SO, WHATEVER BECAME OF THE CANAANITES?
I remember as a child in Sunday School Class hearing about the Israelite conquest of the land of Canaan. I remember the impression that I had upon hearing how their families, homes and cattle were destroyed and they driven out of their land. I knew they were depicted as being "evil" as opposed to the "good" Israelites who were invading their land - not that the Israelites had shown themselves to be all that good. I wondered what the Canaanites had done that was so much worse and what justice there was demonstrated for God to simply give their land to the Israelites in wholesale fashion. Those things did not make sense to me as a child. Later I began to realize that those who were teaching me could not make any better sense of it than I did. It was many years before I could understand the dynamics of that situation, and the justice in it.
The Canaanites were the descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham, and the Grandson of Noah. From the beginning it seems that the family of Ham had a propensity for the acquisition of the most favorable lands. This shows as early as Genesis 9. We read there of the occasion of Noah's drunkedness. The language of this account is clearly euphemistic. The phrase "saw the nakedness of his father" does not mean that what happened was an accidental blunder. There are several interpretations of what may have actually happened. The one that makes the most sense is that Ham (probably with the help and approval of Canaan) castrated Noah so that he could have no more children, among whom to divide the available lands. We know that Noah had no further children, even though men of his age and older routinely fathered offspring. And why was Canaan cursed when it was Ham who committed this crime? The reason is that Ham prevented Noah from fathering a fourth child, and it was fitting that the descendants of Ham's fourth child, Canaan, would not prosper and would become the basest of slaves. It was also said that somehow the descendants of Japheth would have to do with that by dwelling in the tents (territory) of Shem. (Gen. 9:20-27)
History shows that it was not only Ham and Canaan who shared this spirit of megalomania. This was only the beginning of many actions by the Hamites that would change the grand scenario of the human experience into a chronicle of war, strife and bloodshed. Ham's predelictions were later to be emulated by Cush and his son Nimrod, and it all had to do with the seizure of lands.
There is an account that is germane to this issue that only appears in the Book of Jubilees, chapter 8.
"And it happened at the beginning of the thirty third jubilee, and they divided the earth into three parts, to Shem and to Ham and to Japet, in the first year of the first week, while an angel... was there... And he divided the earth by lot what his three sons should take, and they stretched out their hands and took to themselves the writing out of the bosom of their father Noah."
This was shown to have occurred at the time of the birth of Peleg, in AM 1757, or 100 years after the flood, according to our chronology. Jubilees proceeds to tell how the land was divided to his three sons by a meets-and-bounds description. It further shows how the lands were divided within each of his sons' families. It shows a very simple, yet orderly, division whereby Ham inherited lands in Africa, and Shem inherited lands in Asia. Japheth inherited Europe, but due to some vagueness in the descriptions, it may show that the western part of Anatolia belonged to Japheth as well.
Noah conducted a kind of lottery to fairly determine which lands would be inherited by each of his three sons. This was the plan and, if it had been followed properly, it would have given each family an undisputed homeland for all time. However, Jubilees chapter 10.22 goes on to show that there were some who refused to be satisfied with their lot.
"Kainan [Canaan] saw the land of the Libanon [Lebanon] to the canal of Egypt that it was very good, and did not go into the land of his inheritance to the west of the sea, and dwelt in the land of Libanon on the coast of the sea. And Ham, his father, and Cush and Mezram, his brothers, said unto him: "Thou hast settled in a land which is not thine and did not fall unto us by lot, thou shouldst not do thus; for if thou doest thus, then thou and thy children will fall by condemnation in the land, and as cursed ones by sedition, for by sedition ye have settled and by sedition thy children will fall and thou wilt be rooted out to eternity... Cursed art thou... But he did not listen to them."
This account shows the rest of Canaan's family in opposition to his actions; but there is reason to believe that others, especially Cush, were involved in the illegal seizure of lands as well, and they all followed the inclinations of Ham who castrated his father to prevent a further division of the lands by additional siblings. It is clear that Cush spread far and wide across lands belonging to Shem, and that he was not content with the region of Ethiopia alone (most Bible scholars render the term Cush as Ethiopia). Cushites spread accross the southern portion of the Arabian sub continent (the Sabeans, Havilah, and Shabwat) and into the Tigris Euphrates valley (Ragmah, Kish, and the Kassites), and beyond (the Hindu Kush mountains).
What was to be a beautifully simple plan to divide the known earth began to crumble because of the rebellion of Canaan and war was the result. Nimrod, a son of Cush, was responsible for establishing the first world empire in rebellion to the natural patriarchal system of families grown into nations. He aligned other Hamites with him and seized many kingdoms, so that his kingdom eventually stretched from Egypt and Anatolia to the Indus valley. He was probably known in secular history as Ninus, the early Assyrian king, known for his oppression and conquests. It is also likely that either Cush or Ham was the one known as Sargon the Great.
War begets war, and the actions of these Hamites began a chain reaction that continues to this day. Noah predicted that Japheth would be enlarged and dwell in the tents of Shem (Gen. 9.27). I take this to mean that the Japhethites would be drawn in to conflict with Canaan and would eventually take over their lands. That is exactly what has happened. Archaeologists have been discovering how the original Philistine and Canaanite areas were eventually replaced with peoples from Europe. These people were the Denyan (Dardanian Greeks), the Thekel or Sikels (from Sicely), the Sherdan (from Sardinia), the Teresh (Tiras), the Thekel, the Weshesh, the Peleset. It was a natural consequence of Ham's megalomania and the wars he waged.
This also explains how God could justifiably give the land of Canaan to Israel. It was rightfully theirs anyway. He was redeeming it for them. Though it is clear that the Canaanites were wicked in many other ways, their illegal seizure of the land of Shem was the beginning of their wickedness.
So Israel was told to take the land and to utterly destroy the Canaanite cities an expel them from the land. We know that Israel accomplished that task in an incomplete manner. Many of the Canaanites remained to cause Israel trouble later on. In fact the name Palestine is a corruption of the term Philistine. Even today we see ongoing strife between Israel and the Palestinians.
One point that I want to clear up before continuing is that the Philistines, whose rightful territory was in the region of Egypt, joined with Canaan in their occupation of Shemite territory. To add to the confusion, Jephethites moved down into the eastern Mediterranean seaboard and dominated the Hamites there, as predicted by Noah. Historically, the names Phoenicians, Canaanite, and Philistine were to become inextricably linked. All three seemed to blended together from that time forward.
So, what became of the displaced Canaanites. Certainly many were killed, but history shows that there were many that survived outside the borders of present day Israel. They survive in places where their name Amorite is only scarcely masked - in the regions of MORrocco, MAURETania and Neighboring Tunisia and Algeria. When they were driven out of Canaan (which actually belonged to the Shemites - and later specifically the Israelite Shemites) they fled to Africa, to a land that was rightfully their own, and they have been there for over 3000 years. Unlike many peoples, they actually know who their ancestors were. They are a people known as the Berbers, living alomg the Barbary Coast of Northern Africa. Local legends survive that they are the peoples driven out of Canaan by Joshua and later generations of Israelite leaders.
There is, in fact, a source that details where these people have gone and who they are today. The remainder of this article will consist of excerpts from that source, a very fascinating book by Nahum Slouschz, philologist, archeologist, Hebrew writer ,and Zionist leader, who spent about twenty years travelling throughout North Africa, including Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli, where he studied the history of the Jews in those regions. In the course of his journeys, in the early years of the twentieth century, he also stumbled upon the antiquities of the Phoenician civilization. This book, published in 1927 by the Jewish Publication Society, is now out of print. I recommend you read the entire book if you can find a copy. For my purpose I have excerpted those parts which pertain to the Canaanites, retaining enough other material to provide a sense of continuity.
Travels In North Africa
By Nahum Slouschz
The present volume is the result of ten years of travel amongst the Jews of Africa and much of study and research into their history and ethnography. Thanks to the French occupation, the second half of the last century saw the rise of a movement to revive scientific research into African history with special reference to classical antiquity and the mediaeval Berber and Arab world.
My studies having led me by chance, in 1905, to take up, as a Hebrew scholar, the history of the Jews of Morocco, under the auspices of the Scientific Mission of Morocco, I was struck by the great importance of the problem of the ethnic and historic origin of the various groups of the African Jews. Little attention had been paid to this problem, but I saw that the study of the question might well throw new light on the origins and history of Judaism throughout the whole Mediterranean basin.
On taking into consideration the conclusions reached by general African research, I realized that the special conditions peculiar to Africa, and the scarcity of documents, were sufficient to discourage the most zealous historical adventurer. I saw that only one course was open to me, i.e., to follow the example of all historians of Africa and to undertake a series of voyages across northern Africa, visiting in person localities of historical interest and collecting historical evidence, both documentary and traditional, touching on the life and customs of the Jews of Africa.
Thanks to Professor Le Chatelier, I was enabled to satisfy my desire and, in 1906, I set out on my journey, lasting from July to November, under the auspices of the Scientific Mission of Morocco (of which he was the founder), in cooperation with the Semitic Commission of the Academie des Belles Lettres of Paris and of the Alliance Israelite.
On July 10th I set out for Tripoli, the governor general, Rejeb Pasha, having authorized me to travel through the maritime oasis of Libya and the three Jebels of the Sahara, all of such paramount interest for the historian and ethnographer. After studying the Jewish groups of Libya, I proceeded to Jerba, so rich in Jewish traditions, to Kef, in Tunis, where the Duars (encampments) of the Jewish nomads are still to be met with, to the region of the Aures, in Algeria, birthplace of the famous Queen Cahena, that African Joan of Arc, and finally to Nedroma, in Oran, the center of the legends relating to the mysterious Joshua ben Nun.
A violent contagious illness, contracted during my sojourn amongst the natives, kept me in the French hospital of Tangiers, and prevented me from continuing my travels. It was not until 1908 that I returned to Africa, as a member of the expedition that Israel Zangwill had organized under the auspices of the Jewish Territorial Organization, and which, under the leadership of the renowned savant, Professor Gregory of Glasgowg was to create a Jewish colony in Cyrenaica with the consent of the Turkish government. Thus was given the opportunity of traversing the whole Cyrenian plateau, which, in ancient times, had been the scene of one of the most curiously interesting chapters in Jewish history.
My third visit to Africa was in 1910, when the Acadimie des Belles Lettres commissioned me to collect in Carthage documents relating to ancient Phoenicia. I was enabled to come into the closest contact with the Jews of Tunis, and also to deliver a series of lectures in regard to Jewish problems,which had definitely good results. Among others a lecture given before that learned society, the Institute of Carthage, gave me the opportunity to submit to public discussion the problem of the traces of Hebraic influence to be found in Carthaginian civilization. My efforts to win acceptance for my theories in Paris had brought me much disappointment, but in Tunis, heir to Carthage, I had the satisfaction of seeing my theories accepted after three months of impassioned polemics.
My stay in America (1911-1912), where I was so favorably received both by the public and by Hebrew scholars, before whom I laid, in a series of lectures, my theories and the results of my researches, provided me with the means necessary to pursue my investi- gations. Now, with the cooperation of the Commission Semitique de L'Academie de Paris and of Mr. Jacob H. Schiff, to whom nothing scientific or Jewish is foreign, and with the encouragement of the Jewish Publication Society, it was made possible for me in 1912 to enter once more upon my journeys of investigation through the whole of Morocco.
The proclamation of the French protectorate in that country, which brought about a crisis in both general and Jewish affairs, gave me the opportunity to render myself of service both to the cause of civilization and to our coreligionists who were in dire distress. My efforts along these lines were highly appreciated by that great leader and organizing genius, the resident general, General Lyautey, and brought me his permission to pursue my investigations, which I carried on until the outbreak of the world war, despite the difficulties placed in my path. I visited the coast towns of Morocco, eastern Morocco, the important central cities and, finally in 1913, 1 realized my dream of exploring the inaccessible region of the great Atlas, where a vigorous Jewish group has persisted through the centuries. In 1914 I returned to Morocco, havingbeen invited by thegovernment togive a series of lectures at the Ecole Superieure of Rabat, and after this I stayed at Mequinez until the beginning of the war. I was able to be of assistance in the first step towards the emancipation of the Jews of Morocco. In fact, it was really in my name that the government issued the first decree in their favor. In 1916 1 was summoned by General Lyaui'ey to come to Morocco, there to work out in detail a plan for the organization of the Jews of the country.
The present volume is devoted to a description of the results of my various voyages and the conclusions I have arrived at through the study of the documents relating to the Jews of Africa, especially those manuscripts which I am now preparing with the aid of the government of Morocco. It is intended neither as a speculative work, treating of various more or less certain hypotheses, nor as a schematic historical manual, but as a popular work containing documentary evidence, facts of historical and social interest, ob- servations on the social and religious life among the various Jewish groups of Africa, and finally certain reflections suggested by the wide difference between their manner of life and that of the modern world.
Now even Africa has come into the circle of Occidental influence. The penetration of French civilization, and the coming emancipation of our brethren in Tunis and Morocco, which will surely follow upon that of the Algerian Jews, are destined to do awaywith the distinctive type of African Jew. As is -'-ready the case in the larger French cities of Africa, tocial changes have a very far-reaching effect on the masses of the population, who quickly lose their individuality and their thousand-year-old traditions. The author ventures to think that he has done a useful service in braving the difficulties of the undertaking not purely African in their nature, and visiting the Jews of Africa before the older order had changed. In this connection M. Moise Netter, chief Rabbi of Algiers and an expert in African affairs, wrote as follows in a review of my Work entitled, " Un voyage d'etudes juives en Afrique.", L'Union Israelite, Feb., 1910.
At each step the reader will find himself amongst surroundings where Judaism does not at all resemble the picture which we see in Europe. The modes of thought and expression, the habits, ceremonies, usages and customs, not to speak of the superstitions, seem to us strange, deformed and primitive in the extreme, and yet we feel that this spectacle is a manifestation of that same principle or idea which has elsewhere achieved such different and such lofty results. From this tangle of contrasts and contradictions issue the greatest difficulties of history. The most varied knowledge and the most subtle understanding are necessary to distinguish the essential from the ac- cidental, the permanent from the transient, and to reduce everything to a common measure, to a norm which permits of proper valuation and the drawing of correct conclusions."
And the French rabbi did me the honor to say in conclusion: "No one could guide us better than M. Slouschz through the labyrinth, where one runs the risk at every step of stumbling or going astray..." However, the readers of this volume may rest assured that it is not a labyrinth of ideas or theses which I have presented to them, but a clear and distinct exposition of the results of ten years of study and research, of wandering and observation among the unknown Jews of Africa. The conclusions to which the facts set forth in this book have led me, as well as the present state of the known cities of Africa, will be treated in a volume devoted to the history of Jewish civilization in Africa...
THE CYRENAICA EXPEDITON
I had planned to return to Cyrenaica in 1908. The little I had seen and heard of it had made me eager to undertake an expedition across the plateau, at one time so renowned and today so remote and difficult of access...
The expedition, made up of Professor Gregory, geologist, Dr. Eder, physician, Mr. Duff, engineer, and Mr. Trotter, agronomist, all English gentlemen, arranged to meet in July 1908, in Tripoli, where I was to join it. We adjusted all difficulties with the authorities and, accompanied by Mr. Jacob Krieger, proceeded to Bengazi, where the governor, Ghalib Bey, gave us a hearty welcome. We were equally successful in establishing pleasant relations with Mansur-el-Cabli, the lay chief of the Senussi, who promised to do all in his power to further our project.
We arrived at Derna, the second port of Cyrenaica. Derna is an Arabian village of 6000 inhabitants, of whom 300 are Jews. The latter are more backward than those of Bengazi. In their synagogue is an ancient sefer, or scroll of the Law, which is famous throughout the whole of Africa. It is told that once this scroll was lost in a shipwreck, that it floated to the surface and drifted as far as Derna, which it reached intact. The Jews took possession of it and bore it to the synagogue...
The nomadic tribes indigenous to this region, who preserve the traditions of the past, are totally ignorant of Greek antiquity, but they all explain, with surprising consistency, that these ruins and cemeteries are partly Jewish and partly Christian, the Jewish predominating. Jews and Christians have alike disappeared from these regions for more than a thousand years.
The Auergehrs, a powerful nomad tribe of the Berber Arabs, undoubtedly descended from the ancient Auriga, who seem to have given their name to Africa, always pitch their tents on these ruins of Pentapolis. They can recount the exploits of the ancient Pharaohs, or kings of Egypt; of the descendants of Jalut (the Goliath of the Bible), or settlers of Palestine; of the children of Haymar, the son of Abraham-who came from Arabia. They speak with more knowledge of the Rumi, or Christians, who once went throughout this country as evangelists -but they know nothing of the glories of Hellenic antiquity, which was powerless to leave its mark on the life of the African aborigines...
THE JEWISH MERCHANTS IN THE SAHARA
The traditions of the Jewish trader in the Sahara stretch back to biblical times. The Talmud and the Midrash mention various articles which were imported into Palestine from Libya, such as donkeys, silk-worms, etc. At the beginning of the ninth century the caravans of the Rodanite Jews traversed the desert in every direction. During the middle ages the Jews were able, in the face of constant persecution at the hands of the Mussulmans, to maintain commercial relations with every part of the desert as far as the Sudan. These relations continued unbroken down to the middle of the last century. Throughout all the centuries it was in Tripoli that the Jews were best able to maintain their commercial supremacy. Since the whole trade between the Sahara and the Christian Mediterranean was in their hands, the Jewish merchants of Tripoli strove continually to ensure the security of the routes leading to the rich Sudan, and to this end took an active part in the political life of the country from earliest times up to the reign of the Karamanli.
Formerly the Jewish merchants of Tripoli exported the following articles to Italy and Turkey: olives, barley, pelts and leather, rugs, saffron, dates, ivory and ostrich feathers, and imported hardware, corn, cloth, haberdashery, salt, tin, etc. These imports they sold in Tripoli to the natives, who came from every corner of the Sahara to buy.
The largest trade, however, was done with the Sudan, which they supplied with articles of European manufacture, as well as of local Jewish manufacture. The latter include richly embroidered robes of velvet caftans, girdles and slippers, perfumes, ornaments and arms.
In the middle of the nineteenth century there were two hundred caravans passing every year to and from Tripoli and Fezzan, Burnu and Timbuctoo, each one with two hundred to a thousand camels laden with merchandise. They carried various articles of apparel, arms, perfumes, salt, hardware and ornaments, and on their return journeys brought back ostrich feathers, ivory, precious skins, and other products of the tropics.
The Jewish merchant of Tripoli has a very good reputation. The Turks would rather have dealings with ten Jews than with a single Arab, or Greek, while the desert tribes, even those which are traditionally hostile to the Jews, would rather do business with a Jew than with a Mussulman. The Jew of Tripoli puts reliability before everything else in his transactions. Even today, when conditions have almost ruined his business, his reputation remains untarnished....
In connection with the activities of the Jewish merchants in the Sahara, it is interesting to note the unique privileges that they enjoy even among the tribes that are most hostile to strangers. Through regions where a Christian could not set foot without being killed, a Jew may pass in absolute security in Libya as well as in Morocco.
The desert is full of visible and invisible perils. Man is as cruel as nature, from which he must wrest his existence. Bands of famished nomads beset the traveller's path and menace his possessions and even his life, and equally dangerous is the blazing hatred of the religious fanatics. Woe to him who, without having established any sort of understanding with the natives, or without a thorough knowledge of the country, ventures into these solitudes. Yet, in conditions like these, the Jewish merchant of Africa has been able to establish himself, keeping steadfastly to his faith and traditions; he has been able to establish friendships, nay, blood-brotherhoods, which have assured him freedom of intercourse with many peoples. These friendships alone can enable us to understand how the Jewish merchant may go in safety through the desert even as far as Fezzan and Ghirza, and move with the utmost security among the wildest tribes to be found in the inaccessible Syrte or in the farthest limits of Nefussa.
But side by side with those friendships which the Jews have been able to preserve during their immemorial sojourn in this country, there have also been perpetuated hatreds and animosities which have been transmitted from father to son for countless generations. And, indeed, as far as the Jew is concerned, the desert is divided into two great ethnic camps - the camp of the friendly, and the camp of the hostile races. If the first may be looked upon as " Abrahamides, " the second maybe regarded as analogous to the Philistines and Amalekites. In fact, one might almost reconstruct in Africa a Greater Palestine.
Greek and talmudic writers already knew that the traditions of these races connect them with the biblical epoch. However this may be,there are whole peoples in Africa which believe, like those of the time of Procopius, a Greek author of the sixth century, that their ancestors came originally from Palestine, whence they were driven out by the Israelites. Many of the Berber tribes believe even today, as they did in the time of Ibn Novairi, one of the most ancient Arab writers, that they are the descendants of the Philistines who fled before David. They say that these far-off ancestors of theirs, in flight with their King Jalut (Goliath) into Africa, passed through Egypt, and there founded in the oasis a city which still bears the name of Gath, and which is to this day a famous Berber center.
This sort of legend has a very real effect on the economic and social relations existing between these people and the Jews. The Berbers of Gath have always been firmly convinced that they were descended from the Philistines. It was dangerous enough, in former times, for any Jew to penetrate into the circle of their oases, but woe to him who happened to bear the name of David, the traditional enemy of the Philistines. For the people of Gath have remained, above all the people of Jalut, the enemies of the people of David. The Majmuda and the Brabers of the west are part Philistine and part Amalekite, and it is as such that they are spoken of in the writings of Ibn Ezra, etc. They are the hereditary enemies of Israel. They cannot forget "what Amalek suffered at the time of the exodus from Egypt," or the inflictions put upon them by the first two leaders of Israel. To these tribes isolated in the desert, their traditions, handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, are reality itself, they bridge over time and space, making these peoples one with their ancestors of a thousand years ago, and bringing together tribes from the ends of the desert. And, as with the Arabs of old, it is always the ingenious biblical account from which the genealogical lists of the native tribes are derived and which determine their sympathies, their loves and their hates.
There are others besides Philistines and Amalekites in Africa. In the Jebel Nefussa, a few days' march from Tripoli, there may still be found the descendants of the congeners of Israel. They share with their coreligionists of the Isle of Jerba and of the Mozabites the honor of claiming descent from Moab and Ammon. Forgetful of their ancient, fratricidal hatreds, these Mozabites look upon themselve as brothers of the Israelites, and are therefore very friendly to the Jews.
But there are certain tribes of the desert which consider themselves bound to the Jews by even closer ties. These are the peoples which, with more or less justification, claim a Jewish origin. At one time they professed Judaism, but, as the result of either persecution or indifference, they have deserted their faith. Mussulmans though they now are, they still retain certain customs which point to their Jewish origin, while some still marry only within the tribe. In most cases these Hebrews by race and Mussulmans by faith seek to hide their origin, which has become a burden to them. But the desert has a long memory. Ten centuries after these conversions certain tribes, nay, the inhabitants of certain sections of cities, were pointed out to us as Yahudis-Jews. Numbers of these Islamized Jews may be found everywhere: among the Ureshfana, the Brami, the Ghariani, in Tripoli; you will meet with them among the nomads of Algeria, the Masmata, the Smul, the Hanansha, the Traras, the Kabyles, the Muajerin, the Tuat, as well as in the east among the Uled Nun of the Moroccan Sahara, among the great tribe of the Daggatuns, who dominate the routes to the Sudan, and even further. Non jewish by faith, but conscious of their ethnic origin, they are particularly cordial to the Jewish merchants. Very often the Jew is the sole link between these tribes and the outside world. He is often their counsellor in perplexity and their arbitrator in disputes.
IN THE COUNTRY OF THE CAVE-DWELLERS BENI-ABBES
Tripoli and the neighboring oases lie between the Mediterranean and the Sahara: a realm of sands, of dunes stretching away to infinity. At one point, however, the coast is covered with vegetation, linking up with a fertile zone extending from Lebda to Terliuna-forming an entire hinterland, a lofty plateau hundreds of miles in length, cleft by deep ravines into three mountain districts. This is the Jebel, celebrated throughout Tripoli. It is from the Jebel that the Jewish caravans come down; it is, in fact, the original home of most of the Jewish population of the seaboard, yet it is rarely that an inhabitant of the coast ventures inland towards the mountains.
Of the mountain settlements of the desert the nearest is that of Gharian-or cave-country, while further south there is Jebel Iffren, which still has a Jewish population. This Jebel is itself only the rampart of the immense Jebel Nefussa which stretches through an eight- day march as far as the frontier of southern Tunis. My knowledge of the interior of Libya was confined to the information brought back by writers of antiquity and to the allusions occurring in Jewish literature. I knew that at one time there was a people dwelling in these caves-as the Greek authors tell us; that in the days of Flavius Josephus this people claimed descent from Apher, son of Abraham; that, elsewhere, several groups of cave- dwelling or mountain Jews, lost sight of amongst the Berbers, still maintained their existence the remnants of a once numerous people, leading here a most primitive life, but still clinging to their ancient traditions.
The cave country of Gharian had a particular interest for me. The writers of ancient Greece already knew of cave-dwellers, living in parts of Libya and Ethiopia, who practised circumcision. Others have classified them as Hebrew-speaking Syrians. Arab tradition, agreeing with Josephus, connects them with Apher, son of Abraham, whereas Jewish tradition affirms them to be descendants of the Horite (cave-people) of Idumea. Among latter day travellers Barth still reports that the Jebel Gharian is peopled by Jews...
There is a tradition common to all the Jews of Tripoli that they are the direct descendants of captive Jews from Palestine. One of the generals of Titus, called Phanagorus in the Midrash, is said to have transported some thirty thousand Jews into the mountains, and there established them as tillers of the soil. This is said to be the origin of the present Jewish population.
This is borne out by another tradition mentioned in "Sefer Yuhasin," which tells of thirty thousand Jews established as colonists in Africa. Abraham Halfon, an author of the early nineteenth century, speaks as follows in this connection:
"Among the older people I found a tradition, handed down to them from their ancestors, that at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, one of the generals of Titus, Phanagorus, King of the Arabs, led a number of captive Jews into the mountains two days distant from Tripoli, and there handed them over to the Arabs. From these mountains they came to Tripoli."
Those who have remained there are still subject to Arab masters, to whom they pay a small fine every vear. A master also has the right to sell his Jew to someone else. It is curious to note that this Phanagorus is mentioned in Midrash Ekah as having been killed before Jerusalem.
Particularly does this tradition find support in the type of these Jews, in their folklore, and in their ways of living, which come nearest to those of ancient Judea. We shall see later that the Berbers themselves look upon the Jews as having formed the first nucleus of the native population.
What strikes the traveller at once is the absence of Cohanim and Levites among these Jews. The existence of scholars in the Nefussa at the time of the school of Kairuan was confirmed by the late Dr. Schechter. Even the persecution of the Almohades could not take away from the Jew the important role which he played, as is attested by the inscriptions published below, and by the evidence of an Arab author of the close of the twelfth century, who writes:
"There is a large city, Jado, which is the capital of Jebel Nefussa. Markets are held there frequently, and the larger part of the population is Jewish."
A rabbinic passage dating from the middle ages, and attributed to Maimonides, speaks as follows of the Jews inhabiting Jerba and the Libyan Jebel:
"Though their belief in God is firm, they accept the superstitions and the practices of the Mussulman Berbers. Thus they turn their eyes away from an impure woman, looking neither on her face, nor on her body, nor on her dress. They speak no word to her, and are scrupulous against stepping on the ground which her foot has touched...
As in ancient Judea, there is wooing by the wells. In this country, where everything is scrupulously divided off, the Jews have their own wells, which serve them as meeting places. I have looked with admiration on these gracious Rebekahs of the Jebel, stand- ing by the wells surrounded by the young men of the village. The occupations of the Jews of Iffren are almost the same as those of their coreligionists of Gharian, except that here there is a little more comfort and well being.
Even in the opinion of the Turkish authorities, the Jews in this region, which has gone to waste through the indolence of its inhabitants, form the only industrious and productive element; and this holds true for the whole Jebel Nefussa.
The relations between Jew and Berber are better than those between Jew and Arab, better, in fact, than those between Arab and Berber. Up to the middle of the last century, however, the Jews were considered the serfs of their Berber overlords. The Turkish government, in doing away with this humiliating institution, has not sufficiently opposed its authority to the countless moral humiliations which the Mussulmans inflict upon their Jewish neighbors.
Here is a typical instance: the Haham Bashi, or Rabbi, of the district, who is more merchant than scholar, his post being more or less honorary, last year made a journey to Nahlut. He was attacked by several natives, who charged him with riding on a mule, for a Jew may not bestride a mount in the presence of Mussulmans. Had he dared to complain to the authorities, he would have run the risk of seeing his people maltreated, or even massacred, by the Arabs.
Nor have the signs of the former serfdom of the Jews been entirely effaced. Until this day the sons of serfs consider themselves attached in some sort to the household of their former masters. A Jew threatened by the Mussulmans has only to appeal to the head of the Berber family which his family once served, to find very effective protection. It is, in fact, a point of honor with a Berber chief to refuse his protection to no one that asks for it, even though he grant it at the risk of his life.
Another point of honor which long usage has made sacred is the natural pride of the Berbers in all matters pertaining to love. The question might well be asked how, during so many centuries of servitude, the Jews were able to preserve their national purity and the honor of their women. Inquiry revealed the fact that there is no greater humiliation for a Berber than to have his advances spurned by a Jewess.
We may thus see how the social inferiority of the Jew actually contributed to the preservation of the race and of its morality. This inferiority was,however, unable to guard the sanctuaries from the desecrations which were particularly marked during recent generations, when the Arab invasions plunged the country into a state of anarchy.
The Jebel Iffren possesses exceedingly ancient Jewish memorials. The inhabitants are without doubt the descendants of those Judeo-Berbers of whom Maimonides speaks, reporting their strange customs in matters pertaining to the purity of the women, and in other usages contrary to the Talmud-customs and usages which have been preserved to this day.
There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that these Jews are the descendants of the captive Jews carried off by Titus into Libya. There, in a country so similar to Palestine in climate, soil and social conditions, they were able to retain their ancient language, manners and religion.
The Jews themselves are firmly convinced of their direct Palestinian origin. They even relate that thirty years ago a stone was found near the ruined synagogue Zlat-es-Sqaq (the market-place synagogue), with Hebrew inscriptions dating back to the first century after the destruction of Jerusalem. This synagogue is believed to belong to a period prior to the coming of Islam, wh,ch must be the reason why the Mussulmans hold the sanctuary in such great veneration.
However, jealous that the Jews should possess so hallowed a sanctuary, the Arabs, taking advantage of the general anarchy prevailing in the middle of the last century, burned the place down. All that remains now is the site of the sanctuary, where Jews and Berbers alike kindle oil-lamps.
It was with tears in their eyes that the Jews begged me to restore their sanctuary, which they regarded as one of the six ghriba or ancient Jewish sanctuaries of Africa.
Another, a subterranean synagogue, is known as El Kiblia, that is to say, the synagogue of the south, in contradistinction to the first, which is situated to the north. Close to the latter another synagogue was erected in more recent times, where I found an inscription dating from the year 5502 (1742)...
SOME HISTORICAL ASPECTS
Northern Africa, outside of Egypt, known among the Arabs as the country of Maghreb, or of the West, and among modern geographers as Africa Minor, forms the southern boundary of the Mediterranean, which has been the controlling factor in its climate, its culture and its history. This part of Africa has always been the white man's holding in the dark continent, and is separated from the country of the negroes by the Great Desert, wherein rove those halfbreed nomad populations which are generally grouped under the heading of the Hamitic races. From earliest times there lived in these parts of Africa numerous white races, more or less pure-blooded, who seem to be native to this part of the world. These are the Libyans of the Greeks and the Lub of the Bible-known today as the Berbers-a race strong in its resistance to the influence of outside ideas, but weak in its tendency determined chiefly by the isolated character of the oases-to split up into hostile groups. It is this internecine strife among the Berbers which has permitted the dominant races of all periods to gain a foothold on the African coast and to extend their rule over the Sahels (plains) and Tell (plateaus) which separate the temperate north country from the desert regions. The Egyptians in their time certainly dominated a part of Libya, the region of Barca and beyond. In the seventh century the Greeks founded Pentapolis or the five Greek cities of Cyrenaica, so named after the great city of Cyrene.
The Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon colonized the regions of the Syrtes-that is, the oases of the Tripoli of to-daywhere they possessed Tripolis or the three cities of Oea (Tripoli), Leptis Magna and Sabrata, the centers of commerce with the interior of Libya, which stretched as far as the Sudan. To the northwest, extending as far as Carthage, is the region of the little Syrte. In the seventh century Carthage became the metropolis of the Phoenician colonies which cover the whole of "Tarshish" as far as the Atlantic. After the destruction of Carthage, the Romans turned this district, known as Byzantine Africa, into a separate province, which divides Libya from the two Mauretanias, the Caesarean Mauretania with Caesarea as the capital, and the Tingiatian Mauretania with Tingis (Tangiers) as the capital. These Mauretanian provinces correspond to Western Oran (the department of Oran) and to Northern Morocco, which stretches as far as Saffi on the Atlantic and Volubilis (near Mequinez) in the interior.
There are indications in the Bible, as well as in the works of ancient writers and on Phoenician inscriptions discovered from time to time, that numbers of Hebrew settlers, or slaves, followed the Phoenicians in their excursions across the Mediterranean. In the Prophets of the seventh century we find allusions to the diaspora in this region. The traffic in slaves, which was carried on so extensively by the Greeks, served to attract Jewish colonies to the Hellenic world (cf. Joel, 4; Ezekiel, 26). The Tyrians, complains the Prophet Joel, sell the daughters of Judea to the Ionians, far from their native land. Isaiah 11,11 defines as follows the limits of the Diaspora: "The Lord will . . . recover the remnant of his people that shall remain from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush (Ethiopia) . . . and from the Islands of the sea." Elsewhere he mentions the colonies of Pul and of Lud, of Tarshish (Libya and the western Mediterranean), "and the distant Isles."
At this time the term "the language of Canaan" became synonymous with the "Language of Eber" (Isaiah 19,18); the Israelites became the "Canaanites" (merchants) even unto the Hesperides (Obadiah, 1, 20) so that Greeks could not distinguish between the Hebrews and the Phoenicians. This confusion was all the more natural as the Jews of that time were not pure monotheists, as is proven by the religious eclecticism of the colony which went down with Jeremiah to Egypt.
However this may be, it is certain that about the year 320 Ptolemy Soter established numbers of Jewish military colonies in Egypt and in Libya, in the fortresses which were intended to protect the country against Greek invasions. This is the first known date in the history of the Jews in Libya. There have always been Jewish colonies outside of Egypt. There were some in Greek Libya, and in the fifth century there was one on the Island of Elephantis.
From the time of the Maccabeans, these colonies kept in touch with Jerusalem; numerous settlers flocked to them; writers sprang up among them, such as Jason of Cyrene. The first Roman attempt to take possession of Pentapolis was met by the resistance of the Jewish military colonies. Strabo of Cappadocia, a contemporary of these events, records a rebellion of the Jews of Cyrenaica, which Lucullus was sent to suppress. In this connection he writes: "In Cyrene there were citizens, laborers, strangers (metics) and Jews. For the latter may be found in every city, and it would be difficult to find a place which has not received them and of which they have not become the masters.
Thus, the history of the time tells us that, on the eve of the Roman invasion, there existed, between Elephantis and Ethiopia, autonomous Jewish colonies, which were military, agricultural and industrial in character, with a republican form of government, and which exercised a civilizing religious influence on the natives of the country. This view was held also by the geographer Elisee Reclus.
And without being certain of it, we may conclude that this colonization had penetrated the African continent to a considerable depth before the coming of the Romans. What took place in other Mediterranean countries we may judge, by analogy, to have taken place in Libya and in Ethiopia. Knowing as we do of the colonization of the Thebaid by 8,000 Samaritans sent by Alexander, and learning from the Papyrus of Assuan of the Jewish colony in Ethiopia, we can no longer ignore the traditions attaching to the Judaism of pre-talmudic times-traditions which cover the whole of northern Africa. And these traditions speak now of David and Joab, now of Joshua and Solomon, and even of Esdras, the last in connection with clans of Aaronides and with Cohens...
THE ISLE OF JERBA (GERBA)
Jerba, the celebrated Island of Lotus-eaters of antiquity, is today still illustrious in African Jewish tradition. Countless legends are told of the Hara of the Island, of the Ghriba, or miraculous synagogue, of its Cohanim and its rabbis. And in these legends occur again and again the shadowy figures of Joab or Esdras...
One curious fact about Jerba is the distinction which has been maintained at all times between the Cohanim and the members of the other tribes of Israel. Whilst the town of Hara Kebira is exclusively Jewish, non Aaronide, the town of Hara Saghira, is exclusively Aaronide, like the towns which are mentioned in the Talmud.
The chief rabbinate is not, however, confined to the Cohanim; in consequence it may often come to pass that a non Aaronide is Chief Rabbi of the Smaller Hara whilst a Cohen is Chief Rabbi of the Larger Hara. Sometimes the Chief Rabbi becomes the founder of a line of Chief Rabbis, and the result is that for a considerable time there may be a Cohen holding the Chief Rabbinate in the Large Hara, whilst a non Aaronide holds the Chief Rabbinate in the Little Hara.
This is exactly the state of affairs today. Whilst an ordinary Israelite was Chief Rabbi in the Little Hara the Chief Rabbinate in the Great Hara was held by Jacob Ha-Cohen, the founder of the famous family and line of Sadocs of Jerba...
All of them know well and cling fondly to the same traditions. The first traditions of Jerba go back to the days of David and Solomon. These men have received it from their ancestors that there was once a stone in the island which bore the following inscription: "As far as this point came Joab, the son of Zeruia, in his pursuit of the Philistines."
It is well known that a similar tradition exists at Tlemkien, in Morocco, and that it was carried, during the Middle Ages, as far as Spain. It is my belief that this tradition is connected with the early Phoenician and Philistine colonizers of Africa, who took numbers of lsraelites along with them. If the Phoenicians took with them their traditions of Hiram and Melkart, the Jews took with them theirs of David and Solomon and joab.
The Cohanim of Jerba are divided into two families. One family, which came from Tangiers in the Middle Ages, bears the name of Tanuji, and is spread over the whole of Africa. The other family, native to Jerba and larger than the first, claims to be descended from a family of Aaronides of the race of Zadoc which seems to have migrated to Africa direct from Jerusalem at the time of the destruction of the Holy City by Nebuchadnezzar.
It is said that these Cohanim brought with them one of the doors of the Temple of Solomon, and built a synagogue at Jerba, which they called "Delet" (the Door), after the holy relic of the Temple. Such a tradition existed at the time of Procopius (VIth century), but it was then connected with the synagogue of Borion. In later times, and under the influence of the Berber language, in which the letters "I" and "g" are interchangeable, the synagogue at Jerba came to be called "Deget." Thus, the com- munity always referred to itself as "Kahal Deget," the Community of the Door (?).
Another tradition states that Esdras, himself a Cohen, came as far as Jerba to induce the Jews to return to Jerusalem. The Cohanim, such of them as there were in the island at the time, must have been quite comfortable in their new homeland, for they refused to return. Esdras pronounced a curse against them, saying that never would any descendant of theirs return to the Holy Land, and never would a Levite set foot on the soil of Jerba.
It is curious to note that a similar tradition exists among the Jews of Yemen; but still more curious is the fact that till this very day it is impossible for a Levite to live among the Jews of jerba. No Shaliah from Jerusalem who is a Levite would dare to disembark at Jerba; and never would the community of Jerba dare to receive one into their midst.
The traditions concerning the Middle Ages are vague and confused. From a study of the names of the inhabitants I have come to the conclusion that in the island of Jerba a bitter struggle for supremacy between the Rabbis and the Cohanim went on side by side with the conflict in Africa, ending, after the founding of the celebrated school of Kairuan, with the triumph of the rabbinate.
However this may be, the genealogical tables of the Cohanim which I have been able to examine do not go back further than the tenth century. The following is a copy of the genealogical table which has been preserved by the Cohanim of Jerba, and which goes back twenty-seven (today thirty-seven) generations.
"Zemah the Cohen, son of Sayid, son of Solomon, son of Moses, son of Bagded, son of Burati, son of Tamam (Tamim), son of Amram, son of Meborak, son of Solomon, son of Bagded, son of Califa, son of Sayid, son of Phinehas, son of Abraham, son of Moses, son of Solomon, son of Perez, son of Musa, son of Saul, son of Israel, son of Bagded, son of Hezekiah, son of Mattathias, son of Isaac the Cohen, the ancient, who came from the exile..."
THE PERSISTENCE OF JEWISH TRADITIONS.
We have seen that in all probability there were in Carthage and its dependencies large numbers of Jews, who followed the Phoenicians into Africa. In this, local tradition is in agreement with certain historical indications, while the manners and customs of the Jews of Tunis still give evidences of their ancient origin. There is not the slightest doubt that the Jew has persisted in these parts from the Roman epoch to our own times. Certain Jewish texts, passages in the Roman and Christian authors, and, finally, the numerous inscriptions found in Africa, all point to the importance of the role played by the Jewish element in Africa before the Arab invasion. This question has been studied elsewhere (Slouschz: "Hebraeo- Phoeniciens let Judeo-Berberes"; juster: "Les juifs et I'Empire Romain")...
An ancient tradition, which tells of thirty thousand Jews settled throughout the province of Carthage by Titus is corroborated by another tradition attributed to Josephus, which speaks of twelve boatloads of Jews landed by Titus in Tunis and in Mauretania.
These Israelites, who came to the country at different times and from different places, do not seem to have been united by any rabbinic synagogues. Among the Samaritans there were Sadducees, Zealots, etc., who were not acquainted with the Oral raw, and who lived in a rather primitive order of societv recalling that of ancient Israel. From this epoch date the heroic legends concerning Joab, Joshua, David, Goliath, as also the clans of Aaronides, who, like Onias in Egypt, founded Bamot, or sanctuaries, in various places throughout the country. Agriculturists or nomads, military colonists or civil immigrants, these Hebrews wrote but little, and that in the 'Ibrit or Phoenician characters-so that they have survived only in local folklore and in the ethnic characteristics which they have transmitted to their posterity...
The Jews in Algeria
JOSHUA BEN NUN IN AFRICA
The mountainous region which stretches from Tlemcen to the mountains and to the plain of the river Mulwiya forms a part of the Atlas of Morocco. Before the French occupation this district was Moroccan in character. Destined by its geographical position to be a buffer state between Morocco and the kings of Algeria, this country has preserved its ethnic independence down to our own times. It is true that in the coast towns the Arab dominates, but in the interior, particularly in the mountains, the native Berber has maintained his liberty and his individuality against all invaders. It is in this district that we shall find groups of people which have survived from ancient times; here we shall find folklore and traditions which have passed unaltered through generation after generation for many centuries.
Among these traditions there is one which dominates the folklore of the country of the Traras. It is a cycle of traditions, woven round an ancient biblical character, the founder of the Jewish people, Joshua the son of Nun. By what historical miracle has the name of this general who, after all, occupies only the second place in Jewish tradition, penetrated to a country which, placed opposite the Pillars of Hercules, is so distant from the Holy Land? In a book of ours, devoted to scientific theories, we have attempted some explanation of this phenomenon; in this work, which is nothing more than a collection of facts and observations, we can only present evidence which supports our theory, however startling the conclusion itself. But before we deal with the legend of Joshua ben Nun, it seems best to review here a number of historic traditions which have their origins in earliest antiquity. These traditions will place the legends of Joshua ben Nun in a more interesting light, for it is certain that they are almost as old as the Phoenician colonization of Africa, and have always been known in the country.
There is an old Hebrew tradition that at the time of the conquest of the Holy Land by the Israelites, under Joshua the son of Nun, certain Canaanite tribes migrated to Africa.
One Tosefta, quoting an older source, says that when Joshua approached Canaan, he told the inhabitants that three courses were open to them: they could either leave the country, or they could sue for peace, or they could declare war against him. The Girgashites, among others, preferred to withdraw into Africa. The Tosefta goes on to say that the Amorites, the Kadmoni, the Kenites, and the Kenizites, some of whom figure among the founders of Carthage, also went to Africa. These traditions date from a period when communication between Africa and Phoenicia was continuous. The proper names of Girgash and Kenaz are often to be met with in Carthaginian inscriptions. The Talmud says that the Canaanites in Africa asked Alexander the Great to restore to them their country, which had been taken from their ancestors by Joshua ben Nun.
These traditions have found a place in the Books of Jubilees (IX, 1) and of Enoch (XIII, 22). They have been ratified by the Fathers of the Church; thus St. Jerome calls to witness the Talmud to support his statement that the Girgashites established colonies in Africa; and Saint Augustine designates the natives of Africa as "Canaanites."
These traditions persisted until the sixth century. Thus, quoting from an Armenian author of the fifth century, Procopius, the Greek author, says: "They (the Canaanites) still live in the country and use the Phoenician language. They built themselves a fort in a city of Numidia, in the place where Tigisis stands today. There, near a great fountain, are two steps of white stone, on which are Phoenician inscriptions, saying: 'We are those that fled before Joshua the son of Nave, the Brigand."
This is the statement of antiquity on the legends of Joshua ben Nun in Africa; without entering into the historic value of this statement we may see at once that these legends have persisted since Phoenician times. We may mention now that these legends concerning Joshua are duplicated in those which concern Nun, his father; that in Roman times there was a "Castle of the Syrians" near Lalla Marnia, on the Moroccan frontier, as a Latin inscription testifies; and that at Ujda there is another legend concerning a biblical personage, named Yahia (johanan) ben Yunes.
Furthermore, it is said that in the seventh century the country was occupied by the Mediuna, who at the time were professing Jews. There are several spots which bear such names as "The Ridge of the Jew," "The Castle of the Jews," etc.
There is a spot where they say Sidi Ucha ben Nun (the Berber form of Joshua son of Nun) lies buried. Joshua, certain traditions say, after having performed various miracles with a number of marvellous fishes which he found in the sea, pursued the Canaanites as far as the Gulf of Beni Menir. There he died, and was buried side by side with his father Nun...
It seemed to me that we were concerned with some ancient Hercules, perhaps a Hebrew adaptation of the hero Melkart of the Phoenicians, a kind of Samson, the conqueror of Africa, who was the prototype of the Greek Hercules. It might be a perverted survival of Joshua, the conquering Israelite, canonized by the primitive polytheistic Jew. The whole thing is shrouded in baffling obscurity.
And yet, this appearance of Joshua the Conqueror in the maritime country which, lying opposite the Pillars of Hercules, recalls curiously the country of Carmel near Haifa, is striking evidence that there was a time in the history of Africa when the Jewish genius fought for supremacy with the genius of the Tyrian Melkart and of his rival Hercules. This strange and obscure sanctuary, worshipped by the natives, is in itself proof of the fact that on the eve of the Arab invasions Africa was on the point of becoming Jewish.
"Who was this Joshua?" I asked the guardian of the sanctuary.
"An Israil" (Israelite), he answered.
"So he was a Yehudi, a Jew!" I insisted.
He looked at me steadily, and then gave me an evasive answer:
"I do not know: an lsrail."
I learned afterwards that according to a tradition, the Jews will finally return and take back the sanctuary of which they have been robbed. The poor man must have thought that I had come to turn him and his family out!
One enlightened Arab who knows the country well told me the following: The Berbers are so deeply attached to this sanctuary, and they have preserved so well the traditions of their Jewish origin, that if the Jews were actually to return and retake the sanctuary, all the tribes of the Beni Ichu, Beni Arun, Beni Daud and Beni Chuaban would certainly become Jews again. The statement is perhaps an exaggeration, but it appears that these good Judeo-Berbers would be very loath to abandon their hero.
A little further down the rock which slopes to the sea is a grotto surmounted by a white qubba, which the natives say is the tomb of Nun, the father of Joshua. I have mentioned elsewhere that Nun is the synonym for Fish, and that we are dealing in part with a GodFish, or Dagon, who still occupies an important place in the folklore of the Jews of Africa.
At Tetuan, at Tangiers, and at Gibraltar-that is, at the Pillars of Hercules-there is a kind of fish which Jews are forbidden to eat. It is said that Moses and Joshua met with this fish when they were in this part of the world and, with its aid, performed certain miracles...
Somehow we managed to reach Imassin with whole skins. The Sherif Mulay el Hassan congratulated me, saying: "You are indeed a brave man! You have not only penetrated into the Dades, you have actually come back!" We took a very friendly leave of each other. At Warzazet, on my return journey, I discarded my rabbinic vestments and became a European once more. On the road I twice narrowly escaped being caught by brigands, who were lying in ambush. Near Marrakesh I met with two Arabs who had been set upon by brigands, robbed and wounded, half an hour after I had passed the place.
I was well satisfied with my five weeks' journey of discovery; it had not been without its dangers and discomforts, but it had enabled me to come into contact with peoples almost unknown to the civilized world, and to gather a wealth of material relating to the Jews of the mysterious Atlas.
(c) Copyright 1999 by Wayne Simpson
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