“I Saw You Disappear with My Own Eyes”

Jacob S. Dorman

in Chosen People

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780195301403
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979035 | DOI:
“I Saw You Disappear with My Own Eyes”

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This chapter demonstrates the transnational and polycultural nature of African American religions through the faith formulated by one of Rabbi Ford's associates, Wentworth Arthur Matthew. Matthew, who was born in Nevis-St. Kitt's and immigrated to New York as a young man, composed his version of Black Judaism from a bricolage of Christian, Jewish, Afro-Caribbean, Masonic, and esoteric sources, as part of a wide community of ministers, Freemasons, conjurers, occultists, healers, and “Professors of Mystic Science.” Yet although he incorporated such diverse sources, his movement arose at a brief historical moment when white Jews and Blacks of many nationalities and religions lived together in close proximity in New York's Harlem. Partly in order to gain the financial and institutional support of white Jews, Matthew gradually adopted many of the liturgical standards of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, even as he kept his own polycultural faith going behind closed doors in what ethnographer James Scott refers to as the “hidden transcript.” It is important to recognize that the public transcript, the partial transcript, and the hidden transcript of religious communities seldom completely coincide.

Keywords: African American religion; Wentworth Arthur Matthew; Black Judaism; religious movement

Chapter.  12036 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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