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MYTHISTORY AND THE JEWS OF AFRICA

History 335: Africa Due: July 11, 2011

Amberlea Erekson Professor David Pigott

A tribe of black Africans claiming to be Jews have revealed astonishing evidence behind their claim. Through DNA testing the Lemba people have been able to verify their relation to symmetric patriarchal lines. Unfortunately, the remarkable history of the Lemba people has left some scholars to disregard rules of historians fallacies and except myths as evidence while ignoring the facts.

Some argue myths are flaws in History and therefore should be removed and not mentioned; others believe they are legends and folklore that have been altered from history to fantasize the past. Myths being potential falsehoods in history nevertheless must be included in history, even if they are not necessarily the truth, they have become an important part of the past to understanding the ways of thinking and living of the people. Including myths in history the following must be done: the myth must be identified, corrected, and address the historical significance behind the deception. Perhaps Macaulay said it best, He who is deficient in the art of selection may, by showing nothing but the truth, produce all the effect of the grossest falsehood.1 It is the Historians job to analyze the past and reconstruct the events which occurred. Often the case is that new ideas are formed along the way either by people involved in the event itself or by a secondary or an evaluator of the event. These new ideas may be classified as myths but they cannot be ignored because of the truth in them, and the views from the myth affect other witnesses views they themselves becoming a part of history.

Mythistory does not do any good if all the fictitious beliefs are pointed out but rather what they mean and how they affect things. Historiographer Joseph Mali declared [H]istorical myths of

Thomas Babington Macaulay, Thomas Noon Talfourd, and James Stephen, Essays, Critical and Miscellaneous (Boston: Phillips, 1854), pg. # 54.

these nations would not ask whether they were true or false, but rather what they meant2 Myths often are made or truth, while mistakenly myths are viewed either true or false. Mali continued in writing, as if myth was all fabrication and pure fiction and therefore a spurious description of what merely appears to have happened, whereas history was a serious and reliable explanation of what actually happened insofar as its empirical sources and discourses were veritable.3

In conjunction with myths, fallacies must also be addressed in interpreting history. History is a problem solving discipline.4 Often is the case that history is interpreted in an incorrect argument of reasoning, as such misconceptions and myths result from historical fallacies. All historians operate upon a certain criteria of factual significance of their work, and that those criteria must be aligned with their own purposes and methods.5 There is an art that some historians have been able to develop, the art of factual significance, and also the art of selection, in interpreting the most important facts history can be used as its best extent. If false criteria of significance are such as appear and violate these rules, then what might the true ones be? The answer is that a true standard of factual significance is one which is generated by a sound model of historical explanation.6

Joseph Mali, "Chapter 1: Where Terms Begin: Myth, History, and Mvthistory," in Mythistory: the Making of a Modern Historiography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), pg. #1.
3

Ibid., 2.

David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies; toward a Logic of Historical Thought. (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), xv.
5

Ibid., 65. Ibid., 100.

Many myths and fallacies have been formed in studying the BaSena/ BaMwenye/ BaLemba people or for short the Lemba as they will be addressed throughout the paper as such. Perhaps even more myths have entered their history as it has been passed down over millennia orally. Professor Roux raises the questions one should think about when considering the Lemba, she writes, The historical and existential relationship of Lemba Judaism (the so-called black Jews of Southern Africa) Judaism with authentic Judaism. Did the Lemba specifically made a religious shift at one stage or another? Or did the Lemba choose to identify with the idea of being Jewish or rather Israelite, because it conformed and reinforced their traditions of origin and Semitic customs? Or are they simply one of the lost tribes of Israel?7

British Professor Tudor Parfitt, heard of black Africans practicing Judaism which claimed to be of Israelite heritage, he instantly became skeptical until he was invited to see for himself and study the Lemba. From Oral tradition and research by Parfitt and his colleagues their history has been finally recorded, but myth is ever present especially considering time and hearsay.

The Lemba are believed have been part of a lost tribe of Israel being separated during the Assyrian captivity of Israel which began approximately in 740BCE. In 1Chronicals 5:26 the Bible gives a record of the first deportation. And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, unto this day.8 Somehow the Lemba were

Magdel Le Roux, "'Lost Tribes1 of Israel' in Africa? Some Observations On Judaising Movements in Africa, With Specific Reference To the Lemba in Southern Africa2," Religion and Theology 6, no. 2 (1999): 114, doi:10.1163/157430199X00100.
8

1 Chron. 5:26.

able to obtain their freedom and instead of returning to land of their fathers like the Kingdom of Judah did they traveled to a place called Sena which Parfitt believes to be located in Yemen. Which Parfitt teaches there is actually a place at the end of the Wadi Masilah that is called Sena to this day.9

Parfitt explains how important Sena is to the Lemba They refer to Sena in the same way that we would refer to paradise or heaven. Parfitt concludes this because the phrases they use such as We'll meet again in Sena.10 Perhaps more Israelite history is behind the saying. Jews even to this day in participating in a Seder or Passover meal conclude with the saying Next time in Jerusalem. In Judaism the Holy City of Jerusalem is to be remembered often. Sena must be considered a Holy place to the Lemba just as Jerusalem is Holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

From Sena the Lemba crossed the Indian Ocean into Africa slowly making their way down south. Again, in Oral tradition, the Lemba teach theirey ancestors built the ancient stone ruin of Zimbabwe, as Parfitt puts it. They claim that one of their clans, the Tovakare, were the actual builders of Zimbabwe., Hhe continues, tThey even call them Tovakare Muzimbabwe, which means the ones that built Zimbabwe. Speculations and myths have surrounded the great ruins of Zimbabwe including some claiming it to be the capital city of the Queen of Sheba recorded in the Bible who visits King Solomon. The Lemba claim, We rebuilt Sena, and then we went inland and had something to do with the construction of the Great Stone City, which of

David Espar, "Tudor Parfitt's Remarkable Quest," PBS.org, February 22, 2000, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/tudor-parfitts-remarkable-quest.html.
10

Ibid.

course is feferingreferring to Zimbabwe.11 But unlike some myths the Lemba support their claims with the practices they still use as evidence. The Lemba bury their dead in an extended horizontal position just as the inhabitants of ancient Zimbabwe did in comparable comparison to the crouched position burial of surrounding tribes. But the most compelling pieces of evidence involve trade, Parfitt says. Great Zimbabwe was a civilization that was constructed very largely on wealth generated from cattle and trade. And given that for hundreds of years we know the Lemba were the great traders of southern Africa, it seems almost certain that their ancestors would have been involved in this trading nexus between Great Zimbabwe and the Indian Ocean.12

While still in Zimbabwe tradition holds, At that point, we broke the law of God and we ate micewhich were not ritually fit for Lemba consumption. And then they were scattered, as they put it, among the nations in Africa. Now many tribes belonging to the Lemba reside in northeast corner of South Africa in the area of Venda.13

Professor Parfitt teaches, The historical and existential relationship of Lemba (the socalled black Jews of Southern Africa) Judaism with authentic Judaism. Did the Lemba specifically made a religious shift at one stage or another? Or did the Lemba choose to identify

11

Ibid.

Peter Tyson, "Mysteries of Great Zimbabwe," PBS.org, February 22, 2000, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/mysteries-of-great-zimbabwe.html. David Espar, "Tudor Parfitt's Remarkable Quest," PBS.org, February 22, 2000, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/tudor-parfitts-remarkable-quest.html.
13

12

with the idea of being Jewish or rather Israelite, because it conformed and reinforced their traditions of origin and Semitic customs? Or are they simply one of the lost tribes of Israel?14

Although Judaism and Jewishness are not equal denominators, in the contexts of these groups, these concepts are now sometimes used interchangeably. The question remains, to what should Judaism or Jewishness be reduced before it stops being Judaism?15 Perhaps some myths on the matter can be cleared up through scientific research. Using a relatively new technique in genetic studies for the time Dr.Tudor Parfittand his team identified a particular series of genetic markers on the Y chromosome of Lemba males. They then compared these markers to other groups with whom the Lemba might have shared a common ancestor long ago.16 DNA samples were collected from the Bantu (African), Yemeni (Arab), and Sephardic Jews and Azhkenazi Jews to evaluate the amount of similarity in the Y chromosome that existed between each of these groups. This Y chromosome can be traced through males to find a paternal ancestral line.17

Dr. David Goldstein a team member in the project was interviewed about the remarkable findings, he taught;

Magdel Le Roux, "'Lost Tribes1 of Israel' in Africa? Some Observations On Judaising Movements in Africa, With Specific Reference To the Lemba in Southern Africa2," Religion and Theology 6, no. 2 (1999): 114, doi:10.1163/157430199X00100.
15

14

Ibid.

Genetics, November 1996, Abstraact, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1914832/pdf/ajhg00024-0161.pdf. "NOVA Online | Lost Tribes of Israel | The Lemba," PBS: Public Broadcasting Service, November 2000, accessed July 12, 2011, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/israel/familylemba.html.
17

16

The first striking thing about the Y chromosomes of the Lemba is that you find this particular chromosomal type (Cohen modal haplotype) that is characteristic of the Jewish priesthood in a frequency that is similar to what you see in major Jewish populations. Something just under one out of every 10 Lemba that we looked at had this particular Y chromosomal type that appears to be a signature of Jewish ancestry. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that this Cohen genetic signature is strongly associated with a particular clan in the Lemba. Most of the Cohen modal haplotypes that we observe are carried by individuals of the Buba clan which, in Lemba oral tradition, had a leadership role in bringing the Lemba out of Israel.18 The results suggest that over or equal to fifty percent of the Lemba Y chromosomes are Semitic in origin, approximately 40% are Negroid, and the ancestry of the remainder cannot be resolved. These Y-specific genetic findings are consistent with Lemba oral tradition, and analysis of the history of Jewish people and their association with Africa indicates that the historical facts are not incompatible with theories concerning the origin of the Lemba.19

Common with religious teachings in Judaism a number of practices are similar with the Lemba. Both believe in one God being monotheists, but instead of referring to him as Yahweh as is done in Judaism they refer to God as Nwali. Just like Jews observe Shabbat once a week a holly day is observed where thanks is given to Nwali. Just as Israelites consider themselves Gods covenant and chosen people so do the Lemba. The Ten Commandments are observed especially with strict obedience to the fifth commandment in honoring fathers and mothers. Some kosher laws are observed refraining from eating any foods that the Torah forbids, such as Ppork. They also follow the rules on how to properly slaughter an animal to make it kosher for consumption, such as, the shechita, which Jews observe. Circumcision is practiced among the males, and it is considered not kosher to eat any animal prepared by a man un-circumcised. The

18

Ibid.

Amanda B. Spurdle and Trefor Jenkin, "The Origins of the Lemba "Black Jews" of Southern Africa: Evidence from P12F2 and Other Y-Chromosome Markers," The American Journal of Human.

19

Star of David is a sacred symbol and is presented on items such as flags and tombstones. Finally Lembas are strongly encouraged to marry within their faith, just as Jews are taught to not marry Gentiles. 20

Myths and fallacies are a constant issue when dealing with a history unrecorded until modern times. The fallacy of possible proof introduced in Fischers book Historians Fallacies; Ttoward a Logic of Historical Thought, discuses how hearsay is not evidence enough to determine whether the issue is a historical fact or not.21 Parfitt barely addresses the matter, but does state, It's complicated, because for the last hundred years their oral and other traditions have been contaminated by Western traditions, Western religious practicesin other words, modernization. Now, insofar as one can reconstruct genuine Lemba traditions, what they say essentially is that they came from the North, possibly from Judea.22

An obvious question after discovering that many Lembas DNA can be traced to Semitic origins is why is there skin color black?. Many theories on the matter derive from the Old Testament. In Exodus 12:38 it states And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.23 The myth is that perhaps intermarrying happened between the Egyptians and the Israelites. But this becomes the fallacy of the irrelevant proof.24

David Espar, "Tudor Parfitt's Remarkable Quest," PBS.org, February 22, 2000, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/tudor-parfitts-remarkable-quest.html.
David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies; toward a Logic of Historical Thought. (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), pg. # 53-54.
21

20

David Espar, "Tudor Parfitt's Remarkable Quest," PBS.org, February 22, 2000, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/tudor-parfitts-remarkable-quest.html.
23

22

Exod. 12:38.

David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies; toward a Logic of Historical Thought. (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 45.

24

By suggesting that a branch of Israel is black because they intermarried with Egyptians causes the false assumption that Egyptians were of black skin. This topic has already been debated for centuries, and no final result has been accepted. Another fallacy one must also consider when discussing skin color is in the fallacy of racism.25 Whatever the truth may be, the fact still remains that DNA evidence has links between the Jews and the Lemba.

The Lemba who include many similar beliefs and practices as practicing Jews bring much controversy over their origins. DNA evidence proves there is a link which caused speculation about the lost tribes of Israel. While truth might be these speculations, the lack of apparent evidence behind the Lemba historians has focused on Mythistory in explanation of the facts.

David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies; toward a Logic of Historical Thought. (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 232.

25

Bibliography The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints King James Version of the Bible. Accessed July 12, 2011. http://lds.org/scriptures/ot/1-chr/5?lang=eng. Cohen, Percy S. Theories of Myth. 3rd ed. Vol. 4. New Series. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 1969. Accessed May 3, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2798111. Espar, David. "Tudor Parfitt's Remarkable Quest." PBS.org. February 22, 2000. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/tudor-parfitts-remarkable-quest.html. Fischer, David Hackett. Historians' Fallacies; toward a Logic of Historical Thought. New York: Harper & Row, 1970. Mali, Joseph. Mythistory: the Making of a Modern Historiography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. "NOVA Online | Lost Tribes of Israel | The Lemba." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. November 2000. Accessed July 12, 2011. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/israel/familylemba.html. Roux, Magdel Le. "'Lost Tribes1 of Israel' in Africa? Some Observations On Judaising Movements in Africa, With Specific Reference To the Lemba in Southern Africa2." Religion and Theology 6, no. 2 (1999): 111-39. doi:10.1163/157430199X00100. Spurdle, Amanda B., and Trefor Jenkin. "The Origins of the Lemba "Black Jews" of Southern Africa: Evidence from P12F2 and Other Y-Chromosome Markers." The American Journal of Human Genetics. November 1996. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1914832/pdf/ajhg00024-0161.pdf. Tyson, Peter. "Mysteries of Great Zimbabwe." PBS.org. February 22, 2000. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/mysteries-of-great-zimbabwe.html.