Masonic affiliates. Finally, it was an identity that was formed and performed in a mixture of Sanctified and Judaic rites. Print culture, performance, and complex social networks were all important to the imagination and realization of this new Israelite religious identity. Recognizing the subversive quality of this bricolage and the complexity of its partial and hidden transcripts belies attempts to exclude esoteric African American new religious movements from the categories of protest religion and black religion. When one combines the study of Black Israelism with similar studies of African American NRM's of the 1920s, it is possible to appreciate a remarkable wave of overlapping esoteric religious creativity that accompanied the much more famous artistic creativity of the Harlem Renaissance.
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