Last week, I twice had people mention that they are descendants of the Sudanese Jewish community. Although years ago I was in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, where the White Nile meets the Blue Nile, I must confess that the idea of a Jewish community there was nowhere on my radar. But as it turns out, there was a small Jewish community in Khartoum, and way back when – around 3,500 BCE – Moses himself was a Sudanese Jew for a while. How so?
Sudan was an Ottoman colony starting in 1583. A dual colonization by the Turks together with the British was put in place in the late 1870’s. Jews, Christians and Armenians settled there. In 1881, Mohammed Ahmed El-Mahdi declared himself to be the “Mahdi” i.e., the Muslim Messiah, and fought a “Jihad” against Ottoman-Turkish rule. He defeated Egyptians sent to stop him, as well as the British general Gordon, who was beheaded during the Battle of Khartoum (January 26, 1885). At the time, non-Muslims who had been living in the capital for some 300 years were forcibly converted to Islam. Today, in Khartoum, there are still living descendants of these forcibly converted Jews.
The modern Jewish community thrived under British rule, when Lord Kitchener re-conquered Sudan in 1898. Some converts returned to Judaism. But the community was driven to extinction under Arab rule. The Jewish refugees of Sudan, along with some seven hundred thousands other Jewish refugees from Arab lands (these refugees are never mentioned in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict) were dispersed to the four corners of the earth. Prominent Sudanese Jews include Nissim Gaon, leader of the World Sephardi Federation.
The last of the Jews left Khartoum in the 1970’s. Although it was a well-known landmark, the Jewish cemetery has been desecrated becoming a dumping ground and a public toilet.
The irony is that according to Jewish sources (Yalkut Me’am Loez on Shemot 2:15), when Moses fled Egypt prior to the Biblical Exodus, he didn’t go directly to the Sinai desert. Rather, he fled to Kush (ancient Sudan), where he became a general and then a king. In other words — and this is not known by the majority of people, including Jews — according to Jewish tradition Moses was an African king for almost 40 years. After he left Sudan, he went to the Sinai, married Zipporah, daughter of a former Midianite priest, and then returned to Egypt to lead the Exodus and climb Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. But take note, before all this, for decades, he was a king in Sudan.
Historically, the Jewish tradition makes sense. At least, it makes sense that a fugitive from Pharaoh would flee south into Nubian-Kushite territory. The Kushites were forever at war with the Egyptians and, in fact, at one time Egypt was ruled by a Kushite Pharaoh named Taharqa who, centuries after Moses, showed up like the cavalry to save Jerusalem from the Assyrians (Isaiah, chapter 37, verse 10-11, c. 687 BCE). For his part, Moses was married to a Kushite (Numbers 12:1). Although this passage in the Torah, is often taken to refer to Moses’ second wife Zipporah, it is probably referring to his first wife, the queen of Sudan.
The history of Sudan, along with Ethiopia, ancient Kush, has been largely forgotten. The great cities of Napata and Meroe, are known to only a handful of academics, and the Sudanese are now threatening to flood thousands of archeological sites by building a giant China-backed hydroelectric dam in the heartland of ancient Kush.
So first they got rid of the Jews. Now they’re destroying their own history, including the cities that Moses once ruled.
For the archaeology of the Biblical Exodus, see my film “The Exodus: Decoded”