3. Deuteronomy Chapter 32:39-43
Written by Unknown
Performed by Gershom Sizomu, J.J. Keki, Aaron Kintu Moses, And Their Mother, Devorah
From the CD Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, USA 2003)



39. See, then, that I, I am He:
There is no god beside Me.
I deal death and give life: I wounded and I will heal:
None can deliver from My hand.

40. Lo, I raise My hand to heaven
And say: As I live forever,

41. When I whet My flashing blade
And My hand lays hold on judgment,
Vengeance will I wreak on My foes,
Will I deal to those who reject Me.

42. I will make My arrows drunk with blood-
As My sword devours flesh-
Blood of the slain and the captive
From the long-haired enemy chiefs.

43. O nations, acclaim His people!
Fro He’ll avenge the blood of His servants,
Wreak vengeance on His foes,
And cleanse the land of His people.


Translation from Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures: The New Jewish Publication Society Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text, p. 329. Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda. Compiled and annotated by Jeffrey A. Summit. Translations and transcription by Gershom Sizomu, J.J. Keki, Dennis Bogere, Moses Sebagabo and Jeffrey A. Summit


On the authorship of The Book of Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy: book of the Bible, literally meaning ‘second law,’ last of the five books (the Pentateuch or Torah) ascribed by tradition to Moses. Deuteronomy purports to be the final words of Moses to the people of Israel on the eve of their crossing the Jordan to take possession of Canaan. […] The legislation is oriented toward life in the Promised Land, with the eventual foundation of a single lawful sanctuary.

Source: The Columbia Encyclopaedia, Columbia University Press 2004.


It is rare that one can say precisely who wrote a biblical book. That is certainly the case with the Book of Deuteronomy. A history of composition stretching over a hundred years or more, as has been suggested above, would obviously make the identity of a particular author moot. The question of who wrote the book, therefore, has to be reformulated to ask, rather, what circles or groups of persons might have been responsible for formulating, collecting, editing, and expanding the work before us.


Three major proposals (there are others) have been set forth to account for the source or origin of the book. It is doubtful that we can ever say decisively if one group is the true source for the creation of Deuteronomy. The book may have arisen from prophetic circles. E.W. Nicholson has identified some of the grounds for seeing a close relationship between Deuteronomy and prophetic groups; ‘They both stand upon the tradition of the old Israelite amphictony – their concern for the observance of covenant law, their adherence to the ideology of the Holy War, their strong attachment to the principles of charismatic leadership and their critical attitude towards the monarchy. The attitude of Deuteronomy towards the institution of kingship indeed has been taken by many as one of the strongest links between it and the traditions of northern Israel. The law in Deuteronomy xvii. 14f reflect the antagonistic attitude of the northern prophetic party. Here the sacral ideas which grew up around the figure of the king in Jerusalem are entirely absent.’ (p.69) Affinities between Deuteronomy and Hosea have led some to suggest that ‘the author of Deuteronomy was the spiritual heir of this great northern prophet.’


A second proposal is that Deuteronomy originated in Levitical priestly circles. This position has been espoused by Gerhard von Rad, though others have been persuaded similarly. […] Even more important, in [von Rad’s] judgement, is the necessity to account for who would have preserved the old sacral and legal traditional material that seems to be present in the book (von Rad, Studies). Further, who would have had the authority to interpret this material, and who would have set it forth in the highly hortatory and interpretive style characteristic of the book? It must have been religious figures […] The third major claim is that Deuteronomy originated in wisdom and scribal circles, a point of view worked out in detail by Moshe Weinfeld.

Source: Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching Deuteronomy, by Patrick D Miller, Westminster John Knox Press 1990


‘And cleanse the land’: On The Song of Moses

The story of the Promised Land, the first Promised Land narrative, begins in the Bible in the Book of Genesis and is continues in the Book of Deuteronomy, with the homeless Israelites in the desert and Moses in conversation with God. Moses and God are making a deal. God promises Moses and his people the lands of Canaan. God will exterminate the indigenous people, clearing the way for the Israelites – on the condition that the Israelites cast aside all their other Gods and worship him alone.

The deal is struck. Then God tells Moses he knows the Israelites will betray their promise, and therefore, God says – ‘write ye this song for you, and teach it to the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel.’ (31:19) ‘For when I shall have brought them into the land which I swore unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant.’ (31:20).

This song is the song of Moses, the second and final song of Moses – the first appeared in Exodus 15 in the King James Version of the Bible, and was integrated by GWF Handel into his 1738 composition Israel In Egypt, (see Song 98 in this website).

In this second song of Moses we discovered that God’s promise of cleansing the land – a promise of divinely sanctioned ethnic cleansing, illustrates the dark side of the promise, which is that with the sense of belonging that the promise allows, there comes a fundamental loss of the humanity this sense of belonging is meant to proclaim.

The Promised Land trope is used to give a metaphysical dimension to colonial missions. Theodore Herzl, the founder of Jewish Zionism considered the creation of a Jewish state to be what he called a ‘colonial idea’. ‘The Jewish State in Palestine’, he said, would be a ‘part of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of culture against barbarism.

Interestingly enough, before they settled on Palestine, Herzl and his friends were offered a number of places by the British. One of them was Uganda. This is from the Virtual Jewish Library:

Theodor Herzl sought support from the great powers for the creation of a Jewish homeland. He turned to Great Britain, and met with Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary and others. The British agreed, in principle, to Jewish settlement in East Africa ‘on conditions which will enable members to observe their national customs.’

At the Sixth Zionist Congress at Basel on August 26, 1903, Herzl proposed the British Uganda Programme as a temporary refuge for Jews in Russia in immediate danger. By a vote of 295-178 it was decided to send an expedition (‘investigatory commission’) to examine the territory proposed.

While Herzl made it clear that this program would not affect the ultimate aim of Zionism, a Jewish entity in the Land of Israel, the proposal aroused a storm at the Congress and nearly led to a split in the Zionist movement. The Jewish Territorialist Organization was formed as a result of the unification of various groups who had supported Herzl’s Uganda proposals during the period 1903-1905.

The Uganda Programme was finally rejected by the Zionist movement at the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905, but Nahum Syrkin and Israel Zangwill called an alternative conference to continue the plan of the Uganda scheme.’

Herzl died in 1904, but imagine if the Zionists had accepted Uganda in 1905, even as a temporary measure. Syrkin and Zangwill might have met a young Ugandan prince by the name of Semei Kakungulu. Kakungulu had been working for the British colonial forces since the late 1800s, helping them secure Ugandan territories in the hope that the British would help him become king of Uganda’s eastern region. We wonder what the Kakungulu and the Zionists and would have made of each other and how different their futures might have been if such an encounter had taken place. Israel was of course founded in Palestine and Kakungulu went on to become founder of the Abayudaya, the African Jews of Uganda.


On the Abayudaya – the African Jews of Uganda

Here’s how the Abayudaya are described on the website thejewsofuganda.org by Enosh K Mainah Ben Abraham in this extract from his text, Who Are the Abayudaya?:

Abayudaya is a word from Luganda (one of the common languages of Uganda). It is in plural, and is the Ugandan equivalent of ‘Jews’ – the singular is ‘Omuyudaya’ i.e. a ‘Jew’. The adherents of Judaism are therefore referred to as ABAYUDAYA in Uganda.

The Abayudaya emerged as the first Jewish community in Uganda around 1917-1920, founded by Semei Kakungulu. He was described as a ‘warrior and governor’. Semei Kakungulu, who ruled Uganda, distinguished himself as a king of ‘Bukedi’. He closely studied and meditated on the Tanach and developed an appetite to adopt an observance that was similar to those of Bnei Yisrael – The Jewish People. Formally Kakungulu was practicing a Malakite faith, a mixture of Judaism and Christianity that nowadays could be referred to as ‘Messianic Judaism’.

However Kakungulu would discard the Christian elements of his faith after coming across a verse in the Tanach stating ‘era Nabanagwangwa ebagata Ne Mukama’ a verse quoted in Isaiah 56: 1-8) which stated that Gentiles who unite and choose to observe the Mitzvah of Hashem would be accounted a blessing. Kakungulu decided to adopt and practice only the Mitzvot (laws) written in the Tanach – the ‘Old Testament’ – Chumash.

Being very ambitious with his new unique faith, Kakungulu, his family and all his followers circumcised all their foreskins and declared to observe the mitzvah of Brit Milah from that day onwards, a practice carried on up to this day. With that astonishing act, the neighbouring communities were very surprised and Kakungulu’s act prompted the neighbouring Christian and Muslim communities to refer to Kakungulu and his community as the ‘Abayudaya abata Yesu’ translated as ‘Jews who murdered Jesus’. This was a phrase aimed at discouraging Kakungulu and his followers but as a result of the gentile’s criticism of the adoption of the mitzvoth, Kakungulu and his followers would proudly adopt the title Abaydaya – the Jews of Uganda.’


On Semei Kakungulu, founder of the Abayudaya


We found some more information on Semei Kakungulu in The Founding of the Abayudaya and the Creation of a Jewish Community in Uganda; A Journey in the Life of Semei Kakungulu and the Exploits of a British Zionism, by (Amir) Ishaq D. Al-Sulaimani for rastawure.com which we found at africaresource .com. Here are a few extracts. We begin with the death of Kakungulu:

On November 4th 1928, Semei Kakungulu died at the age of 59. Immediately after Kakunugulu’s death all of his children were taken away from the Jewish community as they were to be raised in the Anglican Church.

As a man of royal descent who had married the daughters of two Kabakas [nb: Kabaka is the title of the king of Buganda], a military conqueror and a supposed founder of a religious community it would be expected that a man of this stature would leave instructions for the financial, academic and spiritual well being of his surviving offspring. In regards to the latter it would at least be expected that the followers of his faith would secure the spiritual continuity of his children. Kakungulu obviously maintained his loyalty and allegiance to the British governing authorities and that of the Anglican Church. The abrupt removal of his children from the Jewish Community of which he supposedly founded and their immediate initiation into the Anglican Church was obviously done in fulfilment of the plans and wishes of Semei Kakungulu who was being rewarded for a lifetime of dedication and service to both the British Government and the Anglican Church.

The exploits and services of Semei Kakungulu on behalf of the British and the Anglican Church include the conquest of large parts of the territory of the country now known as Uganda for the purpose of promoting and securing British Colonialism in Africa. The spreading of the Anglican Church as a militant and conquering missionary accompanied by the brutal destruction of large Muslim populations who became the victims of Kakungulu’s war for the British flag and the Anglican cross.

In the service of the Anglican Church, Kakungulu’s acts of espionage helped to weaken and ultimately eliminate the threat of the Pan-African Malakite Church whose membership at one point climaxed to a staggering 100,000 followers. As a servant and potential savior of British foreign policy which sought to divert Zionist aspirations for establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, Kakungulu pioneered the foundation for the establishment of an anticipated Jewish state in Uganda.


After the death of Kakungulu the British continued to hold on to hopes of diverting Zionist efforts for establishing a Jewish state in Palestine to that of the Uganda plan. As late as the 1940’s Winston Churchill promoted the idea. Although the Balfour declaration outlined a plan for establishing a Jewish state in Palestine, the British continued to limit Jewish immigration to that country. British resistance to Palestinian Zionism remained strong right up until 1948, the year of Israeli independence. In fact the British only stopped resisting when the Jewish Militias began to seriously target them in what the British perceived as a campaign of terrorism which ultimately resulted in the British departure from Palestine.

In 1944 Samson Mugombe became the leader of the Abayudaya, Al-Sulaimani writes that Mugombe inherited a Jewish community which for the first time existed without British interests and manipulations. They soon developed into a legitimately independent sect whose fate like all others would be naturally impacted by their own actions and that of their environment.


The Abayudaya in the 21st century

The Abayuda’s current leader is Gershom Simozu, one of the featured vocalists on Deuteronomy Chapter 32:39-43.

Unlike their fellow African Jews, the Falashas of Ethiopia, the Abayudays are not recognised by Israel. Not that the Abayudaya have any wish to migrate to Israel. In a February 2004 interview with the Jewish Journal Simozu said ‘My dream is to make Africa Jewish, and it is a very big dream. I want to unite the communities. There are many African societies that believe they are part of the lost tribes and I want to reawaken that.’

A month later in an interview with the Observer Simozu made clear his feelings about Israel: ‘Our only concern is we should have Israel’s protection if we get another Amin.’ [Amin had decimated the community in 1972, reducing its number from three thousand to a few hundred.] Sizomu does have a reservation about Israel. ‘If the Arab world declared war on Israel, we would fight and die to protect it. But we are not interested in this petty conflict with the Palestinians.’

The Abayudaya received sufficient recognition from former U.S president George W Bush to have been invited in 2007 to the president’s annual meeting with leaders from the international Jewish community which takes place prior to the White House’s Hanukkah Reception. Sizomu was in America while training to become a Conservative Rabbi. He was ordained in 2008 by the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, making him the first sub Saharan African Rabbi. Shortly before his ordination Simozu told the Jewish Journal about his plans for the future: ‘I have the obligation to my community that my father and grandfather had. My purpose of coming here was to acquire knowledge; I have this knowledge now, and I have the obligation to take it back to my community.

In August 2009 Jewish Book Blog correspondent Charles London visited the Abayudaya community, shortly after their region had been devastated by a famine. Here’s an extract from his report, which may go some way to describing the Abayudaya’s ethos:

For several years, the Jews of Uganda faced threats of violence, oppression, and isolation if they lived openly as Jews. In the last 30 years, they had to fight their neighbours and the government to regain their own tiny patch of land, but they have turned that struggle into prosperity— opening a clinic and a variety of community institutions, and turning their former enemies into allies, in an attempt to lift everyone up from poverty and mistrust.

I saw this life-saving spirit last year when I spent time with the Abayudaya, who are mostly subsistence farmers living in the hills outside of Mbale in eastern Uganda. They had started an interfaith, fair-trade, peace-centered coffee growers cooperative, called Mirembe Kawomera, which means ‘Delicious Peace’ and that promotes sustainable farming and interfaith cooperation.

In recent years, they have been having amazing success. While I was there, I heard tales of other communities witnessing the rebirth of the Jewish community — which, like so much in Uganda had been underground during Idi Amin’s rule — and trying to learn more about Judaism and Jewish history. This interest comes from the simple fact that where the Jews of Uganda live, they try to bring prosperity for their neighbours.

I went into a classroom at Hadassah Primary School, a school run by the Jewish community for students of all faiths. When I tried to get a sense of the diversity of the classroom, the students all made a point of telling me, ‘we are all Ugandan.’


On the fate of Moses

And in case you were wondering what happened to Moses after he received his song from God, this is from chapter thirty two, verses forty four to fifty two of The Book of Deuteronomy, by way of the New International Version of the Bible:

44. Moses came with Joshua son of Nun and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people.

45. When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel,

46. he said to them, ‘Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.

47. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.’

48. On that same day the LORD told Moses,

49. ‘Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession.

50. There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.

51. This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you
did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites.

52. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.



Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda. Compiled and annotated by Jeffrey A. Summit. Translations and transcription by Gershom Sizomu,
J.J. Keki, Dennis Bogere, Moses Sebagabo and Jeffrey A. Summit

The Columbia Encyclopaedia, Columbia University Press 2004.

Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching Deuteronomy, by Patrick D miller Westminster John Knox Press 1990

The Book of Deuteronomy, The Bible, King James Version, HarperCollins London 1957

The Uganda Proposal

Who Are the Abayudaya? by Enosh K Mainah Ben Abraham

The Founding of the Abayudaya and the Creation of a Jewish Community in Uganda; A Journey in the Life of Semei Kakungulu and the Exploits of a British Zionism, by (Amir) Ishaq D. Al-Sulaimani, rastalivewire.com May 2008

Out of Africa, Into the Valley, by Gaby Wenig, Jewish Journal, 26 February 2004

Ugandan Jews’ prayers ignored – Israel spurns black tribespeople who converted to Judaism a century ago, by James Astill, The Observer, 7 March 2004

Bush Hosts Jewish Leaders At White House, Life Magazine, 10 December 2007

Ugandan Gershom Sizomu ordained as first black sub-Saharan rabbi, by Brad A. Greenberg, Jewish Journal, 21 May 2008

The Abayudaya Jews of Uganda by Charles London, Jewish Book Council Blog, 12 August 2009

Deuteronomy 32-34 (New International Version)



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