A Prophet of the People
Isaiah Shembe and the Making of a South African Church
African History and Culture
Published by: Michigan State University Press
Imprint: Michigan State University Press
Sales Date: 2024-03-01
In 1910 Isaiah Shembe was struggling. He had left his family and quit his job as a sanitation worker to become a Baptist evangelist, but he ended his first mission without much to show. Little did he know that he would soon establish the Nazaretha Church as he began to attract attention from people left behind by industrial capitalism in South Africa. By his death in 1935, Shembe was an internationally known prophet and healer, described by his peers as “better off than all the Black people.” In A Prophet of the People: Isaiah Shembe and the Making of a South African Church, historian Lauren V. Jarvis provides a fascinating and intimate portrait of one of South Africa’s most famous religious figures, and in turn the making of modern South Africa. Following Shembe from his birth in the 1860s across many environments and contexts, Jarvis illuminates the tight links between the spread of Christianity, strategies of evasion, and the capacious forms of community that continue to shape South Africa today.
"A Prophet of the People is a biography, a church history, and much, much more. The man who became Isaiah Shembe traversed a rapidly transforming South Africa; through faith, he created a new way to bind people together in the face of social dissolution and dramatic economic change. Jarvis treats Shembe’s life like scripture. Supported with faultless research and elegant prose, her brilliant exegesis of a person and a community offer profound insights into what it meant to live, work, pray, survive, and thrive in South Africa from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century. A must read." —Daniel Magaziner is director of undergraduate studies in the Department of History at Yale University and a book review editor for Journal of African History