Interpreting the Old Testament in Africa, A Review

This volume is a collection 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 which features titles by contemporary African Christian theologians.
The purpose of the series generally is to make available a sample of such books like the one under review at affordable prices to students, faculty, clergy and laity within Africa. Furthermore, it is hoped that African Christian theological scholarship will eventually enter the mainstream of the theology curriculum in tertiary institutions in Africa and beyond. The series intends to fill this gap and facilitate systematic research on contemporary Christian theology as articulated by African scholars. The editors of the text admit that there is no plain answer to the question “what does it mean to interpret the Old Testament in Africa today?” However, they are convinced that the text is an attempt to realistically answer the question. The question of localization, they affirm, is important for Old Testament scholarship.

Part One: 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 asks some basic questions with regards to the state of the Old Testament scholarship in Africa at the turn of the last century, relating the minor stories of Old Testament scholarship in Africa to the major story, the story about who we are, and where we are. It surveys the current state of Old Testament scholarship in Africa from three perspectives (thematic, institutional and interpretive) and discusses a couple of aspects of interaction between these three areas. Preference for approaches relating the Old Testament texts and the African context and the growing interest for more traditional exegetical approaches are noted from the thematic approach. From an institutional perspective, the paper identifies and discusses some of the problems and challenges facing the development of an infrastructure facilitating an Old Testament scholarship. The third perspective discusses how Old Testament scholarship in Africa relates to different aspects of its interpretive context. However, as all three refer to the same phenomenon, Old Testament scholarship in Africa, they are closely related. Although African Old Testament scholarship has been established, 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 is true if it wants to be part of the global guild.

Part Two: Finding Africa in the Old Testament
The images of Cush in the Old Testament: Reflections on African hermeneutics, by David Tuesday Adamo

This paper examines the various functions and meanings of the Old Testament term Cush that have been put forward by Euro centric scholarship. A brief survey of some extra biblical references like African and Assyrian precedes the discussion on the Old Testament references to Cush which is divided into three groups: Cush as a personal name, a geographical reference and a reference to people of Africa descent. It discusses the exegetical function, meaning and translation of the term and the implications of the translation for the churches in Africa. Adamo holds tenaciously to the view that Cush should be translated or rendered Africa which will disprove racist ideas that some scholars have forced into the Bible in their interpretation.

Part Three: Using Africa to Interpret the Old Testament
What”s in a Name?: Africa Versus Old Testament Nomenclature, by Jonathan Gichaara

Gichaara engages in a comparative study between the significance of names or name giving in the Meru African heritage and in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament and African cultures, the name is inextricably bound up with existence. Nothing exists unless it has a name. It is not a mere label of identification, but an expression of the essential nature of the bearer of the name. It stood for the character qualities of either the bearer of the name or the giver as the case may be. The differences are also outlined.

Part Four: Using the Old Testament to Interpret Africa
Genesis 1-2 and Some Elements of Diversion from the Original Meaning of the Creation of Man and Woman, by Anne Nasimiyu Wasike

This article discusses the place of women in the church and society. It laments the woeful use of the Bible since some African scholars have referred to their traditional, cultural and religious heritage to justify the inferior status of women in society. For centuries, male scholars have gone to the Scriptures and selected those texts that support their male-dominated views on women. The writer believes that Christianity has failed to reflect the restoration message of the Gospel. It has alienated and marginalized African women in the Church. It is no wonder that Africa is leading in emerging church movements which are seeking wholeness, healing and recognition of women”s leadership. Women, Wasike argues, have to question the patristic interpretation which does not allow them in leadership roles beyond household management. She holds that there is need for a theology that affirms restoration in Jesus Christ which supports our uniqueness as persons ? male and female-, made in the image and likeness of God. The man-made barriers that restrict human freedom, especially women”s freedom, have to be torn down to enable each child of God to fulfill his or her God-given gifts and talents.

Part Five: Translating the Old Testament in Africa
Morphological and Syntactical Correspondence Between Hebrew and Bantu Languages, by Victor Zinkuratire

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

The writer draws several important implications based on the discovery of these similarities and correspondences. He suspects that Hamitic and Nilotic groups of languages would yield a still closer and more radical resemblance with Hebrew than the Bantu languages. These correspondences and similarities between Hebrew and African languages could encourage African Old Testament scholars to examine the potential of using mainly African Bible translations (instead of European ones) in conjunction with the Hebrew (and Greek) Bible. This could be a promising route towards a genuine African biblical exegesis that will facilitate a more contextualized interpretation of the Bible for Africans.

Generally, these papers give a fairly representative testimony of how the relationship between Africa and the Old Testament is 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 signposts in the long journey towards the maturation of African theological scholarship. By mapping the context of Old Testament studies in Africa, aiming at finding Africa in the Old Testament, analyzing various aspects of the Old Testament portrayal of Africa and Africans, discussing Africa to interpret the Old Testament, analyzing various aspects of how the texts of the Old Testament are experienced as relevant to their contemporary African readers and describing various aspects of the effort of translating the Old Testament in Africa today, these papers portray the puzzling affinity between the African religious heritage and the way of the life which the Old Testament presupposes and takes for granted.

My criticism of the text is that it did not reflect scholars from all the four main regions in Africa. Although my country, Sierra Leone, is not included, one would probably have expected meaningful contributions from or about the country with probably one of the largest growing church in the world (Nigeria). The above notwithstanding, the writer realistically observes that, without Africa and the participation of Africans, neither Judaism nor Christianity would make sense. This means that the Old Testament cannot be realistically interpreted without Africa”s contribution.

Oliver L.T. Harding, who obtained his GCE O & A Levels from the Sierra Leone Grammar School and the Albert Academy respectively, is currently Senior & Acting Librarian of Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. He is a part time lecturer at the Institute of Library, Information & Communication Studies (INSLICS), Fourah Bay College and the Extension Programme at the Evangelical College of Theology (T.E.C.T) at Hall Street, Brookfields; Vice President of the Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians & Information Scientists (SLAALIS); a member of the American Theological Library Association (ATLA) and an associate of the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP). His certificates, secular and sacred, include: a certificate and diploma from the Freetown Bible Training Centre; an upper second class B.A. Hons. Degree in Modern History (F.B.C.); a post-graduate diploma from the Institute of Library Studies (INSLIBS, F.B.C) a masters degree from the Institute of Library, Information & Communication Studies (INSLICS, F.B.C.) and a masters degree in Biblical Studies from West Africa Theological Seminary, affiliate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he won the prize for academic excellence as the Best Graduating Student in 2005. Oliver, a writer, musician and theologian, is married (to Francess) with two children (Olivia & Francis).
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