MY FAMILY TRADITIONS: The Sons of Joseph and the Diaspora
c 1995 by Melvin J. Laney

(The author is Kulanu's general counsel. The policy of this newsletter encourages readers to share their family traditions, whether or not proven as factual.)

Part of the work of Kulanu is to collect the traditions of people who are outside the mainstream of Jewish thought, and thereby expand and enrich the meaning of he Diaspora. To the many other traditions that Rabbi Avichail and Kulanu have collected -- the Ethiopian Jews, the Shinlung Menashe, the Afghan tribes -- I now add the traditions of the Sons of Joseph.

Rabbi Avichail's book, The Tribes of Israel, refers to the Sons of Joseph on page 43, and includes a source stating that the Yusuf-Sai (Sons of Josef) are among the bravest of the Afriti families in Afghanistan (page 94). But I believe this is the first report of the history of the Sons of Joseph in Ireland, England and America, and of Kulanu's efforts to establish contacts between the Yusuf-Sai in Afghanistan and the Sons of Joseph in America.

As with all traditions of the Diaspora, whether collected by Rabbi Avichail or by others, there is always the question of how much credence to give them. I make no claim that the traditions of the Sons of Joseph are true. What meaning to give these traditions is a matter for conjecture. I claim only that these traditions were passed down by generations of my ancestors, and that I in turn have passed them on to my children. Unfortunately, historical records to validate these claims go back only a few hundred years.

My ancestors claimed to be descendants of the biblical Joseph who was sold into Egypt. They say Jacob took only two of Joseph's sons for the House of Israel, and gave the birthright of Abram to Joseph's other sons, to live separate and apart from the House of Israel, as Joseph had predicted in his dreams.

My ancestors believed that before the Diaspora the Sons of Joseph visited with the Children of Israel. However, there was continual bickering and enmity between the Children of Israel and the Sons of Joseph. The Sons of Joseph made predictions and the Children of Israel rejected them even as they were made.

Eventually the Sons of Joseph predicted that the Northern Kingdom would be sent into exile. Some of the Sons of Joseph went with the Northern Kingdom so that one day these people could be reclaimed. Eventually the Southern Kingdom was also sent into exile.

My ancestors say that the Sons of Joseph operated trade routes with bases in Egypt, along the coast of Africa, across the Mediterranean, around Spain, and up to the British Isles and Ireland. During the Diaspora they claim the Sons of Joseph settled Jews along these coastal trade routes.

As traders from Egypt, the Sons of Joseph were the natural enemies of Rome. The Laney coat of arms honors their fight against Emperor Maximinus in 311 C.E.. in Northern Wales. During this fight Catherine of Alexandria accused the pagan Emperor Maximinus of persecuting the Sons of Joseph because of their religion. The Emperor ordered Catherine broken on torture wheels. The wheels broke, and Catherine was beheaded instead. The Sons of Joseph carried Catherine's body to Mt. Sinai. Later Emperor Justinian I built a tomb for Catherine on Mt. Sinai. When Rome spread the doctrine of Christianity by military force, the Sons of Joseph retreated to their bases in Eire, England and elsewhere, retaliated against Roman shipping, and predicted the eventual fall and rebirth of Rome. It also appears they became Freemasons in their fight for religious freedom.

According to my ancestors, for many generations a branch of the Sons of Joseph transported the King of Spain and his troops to Ire (Ireland). Eventually the King of Spain was defeated and an Irish chieftain married his daughter into the Sons of Joseph to keep the peace beyond the Slaney River in Southern Eire. In Gaelic the Sons of Joseph were called Dubslaines, "the dark-haired ones of Slaney." Their English surname was Laney.

My ancestors say that the Sons of Joseph frequently acted as spiritual advisers. In the Middle Ages they hoped the Protestant Reformation in England would allow monotheism to be openly practiced again. Benjamin Laney (1591-1675), the personal adviser to Kings Charles I and Charles II, was appointed successively as the Bishop of Petersborough, Lincoln, and Ely, and argued strenuously for religious freedom in the Councils. However, the doctrine of the Trinity once again prevailed and religious freedom was again restricted.

As religious dissenters the Sons of Joseph were some of the first to seek freedom in America. Bassingcourne Laney married Katherine Poling, the daughter of Edmund Poling, and provided for her in his will when they sailed for America with the James town Colony in 1607. Other relatives followed. In 1619 Captain Christopher Laney (Lenne) was elected to the House of Burgesses. Despite their best efforts, religious freedom was once again restricted. In 1670 the Laneys helped found Charles Town Colony to reassert their freedom. They also supported Quaker meeting houses as another way to promote freedom. Many Laneys served during the Revolutionary War. Titus Laney received a retroactive pension of $120 in 1836 at the age of 102. He claimed he was too ill to work regularly. (Archives, Columbia, S.C.)

In 1784 the state legislature of North Carolina, in general assembly at Newbern, the state capitol, held a hearing on a criminal matter and called Solomon Laney as a witness. Some members of the legislature objected that Laney was a Jew, that he was constantly transporting other Jews to the state, and that he did business with Jews. While Laney admitted bringing Jews to the Carolinas, he insisted that he was a Son of Joseph and not strictly a Jew himself. He demanded the right to testify. A divided general assembly voted to accept Solomon Laney's testimony, but as evidence of their continuing division the official record states that "Mr. Laney, a Jew, was sworn...." The Laneys always accept this distinction with pride.