Newsflash from Jerusalem: Pot Calls Kettle Black

A truly pitiful example of the ideologically inspired and financed archaeological work in the “City of David.”  Is this a battle for “science” or just envy in not being allowed to claim the credit for another “this land really belongs to us” claim.  

Jeremiah’s Pit would have been another fine addition to the bogus Mazar corpus.  See, for example, blog report from Feb. 22, 2010.

Of course with Mazar or without her, this biblical chimera could still become a tourist attraction and a rationale for expropriation.   When will this government-approved misuse of archaeology stop?

Dr. Eilat Mazar expounding to the press, Feb. 2010

From Haaretz October 11, 2001

Top archaeologist decries Jerusalem dig as unscientific ‘tourist gimmick’

Dr. Eilat Mazar, who worked in close cooperation with the group – which promotes the ‘Judaization’ of East Jerusalem – says excavations carried out in violation of accepted procedures.

By Nir Hasson

An archaeologist who worked with the Elad association in Jerusalem’s City of David claims that the association and the Antiquities Authority are carrying out excavations “without any commitment to scientific archaeological work.”

Dr. Eilat Mazar – a Hebrew University archaeologist who worked in close cooperation with Elad over past years, and who is considered one of the most productive researchers in Jerusalem and in the City of David area in particular – has castigated Elad for the excavation of a large subterranean pit, called “Jeremiah’s Pit,” at the entrance to the City of David visitors’ center complex.

In a sharply worded letter she sent 10 days ago to Prof. Ronny Reich, chairman of the Archaeological Council, Mazar demanded an urgent discussion of the excavations, which she says are being carried out in violation of accepted procedures.

Mazar’s claims against Elad are being leveled at a crucial time as a proposed law to privatize public parks is being considered. If approved, the bill will enable Elad, a private association which excavates, maintains and conducts tours of the City of David, to maintain control of the historic site – situated in the predominantly Arab village of Silwan, adjacent to the Old City.

“To my astonishment I discovered that for over a year Elad, together with the Antiquities Authority, has been secretly planning a tourism gimmick called the ‘Jeremiah’s Pit Project,” writes Mazar in her letter, noting that the excavation is only two meters away from the excavation area that she directed between 2005 and 2008. She says that she wanted to continue digging in the present area, but was prevented from doing so “for logistical reasons, since north of the site the Antiquities Authority permitted Elad to build a special events hall,” and because of the area’s proximity to a residential building and a road.

Mazar claims that the excavation in the area of the pit contravenes several accepted practices in archaeology, among them, the digging up of an unusually small area of a mere “two squares,” or 10 square meters, which makes it difficult to analyze the findings in relation to the overall area. An excavation of this size, claims Mazar, is made only in situations where there is no other choice.

Mazar is also critical of the diggers’ intention to destroy the wall of the pit, which has not been properly investigated. She also notes that the dig “interferes with the nearby excavations,” which will undermine her ability to complete the research in the area. She claims that it is not acceptable to transfer an area being excavated by one archaeologist to another one, without the former’s consent.

Mazar raised these complaints to the director of the Jerusalem area in the Antiquities Authority, Dr. Yuval Baruch. He conveyed them to Antiquities Authority director Shuka Dorfman, who in turn rejected the complaints and approved the continuation of the excavation.

Antiquities Authority personnel said yesterday that Mazar, who asked to excavate the site and was turned down, received the status of a consultant to the excavation, but she wasn’t satisfied with that and turned to the council. An official reply from the Antiquities Authority said that “the excavation is a rescue dig for the purpose of tourism and the development of the national park. Near the site several archaeological excavations have been conducted, including that of Dr. Mazar. It seems that Dr. Mazar is trying to appropriate the site to herself and we regret that.”

Elad officials explained that it is not the association, but the Antiquities Authority that decides which archaeologist will conduct an excavation. Elad also claims that for several years Mazar has been aware of the project, which was designed to enable groups of tourists to visit the pit, and that she even promised not challenge it.

Attorney Boaz Fiel, representing Elad, noted in a letter that Mazar had signed a contract with the association, to the effect that she would not have “any claim or complaint against Elad regarding future excavations.” “In light of this clear and specific promise, how can we explain your present claim regarding any rights, as incomprehensible as they may be, to continue excavating at the site?” wrote Fiel.

The lawyer added:”It is hard to avoid the impression that your letter is nothing but an attempt to stop legitimate and vital work being carried out by our client, for reasons of ego and credit only, camouflaged as pseudo-professional complaints.” Fiel threatened to take legal steps against Mazar.

In the weekend newspapers Elad published large ads inviting the public to tour the new subterranean route that it has opened near the Western Wall complex. The ads were signed by the new public council of the association, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.

*  *  *

City of David excavations. Slippery indeed. From BiblePlaces.com Blog

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Breaking News: Emergency Authenticity Alert

In light of the still-thriving biblical forgery industry in Israel, encouraged and in fact cheer-led by the Biblical Archaeology Review, by antiquities dealers and collectors, tourism promoters, and religious fundamentalists of various stripes, the sirens went off and the red lights started twirling today when the news of this latest discovery broke:

From BBC.com 29 March 2011

Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian relics

By Robert Pigott

BBC News religious affairs correspondent

They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.

A group of 70 or so “books”, each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007.

Greatest archaeological find of all time? Photo: David Elkington

A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of them marked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol.

A Jordanian Bedouin opened these plugs, and what he found inside might constitute extremely rare relics of early Christianity.

That is certainly the view of the Jordanian government, which claims they were smuggled into Israel by another Bedouin.

The Israeli Bedouin who currently holds the books has denied smuggling them out of Jordan, and claims they have been in his family for 100 years.

Jordan says it will “exert all efforts at every level” to get the relics repatriated.

Incredible claims

The director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.

“They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” says Mr Saad.

“Maybe it will lead to further interpretation and authenticity checks of the material, but the initial information is very encouraging, and it seems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery, maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”

They seem almost incredible claims – so what is the evidence?

The books, or “codices”, were apparently cast in lead, before being bound by lead rings.

Their leaves – which are mostly about the size of a credit card – contain text in Ancient Hebrew, most of which is in code.

If the relics are of early Christian origin rather than Jewish, then they are of huge significance.

One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.

He says they could be “the major discovery of Christian history”, adding: “It’s a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church.”

He believes the most telling evidence for an early Christian origin lies in the images decorating the covers of the books and some of the pages of those which have so far been opened.

Mr Elkington says the relics feature signs that early Christians would have interpreted as indicating Jesus, shown side-by-side with others they would have regarded as representing the presence of God.

“It’s talking about the coming of the messiah,” he says.

“In the upper square [of one of the book covers] we have the seven-branch menorah, which Jews were utterly forbidden to represent because it resided in the holiest place in the Temple in the presence of God.

“So we have the coming of the messiah to approach the holy of holies, in other words to get legitimacy from God.”

Location clues

Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, says the most powerful evidence for a Christian origin lies in plates cast into a picture map of the holy city of Jerusalem.

“As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image,” he says.

“There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city. There are walls depicted on other pages of these books too and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.”

It is the cross that is the most telling feature, in the shape of a capital T, as the crosses used by Romans for crucifixion were.

“It is a Christian crucifixion taking place outside the city walls,” says Mr Davies.

Margaret Barker, an authority on New Testament history, points to the location of the reported discovery as evidence of Christian, rather than purely Jewish, origin.

“We do know that on two occasions groups of refugees from the troubles in Jerusalem fled east, they crossed the Jordan near Jericho and then they fled east to very approximately where these books were said to have been found,” she says.

“[Another] one of the things that is most likely pointing towards a Christian provenance, is that these are not scrolls but books. The Christians were particularly associated with writing in a book form rather than scroll form, and sealed books in particular as part of the secret tradition of early Christianity.”

The Book of Revelation refers to such sealed texts.

Another potential link with the Bible is contained in one of the few fragments of text from the collection to have been translated.

It appears with the image of the menorah and reads “I shall walk uprightly”, a sentence that also appears in the Book of Revelation.

While it could be simply a sentiment common in Judaism, it could here be designed to refer to the resurrection.

It is by no means certain that all of the artefacts in the collection are from the same period.

But tests by metallurgists on the badly corroded lead suggest that the books were not made recently.

The archaeology of early Christianity is particularly sparse.

Little is known of the movement after Jesus’ crucifixion until the letters of Paul several decades later, and they illuminate the westward spread of Christianity outside the Jewish world.

Never has there been a discovery of relics on this scale from the early Christian movement, in its homeland and so early in its history.

*   *   *

Despite the earnestly naive testimonials of the “dumbstruck” biblical scholars, and the breathless prose of the BBC’s “religious affairs correspondent,” one should ask:

1.)  Where were these “books” found and who are the shadowy bedouin who found them?  (Corny Dead Sea Scrolls trope, which is itself suspect)

2.)  Through which (dealers’) hands did this discovery pass in the “several years” since their discovery?

3.)  How much money is involved in Jordanian antiquities director Ziad al-Saad’s assertion (apparently) that Jordan will “exert all efforts at every level” to get the relics repatriated.

4.)  Who exactly is David Elkington?

5.)  Who are the “metallurgists” and what tests did they perform to prove that the artifacts were “not recently made”

6.)  Have any of the above heard the story of the famous discovery at the Hill Cumorah?

Two words for any well-meaning person or organization asked to contribute to this effort:

CAVEAT EMPTOR

Archaeology and the Criminal In Us

As we watch the events unfold in Cairo, as the flames rise from the NDP Headquarters, there are fears that the Cairo Museum would/will be damaged or destroyed.  Wild rumors of human chains protecting the museum from looters mirror the equally emotional cries (mostly by archaeologists) of the barbaric looting of the Baghdad Museum.

Antiquities are seen as an unalloyed good, the property of all humanity, above politics.  But are they just the fetishes of the powerful, tokens and illustrations of a narrative that separates the haves from the have-nots?

The fact is that the administration of antiquities in Egypt has been part and parcel of an arrogant and capricious regime. Past folds into Present in an insidious way.

Billboard at the entrance to Luxor Photo: Brian McMorrow

The monuments and relics of Ancient Egypt have not been administered for the good of the Egyptian people but have been mercilessly exploited as an economic cash cow for foreign tourism and have served as the propaganda icons of a historical narrative (of a “timeless” Egyptian essence) that has been used in so many ways to justify the autocratic centralization of the Sadat-Mubarak regime.

What we are seeing now in the streets of Cairo and other cities give lie to the idea of inevitable pharaonism and peasant docility.  It may not last. Who knows?  But it reveals, at least for a brief moment, the empty assertions of the official narrative.

And that brings us to archaeology.  The cowardly sycophants who have groveled for excavation permits, humiliatingly deferred to the uninformed press conferences of government functionaries about their own discoveries, and who have obsequiously pandered to the strange ravings and “mummy chasings” of a powerful man who tried his best to turn Egyptology into a bizarre kind of unlettered, unreflective entertainment should take time to reflect on how much they supported the regime that is now frantically trying to save itself.

It is interesting how so much of the behavior of colonial and neo-colonial archaeologists and the finds that are often so wildly acclaimed and displayed around the world are themselves evidence of exploitation, tyranny, and privilege wrested from the long-suffering people of Egypt.  It’s true not only of Egypt, but so many of the places where “expeditions” uncover the physical remains of what will inevitably become a retrospectively self-congratulatory narrative of power by and for those who are now powerful.

W.H. Auden put it best in the coda to his last poem, Archaeology, written in 1974, not long after a visit to digs of ruined fortifications, burnt tyrants’ palaces, and “national” museums filled with their selfishly gathered treasures throughout the Middle East:

From Archaeology

one moral, at least, may be drawn,

to wit, that all

our school text-books lie.

What they call History

is nothing to vaunt of,

being made, as it is,

by the criminal in us:

goodness is timeless.

And as if to underline the point that fine art archaeology has been fully implicated in the dark side of human civilization, just look at the news report of this new exhibition in Berlin, where the brutality of collection, exhibition, and its destruction are all deemed marginal factors– far less important than the main achievement of the precious artifacts being brought back to wholeness again:

From the Art News  – Saturday January 29, 2011

Statues Devastated in World War II Go on Show at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

By Geir Moulson, Associated Press

BERLIN (AP)- The ancient gods and fantastical creatures going on show in Berlin this week have made an unlikely comeback from near-destruction.

Unearthed in present-day Syria a century ago, the 3,000-year-old basalt statues and stone reliefs in the exhibition, “The Tell Halaf Adventure,” shattered into thousands of pieces when their Berlin home was destroyed by bombing in 1943.

Fragments and a partial reconstructed sculpture are on display at the exhibition 'The Tell Halaf Adventure' at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. The exhibition shows roughly 3,000-year old statues that have been pieced together over the past decade from fragments left behind when Berlin's Tell Halaf Museum was bombed in 1943. After the wartime bombing, the rubble was salvaged and stored for decades in the Pergamon Museum's cellars. Restorers sifted through some 27,000 fragments to restore the sculptures. AP Photo/Markus Schreiber.

The rubble was rescued, then slumbered in the vaults of the capital’s Pergamon Museum, then in East Berlin, for decades before a painstaking restoration project started in 2001.

Over the past decade, restorers sifted through around 27,000 fragments of rubble and gradually reassembled most of them.

About 40 resurrected figures — including a pair of lions that once bared their teeth at the entrance of a palace at Tell Halaf in northeastern Syria, a sphinx and a long-tressed female figure from a monumental grave — go on show to the public at the Pergamon Museum on Friday.

“No one could have imagined several years ago that this exhibition would be possible,” Michael Eissenhauer, the director of Berlin’s state museums, said Thursday. “Tell Halaf had been forgotten. It was thought to be certain that the pieces which disappeared in 1943 were irretrievably lost.”

German archaeologist Max von Oppenheim led excavations at the Tell Halaf site between 1911 and 1913. He first put the figures on display in Berlin in 1930, at a private museum in a former iron foundry that was destroyed during the war.

Oppenheim arranged for the rubble to be salvaged and stored in hopes of one day recreating the statues — but it would be decades after his death in 1946 before that dream was realized.

During Germany’s postwar division, the rubble lay across the Cold War divide from the collection’s owner, the Max von Oppenheim Foundation. Only in the 1990s, after German reunification, did officials start examining whether the statues might be restored.

The foundation helped fund the several-million-euro cost of the restoration.

For the full story, click here.

Tax Cuts for the Rich – Budget Cuts for the Past

The budget targeting of historic preservation and heritage programs (of all kinds) is based on an assumption that serious public reflection on the past is just a disposable luxury.  Sure there is waste, elitism, racism, chauvinism, and class favoritism in some areas of the historic preservation movement.  And sure we need to be smart and effective how we allocate and spend public funds.

Yet among the most promising trends in recent years is the growing attention to community-based heritage activities, increasing inclusiveness in the decisions about who or what gets included in “official” commemoration, and the widening awareness that cultural identity– and even more important cultural co-existence– is absolutely essential, especially in hard times.

A bugetarily microscopic initiative like the Preserve America program has been branded by Republicans as wasteful (along with other useless things like Public Broadcasting and the voluntary US contributions to UN activities).  More troubling still is the fact that President Obama has apparently agreed about the disposability of heritage programs of all kinds.

So what do we have left of our national memories beyond the factless history-babble of Glenn Beck and the wildly mythic notions of the Tea Party Movement?  The official neglect of our collective memories has a tremendous cost.

 

History at no cost to the taxpayer. Does it look intelligent to you? Photo from Steve M. blog/Fox News

 

The cuts will deepen our national historical dementia by increasing our inability to distinguish between fact-based reflection and myth-based assertions.  No less damaging, the continuing privatization of heritage “attractions” as venues for “edu-tainment” will further trivialize the multimedia costume drama that we increasingly confuse with the past.

And don’t assume that this is just an American problem:  outsourcing of conservation responsibilities for historic districts and sites to retail, residential, and tourism developers is a worldwide phenomenon.  We have to carefully consider our priorities, examine the impacts of heritage on society, and be aware of the dangers of public amnesia.

From http://www.governing.com   January 14, 2011

Feds Threaten Major Cuts to Historic Preservation Grants

Posted By Ryan Holeywell

President Obama and the GOP don’t tend to agree on much these days. But they’ve found common ground in one unusual place: Both want to cut millions of dollars in historic preservation grants.

This week, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), a GOP deputy whip and member of the Republican Study Committee’s steering committee, introduced a bill that would cut $150 billion over five years through nearly 50 types of spending reductions across the board.

Some of the cuts are politically charged, like rescinding voluntary payments to the United Nations and eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Others are common-sense proposals taken from the president’s fiscal commission, such as requiring the sale of excess federal property and reducing federal travel costs.

A little-noticed proposal was a plan to eliminate two programs that fund historic preservation grants: Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America.

According to a House-issued breakdown of Brady’s proposal:

This amendment would eliminate funding for the Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America Program, as called for by the President who said both programs are duplicative and underperforming.

The Preserve America Grant Program was established in 2003 (as) a grant program within (the Department of the Interior) to provide ‘planning funding to support preservation efforts through heritage tourism, education, and historic preservation planning.’

The Save America’s Treasures Program in Department of Interior awards grants to preserve historically significant properties. This account is also heavily earmarked. $4.6 million is appropriated for Preserve in FY 2010 and $25 million is appropriated for Save. The Department of the Interior oversees multiple, overlapping historic preservation programs. Additionally, every federal agency is required to maintain a historic preservation program and must appoint a historic preservation officer and comply with the National Historic Preservation Act. In addition, there are numerous other federal grant programs and tax provisions aimed at historic preservation.

But Patrick J. Lally, director of congressional affairs for The National Trust for Historic Preservation, said Brady is downplaying the grants’ significance. Save America’s Treasures is the only federal grant dedicated exclusively to physical restoration of nationally significant sites, and it represents a significant portion of all federal funding for historic preservation.

The historic preservation fund, which is part of the Department of Interior, is usually funded at about $75 million to $78 million, and Save America’s Treasures usually makes up about $25 million to $30 million of that total. Eliminating it would be a huge blow to federal preservation efforts, Lally tells FedWatch. “It’s not like when lawmakers propose elimination of these funds they go to another account within the historic preservation fund,” Lally says. “They go away.”

Save America’s Treasures has provided funding to restore the Montgomery bus where Rosa Parks made her stand, the workshop where Thomas Edison created his inventions and the cottage to which President Lincoln retreated during hot Washington summers, among other projects. Since its 1998 launch, it has provided nearly $294 million to more than 1,100 preservation projects.

While Save America’s Treasures focuses on physical work, Preserve America grants provide funding for things like marketing, research and digitizing records — ancillary work that helps to promote “heritage tourism” to cultural and natural sites. For example, Honolulu was awarded $150,000 to develop programs to showcase its Chinatown, and Oxford, Miss. received $75,000 to fund exhibits about the life of Supreme Court Justice L.Q.C. Lamar in his historic home. Preserve America has provided more than $17 million in grants to more than 225 projects.

This time, the programs are being targeted by a House Republican. But a year ago, it was President Obama who proposed cutting the programs in his 2010-2011 budget. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on the White House blog that they “lack rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts so the benefits are unclear.”

That decision was especially unusual, given that the White House has previously been a supporter of the programs. In March 2009, Obama signed legislation that permanently authorized them, and in December of that year, First Lady Michelle Obama touted Save America’s Treasures as a way to “empower communities all over the country to rescue and restore this priceless heritage.”

Lally says he believes Obama’s proposal to cut the programs last year was an oversight. Congress ultimately preserved funding for the programs, largely due to the fact that Save America’s Treasures has a record of creating jobs (16,000 since its inception), Lally says. The White House’s budget will be released next month, and preservations are anxiously waiting to see whether it will against target the two programs, like Brady has already done. And given that deficit reduction has been the theme repeated ad nauseum by the new House Republican leadership, the future of the programs could be in jeopardy.

The fact that the two programs are fighting for their survival is especially ironic, considering the $29.6 allotted to them is a pittance of the overall federal budget. Nancy Schamu, executive director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, tells FedWatch she doesn’t know why preservation funding is being targeted, especially since it’s basically “decimal dust” in the grand scheme of things.

“That’s something you’ll have to ask the bill drafters,” she says.

John the Baptist Update: Minister Warns F**king Archaeologists to Shut Up

From the Sofia News Agency:   

Bulgarian Archaeology Scandal Grows as Minister Declines to Apologize

August 9, 2010, Monday   

Bulgarian Diaspora Minister Dimitrov (left) has made headlines with his statements after the discovery of the alleged relics of St. John the Baptist. Photo by BGNES

 

Bulgaria’s Diaspora Minister Bozhidar Dimitrov has made it clear he has no intention of apologizing for a recent statement made after the discovery of St. John the Baptist relics in Sozopol that many archaeologists deemed insulting.   

“Why, damn it, why, where is all this envy coming from?! This is what I cannot find an explanation with this fucking people, with these fucking colleagues,” the Diaspora Minister and a former Director of the Bulgarian National History Museum, said last week when expressing his indignation that some of the Bulgarian archaeologists had declared the media sensation over the finding of the relics of St. John the Baptist premature.   

Later last week he explained he did not mean to insult the Bulgarian people or the Bulgarian archaeologists as a whole but that his words referred to “a group of people calling themselves archaeologists.“   

“I am condemning several archaeologists, who had made anonymous statements in the press, and who did not express doubt but, rather, envy and hate for their colleague. I was just defending out colleague Popkonstantinov,” Minister Dimitrov stated last Friday.   

His further pejorative statements about the culture of Ancient Thrace contributed to renewing his conflict with leading Bulgarian archaeologist, Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov.   

Prof. Totko Stoyanov, head of the Bulgarian Archaeologists’ Association, also expressed indignation over Dimitrov’s comments.   

“I have no intention of apologizing to anyone,” the Diaspora Minister told bTV on Monday explaining once again that the Bulgarian word for “fucking” or “damned” that he used did not actually have a pejorative connotation…   

For full story, click here.   

For background, see post of August 19   

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

The ngoma, a sacred wooden drum-- or Ark of the Covenant?

 

a.)  Assumed biblical historicity  

b.) DNA interpretation  

c.) Correctness of artifact identification  

c.) Essentialist ethnic identity assertions  

d.) Implied allegorical significance in contemporary Zimbabwe  

e.) Resurrection of Rider Haggardism  

   

Extra credit will be given for all additional problems/issues identified.  

From the Jewish Chronicle Online:  

African ‘Jewish’ tribe displays its lost ark

By Moira Schneider, April 22, 2010

Members of an African tribe are displaying a sacred object they believe to be the Ark of the Covenant in a Harare museum.  

The item is a ngoma, a sacred drum made of wood. According to oral tradition, a ngoma was carried from Israel by the Lemba, a South African tribe who believe they are descendants of Jews from the Middle East. After it burst into flame and was destroyed, another ngoma – the one currently on display – was constructed from the ruins.  

DNA research has traced the Lemba’s origins to the Middle East. More remarkably, a genetic marker largely found only in Cohanim, descendants of the ancient Jewish priesthood, is present in the same proportions among the Lemba’s own priests, known as the Buba.  

The 80,000 Lemba people, who live in Zimbabwe and northern South Africa, have many customs in common with Jewish tradition, including male circumcision, refraining from eating pork, allowing the blood to drain from an animal before they eat it, wearing skullcaps and prayer shawls during rituals and adorning some tombstones with Stars of David.  

But Alex Makotore of Harare, son of a late chief of the Lemba, says that the tribe does not claim to be Jewish. He accuses scholars of trying to impose a foreign identity on them.  

“We don’t want to look like people who are looking for an identity,” he said. “We’ve got our own African identity, we are not looking for our roots.  

“They call us black Jews, but it is them [the scientists] that call us that. If we are linked to the Jews, then fair and fine, but we cannot rightly say that it is only the Jews that [have those customs].”  

He does say he is “excited” about a possible connection to the Old Testament, but says the Lemba are unconcerned that there is little connection with the local Jewish community.  

“We don’t look for them. We don’t want to end up with a situation where we feel second-rate to another race.”  

By contrast, Perez Hamandishe, member of parliament from the Movement for Democratic Change and a pastor in the Pentecostal church, says that the Lemba believe that they are Jews.  

“We are Jews by blood,” he insists, adding that like the majority of the Lemba, he is Christian by religion, but Jewish by culture.  

“My lifestyle is Jewish, we observe everything Jewish – we only eat kosher,” he said. “If I go to a Gentile house, I don’t eat their food. When I travel, I carry my own pots and food. I don’t eat prawns, fish without scales or rabbit.”  

Sam Benatar, president of the Zimbabwe Jewish Board of Deputies, said that there were “all sorts of claims all over Africa by people purporting to be Jewish”, but the Lemba’s belief “may well be true”.  

Peter Sternberg, former president of the Board, said that the Lemba “are virtually all either Christians or Muslims – one should really leave it at that.”  

The story of the Lemba Ark was originally revealed by Tudor Parfitt, professor of Hebrew at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, in his book The Lost Ark of the Covenant.