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The Finger of God

Enoch Mgijima, the Israelites, and the Bulhoek Massacre in South Africa
Robert R. Edgar

BUY Cloth · 264 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813941028 · $45.00 · May 2018
BUY Ebook · 264 pp. · ISBN 9780813941035 · $45.00 · May 2018

On the morning of May 24, 1921, a force of eight hundred white policemen and soldiers confronted an African prophet, Enoch Mgijima, and some three thousand of his followers. Called the Israelites, they refused to leave their holy village of Ntabelanga, where they had been gathering since early 1919 to await the end of the world. While the Israelites maintained they were there to pray and worship in peace, the white authorities viewed them as illegally squatting on land that was not theirs. After many months of fruitless negotiations, the South African government sent an armed force to Bulhoek, a village in the Eastern Cape, to expel them. In the event that has come to be known as the Bulhoek massacre, police armed with rifles, machine guns, and cannons killed nearly two hundred Israelites wielding knobkerries, swords, and spears.

In The Finger of God, Robert Edgar reveals how and why the Bulhoek massacre occurred. Edgar asks: Why did Mgijima prophesize that the end of the world was imminent, and why did he summon his followers to Ntabelanga? Why did the South African government regard the Israelite encampment as a threat? Examining this clash between a government and a millenial movement, Edgar considers the Bulhoek massacre both as a signal event in South African history and as an example of similar conflicts worldwide.


The Bulhoek massacre was in its own time a matter of international comment, and did much to draw the attention of the world community to the problem of racial oppression in South Africa. Yet no attempt has been made since 1977 to address the topic at the academic level. The Finger of God will be the cause of widespread rejoicing. Edgar’s writing is one of his greatest strengths as a historian. The narrative is gripping and carries the reader along with it.

Jeff Peires, University of Fort Hare

This is a remarkable book.  Robert Edgar began researching this work on the Israelite Movement when he was a graduate student and has devoted much of his professional life to examining its origins, the actual movement, and its on-going influence in post-apartheid South Africa.  There are few historians who have a stronger knowledge of the history of the Eastern Cape.  He has exhaustively examined local and national archives, conducted oral histories at a time when that was extremely difficult under apartheid rule, and placed his rich evidence into a convincing narrative.   He begins with a history of the Mfengu in the Eastern Cape, traces the history of prophetic movements in this region, and then focuses on the teaching and prophetic career of Enoch Mgjijima.  He examines the debates about how to respond to his apocalypic movement of the Israelites, who gathered to await the apocalypse at Bullhoek, the trials of participants, and the divergent ways in which African and Europeans look back on their tragic, shared history.  Robert Edgar's book will be the definitive work on the Israelite Movement and the massacred at Bullhoek.

Robert M. Baum, Dartmouth College, is the author of WEST AFRICA'S WOMEN OF GOD and the executive editor the Journal of Religion in Africa

About the Author: 

Robert R. Edgar, Professor of African Studies at Howard University and Stellenbosch University, South Africa, is the coauthor of African Apocalypse: The Story of Nontetha Nkwenkwe, a Twentieth-Century South African Prophet, among other books.

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