January 4, 2014
The Original African Heritage Study Bible, published by Judson Press, answers questions I’ve had ever since I began to wonder why few people mention that Egypt sits on the continent of Africa or why artistic renderings of Jesus most often show a Jewish man, Who’s as pale-skinned and blonde as I am.
In the beginning, God made us, male and female, in the image of God, but from the moment we left the Garden of Eden, we’ve been attempting to remake God in our image. Therefore, when I first heard of the Black Madonna, I only saw a remaking at work without considering how those oldest renderings of Jesus’ mother Mary might actually be the most accurate portrayal of a young Jewish woman of Afro-Asian descent.
One might expect something written from an African heritage perspective to want us to consider that thought, but the scholarly articles introducing the King James Version (KJV) go far beyond an Africentric view. Through extensive research of Bible places, names, and cultures, the introductory articles clearly show how the beginnings of civilization and beginnings of our ongoing relationship with God had their genesis in Africa, known then as “Akebu-Lan,” which means “Mother of Mankind” or “Garden of Eden.”
From the beginning, that name remained in usage until ancient Romans renamed it “Africa,” but even then, the country was known to encompass the “Middle East,” a term that didn’t exist prior to the 20th century. I did not know this, and so I read with great interest the footnotes to shaded text that alert readers to “passages, places, names, and information relating to the Edenic/African presence.” What I found even more interesting, though, is that peoples of Africa have retained many of the customs and attentiveness to God as first expressed in Bible cultures.
This rich heritages belongs to all of us, so I hope Christians from every background will get a copy of this excellent study edition that Judson Press kindly gave me to review. Although African-Americans who have experienced any form of oppression will especially receive healing from these pages, the matter-of-fact articles also call for reconciliation between people within the One Body of Christ – a theme that’s been important to me as long as I can remember.
In addition to information highlighting peoples of African descent such as St. Augustine or other saints and popes born in Africa, this edition offers unique features I haven’t found in any other study Bible. For example, the front matter includes a typical listing of the books of the Bible but atypically adds the meaning of each book’s name. For instance, “Judges” evokes thoughts of courtroom scenes, but more accurately, the notes define them as “Deliverers who had to exercise the Judgment of God (intelligence of God) to rule the children of Israel and defeat their enemies.” Or, for the book of Galatians, we learn the meaning of the title as “Gallaic, Greece, Land of the Gauls or simplicity of truth.”
After a listing of the books comes a section entitled, “A Key To The Correct Syllabication of the Scripture Proper Names and Their Meanings,” which tells us, for example that “Aaron” means “light,” “Cush” means “black,” “Zebah” means “sacrifice,” and “Zipporah” is the “Egyptian wife of Moses.”
Numerous articles and color photographs help the text to come alive throughout the book, and at the back, colorful maps clearly show where biblical tribes and places can be located. I also enjoyed reading about “African Edenic Women and the Scriptures,” where we're reminded that “Egypt produced queens as well as Pharaohs,” and “The Candaces of Ethiopia were strong successful women who were instrumental in charting the destiny of ancient Christian Africa.” Indeed, “It is because of the Candace that Ethiopia was one of the first countries to become a Christian nation.”
Throughout the African diaspora, Bible verses rekindled faith for countless people, and so “101 Favorite Bible Verses” have been included as well as a section of hymns. Having heard and loved many “spirituals” since childhood, I passed along those faith lyrics, singing them to my sleepy children while my rocking chair kept time and timeless comfort.
As an Anglo-American whose ancestors survived the first terrible winter at Jamestown and eventually worked alongside African-Americans to build our own blessed nation, I want to thank Editor Cain Hope Felder and Judson Press for this long-needed study Bible. May this highly recommended edition bring respect and reconciliation among all Christians and help us to heal and up-build the church Body of Christ in Jesus’ Name.
©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler
The Original African Heritage Study Bible, large print, paperback
December 7, 2013
When Wiley-Blackwell kindly sent me review copies of The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament and The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture, a quick look showed two volumes of encyclopedic scope well-suited for an upper level college text or a desk reference guide for serious biblical scholars. As a lifelong student of the Bible in almost every English translation, I wanted to see how deeply I might delve into historical criticism, literary criticism, rhetorical criticism, form criticism, and other scholarly approaches to biblical texts.
Diving into The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament, I found no shallow waters. Once I’d caught my breath, I saw the diverse methods of interpretation as various ways of approaching a subject as one might do, say, in finding a fresh angle for photographing a familiar object in a new light. Although every approach might not interest me personally, many do. As a poet and writer, for example, I’m intrigued by form criticism for its study of literary patterns (or forms) and identification of the Bible stories, parables, proverbs, or other sayings, passed along by word-of-mouth until being incorporated into a written text.
A chapter on “The Rise of New Testament Archaeology” has special appeal, too, for its discoveries of ancient texts and artifacts that shed light on biblical interpretations and NT times. Indeed, Helena, the mother of emperor Constantine who influenced him towards Christianity, traveled to Jerusalem on a quest to locate the site of the crucifixion, thereby launching archaeological digs similar to what we know today. Over the years, subsequent excavations unearthed a “domestic area overlooking the Temple Mount,” where, “houses are remarkable for their size, beauty, and evidence of wealth.” For example, the chapter mentions, “One of the houses (the ‘Palatial Mansion’) was over 6,000 square feet and had many of the features of the luxurious villas…” of the “architecturally privileged” – people who had social status and power in Jesus’ day. In extreme contrast, other archaeological digs in Jerusalem have produced skeletal evidence of crucifixion, a cruel form of death.
In the chapter, “Literary Criticism,” editor David E. Aune addresses such aspects of literature as the viewpoint or narrator, setting, characters, plot, and rhetoric or “the ways an author uses the features of narrative to persuade readers to enter into and accept the world of the story” – literary qualities important in telling a story well, whether fictitious or true. In the Gospel of Mark, for example, “Mark assumes a cosmic setting (God and angels, Satan and demons, clean and unclean animals, etc.), but this cosmic setting has somehow gone wrong and is in the process of change, providing a context for divine-human conflict to drive the plot.”
Hopefully, this gives you a passing splash of the depth readers plunge into in exploring approaches to biblical criticism, which the editor hastens to explain has no negative connotations but “refers to the use of independent reason in investigating the origins, text, composition, history, content, and claims of books of the Bible and to the ability to make informed decisions about authenticity and inauthenticity, truth and falsehood.”
With The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament highly recommended for its biblical scholarship, The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture seems more reader-friendly but just as thorough as indicated by its ample citations and impressive bibliographies at the end of each chapter. Both books also make excellent reference guides without overlapping. i.e., Instead of presenting approaches that influence our understanding of a biblical text, The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture shows the influence of the Bible on literature, art, music, psychology, and even history and politics.
In 30 chapters, key topics include “Part I. Revealing the Past,” which shows the influence of the Bible from ancient to modern times; “Part II. The Nomadic Test,” which begins with the biblical influence on Judaism and travels through Asia and the Americas; “Part III. The Bible and the Senses,” which delves into ways the Bible has helped to shape literature, film, and other arts; and “Part IV. Reading in Practice,” which touches on political, economic, and even national values, such as our ongoing cry for justice, freedom, and human rights.
©2013, Mary Harwell Sayler
The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament, hardcover
The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture, paperback