Blacks in the Bible
Ebony , Feb, 1994 by Lisa C. Jones

Although some film, books and art depict most biblical characters as blond and blue-eyed Europeans, a growing body of research indicates that Blacks or people who would be considered as Blacks today were among the major actors in the Bible, which is generally called “the greatest book of all time.”

“Over the years, African-Americans have been introduced to a form of Christianity that was largely recast through the European culture,” says Dr. Cain Hope Felder, a New Testament language and literature professor at the Howard University School of Divinity and the author of several books on the subject. “We are not creating something new. We are going back and recovering what was always there.”

What was always there, Dr. Felder and other religious experts say, is incontrovertible evidence that noted biblical figures, such as the Queen of Sheba, Moses’ Cushite wife Zipporah, Prophet Jeremiah’s right-hand man Ebedmelech, and Sarah’s Egyptian handmaiden Hagar, are among the many royal Black personalities mentioned in the Bible.

Although evidence on the presence of Blacks in the Bible dates back to the 18th century, only in the past 25 years have Black scholars and ministers made major breakthroughs on a subject that has been practically ignored or suppressed by White religious authorities. Modern research, however, is based on the findings of Black historians like William Leo Hansberry and W.E.B. DuBois, who identified major Black biblical characters more than 50 years ago.

Moreover, some scholars say, it has taken them just as much time to convince Black Americans of their findings.

“Black people have been duped into running from the Bible, thinking it was the White man’s book,” says the Rev. Walter A. McCray, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Chicago and author of two volumes titled The Black Presence in the Bible. But in fact, Rev. McCray says, “Many notable biblical personalities were Black.”

Scholars base their characterizations of biblical figures on a few basic hypotheses set forth, in part, by Dr. Charles B. Copher, professor-emeritus of Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta and a leading authority the historical analysis of Blacks in the Bible. These assumptions are that 1) race was not the social and political issue that it is today, 2) most Bible activity took place in areas historically populated by people of color, such as the near Middle East and Northeast Africa; 3) “blackness” can be determined by scriptural references to skin color, Black ancestry and features characteristic of Black peoples.

Based on this criteria alone, “You’d have to say that the vast majority of peoples referred to in the Bible would have to be classified as Black,” Dr. Copher says. Another school of thought holds to the view that only those people belonging to ancient Africa can be identified as Black.

In any case, Black preachers, scholars and historians are determined to establish the presence of Black kings, queens, war leaders and women of the Bible as part of missing links in Black history. “The question isn’t where are the Blacks in the Bible,” Dr. Felder said during a telephone interview, “but where are the Whites?”

“The information has been there for the reader all along,” adds Dr. Renita J. Weems, an Old Testament assistant professor at Vanderbilt University who specializes in biblical hermeneutics. “To the extent that African-American people identify with their African heritage, I think that they can take pride in [the fact] that African people were very much embedded in the founding of the Judeo-Christian traditions.”

Although there are differences of emphasis, Black scholars and an increasing of White biblical scholars agree on the eight most widely accepted Black personalities in the Bible:

* The Queen of Sheba. The queen, who visited King Solomon and marveled at his wisdom, was queen of Ethiopia and Egypt. In scripture, she is called “the queen of the South.” Scriptures: I Kings 10:1; II Chronicles 9:1; St. Matthew 12:42.

* Zipporah. She was Moses’ Cushite wife. It is said that Moses’ siblings, Aaron and Miriam, did not like her. Some say it was because of a family spat. Others claim it’s because Zipporah, daughter of Jethro, was Black. Scripture: Numbers 12:1.

* Ebed-melech. This Ethiopian eunuch saved the life of Jeremiah, the prophet. Scriptures: Jeremiah 38:7-13; 39:16.

* Ethiopian Eunuch. This unnamed eunuch received a spiritual conversion and a better understanding of the Scriptures after speaking with Philip. Scriptures: Acts 8:26-40.

* Hagar. She was Sarah’s Egyptian handmaiden, and she eventually had Abraham’s first son, Ishmael. Scriptures: Gen. 16:1,3; 21:9.

* Pharaoh Tirharkah. He was an Ethiopian king. II Kings 19:9.

* Asenath. She was the Egyptian wife of Joseph, given to him by the Pharaoh. Asenath and Joseph had two sons, Manessah and Ephraim. Scriptures: Gen. 41:45.

* Simon of Cyrene. He helped Jesus carry the cross. Cyrene was an ancient city in Libya, Africa. Scriptures: St. Mark 15:21.

In determining the race of biblical characters, religious scholars consider legends, languages, Bible translations and other historical manuscripts. But there is some disagreement.

Although few, if any, believe in the “curse of Ham,” which was used as a justification for slavery, some experts, like Dr. McCray of Chicago, maintain that Blacks are indeed descendants of Ham, the youngest of Noah’s three sons. Ham — translated from Hebrew to mean “hot, heated or Black” — was called the father of Canaan in the Bible.

Canaan, along with Cush (or ancient Ethiopia), Mizraim (early Egypt) and Phut are considered to be Ham’s direct offspring.

If this is true, according to Dr. Copher, Dr. Felder and other scholars, at least one book of the Bible was written by a Black man, namely Zephaniah. Called the “son of Cushi,” Zephaniah was counted among the minor prophets of the Bible.

In addition to agreeing that Zephaniah was Black, some read King Solomon’s lyrical prose in The Songs of Solomon and conclude that he, too, was a Black man and that this song-like book was devoted to his relationship with the Queen of Sheba. In the book’s first chapter Solomon’s female companion proclaims, “I am black, black, but comely… look not upon me because I am black, because the sun has looked down upon me.”

If Solomon, King David’s son, was Black, some scholars reason that Jesus Christ himself — according to the genealogy outlined in the first chapter of St. Matthew — was Black. Other observers, not as convinced by this logic, just conclude that he was not White.

“Jesus was definitely a person of color. He was not Anglo or White, but that doesn’t mean that he was Black either,” adds Dr. Weems, who sees the benefit of dialogue on Blacks in the Bible as long as it does not lead to ethnic chauvinism.

And what about the Three Wise Men who carried gifts to Jesus? In fact, the Bible makes no reference to the number of wise men who greeted Jesus and his parents that day. It only states that the wise men were from the east — east of Bethlehem, that is. And many scholars believe that these “wise men,” magicians or the Magi as they are best known, were all from Egypt.

These arguments have whetted the interests of a growing number of Blacks and have prompted the production of several books, and even Bibles, that address the subject.

Black churches are also recognizing the power of physical religious images. Some assemblies, like the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, are discussing the idea of replacing their stained-glass windows and wall paintings, which depict biblical character’s as Whites, with multicultural images. Other churches, like Saint Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago and Moore’s Chapel A.M.E. Church in St. Petersburg, Fla., have already executed such plans. “It’s the height of paradox for Black people to experience as much racism that we do during the week and then to go to our most holy place and see all of these White images of the so-called holy families,” Dr. Felder adds. “We want to see more multicultural images and more Black images that are more correct.”

Although there is evidence that Blacks were major contributors in ancient, biblical times, religious scholars say the major point is that the Bible depicted a multicultural world. “Whites are in the Bible as Greeks and Romans. Asia is mentioned and so is Hispana,” says Howard University’s Dr. Felder. “I think it’s this rich mosaic of diverse people in the Bible that makes it very compelling.”

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  1. jude,UK Says:

    the european names are very clear in the bible.but our african names are CERTAINLY not there.
    it is a racist book.i believe in my ancestors

  2. jude,UK Says:

    the fact that jesus was born in jerusalem,which is today located in the middle east,which in turn is a white country,shows that the bible if for the whites like the koran is for the arabs and buddha is for the chinese and japanese etc.

  3. B Livingston Says:

    Revelation 1:15His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace…confirms the color of Jesus and this does not describe a white man.
    Daniel 10:6 His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult. Revelation 2:18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:
    These descriptions helps us to understand that Jesus was not white. In addition if Man was formed from dirt….which is brown that also gives an idea of the color of the first man…these are simple bible truths that are there for us to see and understand. peace and blessings to one and all may God continue to provide knowledge and understand to the seekers of truth.

  4. truth Says:

    the middle east was apart of africa until pigskins invaded…an called it middle east…doesnt even make since..what fuck is the middle east?

  5. Mr Eddie Martin Says:

    Thank you for the Revelation & truth of roles blacks played in the Bible, I have always been curious about biblical black history. Now I fully understand & appreciate the clarity. May God continue to bless all of you, I shall read the fore-mentioned chapters & verses. Please continue to feed my spiritual appetite, & increase my knowledge.

    Thank you again
    Mr. Eddie Martin

  6. Omolara Williams Says:

    Which sources indicate that Abyssinian was thinking of making their windows more multicultural?

  7. Papi... Says:

    Well black or white asian or what what… Jesus is Lord of all… If u claim to be human thn Jesus is ur God. Period.

  8. Rosemary Says:

    It does not matter what colour Jesus is what matters is that He died for our sins

  9. Mike LVNV Says:

    Jesus is red, ruddy and able to show blood in the face. Christ is the 2nd Adam and the word, Adam, means to show blood in the face. Which race does that?

  10. abena griff Says:

    The color of jesus mattered enough to depict him as white. So it does matter. what is the reasoning for making him white if it does not matter?

  11. Joan Bennett Says:

    You can’t take 2 billion years of AFRICAN CULTURE and “exchange” it for 1,500 years of ISLAM, OR 2,000 years of CHRISTIANITY. Who in there right mind would give $2 billion dollars for $2 thousand dollars?? It doesn’t make sense!! DR. Umar Abdullah-Johnson

  12. Leon Tafadzwa Says:

    Cannan was cursed not Cush(d black man).The scriptures say The land of cush (of Africa)is surrounded by 4 rivers and there is gold,so blessed is MAMA LAND AFRICA with godly riches.

  13. Tafadzwa Nyatoro Says:

    Jehovah loved Africans, and if you take a close look at Moses'(God’s friend)mariage to a black woman pleased God.Remember God himself responded quickly to Hagar, and asked her whatz troubling you?,when he heard her crying to the lord.(Hagar waz a black woman)
    Its satan who causes racial conflicts, withdrawing love from hearts of mankind.Japhet and Shem loved Ham.look at I black man and see God’s image.

  14. Tafadzwa Nyatoro Says:

    Genesis 10:8 say Nimrod was a might hunter before GOD.Nimrod meanz Aetheopas or The burnt one (sun burnt african).he was the first man to establish kindomz lyk Babylon,Ninevah,Egypt (Africa).
    The first man to be powerful on earth was a black man.
    Open isaih 19:24 and you wil know dat Egypt(africa)wil be the first followed by Assyria and lastly Israel.
    God loved Africa and her,his beloved nation than Israel tho she is God’s inheritence.

  15. Gary Garrett Says:

    Black people need to see this:

  16. Larissa Says:

    Merci pour ce bel article ! Il y a un seul Dieu et Seigneur qui a créé tout les êtres humains, tout les peuples, toutes nations et toutes langues ! Cessez de vous mettre dans des cases : arabes = musulmans, indiens = hindous etc. Cette mentalité dois cesser ! Soyez bénit 🙏🏽

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