The Israelite Diaspora
The "Unknown Hebrews"
We have already considered the traces left by Israelites scattered throughout Asia, first since King Shlomoh established his trading network with Sheva and Ophir, and then after the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles.
The Hebrew presence in Africa begins earlier than in Asia (except the Middle East), but the few historical accounts that remain are obscured by a great deal of myths, legends and fanciful stories. The only creditable records are those written in the Bible and some Egyptian and other ancient documents, unlike the later Christian and Islamic tales. Therefore, the hypotheses exposed in this chapter should be regarded as a possible interpretation of the facts of which we have no certainty, trying to extract the historical substratum from the legendary accounts.
The earliest Hebrew settlements in Africa date back to the pre-Israelite period, when the first Habiru tribes traded and even dwelled in Egypt. Tzo'an, a city built on the Nile Delta, seems to have been originally founded by the Habiru and was their main residence in Egypt. Tzo'an was in some way related to Hevron in Canaan since before Avraham's times; in fact, Hevron was the favourite home of the Hebrew Patriarch and it was probably Tzo'an where he took residence during his stay in Egypt. Some decades later, when Yakov and his family settled in Egypt, it was given them the region of Goshen, of which Tzo'an was the main inhabited centre. The same city became Egypt's capital during the Hyksos' rule, which was a natural choice, being the Hyksos a Habiru people closely related to Israelites (although the identification of Tzo'an with Tanis and this with Avaris is not certain, the Nile Delta region was anyway the main settlement of the Hyksos rulers).
Egypt was officially monotheistic during the Hyksos' period, and such influence might have been extended throughout the African lands with which a fluent trade relationship was held, particularly Ethiopia.
After the Hyksos' rule was overthrown, Tzo'an kept its importance. It is identified with "the Town of Ramses", because the oppressor Pharaoh rebuilt and embellished it by the forced labour of the Hebrews, and made it his northern capital. Pharaoh's court was probably in Tzo'an at the time of his various interviews with Mosheh and Aharon (Tehilim 78:12).
Therefore, when considering that any apparent influence of ancient Hebrews is still present in some African peoples, this should not necessarily be related to exiled Israelites, but may belong to earlier periods or ascribed to other Semitic peoples, as shown in the following schema:
* Habiru tribes play an active role in trade relationships between Egypt and the Semitic kingdoms of the Middle East. The Habiru establish their commercial centres in Egypt around Tzo'an. Avraham dwells in Egypt.
* The Hebrew Patriarch Yakov and his family settle in Goshen. Origin of the Israelites.
* The Hyksos rule over Egypt for more than two centuries. Israelites become a numerous people. Egypt is officially monotheistic. The Hebrew peoples of Egypt may have established their first colonies in other regions of Africa in this period.
* The Hyksos are overthrown and many of them, as well as some Israelites, may have migrated to Ethiopia and other lands fleeing the Pharaoh's new policy of oppression.
* The Hebrews leave Egypt and return back in Canaan.
* King Shlomoh establishes alliances with Egypt, Sheva and other kingdoms. The Israelites increase their commercial activity and some of them settle in other lands, including Egypt and Punt (the Horn of Africa).
* One of the favourite lands for Israelite settlements was the Kingdom of Sheva, in Yemen, which in that period controlled also Punt and most of Ethiopia. Therefore, Israelite colonies may have been founded on both shores of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, along two parallel land routes: the "Incense Road" in Arabia and the Nile in Africa (in addition to the sea route between Etzion-Geber and the Indian Ocean).
* Many Northern Israelites might have chosen to emigrate to these colonies in order to avoid the heavy taxation imposed by King Shlomoh to the Northern Tribes.
* The Northern Kingdom of Israel is destroyed by Assyrians, that carried on three different deportations of the population to Mesopotamia and Media. Many Israelites took refuge in the Kingdom of Judah, but others may have settled in Egypt or even in Ethiopia during the last years before the definitive fall of Samaria.
* More than a century later, also the Kingdom of Judah fell under King Nebukhadnetzar. Most of the inhabitants were sent to exile in Babylon; a few of those left in Judah chose to re-settle in Egypt.
* The Persian Empire, that inherited Babylon's rule over Egypt, allowed Israelites to travel freely within the whole territory and even to engage in trade with other countries. The extension of the empire, that connected Central Asia and India with Ethiopia, favoured the development of intense exchange of goods between the African and Asian kingdoms, with the consequent flow of Jewish merchants.
Other migratory movements took place in later times, but the schema above may be taken as outline for a research concerning the probable origin of some Semitic or Hebrew elements found among some African peoples.
Trade routes to Africa during King Shlomoh's reign in Yerushalaym
The Sabean Kingdom unified different Semitic and Kushitic tribes, and in the period in which the Kingdom of Israel was consolidated, the Sabeans of Yemen reigned over the African lands on the opposite shore of the Southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, controlling completely the narrow access connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean. Consequently, the alliance with Sheva sealed by King Shlomoh was essential to establish trade with all the countries by the Indian Ocean. Many Israelites settled colonies in Yemen - Israel had part of her fleet at the port city of Aden. Frankincense and spices reached Jerusalem across the Arabian Peninsula through the "Incense Road"; wood and other precious materials were carried by the Red Sea Fleet to Etzion-Geber.
A third route along the Nile River connected the heart of Africa with the Mediterranean Sea through Egypt.
In ancient times the name "Ethiopia" or "Kush" defined all the lands between Southern Egypt (Nubia) and the Horn of Africa. Kushites founded important kingdoms (Meroe, Aksum) and sometimes ruled over Egypt.
Even though the name Kush is usually associated with Ethiopia, Kushite peoples were in early times the inhabitants of the whole Arabia, Southern Mesopotamia, Elam and probably a branch of them reached India as well. Nimrod was a Kushite. Assyrian records mention Kûsh and Mushur (or Mushri) in reference to the Northern Arabian peoples conquered by Asarhaddon, as a different event from his conquest of Egypt, and the same peoples are mentioned as tributaries by earlier Assyrian kings, who have not conquered Egypt. These names recall the Biblical brothers Kush and Mitzrayim, namely Ethiopia and Egypt, very closely associated in ancient times, but obviously located in Africa. Yet, many tribes of Arabia show an evident Hamitic, not Semitic origin. Yishmael's mother and wife were Egyptians, and he settled with his family in territories inhabited by Kushitic and Semitic tribes, in Arabia. Yishmaelites might have been identified as an Egyptian tribe by the pure Semitic Assyrians. Therefore, the association between Kush and Mitzrayim existed on both shores of the Red Sea. The Hamitic Arabian tribes were subdued by Semitic peoples (Midyanites, Lihyanites, Sabeans, etc.), but some typical Kushite features prevailed, for example, many Arabian kingdoms were usually ruled by queens, like the early Ethiopic kingdoms.
The Ethiopians claim an ancestral link to Israelites, and some historical facts apparently support any evidence, but most of such tradition is based on legendary accounts. Most of the historical facts (in which Kushites had anyway some participation) were transferred by Aksumite Ethiopians from the original scenery in Arabia to their own land. Indeed, the Aliyah projects that allowed Ethiopian Jews to resettle in Eretz Yisrael, "Operation Moses" and "Operation Solomon", were called that way after Ethiopian legends and not according to historical accounts. Such legends concern the Kushite wife of Mosheh and the Queen of Sheva (who was not Ethiopian but Yemenite). Besides these traditions, Ethiopians are the only people in the world claiming to have the Ark of the Covenant. However, these legends as well as the actual presence of a Jewish lineage in Ethiopia since ancient times need an explanation, that may be developed considering the related historical facts regarding: 1) Mosheh's Kushite wife, and 2) the Queen of Sheva's identity.
1) In Bemidbar 12:1, Mosheh is said to have taken a Kushite wife, whose name is not mentioned. Here the question arises, whether she is to be identified with Tzipporah the Midyanite or not. Some interpreters like Rashi assert that this woman is indeed Tzipporah, who is called Kushite not concerning her ethnicity but because of her beauty - being the dark skin considered a symbol of beauty. Such interpretation seems to be furtherly supported by Havakuk 3:7, that relates the land of Midyan with Kushan, and by the Assyrian accounts about the Northern Arabian Kush; thus, the terms Kush and Midyan might indicate the same land. Yet, if that woman was Tzipporah, there is not any apparent reason by which Aharon and Miryam might complain. Others like Rashbam support the opinion that Mosheh did marry a Kushite woman besides Tzipporah, and this is the most likely interpretation. Therefore, the term Kushite indicates either an Ethiopian woman, or anyway one whose particularity was a dark skin, namely, a black woman. The reason by which Aharon and Miryam complained is still unknown, surely not because of her skin colour, since Hebrews themselves, being a Semitic people were rather dark complexioned, but probably because he married a woman who was not from their own people, as Torah established.
This Scriptural reference is the only creditable source regarding Mosheh's Ethiopian wife, of which no further details are given. Attempting to explain this single enigmatic Biblical account, early writers have recorded different fanciful stories, suggesting that Mosheh married an Ethiopian queen or princess. Even Josephus Flavius, in Jewish Antiquities 2:10-11, tells that Mosheh was appointed by Pharaoh to lead the army in a campaign against the Ethiopians, Mosheh conquered the land and married the Ethiopian king's daughter, called Tharbis. This was, according to Josephus, Mosheh's first marriage, as he met Tzipporah some years later in exile. However, there is not any reliable indication that such story might be true, and should be ascribed to the historian's fruitful imagination. Another writer, Artapanus, tells about Mosheh's successful campaign in Ethiopia, but does not say anything regarding his marriage.
Besides all the tales written about this Kushite wife of Mosheh, it might be likely that Tzipporah, being a Midyanite, may have had an Arabian Kushite servant that Mosheh took as his wife; this was a common custom previously practised by Avraham and Yakov.
We can conclude that from Mosheh and his Kushite wife there is not any recognizable lineage, and if there was a descent, it was completely included in the people of Israel that settled in Kanaan, not in Africa, since that Ethiopian wife was with him during the Exodus.
2) The Queen of Sheva, whose real name is still unknown, has inspired many fanciful tales and exotic stories in a "1001 Nights" style, and is contended by Arabia and Ethiopia as their own queen. Her historical personality has been obscured by the myth, and most of what is said about her belongs to the legendary accounts. Indeed, the only known historical record is reported in the Hebrew Scriptures, in Melakhim I, 10:1-13 and Divre HaYamim II, 9:1-12. Her visit to King Shlomoh is perhaps the only source from which we have known of her existence, because the Sabeans did not keep history records in those times until they had relationships with Assyria, about three centuries later. Consequently, what is said of her besides what is written in the Bible might have been transmitted through oral tradition or more likely depicted by romantic writers. Her country, Sheva - also known as Teyman, Yemen - was wealthy and highly developed, rich in precious stones, gold, wood, frankincense, myrrh, fragrant oils, spices, and every sort of expensive goods. Their high-technology irrigation network allowed them to have luxurious gardens and a flourishing agriculture. Marib, the capital of the kingdom, was a magnificent city. Sheva's camels travelled the "Incense Road", the way along the Red Sea that from Marib reached Midyan and Israel across the Arabian desert. That was also the way that the Queen herself travelled to visit King Shlomoh in Yerushalaym. She sealed with him an alliance that established the most important commercial exchange in that time, between the two wealthiest countries of the world. Such alliance allowed King Shlomoh to settle a Jewish colony in Sheva, and a safe haven for his fleet in Aden. The Kingdom of Sheva was not limited to the Southern Arabian Peninsula, but extended over the opposite shores, in Africa: The land of Punt, (the "Horn of Africa"), Seva (Abyssinia), and most of Ethiopia between the Red Sea and the Nile were subject to the Yemenite Kingdom (see map above). This allowed Sabeans to exert complete control of any trade between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and having Sheva as an allied nation meant for Shlomoh to have the gate of the Indian Ocean open for his fleet . Sheva held then an active trade with Ophir, India, and Shlomoh enlarged his trade network with Sheva's commercial partners, too.
This is what we know regarding the Queen of Sheva. She was a sovereigness of ancient Yemen that ruled also over Ethiopia, but she was not a Kushite. Concerning her love story with King Shlomoh, the Scriptures do not say anything; though it might be implied. Indeed, many interpreters understand that the Hebrew verb "to come" in the phrase "she came to Shlomoh" (1) is often used in the Scriptures with the meaning of entering a house for the purpose of sexual relations. Also the statement "King Shlomoh gave to the Queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked" (2) may imply that he also satisfied her sexually. A further element that may support the idea that both sovereigns were lovers would arise if the Shir HaShirim composed by Shlomoh refers to her; indeed, the beloved lady perfectly fits the description of a Yemenite noblewoman: dark complexioned (3), coming from the desert, perfumed with myrrh, incense and fragrant spices (4), adorned with gold, pearls, etc. Notwithstanding, the Queen of Sheva was not Shlomoh's wife, and she returned back to her country after her visit to Yerushalaym.
Besides the Bible account, that is the only contemporary record concerning this Queen, a good deal of tales flourished some centuries later, that became part of the legendary heritage of Ethiopia and Arabia, and was even included among their sacred literature.
The Kebra Negast, an Ethiopian sacred book, asserts that Sabeans were tall and black people, like Ethiopians, and that she was a black Queen. Historically, Sabeans were a Semitic people (so, rather dark complexioned though not black), mixed with Kushitic Arabians, consequently, they may have been the darkest among Semites, yet, not black; this is in agreement with the description of the dark woman to whom the Shir HaShirim is dedicated.
Arabs have given her the name Balqish, Ethiopians call her Maqeda, but none of these names has still been confirmed by archaeology, and they are to be considered purely imaginary. Some researchers who support an alternative Egyptian chronology have speculated about her identity suggesting that she was Hatchepshut; such theory is not feasible due to many elements: there is not any reason by which Egypt would be called Sheva; King Shlomoh was already married to an Egyptian princess; the Queen of Egypt would have not come with camels, but with horses; the gifts that the Queen of Sheva brought to Shlomoh were typical of Yemen, not of Egypt. Consequently, her name and identity remain a mystery.
Yet, there is still the question about the source of the tradition that asserts that King Shlomoh and the Queen of Sheva were the founders of the Ethiopian royal house. The stories told in the Kebra Negast are indeed pure mythology; the book was written more than twenty centuries after the facts, probably with the purpose of ascribing the Aksumite royal house an ancient noble origin. Aksum emerged as kingdom contemporarily with the Roman Empire, and in the fourth century c.e. conquered and destroyed Meroe, the legitimate heir of the ancient Kush. It is indeed Meroe the Biblical Ethiopia. Less than two centuries later, the Aksumites were engaged by Byzantine Romans to conquer and destroy the Sabean Himyarite Kingdom of Yemen. Then, the Aksumites might have adopted for themselves the story of the Yemenite Queen, if not much later, as the legend of the Solomonic lineage does not appear to be known before the restoration of the Axumite dynasty in 5030 (1270 c.e.).
Nevertheless, admitting the possibility that any real heritage from the Queen of Sheva may have been transferred to Ethiopia, this would be a likely explanation: The Sabean rule over African lands was probably exerted by members of the Sabean royal family. The Queen's dynasty may eventually have come to an end in her own kingdom, but a branch of her royal house may have continued to rule in Ethiopia; in fact, many scholars agree that Aksum was an offshoot of a Southern Arabian Semitic kingdom, and inherited some Yemenite traditions. This might be the original source from which Ethiopians claim that their first king was the son of the Queen of Sheva and King Shlomoh. The story regarding the Ark of the Covenant is however completely unrelated to the alleged Solomonic dynasty.
What happened to the Ark of the Covenant is still a mystery. The hypothesis that it was taken away to Elephantine by Jewish Kohanim before the destruction of the Temple is an unfounded legend. It is true that the Scriptures do not mention it among the treasure of the Temple that Nebukhadnetzar took away to Babylon, and it is not said that Ezra or Nehemyah carried it back to Yerushalaym. In fact, the Ark of the Covenant was not in the second Temple. Yet, it was still in Yerushalaym during King Yoshiyahu's reign (Divre HaYamim II, 35:3), so it was not even carried away during Menasheh's apostasy. When King Nebukhadnetzar attacked Yerushalaym the last time, the Babylonians built a siege wall around the city wall (Melakhim II, 25:1,4), then the city and the Temple were destroyed. The Ark might have been hidden underground somewhere between the two walls during the siege, or burned with the Temple. Prophet Yirmeyahu said "they shall say no more: The Ark of the Covenant of HaShem; neither shall it come to mind; nor shall they remember it; nor shall they visit it; nor shall that be made again" (Yirmeyahu 3:16). Consequently, any search for the Ark in Ethiopia is idle. Since the topic of this page is not the Ark of the Covenant, for further research you can view the following sites:
Anchor Stones and Covenant Keepers
In this brief essay, we have seen that the Ethiopian connection to the people of Israel is not related to Mosheh's Kushite wife, that the alleged descent of the Ethiopian royal house from King Shlomoh and the Queen of Sheva is just a legend without any historical support, and that the Ark of the Covenant cannot be in Ethiopia... how can it be explained such connection, then?
The Hebrew presence in Ethiopia dates back to ancient times. When the Hyksos ruled over Egypt, they engaged in a fluent trade exchange with the land of Kush, achieving mutual benefits. The Hyksos established a Semitic colony at the southern border of Egypt, in the Nile Island of Elephantine, as their commercial outpost with the African kingdoms. This island remained the main gathering point for Jews in Egypt along the centuries, and it is likely (though not proven) that some Israelites settled there in the Hyksos period. So, the Kingdom of Kush might have hosted the first Israelites even before the Exodus.
If this is true, such Hebrews were however unaware of the Mitzvot given to the people of Israel through Mosheh, and would not have been recognized as Israelites in later times. Nevertheless, they may have kept any contact with their people and successive Jewish migrations would have contributed to complete their Israelite identity. A consistent number of Jews eventually settled in Elephantine soon after the destruction of the first Temple by Nebukhadnetzar's army, and it is not excluded that Prophet Yirmeyahu, who was carried by the rebel Jews to Egypt, would have been among them. He could have instructed the earlier Semitic settlers in the knowledge of Torah. Some time later, Nebukhadnetzar conquered Egypt, and the Jews dwelling there would have fled to Ethiopia in order not to be deported to Babylon or executed for their rebellion against the King.
It is historically proven that an important Jewish community existed in Elephantine since long time before the Persians conquered Egypt, and that they had even a Jewish Temple much alike that of Yerushalaym.
The Assyrian and Persian conquest of Egypt favoured in some way the development of the independent kingdom of Meroe, that kept the ancestral friendly relationships with the Semitic communities of Egypt. The Meroitic rulers followed the Egyptian religion, but the Jews were respected and probably also influent. According to the Christian Scriptures, the Ethiopian Queen Kandake had servants and ministers of Jewish belief (Acts 8:27). It was a Meroitic tradition to have female rulers, who were often elected within members of the royal family, so it is possible that she was a queen of Meroe - commonly called Ethiopia in Biblical language - as well as she may have been a queen of Abyssinia (Aksum). Meroe held active trading with Arabia and India through the Red Sea ports, and Jewish merchants that reached this kingdom may have chosen to settle. Other accounts assert that the Ethiopian royal house of Aksum was Jewish prior to their conquest of Meroe, but there are not historical proofs, as it is not proven that it has ever been Jewish before becoming Christian. The legend that ascribes the Ethiopian dynasty a Solomonic origin has probably been forged to claim legitimacy before the Jewish community, to which they tried to impose the new official belief of the kingdom.
·The origin of the Jewish communities in Ethiopia is still uncertain.
·The alleged Solomonic dynasty is a myth created probably by Christian rulers and cannot be considered seriously, as well as the legend regarding the Ark of the Covenant.
·The most credible hypothesis is that they descend mainly from the Jewish community of Elephantine, along with other Israelite groups that took refuge in Egypt and Ethiopia after the Assyrian and Babylonian deportations, and Jewish merchants from Arabia and other lands.
(1) Melakhim I, 10:2; Divre HaYamim II, 9:1
(2) Melakhim I, 10:13; Divre HaYamim II, 9:12
(3) Shir HaShirim 1:5-6
(4) Shir HaShirim 3:6
The identity of the Biblical land of Havilah is still a controversial matter. The Scriptural references concern two different peoples having the same name, one Kushite, the other Semite - Bereshyit 10:7,28-29 -.
According to some Scriptural records, one of the lands of Havilah was undoubtedly in Northern Arabia, between Egypt and the Euphrates, and was inhabited by Yishmaelites (Bereshyit 2:18) and Amalekites (Shmu’el I, 15:7). However, that seems not to be the Havilah that was plenty of gold mines.
The Semitic Havilah is connected with Sheva and Ophir, two names often mentioned together, and has been identified with the land of Khawlan, in Yemen.
The Hamitic Havilah is related to Seva (Abyssinia) and Southern Arabian peoples. The original land of the Kushite peoples was Southern Mesopotamia and Arabia, and many scholars place the ancient Hamitic Havilah in the north of the Persian Gulf area, either in Elam, beyond the Hidekel, or south of the Euphrates. This last location may be the land that was subsequently populated by the Ishmaelites and Amalekites, probably expelling the original Kushite inhabitants. The Semitic expansion that displaced the Hamitic peoples of Mesopotamia generated migrations and eventually assimilations, so that it is not possible to establish the identity of Havilah. Different probabilities are suggested: 1) they were assimilated by the Elamites; 2) they migrated to India; 3) they migrated to Africa.
Therefore, the location of Havilah in Africa is to be considered hypothetical, until further evidences arise. The mention of the land of Havilah as plenty of gold mines is the main element that points out to an African country. In this chapter, the land south of Ethiopia that we call Havilah is the one conventionally accepted by some scholars as such, yet remaining only a suggested identity.
"From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, the daughter of My dispersed ones, shall bring My offering."
The land, which this prophecy refers to, has been identified by scholars and Rabbis as the White Nile Basin, and according to the Prophet’s words, it is expected that some descendants of the Israelites have to be found there. That is the region assumed to be one of the Biblical lands called Havilah. Yet, the expression "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia" may imply any country farther in the south. Havilah is also related to precious materials like gold, which indeed existed in great amount in the southern end of the African rift. Therefore, the prophetic statement may refer to some tribes dwelling in those regions, which are acknowledged to be immigrated from the north many centuries ago.
We will consider here two peoples having evident Hebrew elements in their culture and traditions, one of them in the White Nile Basin, the Watutsi, and the other in South-eastern Africa, the Lemba.
1) The Watutsi are well known by their impressive tallness rather than their culture and history. Their features clearly indicate that they came from the northern land of Kush or even from Egypt, and some enigmatic elements of their culture suggest that they had any relationship with the Israelites, for example:
* monotheistic belief
* dietary rules very similar to Kashrut
* laws that recall the Mosaic Torah
* the celebration of a festival that resembles Sukkot
The Watutsi traditions include the legends regarding King Shlomoh and the Queen of Sheva, acquired during their sojourn in Ethiopia before they settled in the White Nile Basin, but as it has already been analyzed, such myths lack of any historical support.
Even though some claim to be the descendants of Israelite Tribes, their belief is closely related to the Egyptian monotheism of the Hyksos Dynasty rather than to Judaism properly, but it is very likely that they were still in Egypt contemporarily with Mosheh. In fact, these elements present in the Watutsi culture are also ascribable to the Mosaic influence on Egypt during the 18th Dynasty, when a "mixed multitude" followed Mosheh (Shemoth 12:38).
Even though their physical appearance fits better the description of the Rephaim, Emim and Anaqim mentioned in the Bible among the inhabitants of ancient Kanaan (Devarim 2:10-11), it is also documented that very tall people were also found among Egyptians (Shmu’el II, 23:21; Divre HaYamim I, 11:23).
2) The Lemba have interesting characteristics that link this people with some ancient cultures apparently unrelated to each other: the Israelites trading with the Kingdom of Sheva or settled there, the mysterious land of Havilah, and the Great Zimbabwe civilisation. In order to establish the connection between these different entities, it is necessary to resume some concepts already exposed in this essay.
The Kingdom of Sheva was plenty of gold wealth, and gold was also a consistent part of the Sabean export products. Yet, where did they extract such great amount of that precious metal is still not known with certainty. Sheva had a very well developed fleet that allowed a fluent trade with India as well as along most of the East African coast. Sabean commercial ports were established in Zanzibar and very likely far beyond southwards.
The ancient Great Zimbabwe civilisation seems to provide a solution to the enigma regarding the source of Sheva’s gold: Some records attest that Sabeans extracted it from a country where it was winter when in Yemen it was summer. This means, that their gold mines were to be found in the Southern Hemisphere, and archaeological discoveries indicate that there were many of them in ancient Zimbabwe, built as complex systems of tunnels and shafts. Sabeans were skilled builders and water engineers, and it is their technology that was also applied in Great Zimbabwe; for example, the terrace system for agricultural development. Also the elliptical temples in ancient Yemen and Zimbabwe were built in a very similar way. It is known with certainty that Sabeans rivalled Phoenicians as seafarers and that they were gold traders. It is also evident that Yemenite architecture and engineering has been developed in Zimbabwe; therefore, it is very likely that the Zambesi Basin was colonised by the Kingdom of Sheva. According to some writers of the early Middle Ages, the Arabs still had trading settlements in Sofala (the Indian Ocean coast right east of Zimbabwe) for their gold supplies.
The most credited heirs of the ancient Zimbabwe culture are the Lemba, according to many elements that suggest that they were the founders – or the builders – of that civilisation. The Lemba build their houses in stone without cement, in the style of Great Zimbabwe. They are much more skilled in working metal than any of their neighbouring tribes. It is also known that the Lemba have until recent times developed mining, tough they extracted copper since gold is no longer available.
The Lemba are acknowledged by the other tribes as the first people that practised circumcision: An interesting detail to notice is that the stone phallic symbols found at the ruins of ancient Zimbabwe evidently represented circumcised organs.
Yet, some archaeological findings suggest that black Africans, including the Lemba (who are considered a Bantu tribe) built Great Zimbabwe. To solve this quest it is necessary to determine if the present-day black Lemba were already black when Great Zimbabwe was built, or they were still Semitic. They certainly became Africans after some generations and intermarriage, in the same way as Amharic-speaking Ethiopians, who are considered to be ethnically related to the Lemba. As it was said before, the mining, architecture, agricultural technology and engineering of ancient Zimbabwe reveal a Southern-Arabian origin. In addition, there are unquestionable evidences that the Lemba descend from Yemenite Jewish people, and that they were actively involved in the ancient Zimbabwe civilisation:
* Their language, that belongs to the Bantu family, is closely related to the tongue spoken in the area around the Zimbabwe ruins.
* The Lemba bury their dead in an extended position, in the same way as it was done in the ancient Zimbabwe. This tradition differs from other Bantu people. They place the head facing north in remembrance of the country their ancestors came from. Now they also use to decorate the graves with a Magen David.
* They celebrate the New Moon, determined by accurate observation, in a special way similar to Jewish custom.
* The Lemba keep Kashrut observance: they do not eat pork or any other impure food; animals must be slaughtered and let bleed and such ritual must be performed by appointed circumcised men. The Lemba do not mix meat and milk, and many of them have separate dishes for them.
* Lemba women follow the same purification laws prescribed by Torah. Intermarriage is strongly disapproved, though non-Lemba women are allowed to marry into the tribe after having learnt the rules.
* Their physical features are quite different from all other Bantu tribes. Their tradition states that their ancestry originally comprised fair-skinned men who came by sea from a distant country to extract gold from Southeast Africa.
* Most of their family names are Semitic.
* Their DNA matches with that of the people of Hadramaut (Yemen), and most of them carry the Cohen Modal Haplotype, that is an exclusive characteristic of the Jewish priestly lineage. It is the Y-chromosome, transmitted through the male line, which carries this genetic pattern. Since the genetic heritage from Israelites came through the male line, and that the Semitic ancestors of the Lemba were sailors and traders implies that they were probably only men, intermarriage with local Bantu tribes allowed a fast assimilation into a mixed-black African ethnicity.
This name would hardly be found in any history or geography book, and corresponds to the Biblical Put (Bereshyit 10:6), usually associated with Kush and Egypt (Yirmeyahu 4:9; Nahum 3:9). It refers to the whole vast region in the west of Egypt up to the Atlantic Ocean coast, commonly called North Africa and extensively covered by the Sahara desert. The Greeks called this region Libya, and defined its inhabitants as "Berbers" by the same reason they labelled the Europeans "Barbars", that is, because they did not know their language and even less their culture. Unfortunately, most western names are given after the Greeks' conception and based on Greek history records, which are often distorted and fanciful, not reliable at all. For instance, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures shows lack of accuracy, while the Greek version of the Assyrian history is a good example of unlikelihood, as it is almost completely invented. This is the reason by which today there is a country called Syria instead of Aram (as the Greeks intended that area to be Assyria), and another called Libya instead of Tamazgha.
The alternative Arabic source is not more accurate than the Greek one. Arabs know this region as Maghreb, a generic definition that means simply "West" (although it refers more specifically to Morocco, such name is extended to the whole Saharan region).
Here we try to give back the proper identity name to this area according to the native language of the predominant people who inhabit the Sahara since ancient times: the Amazigh, Imazighen or Imoshagh, as they (Berbers) call themselves, and Tamazgha is their land's name.
The most important trade routes between the Middle East, Africa and Europe passed throughout the Mediterranean Sea. When the period of the migrations of the Sea Peoples was over, the most pre-eminent seafarers of the Mediterranean were the Canaanites, whom the Greeks called Phoenicians - in reference to the unique purple dye the Canaanites produced from murex seashells. They established a fluent trade relationship with the Tartessians (ancient inhabitants of Andalusia, the Biblical Tarshish) and founded many colonies along the Mediterranean coasts, both in Africa and Europe, of which the most important was Kart-Hadash (Carthage). The Canaanites had settlements in the very land of Tarshish: by the Atlantic coast the main Canaanite colony was Gades, the modern Cádiz. Kart-Hadash survived after the Assyrian conquest of Canaan and settled a commercial empire by itself, becoming the rival of Rome.
The Canaanite conquest of the Mediterranean started mainly from the coastal cities of Tzidon and Tzor, whose golden age coincided with the Kingdom of David and Shlomoh in Israel. These city-states sealed with the Kingdom of Israel a solid alliance. King David contributed to the Canaanite expansion and his son Shlomoh enhanced the role of the sea trade in his policy, including the settlement of Jewish colonies abroad. In the same way his alliance with Sheva allowed him to reach the Horn of Africa, India and perhaps even farther lands, his co-operation agreement with Hiram, king of Tzor, yielded both partners substantial advantages. Many Israelite traders, artisans and soldiers settled in the Canaanite colonies between Egypt and Tarshish, and it is well documented that a significant number of the population of Kart-Hadash were Israelites. Indeed, the peoples known by Romans as Carthaginians included a consistent Hebrew component. Even the ruling system of the North-African Canaanite colonies was inspired by the pre-monarchic Israelite "Shofetim" (Judges).
As it was said before, the native people that the Canaanite/Hebrew settlers found in the land known by them as "Put" were the Amazigh, who have been since the dawn of history the inhabitants of the territory between Egypt and the Atlantic Ocean and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sahel (Sub-Saharan Black Africa). Some of their tribes were often allied with Egypt and provided skilled warriors to the Egyptian armies. Notwithstanding, their territory or part of it has been successively conquered by different kingdoms and empires, beginning with the Canaanites, whose conquest was rather peaceful, almost purely commercial, followed by the less tolerant Greeks, Romans, Vandals and others, until the Arabs annihilated the native culture to impose their own totalitarian system, which resisted the further oppression exerted by the European colonialism.
Among the Amazigh peoples, those who keep better the original features are the Tuareg or Tawarik (as the Arabs call them), the legendary "Blue Men" who are the dwellers of the wilderness. They call themselves Imoshagh, that means "noble people". They are now distinct from the Arabized Amazigh mixed population of the North-African cities.
The ancient Amazigh had the typical particularity of the Hamitic peoples: they were often ruled by queens, like the Ethiopian, the Meroitic and the Kushitic Arabian kingdoms. Before their islamization, women enjoyed a social status and dignity that now is them denied by the obtuse and oppressive Islamic system. The Amazigh queens' title was "Kahena". The Amazigh tradition speaks of twelve tribes, each of them having its own Kahena, that dwelled in the Sahara when it was still a fertile land. This is quite possible, since also Arabia was not desert in pre-Islamic times as well as Spain and Sicily were very fruitful before the Arab occupation. It is a fact that wherever the Ishmaelites settle for a long period, their lack of a farming culture causes the soil to dry up. The number of "twelve tribes" may be real, but it might also be an interpolation that passed to the Amazigh tradition either from the early Hebrew/Canaanite settlers or from the later Ishmaelite Arab conquerors.
Although the Israelite presence in Tamazgha dates back to Davidic times, the actual Jewish influence in that region began after the destruction of the second Temple and was carried on mainly by the Jews that were exiled in Egypt. Alexandria became the second most populous Jewish settlement in the worldwide Diaspora (the first one was Babylon), as attested by Philo and Josephus. During the Ptolemaic period, the Hebrew community in Alexandria became numerous and essential for the cultural and commercial development of the city, from which the Egyptian Jews expanded their influence along the Mediterranean coastlands so that in the early Roman period there were significant Jewish settlements in every important North African city. The Israelite community of Cyrene was the largest one in Tamazgha, and was established by Alexander the Great as a garrison composed by Jewish soldiers.
The Roman Empire's anti-Semitic policy in the sixth century c.e. drove most of the Jews southwards to take refuge among the Saharan tribes. The Amazigh people were kind to them and were so much impressed by the Jews' culture and technological knowledge, that eight of the tribes abandoned paganism to embrace Judaism. Unlike the Lemba and other peoples mentioned in this page, the Amazigh had not any real link to ancient Israelites, and no relation at all with the "Lost Tribes" since their connection with the Jewish people occurred some centuries after the destruction of Yerushalaym by the Romans; yet, they deserve to be mentioned as their history resembles in some way that of the Khazars, being a nation that became Jewish by choice. It is established by the Mosaic Law that whoever voluntarily submits to Elohim's Torah should be regarded as a genuine Jew at the same level of an Israelite by bloodline.
As well as Yemenites and Ethiopians are proud of their Queen of Sheva and her relationship with the King of Israel, the Amazigh are proud of their own Jewish Queen, whose history is known better as she lived in the early Middle Ages. Her name was Dehiyyah al-Kahena, called also the veiled Queen of Jerawah. In history she is usually named "Kahena". Like any people's heroine, she became a legendary figure and the historical facts should be separated from the myth. Her biography was written by Ibn Khaldun and ‘Ubayd ibn Salih ibn ‘Abd al-Halim; from a comparison of both works emerges a reliable historical account.
It is not clear if Kahena belonged to a Jewish family dwelling among the Amazigh or else to an Amazigh family that embraced Judaism, in either case the title given her, "the Jewish Queen of the Amazigh", is rightful. The first possibility is considered the most likely, though the Judaized Amazigh mixed with the Jewish immigrants and it is difficult to distinguish between both groups that were different in origin.
In that period, a new nightmare appeared in the Middle East: the ruthless islamic Arabs, enriched after having plundered all peoples up to the gates of India, had already conquered Egypt and Eastern Tamazgha (Libya), and advanced relentlessly westwards. The Amazigh peoples appointed Queen Kahena as their military commander to organize the resistance against the muslim invaders. In the year 4454 (694 c.e.), the Arab hordes drove into Tamazgha, relying on the invincibility of their armies, but were unexpectedly stopped by the Jewish-Amazigh alliance under Kahena's command. Western Tamazgha was cleansed of Arab plunderers, but a second, stronger Arab invasion was coming. Kahena's military achievement encouraged the inhabitants of the coastal towns to join the resistance. Once again, the muslim invaders were vanquished by the Jewish-Amazigh army and the Arabs were completely routed. Kahena's army advanced eastwards and freed the land from both the Byzantine oppressors and the Arabs. Kart-Hadash was rebuilt and the whole region enjoyed peace and freedom for about a five-year period.
To be defeated by a woman is the worst humiliation for a muslim army; by a Jewish woman, it is even worse. Indeed, also the modern Israeli Defence Forces, that have always overwhelmingly defeated the armies of the whole Arab world in all the Israeli-Arab wars, are composed by a large number of female soldiers.
Such a defeat wounded the islamic pride, and the Arabs understood that in order to go on with their conquering ambitions they had to resort to deception and conspiracy. They knew that centuries of Roman-Byzantine oppression have permeated with anti-Semitic feelings the alleged Christian inhabitants of Tamazgha, so the Arabs offered them privileges and advantages if they turned against the Jewish-Amazigh leadership. They were also afraid of being conquered by the Visigoths, so the Arabs' proposal resulted alluring. The peace and freedom they enjoyed under Kahena's leadership proved weaker than their concealed anti-Semitism, and they betrayed their Queen. The last Arab invasion caught the Amazigh army unprepared and the Arab perfidy was unveiled when it was too late. Kahena died in battle fighting the muslims, and the whole North Africa lost its independence and civilization until now. The Amazigh language and culture faded away, and their women lost the freedom they enjoyed.
The fall of North Africa smoothed the way for the muslim Arabs to conquer Spain.
The Amazigh people had to choose between becoming muslims or die. Their intermarriage with the Arabs resulted in the distinction between the Tuareg people (original Amazigh) and the Saracens or Moors, namely, Arabized Amazigh, who were the actual conquerors of Spain. Some Tuareg tribes, having withdrawn themselves deep in the wilderness, preserved their Jewish belief resisting the islamic pressure for many centuries.
Concerning the presence of scattered Hebrews in Sub-Saharan Africa, the most creditable sources are those that attest the migration southwards of two different groups: Jewish Amazigh families refusing to become muslim after the Arab occupation of North Africa, and in a later period, Jews expelled from Spain.
Other accounts report that Jewish merchants from Persia and Arabia established a commercial network between Kaifeng (China) and the Ashanti kingdom, exchanging Chinese silk for African gold. Such accounts are supported by some facts, including the presence of some Hebrew and Persian words in the Ashanti language and some significant elements in Ashanti tradition that resemble Judaic Law. Historical sources attest that for about two centuries the Ashanti were ruled by Jewish kings since many noble Ashanti families embraced Judaism. That was one among several other Jewish kingdoms that existed in that area within different peoples, like Hausa, Wolof, Malinke, Fulani and others.
There are at present some Sub-Saharan tribes that claim Israelite ancestry, yet without further proofs, they should be regarded primarily as descendants of those groups that embraced Judaism rather than of ancient Israelite origin.
It was also from this region that most of the Africans were carried to the Americas as captive slaves, and there are still some remnants of Hebrew traditions among many of them. Notwithstanding, such hints must be analysed with impartiality and not as a starting point for developing speculative theories.