Interpreting the Old Testament in Africa, A Review

nature and purpose

This volume is a compilation of twenty-three papers read at the International Symposium on Africa and the Old Testament, in Karen, in October 1999. It is part of the Biblical Studies in African Scholarship series featuring titles of contemporary African Christian theologians.

The purpose of this series generally is to make a sample of such books as the book in review available at reasonable prices to students, faculty, clergy, and laity within Africa. Furthermore, it is hoped that African Christian Theological Scholarship will eventually enter the mainstream of theology curriculum at institutions of higher education in Africa and beyond. The series aims to bridge this gap and facilitate systematic research on contemporary Christian theology as articulated by African scholars. The text editors admit that there is no clear answer to the question “What does the interpretation of the Old Testament mean in Africa today?” However, they are convinced that the text is an attempt to realistically answer the question. They assert that the issue of localization is important to the granting of the Old Testament.

Summary of the contents of one article in each of the major sections of the book

Part I: Mapping the Context of Old Testament Studies in Africa

The Current State of Old Testament Scholarship in Africa: Where We Are at the Turn of the Century, by Knut Hotler

This paper raises some basic questions regarding the state of Old Testament scholarship in Africa at the turn of the last century, and relates secondary stories of Old Testament scholarship in Africa to the main story, the story about who we are, and where we are. It reviews the current state of Old Testament scholarship in Africa from three perspectives (thematic, institutional and exegetical) and discusses two aspects of the interaction between these three areas. The preference for approaches related to the texts of the Old Testament and the African context, and the growing interest in interpretive approaches that are more traditional than the thematic approach, is noted. From an institutional perspective, the paper identifies and discusses some of the problems and challenges of developing an infrastructure that facilitates Old Testament scholarship. The third perspective discusses how Old Testament scholarship in Africa relates to different aspects of its exegetical context. However, since all three refer to the same phenomenon, Old Testament scholarship in Africa, they are closely related. Although African Old Testament scholarship was created, its voice must be heard within the Church in Africa and its interpretation must reflect its dialogue with the experiences and concerns of Africa. The same applies if she wants to be part of the global guild.

Part Two: Finding Africa in the Old Testament

Images of Kush in the Old Testament: Reflections on African Hermeneutics, by David Tuesday Adamu

This paper examines the various functions and meanings of the Old Testament term kush that have been put forward by European scholarship. A brief survey of additional biblical references such as African and Assyrian precedes the discussion of Old Testament references to Kush which fall into three groups: Kush as a personal name, a geographical reference, and a reference to people of African descent. It discusses the interpretive function, the meaning and translation of the term and the implications of translation for churches in Africa. Adamu adamantly adheres to the view that the translation of Kush or the conversion of Africa should refute the racial ideas that some scholars have imposed on the Bible in their interpretation.

Part III: Using Africa to Interpret the Old Testament

What’s a Name?: Africa vs. Old Testament Naming, by Jonathan Gicarra

Gichaara engages in a comparative study of the significance of names or name-giving in the African Meru heritage and in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament and African cultures, the name is closely associated with existence. There is nothing that does not have a name. It is not merely an identifying designation, but an expression of the essential nature of the noun bearer. I have examined the personality traits of the bearer of the name or the donor, as the case may be. Differences have also been identified.

Part Four: Using the Old Testament to Interpret Africa

Genesis 1-2 and Some Elements of Deviation from the Original Meaning of the Creation of Man and Woman, by Anne Nsimio Wasek

This article discusses the position of women in the church and society. He deplores the unfortunate use of the Bible because some African scholars have referred to their traditional, cultural and religious heritage to justify the lower status of women in society. For centuries, male scholars have gone to the Bible and selected those texts that support their male-dominated views of women. The writer believes that Christianity has failed to reflect the message of the restoration of the gospel. It alienated and marginalized African women in the church. No wonder Africa is driving emerging church movements seeking wholeness, healing, and recognition of female leadership. Wasik argues that women should question the patristic interpretation that does not allow them to take leadership roles beyond running the household. She thinks there is a need for a theology that affirms redemption in Jesus Christ that supports our uniqueness as people? Male and female, made in the image and likeness of God. Man-made barriers that restrict human freedom, especially women’s freedom, must be demolished to enable every child of God to realize his/her talents and talents.

Part V: Translating the Old Testament in Africa

Morphological and Grammatical Correspondences between the Hebrew and Bantu Languages, by Victor Zinkurater

This article draws attention to some features of the Hebrew language that have close analogues in the Bantu languages. Several examples are cited of some morphological and grammatical correspondences between the Hebrew and Bantu languages. A final example of comparison is taken from a common feature of Hebrew which is the qatal-wayyiqtol (complete and imperfect) verb sequence used to narrate the past tense.

The writer draws many important indications based on the discovery of these similarities and correspondences. He suspects that the combinations of the Hamitic and Nilo languages ​​would produce a closer and more radical similarity to Hebrew than to the Bantu languages. These correspondences and similarities between the Hebrew and African languages ​​could encourage scholars of the African Old Testament to examine the possibility of using primarily African Bible translations (rather than European translations) in conjunction with the Hebrew (and Greek) Bible. This could be a promising path toward a truly African interpretation of the Bible that would facilitate contextual interpretation of the Bible for Africans.


All in all, these papers give a fairly representative testimony of how the relationship between Africa and the Old Testament was interpreted in universities and theological seminaries in eastern and southern Africa at the turn of the last century. They are an invaluable effort to interpret the Old Testament in an African context. They are important milestones in the long journey towards the maturity of African theological scholarship. By mapping the context of Old Testament studies in Africa, aiming to find Africa in the Old Testament, analyzing different aspects of the Old Testament’s portrayal of Africa and Africans, discussing Africa for Old Testament interpretation, and analyzing different aspects of how Old Testament texts function. Considering the Old Testament relevant to its contemporary African readership and describing the various aspects of Old Testament translation efforts in Africa today, these papers depict the bewildering convergence between African religious heritage and the way of life that the Old Testament assumes and takes for granted.

My criticism of the text is that it does not reflect scholars from all four major regions of Africa. Although my country, Sierra Leone, is not included, one would likely expect meaningful contributions from or about the country that is perhaps one of the largest growing churches in the world (Nigeria). Despite the aforementioned, the writer realistically notes that without Africa and the participation of Africans, neither Judaism nor Christianity would have meaning. This means that the Old Testament cannot be interpreted realistically without Africa’s contribution.

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