(Prof. of Jewish Studies, Univ. of London)
1.2 – The Evidence (4.20.10)
2.6 – Alien Tech (12.2.10)
6.14 – Mysterious Devices (6.27.14)
Tudor Vernon Parfitt (born 10 October 1944), is a British historian, writer, broadcaster, traveler and adventurer.
He specializes in the study of Jewish communities around the world, particularly in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Some of these communities have been recognized only since the late 20th century as having ancient Jewish origins. Parfitt is Emeritus Professor of Modern Jewish Studies in the University of London at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where he was the founding director of the Centre for Jewish Studies. He is now Senior Associate Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He is Corresponding Senior Fellow of the Académie Royale des Sciences d’Outre-Mer, Koninklijke Academie voor Overzeese Wetenschappen, Belgium and is on the Board as chair of the Academic Advisory Committee of the Paris-based Projet Aladin and is on the Committee of Experts of the New York based Global Hope Coalition. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in the United Kingdom. He was appointed Distinguished Professor at Florida International University in 2012 and Alumni Fellow at the Hutchins Center, Harvard College. In 2011 he gave the Nathan Huggins Lectures at Harvard College which were published by Harvard University Press.
Parfitt has published over 100 articles and written, edited or translated 27 books.
EARLY LIFE & EDUCATION
He was born Vernon Tudor Parfitt in Porth, Wales, in 1944, as the son of Vernon (a headmaster) and Margaret (Sears) Parfitt. He was educated at Loughborough Grammar School.In 1964 Parfitt spent a gap year with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in Jerusalem, where he worked with handicapped people, some of whom were Holocaust survivors. Upon his return to Britain, he studied Hebrew and Arabic at the University of Oxford. In 1968 he was awarded the Goodenday Fellowship at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He completed a D.Phil at Oxford with David Patterson and Albert Hourani, on the history of the Jews in Palestine and their relations with their Muslim neighbours. He expanded it for publication by the Royal Historical Society.
In 1972 Parfitt was appointed lecturer in Hebrew language, literature and history at the University of Toronto, Canada. In 1974 he was appointed Parkes Fellow at the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations at the University of Southampton in England. Shortly afterward, he took up a lectureship in Modern Hebrew at SOAS. His first body of work interrogated the received wisdom about the nature of the revival of the Hebrew language.
His main academic interests have been: the Sephardi/Mizrahi communities of the Muslim world, Jewish-Muslim relations, Hebrew and Hebrew Literature, Judaising movements, Jewish genetic identity and the discourses surrounding it, attitudes towards Jews and Zionism in South Asia, and Jews in Asia and Africa.
Throughout the 1980s, Parfitt undertook covert lecture tours to Jewish Refusenik groups in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. In 1985 he spent several months visiting the various Jewish communities of Asia – including Thailand, Singapore and Japan. There he interested the Emperor’s brother, Prince Mikasa, in the Jewish communities of the East. In 1987 he was asked by the Jewish community of Singapore to write an official history of the island’s Jews. That same year he visited Syria to write about the situation of its Jewish community for the Minority Rights Group. He was arrested by the Syrian secret police, the Mukhabarat, during his trip. He describes these events in his first travel book: The Thirteenth Gate.In the early 1990s, Parfitt conducted fieldwork in Yemen, researching its ancient Jewish community, and wrote a book on the subject. In The Road to Redemption, he said that the Yemenite Jews had emigrated to Israel as a result of extreme prejudice, persecution, legal disabilities and because of the rapidly changing economy of the Indian Ocean region. He also researched and presented a BBC documentary called The Last Exile on this subject. In 2002 he published his Lost Tribes of Israel: the History of a Myth. One of his themes is that the creation of Israelite and Judaic identities throughout the world, from the Americas to Papua New Guinea, was an innate feature of western colonialism in general, and British Israelism in particular whereby Israelite identities were constructed in the colonies as a means of comprehending a wide range of religious and cultural manifestations. In some cases the colonial effort was supported by the idea that indigenous cultures were descended from the Biblical House of Israel. In his recent work on the origins of race, he consults with British, German and French Enlightenment scholars.
ORIGINS OF THE LEMBA
In 1984 Parfitt was commissioned by the London-based Minority Rights Group to write a report on the Ethiopian Jews who had fled Ethiopia. They had migrated to escape persecution and famine, but were dying in large numbers in the refugee camps along the border between the Sudan and Ethiopia. His visits to the camps coincided with Israel’s Operation Moses, which rescued thousands of Ethiopian Jews and took them to Israel. Parfitt’s book on the operation was translated into many languages. He later was selected as the Vice-President of the Society for the Study of Ethiopian Jewry (SOSTEJE).
Subsequently, he turned his attention to another black and apparently Jewish group: the Lemba tribe of southern Africa. They claimed descent from some ancient Jewish population. He published Journey to the Vanished City (1992) about his six-month journey throughout Africa, in which he traced the origins of the tribe to the eastern end of the Hadhramaut in Yemen. There he discovered the ancient city of Sena and origins of the tribe in some migrating Jewish traders. TV programs about the discoveries, and major newspaper coverage, brought Parfitt international attention. He was nicknamed the British ‘Indiana Jones,’ after a film character.
Seeking more data, in 1996 and later years Parfitt organized Y-DNA studies of Lemba males. These found a high proportion of paternal Semitic ancestry, DNA that is common to both Arabs and Jews from the Middle East. The work confirmed that the male line had descended from a few ancestors from southern Arabia. In recognition of this work, he was made corresponding fellow of the Académie Royale des Sciences d’Outre-Mer.The Lemba have a tradition of having brought a drum, or ngoma, from the Middle East centuries ago. Parfitt noted that their description of the ngoma was similar to that of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant. He observed that rabbinic sources maintain that there were two Arks of the Covenant: one the ceremonial Ark, covered with gold, which was eventually placed in the Holy of Holies in the Temple; the other the Ark of War, which had been carved from wood by Moses and was a relatively simple affair. Parfitt proposed that the Ark of War may have been taken by Jews across the Jordan River and, citing Islamic sources, suggests that they carried it as they migrated south, while under rule by Arab tribes. The Lemba claim to have brought their ark/ngoma from Arabia at some point in the past. In 2007, Parfitt discovered an object he claimed was a copy of the ngoma.
Parfitt wrote The Lost Ark of the Covenant: Solving the 2,500 Year Old Mystery of the Fabled Biblical Ark (2008), documenting his findings. Associated documentaries were aired on Channel Four and the History Channel. The BBC reported that the discovery of the ngoma “instilled pride among many of the Lemba”. In 2010 Parfitt was invited to address a symposium in Harare on the subject; attendees included the cabinet and vice-president John Nkomo. The ngoma has been exhibited at the Zimbabwe Museum of Human Sciences. The authentic ngoma was briefly on display but was soon replaced by a replica. Parfitt subsequently turned his interest to Jewish communities in India and the Pacific. His DNA work on the Bene Israel, the origins of whom were obscure, showed that they were descended from males from the Middle East, consistent with their oral histories of origin. These successes led other Judaising groups, including the Gogodala tribe of Papua New Guinea, to seek help in determining their own origins. Parfitt’s pioneering work has contributed to the expanding study of the spread of Judaism and Judaising movements throughout the African continent.
Black Jews in Africa and the Americas tells the fascinating story of how the Ashanti, Tutsi, Igbo, Zulu, Beta Israel, Maasai, and many other African peoples came to think of themselves as descendants of the ancient tribes of Israel. Pursuing medieval and modern European race narratives over a millennium in which not only were Jews cast as black but black Africans were cast as Jews, Tudor Parfitt reveals a complex history of the interaction between religious and racial labels and their political uses.
For centuries, colonialists, travelers, and missionaries, in an attempt to explain and understand the strange people they encountered on the colonial frontier, labeled an astonishing array of African tribes, languages, and cultures as Hebrew, Jewish, or Israelite. Africans themselves came to adopt these identities as their own, invoking their shared histories of oppression, imagined blood-lines, and common traditional practices as proof of a racial relationship to Jews.
Beginning in the post-slavery era, contacts between black Jews in America and their counterparts in Africa created powerful and ever-growing networks of black Jews who struggled against racism and colonialism. A community whose claims are denied by many, black Jews have developed a strong sense of who they are as a unique people. In Parfitt’s telling, forces of prejudice and the desire for new racial, redemptive identities converge, illuminating Jewish and black history alike in novel and unexplored ways.
During the fourth century A.D. , Ethiopian tribes that had adopted Judaism retreated into the mountains of Gondar to escape persecution. For nearly 1000 years their descendants, the Falasha, believed themselves to be the only Jews left in the world. Following the Falasha’s plea to return to Jerusalem in 1862, the world Jewish community de bated the whys and hows of resolving the issue until early 1980, when Israel began concerted efforts to retrieve them. Parfitt describes how, under the highly secretive supervision of Mossad, all but a few had been transported by February 1985, when the world found out. The ramifications of the “exodus” of the Falasha and their integration into Israeli society are fascinating, albeit scantily treated here.
After 2,500 Years of Mystery, the Truth About the Ark of the Covenant Is Revealed…
The Lost Ark of the Covenant is the real-life account of an astounding quest—professor Tudor Parfitt’s effort to recover the revered artifact that contained the Ten Commandments, sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. With painstaking historical scholarship, groundbreaking genetic science, and fascinating on-the-ground discoveries, Parfitt, who the Wall Street Journal calls “a British Indiana Jones,” debunks the previous myths and reveals the shocking history of the Ark and its keepers.
Tells of the author’s journey to seek out the Diaspora, the peoples who claim to be descended from Abraham.
In a mixture of travel, adventure, and scholarship, historian Tudor Parfitt sets out in search of answers to a fascinating ethnological puzzle: is the Lemba tribe of Southern Africa really one of the lost tribes of Israel, descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba?
Beginning in the Lemba villages in South Africa, where he witnesses customs such as food taboos and circumcision rites that seem part of Jewish tradition, Parfitt retraces the supposed path of the Lembas’ through Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Tanzania, taking in sights like Zanzibar and the remains of the stone city Great Zimbabwe. The story of his eccentric travels, a blend of the ancient allure of King Solomon’s mines and Prester John with contemporary Africa in all its beauty and brutality, makes for an irresistible glimpse at a various and rapidly changing continent.
And in a new epilogue, Parfitt discusses recent DNA evidence that, amazingly, lends credence to the Lemba’s tribal myth.
By 1881 when Zionist settlement first started in Palestine, there were already Jewish majorities in a number of cities and the first agricultural `colony’ had been set up. Tudor Parfitt argues that the old community, the Yishuv, played a central role in the creation of Jewish policy in Palestine.
Since the rise of Islam, Jews have been living in the Yemen as the only non-Muslim minority. Their status, never enviable, deteriorated in the twentieth century as the Imam Yahya sought to maintain the full force of Islamic law and local custom. The attempts to create a Jewish National Home in Palestine, Arab propaganda, new economic realities and local resentments had the effect of further undermining their position. While battling to maintain their rights, the Yemenite Jews started trying to emigrate. British immigration policies in Palestine, the Imam’s efforts to prevent them from leaving, and British regulations in Aden often frustrated their efforts. This movement of people was to culminate in 1948-50 in what was then the largest human airlift the world had ever seen – Operation Magic Carpet – when the Yemenites were taken ‘on wings of eagles’ to Israel.
Although only 15 pages, Tudor Parfitt’s brief 1987 publication for Britain’s Minority Rights Group establishes a kind of standard for white papers and scholarly works on antisemitism.
Parfitt begins with a reiteration of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948. This extraordinary document opens with a ringing endorsement for the liberty of all mankind, without respect to religious, racial or other differences. It recognizes that “the inherent dignity and … the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world….”
Alas, in five more segments on antisemitism, Jews under Islam, Anti-Zionism, Asia, Africa and a Conclusion, Parfitt notes that while Jews lived in the Muslim countries of the Near And Middle East and North Africa for millennia—and one million Jews lived in those areas until 1948—by 1987 only 5% of the Jewish people remained in their traditional homelands. The reason being baseless and unfounded hatred of Jews, pure and simple.
Quoting an early work by Bernard Lewis, Parfitt cites this fact: “The golden age of equal rights (under Islam) was a myth… invented by Jews in 19th century Europe as a reproach to Christians—and taken up by Muslims in our own time as a reproach to Jews.”
In summation, he concludes, “Anti-Jewish prejudice of varying kinds and degrees is still a force to be reckoned with in Muslim and other parts of Asia and Africa.”
Anyone who wants a quick but high-quality assessment of the situation of the Jewish people in Africa, Asia and the Near and Middle East would do well to start with this brilliant tutorial.
This is the first book to explore the effect of genetic research on the Lemba Judaising community of Southern Africa and the phenomenon of Israelite identity.
The science of genetics as relayed by the media is perceived by laymen as being irreproachably objective ‘hard science’: its disinterested ‘scientific’ findings appear immensely impressive and may therefore act as a powerful catalyst for change. In this case, an oral tradition cherished by many of the Lemba that they are of Jewish origin appears to be supported by recent DNA testing, which has deeply affected the narrative and religious identity of the group and the way the tribe is perceived in the Western world.
International in appeal, this topical text brings together cutting-edge research on the social, cultural and ethical implications of genetics and the study of Judaising movements across the world. This book will be of interest to researchers and students of Jewish history, genetic anthropology, race and ethnicity studies, and religious and cultural studies.