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From discursive resistance to new genealogies: rethinking Israelite identities in Africa through the case of Nuer Christian Zionists

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 November 2021

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Abstract

Scholars have commonly interpreted the emergence of claims of Israelite descent among African peoples as attempts of marginalized communities to construct empowering identities by drawing on biblical narratives. This article tries to make sense of such claims from a more emic perspective, not as an instrumental counter-discourse but as a genuine attempt to grapple with the nature of ethnic membership and the place of certain communities in relation to biblical genealogies, time and space. The article explores the claims of Nuer members of several Evangelical Zionist churches operating in western Ethiopia and South Sudan that the Nuer are among the ‘lost tribes’ of Israel. It demonstrates how Nuer Zionists have reinterpreted Nuer identity, known for its permeability and constructivist nature, in light of contemporary premillennialist Zionist notions of history and peoplehood, which emphasize ethnic fixity and focus on lineages, exclusive bloodlines and biological descent. The article offers a new perspective on Israelite identities in Africa and on the influence of born-again Christianity on the construction of ethnic identities.

Résumé

Résumé

Les chercheurs ont communément interprété l’émergence de prétentions à une descendance israélite parmi les peuples africains comme des tentatives, de la part de communautés marginalisées, de construire des identités valorisantes en s'appuyant sur des récits bibliques. Cet article tente de donner un sens à ces prétentions d'un point de vue plus émique, non pas en guise de contre-discours instrumental mais de véritable tentative de se colleter avec la nature de l'appartenance ethnique et la place de certaines communautés par rapport aux généalogies bibliques, au temps et à l'espace. Cet article explore les prétentions de membres nuer de plusieurs églises sionistes évangéliques, présentes dans l'ouest de l’Éthiopie et au Soudan du Sud, selon lesquelles les Nuer font partie des « tribus perdues » d'Israël. Il démontre comment les sionistes nuer ont réinterprété l'identité nuer, connue pour sa perméabilité et sa nature constructiviste, à la lumière des notions sionistes prémillennialistes contemporaines d'histoire et de peuple, qui mettent l'accent sur la fixité ethnique et se focalisent sur les lignages, les lignées exclusives et la descendance biologique. L'article offre une nouvelle perspective sur les identités israélites en Afrique et sur l'influence du christianisme régénéré sur la construction d'identités ethniques.

Type
Israelite identities in Africa
Information
Africa , Volume 91 , Issue 5 , November 2021 , pp. 832 - 851
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

Introduction

Over the past decade there has been a growing scholarly interest in Jewish and ‘Judaizing’ communities in Africa. In the past, African Jewry has been primarily, if not exclusively, associated with the Beta Israel (‘Falasha’) of Ethiopia, a community that has been the subject of a large body of scholarship.Footnote 1 But since the immigration of this community to Israel from the 1980s, numerous other groups claiming Israelite descent or Jewish identity of some sort or another have emerged across the African continent, in a surprisingly large number of countries: Lemba communities in Zimbabwe and Igbo groups in Nigeria, as well as smaller communities in Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Kenya, Côte d'Ivoire and several other countries. In recent years, these communities have begun to attract scholarly attention and there is now a diverse body of literature that interrogates their genealogical claims, histories and relationship with the wider Jewish world (Bruder Reference Bruder2008; Bruder and Parfitt Reference Bruder and Parfitt2012; Parfitt Reference Parfitt2013; Lis et al. Reference Lis, Miles and Parfitt2016; Devir Reference Devir2017). While not all of these communities reject the New Testament and adhere to ‘normative’ or ‘Rabbinic’ Judaism (Miles Reference Miles2019), a growing number of them claim to be descendants of ancient Israelites and locate their roots outside the African continent.

Scholars have commonly interpreted the emergence of Jewish or Israelite identities in Africa as what we may call, following Sugirtharajah (Reference Sugirtharajah2001), ‘discursive practices’ of resistance: attempts of marginalized and abject communities to read the Bible as an empowering book and ‘a weapon of reprisal’. This thesis was introduced by Tudor Parfitt, the leading scholar on emerging Jewish movements in Africa and the ‘global South’. What it proposes is that, drawing from popular myths about lost Israelite tribes or dispersed Semitic or Hamitic populations, colonialists came up with theories about the potential foreign origins of various African communities, and some Africans consequently ‘internalized’ these ideas. Inspired by European discourses or biblical narratives, they developed their own histories that associate them with the ancient People of Israel (and often, by implication, the modern state of Israel) as part of an attempt ‘to counter oppression, gain approval, re-create lost history, revolt against white authority, and forge new, more-useful identities’ (Parfitt Reference Parfitt2013: 133). Thus, the ‘Israelite trope was a means by which Africans could turn the Bible back on their colonial masters’ (ibid.: 103).

We find similar approaches to the emergence of African ‘Judaizing’ movements in other recent studies. Devir, writing on groups in Ghana and Cameroon, suggests that their members often ‘see Judaism as a redemptive antidote to the evils of colonialism’ (Reference Devir2017: 3). They find it appealing, he adds, because of their frustration with ‘the institutionalized Church (often-times equated with the colonial regime) over its exclusion of traditional native practices’ and because experiences of discrimination make them ‘see themselves as Jewish in symbolic terms’ (ibid.: 223). Bruder, who similarly emphasizes the role of Judaic identities as an anti-colonial counter-discourse, notes that ‘political antagonisms’ should not be understood as the sole factor behind the adoption of Jewish identities in Africa, and that, at least for some, ‘the adoption of a Jewish identity … appears as both an intellectual event and a sociological transformation’ (Reference Bruder2008: 191). However, she ultimately understands this transformation in instrumental terms: ‘At a time when identities are sharply affected by the modernity crises,’ she writes, ‘subtle gradations of Jewish identities indicate various attempts by Africans to bring creative and innovative responses into a bewildering and complex field of human behavior’ (ibid.: 192–3).

This article proposes to approach Israelite genealogical claims from a different perspective. It is driven by the conviction that, if we take seriously people's religious commitment and their attempts to understand their own identity, history and circumstances in biblical terms, instrumentalist explanations that see religious identities and claims primarily as a means, a political tool, a discursive intervention, a response to ‘crises’ or a coping mechanism are in no way satisfactory. Like functionalist approaches to religious conversion more broadly, these explanations tend to be etic. They do not tell us much about why and how the people who claim Israelite descent experience this claim not only as empowering or politically beneficial, but also as meaningful and true in and of itself. These explanations view religion, to use Marshall's terminology, ‘as performing a second-order process of adjustment’ and thus as a ‘medium for a message that is about something else, something nonreligious’ (Reference Marshall2009: 18, 29). The purpose of this article is to try to make sense of people's appropriation of biblical identities from a more emic perspective: not only as a political counter-discourse but as a genuine attempt to grapple with the nature of ethnic membership and the place of certain communities in world history.Footnote 2

In order to do so, the article analyses the claims of Nuer members of several Evangelical Zionist churches, operating mainly in Gambella (western Ethiopia) and South Sudan, that they are among the ‘lost tribes’ of Israel. This is the first article to analyse the emergence of such claims among Nuer, bringing the ethnographic literature on Nuer identity into conversation with the scholarship on Christian Zionism. Drawing on ethnographic research in Gambella in 2018–19,Footnote 3 it demonstrates how Nuer Zionists have reinterpreted their own ‘ethnic’ – or, as it is often called in everyday language, ‘tribal’ – identity as Nuer in light of premillennialist Zionist notions of history and peoplehood. While eastern Nuer society has long been assimilationist, readily integrating outsiders and enabling them to adopt Nuer identity, premillennialist Zionist discourses, which draw on biblical narratives but are also increasingly inspired by genetics, focus on exclusive lineages and bloodlines and construct Israelite and gentile identities as inalienable. When Nuer Zionists claim to be lost Israelites, they incorporate notions of Nuer identity that emphasize ethnic fixity, rather than fluidity, into a premillennialist Zionist cosmology, attempting to place ‘the Nuer’ within biblical time and space.

As such, the story this article tells is of broader significance for our understanding of the influence of Christianity on the formation of ethnic identities in Africa. A prominent thread in the literature understands ethnic identities as colonial constructs – a consequence of the European imagination of African ‘tribes’ as fixed, bounded and culturally static. Historians have emphasized the extent to which colonial officials have consolidated or even ‘invented’ identities and traditions in Africa through the governing strategies, institutions and epistemologies they introduced (see Spear Reference Spear2003 for a critique of this argument). Missionaries, some have pointed out, were also part of this process, particularly due to their efforts to standardize and record African languages (Ranger Reference Ranger and Vail1984). More recently, anthropologists and historians have also linked the emergence of concerns with autochthony, primordialism and indigenousness in Africa, particularly since the 1990s, to violent conflicts, nationalism and processes of democratization and economic liberalization (Geschiere and Nyamnjoh Reference Geschiere and Nyamnjoh2000; Marshall-Fratani Reference Marshall-Fratani2006). This article does not intend to dismiss the influence of all of these factors. What it aims to show is how Christianity can also be entangled in these processes, influencing the way people think about peoplehood, blood, ethnicity and descent.

Christian Zionism in the borderlands

The Evangelical Zionist churches discussed here represent a small part of the diverse, though predominantly Protestant, Nuer spiritual landscape of the South Sudanese–Ethiopian borderlands.Footnote 4 American Presbyterian missionaries first settled among eastern Nuer in colonial southern Sudan in 1912 and later moved to the Ethiopian side of the border, where the Presbyterian church was incorporated into the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. Seventh-day Adventism reached the borderlands from the Ethiopian highlands in the early 1970s, after several Nuer from Gambella encountered Adventist missionaries in Addis Ababa. Reliable data on church membership does not exist, but these two churches arguably remain the most dominant eastern Nuer churches, particularly in Gambella. Starting from the mid-1990s, however, in the years following the fall of Ethiopia's socialist Derg regime, dozens of new Evangelical Protestant churches emerged in the region. These were commonly established under the influence or patronage of foreign missionaries, Nuer who resettled in North America and linked up with Evangelicals there, or Ethiopian Pentecostals.Footnote 5 Most new Evangelical Protestant churches were established by members who ‘defected’ from the Presbyterian church, but a parallel thread of Sabbatarian groups split from the Seventh-day Adventist church, and it is these groups that this article is concerned with.

Seventh-day Adventist youths who spent time in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya during Sudan's second civil war were exposed to the doctrines of a Sabbatarian Zionist church of American origin, the Church of God (Seventh Day), which has been active in Kenya since 1970. After some of these youths returned to Gambella in the late 1990s, they began establishing branches of the church and preaching its doctrine in villages and refugee camps in the region, and the church quickly expanded into what is now South Sudan. The Church of God originally emerged in parallel to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the USA, in the nineteenth century, but its leaders challenged Adventists on several grounds. Its members take pride in it being the ‘true church’ that follows the ‘true religion’ – the same faith followed by the first followers of Jesus in New Testament days. It is this promise of divine authenticity that draws believers to Messianism in Gambella and, as we shall see, drives their preoccupation with the biblical indexicality of their own identity and roots. The church's focus on Bible study, its preoccupation with end-time prophesies and its sectarian attitude all made it particularly appealing to Adventist youths, but members of other Protestant churches have also joined. Many of its members joined it despite the association of their families with other churches.

Over the past decade, defections from the Church of God led to the emergence of multiple other Nuer Sabbatarian Zionist groups. Leadership struggles were certainly part of the story, with entrepreneurs breaking away from existing institutions once they were able to secure enough support to lead a new one. But defections also had a salient doctrinal facet, with disagreements repeatedly revolving around the issues of links to Israel or affiliation with ‘real’ Jews or the ‘true’ church.Footnote 6 In 2009, inspired by the teachings of an American Evangelical based in Israel named Don Esposito, a significant number of members left the church to form another group, the Congregation of Yahweh. In 2010, Esposito and the leaders of the new faction met in Addis Ababa; by 2012, three elders of the Congregation of Yahweh from Gambella were invited to Israel. In 2015, following several such educational trips, members of the Congregation established a ‘kibbutz’ outside Gambella town, in order to live a ‘sanctified life’, separated from the ‘worldly’ people. By then, another group of members had defected from the Church of God and formed Ahavat Yeshua Messianic Congregation. They associated themselves with a Messianic ministry called Revive Israel, which is also based in Israel and led by American Evangelicals, but of Jewish descent. Since 2015, several additional – albeit smaller – groups have emerged due to defections from the latter organizations.

Assimilation, blood and Nuer identity

Ethiopia's western borderlands represent the easternmost edge of what Nuer today often call ‘Nuerland’ (ro̠o̠l Nuärä). The original Nuer ‘homeland’ is considered to be along the western banks of the Nile in modern-day South Sudan. It was from there that, in the early nineteenth century, groups of Nuer (then called nei ti naath, ‘people of the people’) migrated east, crossing the Nile, assimilating or dispersing other communities, and gradually expanding towards what formally became, at the turn of the century, the international border between Ethiopia and Sudan. During this expansion, the Nuer vanguards assimilated thousands of Dinka and Anywaa (or ‘Anuak’), using Nuer women and cattle to systematically attract and bind ‘foreigners’ into their communities. ‘What underwrote the dramatic expansion of Nuer communities,’ Hutchinson writes, ‘was the rapidity and completeness with which they made ethnic outsiders feel like insiders’ (Reference Hutchinson2000: 9). This led to a shift in the way eastern Nuer understood their identity, ‘from an ideology based on descent – and, by extension, ethnic purity – to one based on assimilation’ (Dereje Feyissa Reference Dereje2011b: 59). Dereje Feyissa refers to the resulting identity as ‘constructivist’. Hutchinson refers to it as ‘performative’. What both emphasize is that Nuer identity came to be understood as something that can be acquired, primarily by adhering to a set of norms and practices.

Shared ancestry and lineages have long been important organizing values in Nuer society – even if just how important has been extensively debated (McKinnon Reference McKinnon2000). But equally important have been segmentation and the systematic integration of foreigners into lineage structures, made possible through practices and notions of kinship (maar) in which blood was a central substance but that did not necessarily privilege biological descent. Much of the flexibility of Nuer identity and kinship structures and the vitality of the famous Nuer lineage system was guaranteed by an ideology that positioned cattle and human blood as intimately linked and interchangeable: both cattle and human blood were associated with God (Kuoth Nhial), the ultimate source of life and fertility, and thus cattle exchanges and sacrifice could forge and affirm blood ties or amend what were understood to be dangerous blood flows between humans (Hutchinson Reference Hutchinson1996). Similarly, the ga̱a̱r mark, comprising six lines scarified across the foreheads of youths at initiation, also enabled the successful assimilation of ‘foreign’ men into Nuer communities (Stringham Reference Stringham2016). The ga̱a̱r not only made one a whole (Nuer) man but also forged a permanent ‘blood brotherhood’ between age mates initiated together (Hutchinson Reference Hutchinson1996: 165).

While eastern Nuer continue to be assimilationists, particularly compared with their Anywaa neighbours (Dereje Feyissa Reference Dereje2011b), in recent decades several factors have gradually eroded the performative and constructivist character of Nuer identity and introduced primordialist tendencies and an emphasis on biological descent. Political violence played an important role in this process. Hutchinson described how the Nuer–Dinka violence that erupted following the split of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in 1991 led to the adoption of primordialist ways of understanding Nuer identity among Nuer fighters (Reference Hutchinson2000). The conflict that broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, largely along the same fault lines of the Nuer–Dinka violence and inner-SPLA disputes of the 1990s, only enhanced these tendencies. Meanwhile, and particularly among youths who have spent much of their lives in refugee camps or urban areas, the link between human blood and cattle and the ideology of ‘cattle over blood’ have been severely weakened (see also Hutchinson Reference Hutchinson1996: 203–36). Under the influence of Christianity, engagement with markets and the spread of money, cattle have increasingly been treated as a religiously neutral index of ‘ethnic’ identity and an economic resource. The practice of ga̱a̱r has also dramatically declined in recent decades. In Gambella, where I conducted research, it was effectively eliminated, and a popular myth described it as a British colonial invention imposed on Nuer in order to distinguish them from other Sudanese peoples (Dereje Feyissa Reference Dereje2011b; Gidron Reference Gidron2020b).

Nationalism and states also contributed to the rigidification of previously permeable ethnic boundaries. The imposition of administrative boundaries, the system of native administration and education policies under colonial rule already represented attempts to separate, physically or culturally, different communities in southern Sudan and to consolidate ‘tribal’ identities as distinct and rigid (Johnson Reference Johnson1982; Tounsel Reference Tounsel2015). After independence, South Sudanese national ethos often emphasized ‘tribal’ identity as the ultimate test of one's membership in the nation, so that being South Sudanese never eliminated one's identity as a Nuer or a Dinka or a Shilluk but rather came to be seen as based on it. This stance is explicitly enshrined in South Sudan's Nationality Act (Markó Reference Markó2015). In Ethiopia, the introduction of ethnic federalism following the fall of the Derg regime conceptualized the country as comprising numerous ‘nations, nationalities and peoples’. As a political system that is based on the premise that these ‘peoples’ are ‘indigenous’ to certain territories and possess collective rights as a result, it fuelled discourses of indigeneity and led to a growing competition between communities over resources and political influence. In Gambella, this meant not only an intractable conflict between Nuer and Anywaa but also competition between different Nuer communities (Dereje Feyissa Reference Dereje, Tronvoll and Hagmann2011a; Reference Dereje2011b: 71–4).

Both sides of the Ethiopian–South Sudanese border are considered by contemporary eastern Nuer to be part of ‘Nuerland’, inhabited by the Nuer ‘nation’. The fact that each side is administered by a different government is a mere technicality. ‘I am a citizen of the place where I live. When I go to Sudan, I will be a citizen of Sudan. Here I am a citizen of Ethiopia,’ a member of one Zionist church told me.Footnote 7 Although Ethiopia formally does not allow dual citizenship, in practice it is perfectly possible for residents of the borderlands to hold both Ethiopian and South Sudanese identification documents. And although humanitarian agencies continue to uphold the convenient myth of a distinction between ‘refugees’ and ‘host communities’ in western Ethiopia, in reality affiliation with a specific Nuer territorial community (cieŋ) says more about one's political status than the replaceable identification card in one's pocket. In Nuer, the English word ‘refugees’ (rɛpugi̠i̠th) simply refers to anyone living inside Gambella's refugee camps, and to the camps themselves. In short, it can be said that eastern Nuer relate to the ‘national order of things’ (Malkki Reference Malkki1995) primarily on the basis of their identity as Nuer. The following section briefly examines how this impacts the way they relate to the Christian world.

Global Christianity and the Nuer nation

As a proselytizing faith with global aspirations, Christianity inscribes believers into a global public, configured around institutions, practices and historical narratives that are understood to be universally relevant (Keane Reference Keane2007). How, however, do Christians from different parts of the world relate to this global public? In his study of Christian citizenship in Guatemala, O'Neill highlights that, despite their global aspirations and focus on the individual believer, Pentecostals do not question the division of the world into nation states. On the contrary: their ‘international theologies of Christian citizenship’ conceptualize believers in various countries as relating to the Christian world through their national identities. ‘Through an international Christian imagination, neo-Pentecostals have come to imagine the world as nations sewn together,’ he writes. ‘The neo-Pentecostal logic, at its most basic, begins with me: I change; then my nation changes; then the world changes – all for Christ’ (O'Neill Reference O'Neill2010: 176, 182). We find similar tendencies among African Pentecostal megachurches, which not only readily engage with political elites and seek to extend their influence over state institutions (Obadare Reference Obadare2018), but also frame the nation state as a legitimate entity that citizens can and should transform through their personal religious devotion (Marshall Reference Marshall2009; Haynes Reference Haynes2015).

The view from Ethiopia's western borderlands, I would argue, is different. Local communities do not relate to the Christian world through their identity as Ethiopian or South Sudanese, but rather primarily as members of the Nuer nation. Given the evolution of Nuer identity over the twentieth century and its primacy vis-à-vis national identities, this is hardly surprising. But this is a point that has to be emphasized if we want to take seriously the role of religion in local political life. Ecumenical organizations with names such as Nuer Christian Youth for Peace and Development (popularly known as ‘Youth Malä’) and Nuer Christian Missionary Network (previously the Nuer Council of Churches) indicate the sort of community they aim to configure, unite and transform. These are prominent extraterritorial pan-Nuer organizations that, like the churches they represent, connect an archipelago of Nuer communities from across north-east Africa (and sometimes North America and Australia) with one another, with little regard to national borders. Church institutions and faith-based organizations facilitate the circulation, between these communities, not only of religious knowledge, practices and styles, but also of resources and material support.

Most churches established among eastern Nuer communities over the past two decades, including the Zionist churches discussed here, operate in the Nuer language and have spread through Nuer communities in various countries, rarely incorporating any significant number of members from other groups. Even churches that are formally part of larger bureaucratic structures and that include other communities in Ethiopia or Africa – Seventh-day Adventists, the Church of the Nazarene, Mekane Yesus – have assumed a distinctively Nuer identity in Gambella. Meanwhile, in locations outside what is considered to be ‘Nuerland’ – Addis Ababa and other urban locales and refugee camps in East Africa – Nuer congregations are important meeting points for diaspora communities. Nuer from Gambella who travel to other parts of Ethiopia to study often establish their own congregations or fellowships rather than join the programmes of other local Ethiopian congregations; this is also due to language differences. In Kampala, Nairobi and Khartoum, Nuer congregations often worship separately, in the Nuer language, while religious conferences, held under the umbrella of specific churches or ecumenical organizations, regularly bring together members from various Nuer communities from across the region and the world.

The geography of premillennialist history

Most Evangelical Zionists subscribe to premillennialist theologies:Footnote 8 they expect the current era to come to an end imminently with a great war, the Battle of Armageddon, which is supposed to take place in the Middle East. It is during this war that Jesus will return, bringing it to an end and establishing his Millennial Kingdom. This expectation concerning the future, which is based on prophesies made in the past and available to us in the present through the Bible, influences how believers think about history and their position within it. ‘In terms of biblical history, the period of time in which we now live may be seen as a plain between two mountain peaks,’ writes prominent Messianic leader Asher Intrater in his Reference Intrater2003 book From Iraq to Armageddon, a paperback copy of which was sent to Ahavat Yeshua Messianic Congregation in Gambella by their supporters in Israel. ‘The mountain peak behind us is the crucifixion of Yeshua, and the mountain peak in front of us is the Second Coming’ (ibid.: 8).

Mountain peaks are paradigmatic of premillennialist illustrations of time and space. We find a similar metaphor in Charles Larkin's book Dispensational Truth or God's Plan and Purpose in the Ages (Reference Larkin1920 [1918]). Larkin, an American dispensationalist known for his detailed charts and illustrations of biblical prophesies and history, described the current dispensation not as a plain but as a valley: the ‘valley of the church’. This valley lies between two ‘mountain peaks of prophesy’ representing the first and second coming of Christ. Standing behind the ‘peaks’ of his first coming, in the ‘Old Testament valley’, the prophets of the Bible were unable to see the ‘valley of the church’. They saw only the peaks of Christ's arrival, return and, beyond them, the Millennial Kingdom. Their prophesies described these peaks in detail but left us with no clear script for whatever happens in between, in the valley. Standing in the valley, one's only stable points of reference are the peaks. Premillennialists, as Robbins writes, live with the ‘sense of being momentarily abandoned by narrative, of being caught in a middle where things may make sense but they do not make ultimate sense’ (Robbins Reference Robbins2004: 162).

First, it is impossible to know when exactly humanity will finally arrive at the next mountain peak. There are various signs that indicate, for Messianics and other Evangelical Zionists, that we are living in the Last Days. Chief among them are Israel's independence and its involvement in conflicts, the return of Jews to the Holy Land, and the decision of some of them to accept Jesus as their Messiah. Due to these developments, a growing number of Evangelicals around the world have been confident that humanity is indeed climbing out of centuries in the ‘valley’ towards the Second Coming of Christ and the Millennial Kingdom. This is a sentiment Messianics in Gambella very much share. They closely follow news from Israel – often via online Messianic platforms, although I was also regularly questioned about political developments there during my research – searching for signs that reassure them that the next mountain peak is at hand. Observing constant turmoil in the Middle East and international criticism of Israel, they also see these as signs. However, it is unclear when exactly the remarkable transformation they are expecting and whose script they keep revising will take place.

Equally unclear, however, is what precisely took place within the valley we currently inhabit since humanity left the previous peak. From the book of Genesis to Revelation, the Holy Bible provides us with a detailed account of the origins of humanity, the coming of the Messiah, and the evolution of the church. For Messianics in Gambella, as for other conservative Christians and literalists (Crapanzano Reference Crapanzano2000), the authority of this account is unquestioned. However, from somewhere in the first century AD, they are left in the darkness. There is no authoritative record of the paths their ancestors have crossed on their way from the previous biblical peak to where they stand in the metaphoric ‘valley of the church’ and the very literal lowlands of Gambella. Therefore, as much as premillennialist views of history leave Messianics constantly searching for signs that they may finally be rising from the valley into the epistemological comfort and certainty of biblical history once again, it also leaves them with the urge to figure out what their position is vis-à-vis the peak left behind. The obvious challenge in this context is that the territories of the ‘valley’ are covered solely by man-made histories that are both unreliable and do not reach as far as the point where the Bible ends.

‘A Jew never stops being a Jew’

Before moving to the identification of some Nuer Zionists as Israelites, a brief recap of the biblical narrative on which the myth of the lost tribes of Israel is based, as far as it goes, is in order. Noah, himself a descendant of the first human being Adam, had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Following the great flood (Genesis 6–9), the three became the forefathers of all humanity. Abraham was a descendant of Shem. His son, Isaac, was the father of Jacob, and Jacob had twelve sons, whose descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel. These tribes divided into two kingdoms: Israel and Judah. The kingdom of Judah comprised the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The kingdom of Israel, to its north, comprised the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Zebulon, Dan, Issachar and Joseph. (The tribe of Joseph was divided into Ephraim and Manasseh, while Levi was scattered between the other tribes.) With the invasion of the Assyrian empire in the eighth century BC (2 Kings 17), the ten tribes of the kingdom of Israel went into exile, disappearing into the fog of undocumented history (Parfitt Reference Parfitt2013: 14).

Throughout the centuries, travellers and scholars came up with various theories about the whereabouts of the lost tribes and the Hamitic or Semitic origins of various African peoples (Bruder Reference Bruder2008; Parfitt Reference Parfitt2013: 13–23). Biblical prophesies associate the ingathering of exiled Israelites in the Land of Israel with the coming of the Messiah. The regathering of Jews in the Holy Land over the past century and the emergence of communities that claim Jewish identity in other parts of the world are often understood by Evangelical Zionists as the fulfilment of such prophesies. Therefore, in recent decades, Evangelicals have shown a growing interest in identifying the lost tribes, supporting their immigration to Israel and evangelizing them, as a means of playing an active role in divine history and speeding up the Second Coming. To a large extent, this is the thrust behind the outreach activities of Messianic organizations throughout the world. In Africa, several Igbo, Lemba and Ethiopian communities have attracted considerable attention from American Evangelical Zionists and Messianic Jews who consider them to be ‘lost’ Israelites.

This preoccupation with the lost tribes must be understood in light of what is arguably the most important tenet of all Christian Zionist doctrines: the rejection of what Zionists call ‘replacement theology’ – that is, the notion that God replaced Israel with the church after the Jews rejected Jesus. Christian Zionists consider replacement theology a ‘pagan’ legacy of the Catholic church that has no biblical basis. The People of Israel, they claim, still have a key role to play in the end-time events, and gentiles can only be saved by ‘grafting’ themselves into the ‘tree of Israel’ – the covenant between the Israelites and God. Crucially, these Zionist theologies conceptualize Jewish (or, more accurately, Israelite) and gentile identities as inalienable. Being born-again can enable one to be redeemed, but it cannot alter one's inherent status as either an Israelite or a gentile. This status is understood as predetermined by one's lineage. One is either from the seed of Abraham or a gentile, either part of a natural branch in the ancient olive tree cultivated by God or part of the ‘ingrafted branches’ (Romans 11.24). As Rabbi Joash, a Messianic preacher from Kenya (but, as he stressed, of Ethiopian-Jewish descent) who visited Ahavat Yeshua Congregation in Gambella, explained: ‘A Jew never stops being a Jew, and a gentile never stops being a gentile!’Footnote 9

Members of both the Congregation of Yahweh and Ahavat Yeshua in Gambella have enthusiastically engaged with international Zionist organizations that propagate theories about the lost tribes and are manifestly concerned with identifying them. Not surprisingly, therefore, the notion that the Nuer are one of the lost tribes has gained much currency and has become the subject of lively debate. The main point of contention, at the time of my research, was whether Nuer are descendants of Cush – the eldest son of Ham, often considered the forefather of the peoples of Sudan and Ethiopia – or one of the lost tribes of Israel, thus descendants of Abraham and Shem who were exiled from Israel in biblical times and ultimately found themselves dispersed in the land of Cush. While both interpretations clearly grounded Nuer within biblical genealogies that go back to the creation of the world, they situated them in different positions within God's overall plan for humanity (in which, they all agreed, Israelites play a much more central role) and in varying proximity to the lineage of Jesus Christ.

A lost tribe, found?

In Gambella, people's views on the issue of the lost tribes had a lot to do with the divisions in the Church of God and the international connections of its splinter groups. Church of God members generally insisted that the theory that the Nuer are Israelites was baseless, and that they could only be Hamite descendants of Cush. The inscription of local events and identities into biblical history was illustrated well by the church's hymnal, which included a short introduction to the history of the church in Gambella. This introduction recounted how ‘the people of Cush’ (ji̠ Kuc) had found the ‘true teaching’ (ŋi̠i̠c in thuɔ̱k) in Kakuma, ‘in the land of Kenya’ (rɛy ro̠o̠l Ki-nyɛ) in 1996 and brought it with them back to ‘Cush’. Although Kenya was indeed explicitly mentioned in this historical overview as a country, neither Sudan nor Ethiopia was, nor were ‘the Nuer’ as a distinct people. The hymnal itself included multiple songs that referred to the members of the church as ‘the people of Cush’, the ‘sons of Cush’ (gaat Kuc) or the ‘people of the house of Cush’ (ji̠ gɔal Kuc) and drew on Isaiah's famous prophesy with regard to this nation: ‘The Word of God [Ruac Kuɔth] that comes from Jerusalem, now it has arrived to us in Cush, we shall bring our offering to Jerusalem, as written by Isaiah.’Footnote 10

The Congregation of Yahweh's leadership, however, inspired by the writing of their Israel-based leader Don Esposito, fully endorsed the lost tribes theory. Esposito's Reference Esposito2004 book The Chosen People, in particular, provides a detailed analysis of the dispersion of the lost tribes, emphasizing that biblical prophesies indicate that their members will be ‘coming out of their ancient pagan backgrounds and realizing the truth about who they really are’ in the last days (Esposito Reference Esposito2004: 138). A copy of The Chosen People was available in the Congregation's kibbutz in Gambella, and while Esposito himself does not make any specific claims about the Nuer in the book (it was written before any Nuer were linked to his ministry), the leaders of the Congregation saw themselves fitting nicely within the historical analysis it presents. In conversations with me, the Congregation's leaders often expressed their hope that Israel would recognize them – a hope that appeared to be radically unrealistic, given the efforts Israel had made over the past decade to deport African refugees, including South Sudanese (Gidron Reference Gidron2020a). They even reassured me that their elders in Israel attempted to advance the matter. Many of the children born in the kibbutz were given biblical Hebrew names: Sarah, Abraham, Jacob, Yitzhak, Ephraim.

In one of my first visits to the Congregation's kibbutz, I asked several elders what they made of the well-known Nuer origin myth about Ran. Ran is often considered to be the first human being and forefather of all Nuer and is said to have first appeared out of a tamarind tree known as Koat-Li̠c, somewhere around present-day Bentiu, South Sudan. That the elders dismissed it as a ‘theory’ was not surprising. There is no doubt that it does not reach far enough into the past in order to reconnect contemporary Nuer with any biblical narratives. However, they also explained why they think their ancestors came up with this ‘theory’ in the first place, emphasizing the concern of this myth not, as scholars have done, with exogamy (Stringham Reference Stringham2016), but rather with pure genealogies. They highlighted the distinction it draws between an ‘original’ Nuer bloodline and other ‘tribes’:

By stating Ran they mean genealogies. Genealogies … Just individual persons. Like you may start with this name, for instance. There is actually a point where … a point of stop. In general, saying Ran, there must be a point of stop of all these kindreds. Actually, for us, we consider this as a myth. You understand me? Just as a myth. We don't actually recognize that Ran should be our ancestor. Ran simply means human being, in Nuer. And we believe … [that] our ancestors lost their connection with Israel and therefore when they told our children, our kindreds from the father, to the grandfather, to the great great great great parents, they got lost … and they simply ended up … saying Ran was our ancestor, and even they say we came out of a tree, which we dismiss this one. We believe we came from somewhere which we believe to be Israel because our culture itself shows that we are Israelites. Because we have a cultural connection with Israel. Because in Bentiu area, that's where they came with the theory of Ran. We actually call it a theory.

We the Nuer, when we came from Israel, we were like … trying to … let me say, not fear but we tried to be separate, and we tried to protect ourselves. Our ancestors did not want to rebuild our identities. And that is why they had to come up telling the children we have Ran as a father or we came from Koat-Li̠c, a tree, somewhere in Bentiu. Of course, to separate themselves, not to mix with other people … The ideology the Nuer had in mind was that they call themselves naath or ran, considering them to be the only human beings. Why? Because they saw that the other people did not live according to natural principles and that Nuer were instructed from their ancestors, who we believe to be Israel, to be very different from other people. They call other people jur, and jur in English is gentiles. That is the name we have for every other tribe. And when asked who we are, we say we are naath, we are people. That's it.Footnote 11

As this explanation suggests, Nuer Messianics often highlight the similarities between various customs seen as ‘traditional’ Nuer ones and those practised by Israelites in the Old Testament. Examples of such similarities, mentioned to me repeatedly in Gambella, include: Nuer food taboos, which can be said to resemble the biblical prohibition against eating ‘unclean meat’; the prohibition on incest (ruaal); the custom of offering to God the first fruits of some agricultural products, which resembles a similar Hebrew obligation to do so; the payment of cattle bridewealth; and practices of ‘ghost marriage’ (kuënjɔkä, marrying on behalf of a man who has died), which can be said to resemble the biblical practice of yibbum. ‘The ancient Nuer people,’ one Messianic told me, ‘observed the Torah even though the Bible did not reach them.’Footnote 12 In this regard, the evidence Messianics bring forward to substantiate the claim that they are Israelites is similar to that advanced by other African peoples who make similar genealogical claims based on perceived cultural similarities (see, for example, Ilona Reference Ilona2014).

Genetic testing and the pure past

The resort to the evidence of cultural traits, however, should not obscure the associated effort to rethink the value of bloodlines and genealogies or the nature of ethnic boundaries. What all the claims of Israelite ancestry seem to suggest is that beyond a ‘confused’ recent past – in which various external influences have penetrated the Nuer nation and altered its lifestyles and bloodlines – there existed a pure, authentic Nuer community that was Israelite and endogamous. I was repeatedly told that Nuer culture has been polluted in the process of migration in recent centuries, as a result of mixing with other communities and, more recently, due to the influence of urbanization. In the past, a young member of the Congregation of Yahweh claimed, ‘the culture was strong, but when people came to the cities, they adopted some cultures that they did not have before’.Footnote 13 Also attributed to the mixing with Dinka communities was the introduction of (satanic) ‘magic’ and spirits other than God, Kuoth Nhial, among the Nuer. ‘Our grandfathers in ancient times did not worship paganism,’ one member of Ahavat Yeshua insisted. ‘This is an adaptation we adopt from Dinka and other nations that surround Nuer people.’Footnote 14 The very practice of intermarriage was presented as non-Nuer – something that was merely adopted for strategic reasons:

When we came, we intermarried with our neighbouring tribes. Actually, they [the Nuer] took land from other people through fighting, to make sure they have a place. Bentiu was the first place to be liberated. And they expanded as time went on. Through this expansion and movement, we also intermarried with the local tribes. So today we are mixed with other tribes through marriage, but we still keep our culture … By intermarriage … They actually did not want to intermarry with other people but as time went on … they saw that intermarriage with other people will create relationship and that we would be stable to stay with the people with whom we have married … That became part of protection too.Footnote 15

These claims of distant Nuer indigeneity imply a specific geographic imagination about a Nuer genesis outside Ethiopia and South Sudan; they also have political undertones that resonate with the sense that the Nuer have been marginalized in both countries. Again, as in the case of some of the other African peoples who claim an Israelite descent – in particular, Igbo groups in Nigeria and the Tutsi Havilah movement in Rwanda – oral histories of migration and contemporary experiences of persecution were understood as indicating divine chosenness (Bruder Reference Bruder2008: 142–8, 153–8; Lis Reference Lis2015). A member of the Congregation of Yahweh explained:

The Nuer are not indigenous to Sudan or Ethiopia. They came recently … When the Nuer came, all other tribes were already there. Dinka, Shilluk, Anuak, Nuba, Darfur. The Nuer came and liberated those areas. When you talk to Anuak – we pushed them here. Nasir, Akobo, they originally did not belong to Nuer. Even Malakal. It is a Shilluk name. Even Renk is a Dinka name. Akobo is an Anuak name. We don't have names! When you see the movement – every village was owned by another tribe … And in any area inhabited by Nuer, they are fighting with the people of that area. In Ethiopia, the Anuak hate the Nuer. The Shilluk don't like the Nuer. Murle don't like Nuer. Maban don't like Nuer. Dinka don't like Nuer. They want them out! The Bible says that Israelites, wherever they go, there will be no love for them.Footnote 16

While the leadership of Ahavat Yeshua Messianic Congregation in Gambella did not formally endorse the theory that the Nuer are Israelite, many members of this group have been attracted to it. Some of them claimed that, in their communications with the American leaders of the organization Jewish Voice Ministries, the idea that Nuer representatives can undergo genetic testing was raised, because, as they were reportedly told, ‘South Sudanese, mostly, in Western Ethiopia, and Great Upper Nile … are from the tribe of Benjamin’.Footnote 17 Jonathan Bernis, the president and CEO of Jewish Voice Ministries who allegedly raised the idea, has been one of the most vocal promoters of the use of DNA tests as a means of ‘confirming’ the claims of Israelite ancestry of suspected lost tribes in Africa and elsewhere. His organization's online shop offers a ‘Family Finder DNA Kit’, promising ‘powerful interactive tools to help trace your lineage through time’ in order to discover ‘your ethnic and geographic origins’, as well as a ‘Lost Tribes Wall Map’, indicating where ‘lost’ Israelite communities have been identified around the world.Footnote 18

In recent decades, Evangelical Zionists and Messianic Jews in the West have been fascinated by the imagined capacity of genetic tests to provide definite information about people's position within biblical history by uncovering Jewish traces within their bodies. There is no doubt that, in the Messianic Jewish world, being recognized as an ‘ethnic Jew’ is an asset. While it is estimated that most people identifying as Messianic Jews today are ‘gentiles’, the movement is still primarily concerned with evangelizing individuals of Jewish descent. Speaking in public, Messianic Jewish leaders often emphasize their Jewish roots. For African communities, meanwhile, being recognized as Israelites ‘by blood’ means greater attention from American Evangelicals (Messianics and other Zionists), which naturally often translates into material support. Revive Israel, for instance, has been involved in raising funds for an orphanage in Kisii, Kenya, for ‘Jewish children’, allegedly descendants of Ethiopian Jews. International support to Jewish communities in Ethiopia, or Lemba communities in Zimbabwe, is explicitly based on the fact that these are considered (by Evangelicals) to be ‘lost’ Israelites.

Besides the access to resources and legitimacy, however, discussions about DNA reflect a deeper set of ideas about identity and genealogy. In a recent paper, Imhoff and Kaell (Reference Imhoff and Kaell2017) refer to the discourses around genetic testing and DNA among Messianic Jews in the USA as ‘gene talk’, a phrase they borrow from Kim TallBear. TallBear, writing on the politics of DNA science and Native American identity, describes gene talk as ‘the idea that essential truths about identity inhere in sequences of DNA’ (Reference TallBear2013: 4). Imhoff and Kaell argue that gentiles (‘non-ethnic Jews’) in Messianic congregations in the USA engage in gene talk because the ideas it propagates resonate with their premillennial views that construct Jews as descendants of a distinct genealogy who are ‘set apart from the rest of humanity’ (Reference Imhoff and Kaell2017: 110). Zionist concerns with genes are therefore not driven solely by the hopes of gentile congregants that they will discover Jewish roots and thus gain greater legitimacy. Gene talk is also prevalent because it reinforces theological convictions about the importance of genealogies and allows Messianics ‘to participate in the Jewish community by contributing to its authenticating discourse’ (ibid.: 117).

These observations, I think, are helpful for understanding the debates between Nuer Zionists. To the best of my knowledge, no Nuer in Gambella has undergone DNA testing. And yet the notion that such tests could reveal the ‘truth’ about one's biological ancestry and identity and therefore connect current material facts to authoritative biblical truths was prevalent across all Zionist groups. ‘DNA means that, systematically, you must know yourself, who you are,’ one member of Ahavat Yeshua told me, explaining why he was so eager to have his DNA tested.Footnote 19 A member of the Church of God, rejecting the assertion of the Congregation of Yahweh that they are Israelites, claimed: ‘A person cannot say “I am [a] Jew by blood” until that person tests. There is DNA that shows the blood of the people.’Footnote 20 When representatives of Revive Israel visited Gambella, one of the leaders of Ahavat Yeshua who welcomed them reassured them, in front of the whole congregation: ‘We love Israel very much, and perhaps we are also Jewish. We will only know if we take a DNA test.’Footnote 21

Whether or not genetic testing can, scientifically, expose the genealogical truths Evangelical Zionists imagine it can expose is beside the point. The actual attempts of other African peoples to verify their Israelite ancestry through DNA tests – Zimbabwean Lemba, Ethiopian Beta Israel and Nigerian Igbos have all been involved in such experiments in recent decades – have resulted in more heated debates and controversies than conclusive answers. I suspect that any attempt to move from talking about genes to undertaking genetic tests might only lead to disappointments and confusion in Gambella, too. But it is what people imagine and claim DNA can reveal, rather than what it can do scientifically, that tells us how they think about identity and history (see also Tamarkin Reference Tamarkin2020). While the Bible does not provide a clear map of the ‘valley’ humans currently inhabit, genetic testing came to be understood as having the capacity to shed light on biological (and thus God-made) realities and thereby not only uncover, verify and help restore an (imagined) lost Nuer authenticity but also accurately place the Nuer in a divine historical landscape. It is this longing for divine indexicality – a quest for biblical authenticity and truth that extends to one's body and blood – that underpins the debates between Messianics in Gambella and their reconsideration of Nuer identity.

Conclusion: placing the Nuer nation

The distinction between Israelites and gentiles in Zionist premillennialist theologies naturally creates hierarchies that stand in tension with the Evangelical promise of unity and equality before God. Evangelical Zionists, and Messianic Jewish leaders in particular, are acutely aware of this tension, but it is not one that can be easily resolved. When members of Revive Israel visited Gambella on the invitation of the leaders of Ahavat Yeshua Messianic Congregation, they all mentioned their Jewish ancestry. Rabbi Joash, the visiting preacher from Kenya mentioned above, even told local congregants about the DNA test he had taken some years before and that affirmed his Jewish identity. And yet, perhaps somewhat uncomfortable with the local enthusiasm about their ‘Jewishness’, they also emphasized that salvation is available to all. Yoni, a ‘rabbi’ who explained that he grew up as a Christian but later discovered his Jewish roots, told the congregation: ‘God has a plan for Israel which caused it to be born again as a nation. One day all Israel will be saved and Yeshua will come back. His throne will be in Jerusalem. But he loves all people the same.’ Sarah, a young US-born Jew who accompanied the team, reassured the crowd: ‘God has no favourites.’Footnote 22 Meanwhile, Esposito, the leader of the Congregation of Yahweh, seemed to neither rule out nor explicitly endorse the idea that the Nuer are a lost tribe.

It is tempting, therefore, to understand the claims of Israelite descent made by Nuer in Gambella as calculated attempts to attract the attention and resources of international Evangelical groups keen to support exotic ‘lost’ Israelites in Africa. There is also no doubt that such claims are part of an empowering discourse that speaks directly to local grievances about marginalization, displacement and suffering, and that frames ‘the Nuer’ as a chosen people. The fact that it is predominantly among Nuer communities that Messianic Judaism has gained popularity among all South Sudanese was mentioned to me several times as another indication that Nuer are set apart – that they are closer to God, and that, despite the suffering they have undergone, their salvation is secured. What I hope to have shown in this article, however, is that such claims are also grounded in a genuine attempt of specific communities to place themselves within divine time and space, using the Bible as their guide, and that among Nuer Zionists, they have been informed by both the way in which premillennialist Zionist theologies construct genealogies and history and the way in which Nuer identity was locally understood.

There is, clearly, a disjuncture between the Zionist focus on exclusive bloodlines and ethnic fixity, and the Nuer constructivist and assimilationist tendencies. But Zionist discourses resonate with recent primordial undercurrents in the conceptualization of Nuer ethnicity and with a much older concern with genealogies. And what the debates on the biblical roots of Nuer identity indicate, I believe, is that Zionist ideas about the nature of ethnicity, lineage and descent have also contributed to the reconsideration of Nuer ethnicity and its previously permeable boundaries. The literature on born-again Christianity in Africa often emphasizes the aspiration of believers to ‘break with the past’ (Meyer Reference Meyer1998). Messianics certainly make an effort to ‘break’ with those aspects of ‘Nuer culture’ they consider as having no biblical basis, rejecting, for example, the ga̱a̱r and practices of cattle sacrifice. But breaking with the past also entails observing it through a new lens and reinterpreting it (Engelke Reference Engelke2010). Claims of Israelite roots may represent a form of discursive resistance, but they are also part of more fundamental processes in which the nature of peoplehood and ethnicity and the value of bloodlines and lineages are being reimagined, and in which old practices and ideas of kinship and descent are negotiated as they take on new meanings, even if those meanings are eternally contested and unstable.

This argument allows us to reconsider the place of Christianity in nation making in South Sudan. In both political rhetoric and popular discourse on South Sudanese nationalism, Christianity has often been portrayed as a uniting layer of identity. South Sudanese, so the argument goes, may be divided by their languages and cultures, but Christianity unites them as a nation. Throughout Sudan's civil wars, this idea was perpetuated by generations of southern leaders, and it resonated well with their international Christian supporters (see, for example, Hutchinson Reference Hutchinson, Hassan and Gray2002: 148; Salomon Reference Salomon2014: 449–52; Tounsel Reference Tounsel2015). However, this idea is also based on the problematic assumption that, as a religion with universal claims, Christianity has nothing to say about the way people think about their own genealogies and roots. The image that emerges from the debates and sentiments described here from Gambella tells a more complicated story. Evangelical Christianity does not necessarily create South Sudanese nationals united by faith. While it certainly weaves communities into an imagined global movement, it does not render local modes of belonging irrelevant or obsolete. Rather, it can also resonate with, amplify and cultivate primordial tendencies and notions of genealogical purity.

Acknowledgements

Research for this article was supported by a Durham Doctoral Studentship award and a grant from Durham University's Department of History. I thank Cherry Leonardi, Jacob Wiebel, Ferenc Dávid Markó, Justin Willis, Tom Boylston and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article, and everyone who helped me in Gambella for their patience and hospitality.

Footnotes

1 See the overview and references in Gidron (Reference Gidron2020a: 125–30).

2 I do not deal here with Israeli views of African Evangelical Zionists or ‘Judaizing’ groups. On these issues, see Gidron (Reference Gidron2020a: 99–108, 118–24). To the best of my knowledge, at the time of my research, Israeli diplomats in Addis Ababa were unaware of the existence of Messianic Jews in Gambella.

3 The research also included shorter visits in 2017 and 2019 to Uganda, where some of the groups discussed here maintain congregations.

4 For a detailed history of Nuer Christianity in the region, see Gidron (Reference Gidron2020b).

5 Partly as a response to this proliferation of Protestant churches, another movement that was gradually institutionalized in Gambella's refugee camps in the early 2000s is the ‘Ngundeng church’, whose members follow the teachings and prophesies of the late prophet Ngundeng Bong.

6 While kinship structures influenced the nature of these splits, this process of fragmentation did not necessarily mirror the segmentary lineage structures of Nuer society and therefore does not represent, I believe, what Hutchinson called ‘segmentary Christianity’ (Reference Hutchinson, Hassan and Gray2002: 151; see also Gidron Reference Gidron2020b).

7 Notes, 10 July 2019. See also Dereje Feyissa (Reference Dereje, Vaughan, Schomerus and de Vries2013).

8 Historians of Christianity commonly distinguish between two premillennialist traditions: historicist premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism. I deliberately avoid labelling the specific premillennial theologies followed by different Nuer Zionist groups, not least because these labels did not mean much to people in Gambella. They were unaware of them and were drawing from a wide range of influences to shape their views. On the evolution of historicist and dispensational premillennialism, see Ariel (Reference Ariel2013).

9 Notes, 12 April 2019.

10 Hymn 172, Church of God hymnal.

11 Notes, 24 December 2018 (discussion with Congregation of Yahweh elders).

12 Notes, 8 August 2019.

13 Notes, 2 September 2019 (discussion with Messianic students, Kampala).

14 Notes, 8 August 2019 (discussion with members of Ahavat Yeshua Messianic Congregation).

15 Notes, 24 December 2018 (discussion with Congregation of Yahweh elders).

16 Notes, 20 April 2019.

17 Notes, 13 April 2019.

18 See the Jewish Voice Ministries International shop at <https://shop.jewishvoice.org>.

19 Notes, 13 June 2019.

20 Notes, 1 April 2019.

21 Notes, 12 April 2019.

22 Notes, 12 April 2019.

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