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.
In this wide-ranging cultural examination of the intersections of blackness and Jewishness, the emeritus professor of modern Jewish studies at the University of London focuses primarily on blacks who claim, or have had ascribed to them by anthropologists and other intellectuals, Jewish origins or characteristics. Parfitt (The Lost Ark of the Covenant) discusses the Beta Israel of Ethiopia and the Lemba of southern Africa (DNA testing has revealed that members of the Lemba have genetic links to Semitic peoples), as well as more ideologically driven movements, such as postimperial black African Jews, who "developed as a radical alternative to other identities in a partly religious, partly racial frontier zone... between colonizer and colonized," and black churches in America that enunciated a "racialized theology" that adopted "the literalist notion that the Israelites of old were black Africans who had started out in Ethiopia." Often, characteristic practices of these groups are syncretistic, as in the "Judaizing" of Christian churches in Kenya. Supported by a large cast of thinkers and religious leaders, this brief but extensive look at a partly authentic, largely invented ethnic-religious identity will interest students of religion, race relations, and postcolonialism.