The Ibo Jews Descend From the Tribe of Gad, Zevulun, Menashe, Levitical Migrants, Judeans, and Asher

Source: Nigeria Virtual Jewish History Tour (Jewish Virtual Library) 2020 A.D.

From the source, “According to oral traditions, the Ibo have resided in “Iboland,” a region of modern-day Nigeria, for over 1500 years. Before that, the tradition asserts that they were migrants from ancient Israel. There exist a number of theories that explain from whom the Ibo are descendant, and how they came to reside in Nigeria. One theory contends that the Ibo are the descendants of one of the lost tribes.

Ibo Jews

The Ibo of Benei Gath are said to have descended from Gath (Gad), the eighth son of Jacob. The lineage traces itself through Gath’s son, Eri ben-Gath. A number of Ibo clans claim this identity. They are the Aguleri, Umuleri, Oreri, Enugwu Ikwu, Ogbunike, Awkuzu, Nteje and Igbariam.

The Ibo of Benei Zevulun trace their ancestry to Jacob’s fifth son, Zevulun. Tradition holds that a descendant of Zevulun named Zevulunu married Oji, a descendant of the tribe of Judah. They had a son: Ozubulu ben-Zebulunu. Ozubulu had four sons who are said to have settled in various areas located in what is now Nigeria. The resulting ethnic sub-identities are the Neni, Egbema Ugwuta, and Ohaji Egbema.

The Ibo of Benei Menashsheh are believed to be descendant from Meneshsheh (Menashe), the son of JosephJacob’s eleventh son. The Amichi, Ichi and Nnewi-Ichi ethnicities trace their lineage to Menashe.

There exist other theories that explain how the Ibo Benei-Yisrael are the descendants of ancient Israelites. One such theory postulates that the Ibo are descendants of Levitical migrants. The theory contends that the Levites left Judah in the periods of destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. They are said to have settled in Jerban, Tunisia. A more likely theory states that the Ibo Benei-Yisrael are the descendants of clans of ancient Israelis and Judeans that fled the Levant before and during the Assyrian and Babylonian sieges. This particular theory explains how individual Ibo sub-ethnicities would have oral traditions that link them to specific tribes.

According to 9th-century Jewish traveler Eldad ben-Mahli (Eldad the Danite), the Ibo Benei-Yisrael may be descendants of members of several of the “Lost Tribes of Israel.” He contended that the Jews of Africa came from the tribes of Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher, who had fled the Land of Israel so as not to participate in the civil war between Judah and Israel during the time of Jereboam’s succession and reign over the Northern Kingdom (922-901BCE or 931-910 BCE). Eldad contended that these Jews originally settled in Havilah, beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. With them, they had a copy of the Tanach, less the books of Esther and Lamentations. These Jews had no knowledge of the Mishna or Babylonian Talmud, but had devised their own Talmudic tradition, in which all the laws were credited to Yehoshua bin Nun, who received them from Moses.

Just as there exist a number of theories about from whom the Ibo are descendant, there are as many theories as to how they came to reside in Nigeria.

One theory holds that ancient Hebrews and later, ancient Israelis migrated west from the Arabian Peninsula through EgyptEthiopiaKenya and Sudan. No one is certain when ancient Hebrews first emigrated from the Middle East and settled in West Africa. It is thought that they began to arrive before 202 BCE, the date associated with the arrival of iron working civilizations in West Africa (e.g. the Nok).

An additional theory states that North African Jews traded and traveled within the West African Kingdoms of Mali, Songhai and Kanem-Bornu. Jews are believed to have been a prominent demographic in these empires. It is even thought that several rulers of the Songhai empire had Jewish roots. It appears however that Judaism in the West African empires came to an abrupt end when Askia Muhammad came to power and in 1492, ordered that all Jews convert to Islam or face expulsion.

Another theory maintains that Jews traveling with trade caravans from Northeast Africa moved through West Africa. According to certain accounts, such as Travels in North Africa by Nahum Slouschz, Jewish identity can be found in North Africa since the founding of Carthage, specifically, descendants of the tribes of Zevulun and Asher.

Persecution and trade have been the major influencing factors in how the Jews migrated through Africa. During periods of Islamic persecution and for the purposes of trade, Jews moved from communities in EgyptEthiopiaTunisia and Morocco to more remote regions of North and West Africa. Trade routes to West Africa may have been established as early as the period in which David ruled Israel, and the term Tarshish, found in the Tanach, may refer to the Ivory Coast of West Africa.

The decline of the Jewish communities of West Africa can be traced to the arrival of Muslim invaders in the 14th and 15th centuries. North and West African Jews banded with other local communities of Berbers, Christians and Greeks to ward of the invaders, but eventually succumbed. Many were forced to convert to Islam, sold into slavery or simply massacred. In the face of this persecution written traditions, such as the Torah, were lost. The Ibo Benei-Yisrael, though having no written evidence of their Jewish heritage, maintained a strong oral tradition and practiced many Jewish customs in secret. Records of these medieval Jewish communities, found in the Timbuktu, Mali Islamic Library, indicate the presence of Jewish families in the region before the arrival of Islam in the 1300’s CE.”

This source is critical because it once again reaffirms the idea that Israelites and Judeans have been in Africa centuries before 70 A.D. This source also confirms for us that there are different parts of Ibo Jews because some Ibo Jews are from Gad while others are from Judah, Levite, Joseph, Zevulun, and other tribes within Israel. This source also highlights that the biblical Tarshish may indeed be located in West Africa. In my opinion, this source leaves open the possibility for one to consider that the Nok Civilization may have been the offspring of Israelites who brought iron working to West Africa. In my opinion, I believe the Phoenicians (Israelites, Canaanites, and Egyptians) set up a colony on West Africa which led to the rise of the Nok Civilizations.

By Truth Ministries

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