It’s said that once you’ve been to Africa, the continent is locked in your heart forever. The deep cultural heritage is unmistakable, and unchanging.
The same can be said for the Middle East, where the people of Israel have passed down their traditions for centuries.
But the Lemba are something completely different. This tribe, who live in Zimbabwe and South Africa, claim they are direct descendants of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
Is it possible they are who they say they are?
Astonishingly, the facts support their miraculous oral tradition.
Key Moments in Israel’s History
When the nation of Israel was formally reestablished in 1948, there was the hope by some that Jews everywhere would become unified once again. After all, God is faithful to his promises to the people of Israel, specifically:
“I will watch over and care for (Israel), and I will bring them back here again. I will build them up and not tear them down. I will plant them and not uproot them.” Jeremiah 24:6 NLT
Inspired by this prophetic promise of God, a great pilgrimage began. It was a journey made by Jews across the globe to mend a fracturing of people that occurred centuries ago.
In the eighth century BC, as noted by historians and the Bible in I Kings, the Assyrian empire conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, captured its people, and dispersed them over Assyrian territory. Historians say some were killed, many were blended into other cultures, and others fled. Thus began the tradition of the Lost Tribes of Israel.
The Lemba Tradition Begins
Lemba oral tradition, passed on through generations, says they came from the Rabbinical Tribe, the Levites. The Lemba say they fled their original home and traveled to Sena, in modern-day Yemen, where they became traders and craftsmen until they were forced to escape war or natural disaster. This drove the Lemba across the Red Sea to Africa.
During their journey down the African continent, tradition says the Lemba built great cities of stone. This is where science comes in.
Archaeologists have verified the existence of these cities. In addition, at these stone city sites, many artifacts have been discovered. These facts are a direct tie to the oral tradition handed down by generations of Lemba.
Tribes all over Africa have kept their traditions and customs, but the Lemba are like no other tribe. Strict adherence to Jewish customs have been watched over by Lemba rabbis. Despite losing their original Torah on the journey from Israel to Zimbabwe, all oral teachings and traditions have been maintained, the same kind of oral teachings described in the Old Testament.
Dietary laws, including kosher standards and restrictions on meat, are obeyed. Circumcision is performed, intermarriage has been strictly forbidden to preserve the culture and bloodline, and traditional rabbinical clothing is worn.
In a place thousands of miles away from Israel, detached from all Jewish culture, these African Jews, who call themselves “Original Hebrews,” are committed to their way of life that has been passed down from generation to generation.
Eventually, DNA testing advanced to the point where the Lemba’s claims could be put to the scientific test. University of London scholar, Dr. Tudor Parfitt, swabbed a cross-section of Lemba tribe members, and the results were astounding.
The Y chromosome, passed on by many males in the population, proved to contain the Cohen Modal Haplotype. Among Jews, the CMH marker is most prevalent amongst Cohenim, or hereditary priests. In addition, this marker is one that only emanates from the Middle East and is not found in any identifiable African roots.
Even more astounding are the following stats:
• The CMH marker shows up in 50% of the Lemba tested.
• The same marker shows up only 3-5% of the time in the general Jewish population.
What could just be tradition, lost through generations of translation, has proven to be quite the opposite. These stories, passed on by generation after generation, have now been backed up by scientific proof.
The Lemba: a Modern Miracle
The Lemba are indeed astonishing. Some claim they are one of the Lost Tribes of the original Israel. Others say they are another piece needed to assemble the puzzle of Jews scattered all over the world, until Israel became a nation again.
MJBI learned of the Lemba, and has been involved on the ground with them since 2012. At that time, there were no Messianic congregations amongst the Lemba.
Today, just five years later, there are now 72 congregations of people meeting on the Sabbath to worship Yeshua the Messiah. Each of them are led by some of the 140 MJBI Lemba graduates.
God is faithful to His ancient promises. He is regathering his Covenant People from the four corners of the earth in preparation for the return of the Messiah. MJBI exists to train leaders for this great restoration around the world because every revival has influential leaders, and every influential leader needs to be equipped.