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Old Testament Essays

On-line version ISSN 2312-3621
Print version ISSN 1010-9919

Old testam. essays vol.21 n.2 Pretoria  2008


'A negro, naturally a slave': An aspect of the portrayal of Africans in colonial Old Testament interpretation



Knut Holter

University of Stellenbosch1





The essay analyzes how Old Testament references to black people -the so-called 'Cushites' - are portrayed in colonial Old Testament interpretation. The point of departure is an Edinburgh commentary from 1899 on the Books of Samuel, where a Cushite officer in King David's army (cf. 2 Sam 18) is described as 'a negro (naturally, a slave)'. Based on a discussion of various hermeneutical approaches to the relationship between 'Africa' and the Old Testament, it is argued that the term 'naturally' reflects a late nineteenth century, colonial understanding of Africans.



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Caird, G. B. 1953: The First and Second Books of Samuel, The Interpreter's Bible, vol. 2, 853-1176. New York: Abingdon Press.         [ Links ]

Davies, P. R. 1992: In Search of 'Ancient Israel'. Sheffield: JSOT Press. (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series, 148.         [ Links ])

Driver, S. R. 1897: The Books of Joel and Amos: With Introduction and Notes. Cambridge: The University Press.         [ Links ]

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Harper, W. J. 1905: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. (The International Critical Commentary.         [ Links ])

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_____ 2006a: 'Like living in Old Testament times': The interpretation of assumed affinities between traditional African culture and the Old Testament. Analecta Bruxellenisa 11, 17-27.         [ Links ]

_____ 2006b: Interpreting Solomon in colonial and post-colonial Africa. Old Testament Essays 19, 851-862.         [ Links ]

Lavik, M. H. 2001: The 'African' texts of the Old Testament and their African interpretations, Getui, M., Holter, K. & Zinkuratire, V. (eds), Interpreting the Old Testament in Africa, 43-53. New York: Peter Lang. (Bible and Theology in Africa, 2.         [ Links ])

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Merker, M. [1904] 1910: Die Masai: Ethnographische Monographie eines ostafrikanischen Semitenvolkes. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.

Peters, C. 1895: Das goldene Ophirs Salomos: Eine Studie zur Geschichte der Phönisischen Weltpolitik. München & Leipzig: Verlag von R Oldenbourg.         [ Links ]

Peters, C. 1902: Im Goldland des Altertums: Forschungen zwischen Zambesi und Sabi. München: J F Lehmann's Verlag.         [ Links ]

Sadler, R. S. 2005: Can a Cushite Change His Skin? An Examination of Race, Ethnicity, and Othering in the Hebrew Bible. New York: T. & T. Clark Int. (Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies, 425.         [ Links ])

Saunders, E. W. 1982: Searching the Scriptures: A History of the Society of Biblical Literature, 1880-1980. Chiko: Scholars Press. (Biblical Scholarship in North America, 8.         [ Links ])

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Ward, J. M. 1962: Cushi, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. Vol. 1, 751.         [ Links ]

Williams, J. J. [1930] 1967: Hebrewisms of West Africa: From Nile to Niger with the Jews. New York: Biblo & Tannen.



Knut Holter
Extraordinary Professor in Old Testament, Faculty of Theology
University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. Address: Misjonsveien 34, N-4024 Stavanger, Norway



1 The essay is part of an ongoing research cooperation with the Department of Old and New Testament, University of Stellenbosch, stretching back to the mid-1990s, cf. Holter 1998. Many thanks to my colleagues Hendrik Bosman and Louis Jonker for providing a stimulating research context.

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