Journey to the Vanished City: The Search for a Lost Tribe of Israel

Overview

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' ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Parfitt...is a British Indiana Jones seeking the lost tribes of Israel."  -The Wall Street Journal

"Lucidly written and exhibiting all the craftsmanship of a first-rate detective novel."  -Daily Telegraph (London)

"Magical...enchanting...Resembles a novel by Graham Greene not only in its exotic settings and characters, but in its insight and wisdom, too." --Los Angeles Times

Kirkus Reviews
A haunting history-cum-travelogue, as Parfitt (Hebrew & Jewish Studies/Univ. of London) sleuths out the claims of the Lemba of South Africa, a black people who believe themselves to be the legendary lost tribe of Israel. As Parfitt showed in The Thirteenth Gate (1987), scattered groups around the world claim, usually on little evidence, to be Jews (the Falasha of Ethiopia are the best-known example). The Lemba, too, insist that once they were white, rich, and free—a Hebrew tribe that traveled to Africa, built the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe, and then somehow became black, poor, and disenfranchised in South Africa. Why these claims, asks Parfitt? Is it because Jewishness is a "symbol of uniqueness or exclusivity"? Is it because the Lemba wish to emigrate to Israel? No clear answer emerges, but Parfitt's Africa is an unforgettable land of kooks, crooks, and dreamers. In an Afrikaaner stronghold in South Africa, he runs up against nasty white racism, and, in a black township, a professor in a lizard-infested house rants about his own genius while delivering salvos of Lemba lore. Meanwhile, Afrocentrists lash out at Parfitt for challenging Great Zimbabwe's black origins. Then it's on to Zimbabwe, where Parfitt eats fried ants and dances with naked revelers before being socked in the jaw as a friendly warning to keep his distance. A visit to Ian Smith, embittered ex-president of Rhodesia, does nothing to alleviate the dotty atmosphere. Finally, heading home, Parfitt is robbed twice by police, a fitting wrap-up to his bizarre journey. In an epilogue, the author springs a last surprise: perhaps the Lemba are not Jews, but Muslims who have forgotten Mohammed and the Koran, leaving aresidue of Judaic practice (fasting, circumcision) carried on to this day. Like Paul Theroux with a Ph.D.: the best in adventure-scholarship. (Photos—not seen.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375724541
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000
  • Series: Groveart Series
  • Edition description: VINTAGE
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,045,802
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Tudor Parfitt lives in London.
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