Blacks in the Bible


Thursday, February 21, 2019

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As blacks, we do not have to scrape the historical barrel to find prestigious folk whose ethnic stock is unclear or definitely non-black and parade them as one of us.

In the Bible, there are prestigious blacks, but we hardly pay attention to them. The high-ranking Ebedmelech (lit servant of the King) who rescued Jeremiah from a pit is one of us.

He is described repeatedly as an Ethiopian in the King James versions (old and new), but a Cushite in the New International Version (Jeremiah 38:7, 10, 12 and 39:16).

Cushite more accurately reflects the Hebrew text. Cush was in the upper Nile region of Africa, south of Egypt, where the inhabitants were described by Egyptians and others as being black in skin colouration.

Among the band of prophets and teachers in the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1) was one Simeon called Niger, a black man.

The person who declares in the Song of Songs 1:5, “I am black but comely,” is not the presumed hero/author Solomon, but the heroine. How do I know this? Because the word in the Hebrew text for black is the feminine shehorah.

By the way, black Hebrew scholars prefer to translate the text as, “I am black and comely (physically attractive),” not “I am black but comely.” So, the heroine declares two positive attributes of herself black and comely not one, comely despite being black, as if black people are rarely physically attractive.

Solomon, however, is declared as non-black in the said book, if he is in fact the bridegroom in the song cycle. In 5:10 the female heroine says of her lover, “My beloved is white and ruddy…” The Hebrew word for white is unmistakably light-skinned (at best a 'browning' in Jamaican terms or a Caucasian-type) and ruddy in the Hebrew suggests either a red-haired or red-skinned person.

The Ethiopian eunuch spoken of in Acts was indeed a black man, but he was not from what we now call Ethiopia, but from the area of modern Sudan.

There is very little that can be found in ancient history for the land mass that we now call Ethiopia. Mention of Ethiopia or Ethiopians by classical writers such as Homer and Herodotus must not be confused with clear accounts of what we now call Ethiopia. This is so because the term 'Ethiopia' was used to describe almost all of Africa, and even beyond, in ancient times. (See my book Revelations on Ras Tafari, 2014, p 27.)

This is well known and admitted by serious scholars of whatever ethnicity or colour. See Chancellor Williams, The Destruction of Black Civilization, p 105; Black Women in Antiquity, edited by Ivan Van Sertima, p 12; Edward Ullendorff, The Ethiopians, pages 1-12; Pillars in Ethiopian History, the work of William Leo Hansberry edited by Joseph Harris, p 63.

Mention of Ethiopia in the Bible suffers from the same geographical imprecision, and as John Markakis, former lecturer at the Haile Selassie I University in Addis Ababa, has correctly said, “In the Septuagint [Greek] version of the Old Testament, the Hebrew name, Cush, was translated into the Greek [aithiops, sunburnt then in English] 'Ethiopia' giving rise to the claim of Ethiopia's existence in biblical times, the myth of a history that is 3,000 years old.” (Revelations, p 27)

There is no dispute in the ancient records concerning Egypt that blacks ruled Egypt as pharaohs. From the ancient Egyptian records, especially Egyptian art, we know that the peoples living south of Egypt, in Lower and Upper Nubia (roughly modern Sudan) had features that would qualify in modern terms for the description 'Negro' or black; they had, on the whole, dark or black skins, broad noses, thick lips and tightly coiled hair. They were called at times Ethiopians, or Nubians or Kushites.

The Napatan Kingdom of Kush conquered Egypt and ruled it as the 25th Dynasty from c 750 to 663 BC when the Assyrians drove them out of Egypt.

Rev Clinton Chisholm is academic dean at the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology. Send comments to the Observer or

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