Sudan's ongoing civil war is more than 20 years old. While there have been continuous efforts to stop the war between the Muslim north and Christian and animist south, the Arab government has launched new attacks against blacks in the country's western Darfur region.
This region of Africa, just south of Egypt, has significant ties to the Bible. From Moses' wife to the Ethiopian eunuch, people from the Sudan interacted with Biblical characters. In Africa and the Bible, Edwin Yamauchi traces the sometimes tenuous links between the African continent and biblical stories. Yamauchi is professor of history at Miami University, Ohio, and consulting editor for Christianity Today
You say Moses' Egyptian wife may not be from Egypt but from the land south, Cush, which is modern Sudan. How did they get confused?
The word Cush is an Egyptian word, which was borrowed into Hebrew to designate the area south of Egypt. Specifically it was an area that was from the second cataract [rocky formations along the Nile]. The Egyptians have another word for what was Lower Nubia, or northern Nubia. But in general it came to mean the area which is the Sudan, the area south of Egypt, especially remarkable for the black complexion of its inhabitants. That ethnic makeup is reflected in the modern name of the country, Sudan, which comes from the Arabic phrase for "the country of the blacks."
There are two wives mentioned in the Bible for Moses. Some scholars wish to combine the two on the basis of a text that seems to use a parallelism between the area of Midian and Cushan. Cushan, however is not the same as Cush—this is in Habakkuk 3:7. I think it's better to keep the two wives separate. And there's every reason to believe that the Cushite wife was a wife from the area south of Egypt. My chapter on Moses' Cushite wife goes to some length to show the attraction between Egypt and the area of Cush to indicate that there were slaves and other servants resident in Egypt. Whichever date you prefer for the Exodus, either the early or the late date, the 15th or the 13th century B.C., there were lots of Cushites in Egypt.
The ancients didn't have color prejudices. They had a culture prejudice and many of the references to the Cushites are pejorative, like miserable Cushites, and cowardly Cushites. But once they had assimilated into Egyptian culture, that is they spoke the Egyptian language and adopted Egyptian customs, they could rise high in rank, even into the royal family.
What was the relationship between King Solomon and Africa?
The contacts with Solomon and Africa as far as the biblical texts are concerned are somewhat tenuous. The only possible site in Africa that Solomon may have traded with is Ophir. But the location of Ophir, which is a definite source of gold, can be placed either in East Africa or Western Arabia. Most of the connections with Solomon were made in the post-biblical period, particularly with the legendary development of the Queen of Sheba story and with the idea of Solomon's mines in Zimbabwe.
The legend of the Queen of Sheba goes far beyond the biblical visit to Solomon, and it even extends to Rastafarianism.
Sheba is the same as Saba, which is the area in southwestern Arabia, Yemen today. That's the source of myrrh and frankincense, and the queen brought the incense on camels on a perilous journey north.
The later tradition developed with the country of Ethiopia. Originally the name Ethiopia in Greek meant "sunburned face," that is anyone who is dark-skinned, particularly those south of Egypt but also even in India. The name of the modern country did not acquire the name Ethiopia until the 20th century. It had been called Abyssinia. But this misleads people, including the Ethiopians themselves to connect references to Ethiopia in the Septuagint and in the New Testament to their country.
In the middle ages, to support a particular dynasty that seemed to have decended from Solomon, the Kebra Negast, the national epic, was created. Ostensibly, it's the first to be a translation into Ge'ez the ancient Ethiopic language.
David Hubbard, the late president of Fuller Seminary, who did a wonderful dissertation on this, which was never published, does not think that the story is correct. But that story said the Queen of Sheba came from Ethiopia, modern Ethiopia, and she then had a son Menelik. Menelik then stole the Ark of the Covenant, which the Ethiopian Christians claim is still in their cathedral in the Church of Mary Zion in Aksum.
As far as Rastafarianism is concerned, one of the titles of Haile Selassie, the 20th century emperor of Ethiopia, was Ras Tafari, the head of the Tafari. Ras is the same as the Hebrew word Rosh meaning head. Black nationalists in Jamaica especially hailed him because this is the one area of Africa that had not been colonized until the Italians invaded in the 1930s.
Haile Selassie fled for much of the time of the Italian occupation. He was in England, and then he returned to Ethiopia with the British who liberated the country from the Italians. He was hailed as a black Christ or even as God come to earth. Although he himself rejected those claims when he came on a visit to Jamaica. Nonetheless, Rastafarians have exalted him. They've become a major religious movement, not only in the Caribbean but also in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
How is the Cushite pharaoh of Egypt, Tirhakah, related to the kingdom of Judah before its fall?
The only place he's mentioned is in II Kings 19:9 and a parallel passage in Isaiah 37:9. You would not know from the Scripture the significance of Tirhakah, but he was the most important pharaoh of the 25th dynasty. We have numerous statues of him with inscriptions both from Egypt and from Assyria that describe his role. He attempted to distract the Assyrian King who invaded Judah in 701, but he was defeated. The interesting thing about Judah—and we get this from Jeremiah and other biblical prophets in Isaiah—is that Judah always looked to Egypt for aid whenever they were attacked by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. But Egypt, in the prophet's words, proved to be a broken reed. It was not a dependable or powerful enough ally to rescue him.
Who was the Ethiopian eunuch, and why was he not from Ethiopia?
He was from Meroe, which is about the sixth cataract [on the Nile] in the Sudan. The New Testament quite clearly indicates that he was an official of Candace. Candace is the title of the queen mother of the kingdom of Meroe, which flourished for about a thousand years [650 B.C. to A.D. 350].
The Eunuch appears in chapter 8 of the Book of Acts. He's gone to Jerusalem, and Philip, one of the deacons, is told by the Holy Spirit to attach himself to his chariot as he goes down by Gaza. He's reading Isaiah 53 in the Septuagint. It was quite an ordeal to travel from Meroe north to Egypt but nonetheless, we have inscriptions that show that there were ambassadors between Alexandria and Meroe. I conjecture that one of the unstated reasons for this official of this queen to visit Jerusalem was that about this time, there may have been the installation of Herod Agrippa the First as the independent king of Judea. He is mentioned briefly in Acts 12 as someone who persecuted the church and killed James.
Is there a continuity of practicing Christianity from early encounters like the Ethiopian eunuch's?
Unfortunately there is no archeological evidence to support patristic references that the Ethiopian eunuch went back to his homeland and started a church there. The evidence for Christianity in the Sudan comes much later, probably through the Coptic Church from about the fourth century and then there's a dramatic conversion in the Byzantine period under Justinian and Theodora where there are three separate kingdoms that are converted, but to two different kinds of Christianity. The difference is that the council of Chalcedon, determined Christology for the western churches, but not for the Monophysite church of Egypt and Ethiopia. The emperor, Justinian, favored what was called in Calcedonia the Melkite version of Christianity, whereas his very forceful empress Theodora favored the Monophysite version of Christianity. She even hid Monophysite monks at the palace at Constantinople. And they sent rival missionaries out to these three kingdoms.
Who was Simon of Cyrene?
Cyrene was a Greek colony [in North Africa]. Of course there were natives in the hinterland, but these would not be blacks, they would be Berbers. That is they spoke the Berber language, similar to the Berbers who are found today in North Africa. There was eventually a strong Jewish community in Cyrene and these are mentioned in the book of Acts and in the Gospels. Most notably Simon of Cyrene was impressed to carry the cross or the horizontal bar of the cross for Jesus.
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