Yosef Ben-Jochannan

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Yosef Alfredo Antonio Ben-Jochannan
Dr Ben.jpg
Ben-Jochannan lecturing in Brooklyn circa 1990s.
Born (1918-12-31)December 31, 1918
Died March 19, 2015(2015-03-19) (aged 96)
Bay Park Nursing Home, Bronx, New York
Pen name Dr. Ben
Occupation Writer, Historian, Activist
Nationality America
Citizenship America
Subject Egyptology
Literary movement Afrocentrism
Notable works '"Black Man of the Nile and His Family"
Children Maria, Selvin, Alfredo, Ruth, Naomi, Collete, Wanda, Dawn, Kwame, Dorathia, Ozema, Eleanor (deceased), Nnandi (deceased)

Yosef Alfredo Antonio Ben-Jochannan (/ˈbɛn ˈjkənən/; December 31, 1918 – March 19, 2015), referred to by his admirers as "Dr. Ben", was an African-American writer and historian. He was considered to be one of the more prominent Afrocentric scholars by some in Black Nationalist community while most mainstream scholars have dismissed him because of the basic historical inaccuracies in his work as well as disputes about the authenticity of his educational degrees and academic credentials.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Ben-Jochannan claimed that he was born in Ethiopia to a Puerto Rican Jewish mother and an Ethiopian Jewish father.[2][3] Other sources say that he "was probably Puerto Rican but claimed to be of Ethiopian Jewish extraction."[4] Colleagues and family members have presented evidence which contradicts most of his account of his origins.[2]

According to different sources, Ben-Jochannan has a disputed educational record and was educated variously in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Cuba, or Spain, earning degrees in either engineering and/or anthropology.[3][unreliable source?] In 1938, he is said to have earned a BS in Civil Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico; this is disputed as the University of Puerto Rico registrar has no record of his attendance.[2] He stated that in 1939 he earned a master's degree in Architectural Engineering from the University of Havana, Cuba.[3] He also claimed to have earned doctoral degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Moorish History from the University of Havana and the University of Barcelona, Spain, respectively,[3] and advanced degrees from Cambridge University in England.[2] Both the University of Barcelona and Cambridge University say that he has never received a degree from either university and, furthermore, Cambridge University said it had no record of Ben-Jochannan ever attending any classes there.[2]

According to his obituary, Ben-Jochannan holds honorary doctoral degrees from Sojourner-Douglas College (Baltimore), Marymount College (New York), Medgar Evers College (Brooklyn).[5]

A New York Times article published after Ben-Jochannan's death discussed the lifelong inconsistencies in his reported academic record:

Documents from Cornell University show Mr. Ben-Jochannan holding a doctorate from Cambridge University in England while, conversely, catalogs from Malcolm-King College list him as holding two master’s degrees from Cambridge University. According to Fred Lewsey, a communications officer at Cambridge, however, the school has no record of his ever attending, let alone earning any degree. Similarly, the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, where he also said he had studied, has no records of his enrollment. Indeed, it appears that Mr. Ben-Jochannan consciously falsified much of his personal academic history[2]

Career and later life[edit]

Accounts agree on little else other than that Ben-Jochannan was raised in the Caribbean region and immigrated to the United States about 1940 where he reportedly worked as a draftsman and continued his studies. He later stated that in 1945, he was appointed chairman of the African Studies Committee at the headquarters of the newly founded UNESCO of the United Nations. He said he worked for them until 1970. However, UNESCO staff state that they have "no record of Mr. Ben-Jochannan ever having been employed by the United Nations." Dr. Ben has also stated that he began teaching Egyptology at Malcolm-King College in Harlem in 1950, but this volunteer-run effort was not founded until 1968, when it started with 13 students.[6] He later taught at City College in New York City. From 1973 to 1987, he was an adjunct (part time) professor at Cornell University.[7]

Ben-Jochannan was the author of 49 books, primarily on ancient Nile Valley civilizations and their influence on Western cultures.[3][dead link]In his writings, he asserts that the original Jews were from Ethiopia and were Black Africans. He says that the Semitic (white) Jews later adopted the Jewish faith and its customs.[8]

According to his obituary, Ben-Jochannan began his educational teaching in Harlem in 1967 at HARYOU-ACT. He worked as an adjunct professor (1973-1987) at Cornell University in the Africana Studies and Research Center, then directed by James Turner. He also taught at other institutions, including Malcom-King College in Harlem and Rutgers University. In 1977 he accepted an honorary faculty position with the Israelite Rabbinical Academy at Beth Shalom Hebrew Congregation in Brooklyn.[5] Ben-Jochannan appeared several times on Gil Noble's WABC-TV weekly public affairs series Like It Is.

In 2002, Ben-Jochannan donated his personal library of more than 35,000 volumes, manuscripts and ancient scrolls to the Nation of Islam.[9] In the years before his death, Ben-Jochannan lived in Harlem, New York City in the Lenox Terrace Co-ops.

Ben-Jochannan married three times and had a total of 13 children.[2] He died on March 19, 2015,[10] at the age of 96.[11] at the Bay Park Nursing Home in the Bronx.

Accusations of teaching pseudohistory[edit]

Ben-Jochannan has been criticized for allegedly distorting history and promoting Black supremacy. In February 1993, Wellesley College European classics professor Mary Lefkowitz publicly confronted Ben-Jochannan about his teachings. Ben-Jochannan taught that Aristotle visited the Library of Alexandria. During the question and answer session following the lecture, Lefkowitz asked ben-Jochannan, "How would that have been possible, when the library was not built until after his death?" ben-Jochannan replied that the dates were uncertain.[12] Lefkowitz writes that ben-Jochannan proceeded to tell those present that "they could and should believe what only Black instructors told them" and "that although they might think that Jews were all 'hook-nosed and sallow faced,' there were other Jews who looked like Black like himself."[13]

African-American professor Clarence E. Walker wrote that Ben-Jochannan not only confused Cleopatra VII with her daughter Cleopatra VIII and stated she was black, but also wrote that “Cleopatra VIII committed suicide after being discovered in a plot with Marc Antonio [Mark Anthony] to murder Julius Caesar.” This would be highly problematic considering Julius Caesar was assassinated 14 years before Cleopatra VII's suicide. [14]

Selected bibliography[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gabriel Haslip-Viera, Taíno revival: critical perspectives on Puerto Rican identity and cultural politics, (Markus Wiener Publishers: 2001), p.14.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Kestenbaum, Sam (March 27, 2015). "Contested Legacy of Dr. Ben, a Father of African Studies". New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2015. Documents from Malcolm-King College and Cornell show Mr. Ben-Jochannan holding a doctorate from Cambridge University in England; catalogs from Malcolm-King College list him holding two master’s from Cambridge. According to Fred Lewsey, a communications officer at Cambridge, however, the school has no record of his ever attending, let alone earning any degree. Similarly, the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, where he also said he had studied, has no records of his enrollment. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Yosef Ben-Jochannan Biography". TheHistorymakers.com. 2008. Retrieved June 30, 2011. 
  4. ^ Tudor Parfitt, Emanuela Semi (eds.) (2013). Judaising Movements: Studies in the Margins of Judaism in Modern Times. Routledge. p. 95. ISBN 1136860274. Retrieved June 2, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b *Obituary and Program: Celebrating the Life of Dr. Yosef ben-Jochanan
  6. ^ John Egerton, "Malcolm-King College: Harlem's Higher Education Volunteers", Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, Vol. 5, Issue 1, 1973; accessed 10 April 2016
  7. ^ "Dr. Yosef A. A. Ben-Jochannan". raceandhistory.com. Retrieved January 5, 2012. 
  8. ^ Ben Jochannan, Yosef (1993). We the Black Jews. Black Classics Press. 
  9. ^ Shabazz, Saeed (October 29, 2002). "Prized library bequeathed to the Nation". FinalCall.com. Retrieved June 30, 2011. 
  10. ^ Martin Pratt, "Obituaries: Noted historian and scholar Dr. Yosef A.A. Ben-Jochannan has died", Rolling Out, March 19, 2015.
  11. ^ "Dr. Ben joins the ancestors". New York Amsterdam News. March 19, 2015. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  12. ^ http://www.skepdic.com/refuge/lefko.html Not Out of Africa How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History
  13. ^ History Lesson, pp. 67-69.
  14. ^ Walker, Clarence E (2001). We Can't Go Home Again: An Argument About Afrocentrism. Oxford University Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0195095715. 

External links[edit]