Black Jews in Africa and the Americas

Black Jews in Africa and the Americas

Tudor Parfitt
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    Black Jews in Africa and the Americas
    Book Description:

    Tudor explains how many African peoples came to think of themselves as descendants of the ancient tribes of Israel. Pursuing medieval and modern race narratives over a millennium in which Jews were cast as black and black Africans were cast as Jews, he reveals a complex interaction between religious and racial labels and their political uses.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06790-5
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 The Color of Jews
    (pp. 1-12)

    Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), who was burned at the stake in Rome in part for being one of the first to comprehend the infinite nature of the universe, and who was not, therefore, the least observant of men, suggested in 1591 that no one could possibly imagine that Jews and blacks have the same ancestry.¹ According to him Jews could not be black, blacks could not be Jews. They came from different worlds.² Bruno, who was from Nola, near Naples, knew something of Jews (although the last Jews were forced to leave Naples in 1541, and the city remained closed...

  5. 2 Lost Tribes of Israel in Africa
    (pp. 13-23)

    In medieval times and earlier there was the widespread notion that somewhere in Africa, as well as elsewhere in the world, Jewish kingdoms and mountaintop cities, peopled by certain of the Lost Tribes of Israel, were to be found somewhere beyond the fabulous River Sambatyon.¹ The Sambatyon spewed stones rather than water and did not flow on the Sabbath day. No one could cross the Sambatyon during the week because of the stones—and on the Sabbath the pious Lost Tribes would not traverse it because of the prohibition of traveling on the Sabbath. The myths and legends associating Sambatyon...

  6. 3 Ham’s Children
    (pp. 24-35)

    The association of Ham with Africa has had a convoluted history and is derived from the account in Genesis in which Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan, and his descendants, when he discovered that Ham had looked at him as he slept, hot, naked, and drunk, in his tent.¹ The sixth-century Babylonian Talmud construed from the biblical account that the descendants of Canaan were cursed precisely by being made black and degenerate, thus making a connection with Africans. The notion that Canaan’s progeny would be black and have “Negro” phenotypical features persisted in some medieval rabbinical writing. The reasons for this...

  7. 4 Judaic Practices and Superior Stock
    (pp. 36-49)

    During the long process of European exploration and colonization of the world, the essentially binary European / south Mediterranean paradigm was the template for perceiving the relationship between European Christians and their neighbors. After 1492 this broad paradigm was obliged to incorporate first a “new world” in the Americas, and subsequently other vast areas in Africa and the Pacific. The attempt to absorb and understand the radically new “others” so discovered often fell back on the tried and tested typologies that had served Europe for so long. The archetypal south and east Mediterranean “others” of Europe, the essential religious and...

  8. 5 Half White and Half Black
    (pp. 50-65)

    The construction of racialized identities and religions as an act of sympathetic or unsympathetic “othering” must be seen in the context of how the British or other Europeans viewed themselves. We have already speculated that the British Israel theory may have influenced Olaudah Equiano’s famous passage about Igbo beliefs. One late nineteenth-century visitor to Uganda, the journalist Henry Wood Nevinson (1856–1941), observed:

    The strictly biblical education produced . . . the illusion that both the promises and the threatenings of the Jewish lawgivers and prophets were specially designed for ourselves (the British) by a foreseeing Power. We never doubted...

  9. 6 The Emergence of Black Jews in the United States
    (pp. 66-101)

    When Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) set off on his 1492 voyage, he took with him as interpreter a certain Luis de Torres (d. 1493), who was a recently converted Jew and, as it turned out, the first person of Jewish origin to settle (and die) in the Americas. De Torres was something of a linguist, and apart from Spanish, Greek, German, and Portuguese, he also knew more exotic languages, including Aramaic. The idea was that his Oriental languages would enable him to speak to the natives of the lands on the other side of the Atlantic.¹ On Friday, November 2,...

  10. 7 Divine Geography and Israelite Identities
    (pp. 102-119)

    In the colonial situation, Israelite racial identities were suggested or imposed almost everywhere throughout the world. They were often accepted as useful identities, adopted and internalized and in the process imbued with area and group-specific justifications and genealogies. Societies everywhere have a tendency to construct a genealogically useful past for themselves in which desirable versions of their history are favored and unwanted narratives purged. Invented Israelite identities in the African colonial situation were used for a variety of purposes in the web of colonial relationships. The creation, suggestion, or imposition of identities, narratives, and histories by colonists, missionaries, and others...

  11. 8 The Internalization of the Israelite Myth
    (pp. 120-133)

    During the long period of absorption of the various Israelites-in-Africa discourses, Jewish and Israelite identities were often embedded in anticolonial rhetoric and selected or adopted at least in part as a means of asserting some measure of independence from colonial authority, and this was as true in central and southern parts of the continent as it was in the west.

    There are some striking examples of this in the early twentieth-century history of Uganda. The first envoys of the Church Missionary Society arrived at King Mutesa’s Ganda court in 1877, and by 1914 nearly the whole of the area was...

  12. 9 History, Genetics, and Indigenous Black African Jews
    (pp. 134-170)

    Black Judaism developed as a radical alternative to other identities in a partly religious, partly racial frontier zone between black and white, master and slave, colonizer and colonized, and in the case of the Beta Israel of Ethiopia in a partly religious, partly tribal frontier zone between them and their Amhara Christian neighbors, and later their white Jewish visitors. Israelite origins for certain groups in Africa were constructed by white colonists and travelers but not with the intention that the constructed groups should ever start practicing Judaism. The subsequent adoption by blacks of racial Israelite identities and religions both in...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 171-214)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 215-216)
  15. Index
    (pp. 217-225)