By Mathias Victorien Ntep
The debate on “Blacks and the Bible” launched many months back in the U.S.A. is indeed an excellent and rare opportunity for all thinking humans to use their God-given reason so as to sort out once for all the issue of the “Curse of Noah on Canaan” in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. The Bible says in Genesis 9 : 24- 27: “ When Noah awoke from his drunken stupor, and learned what had happened and what Ham, his younger son, had done, he cursed Ham´s descendants: “ A curse upon the Canaanites, […] / May they be the lowest of slaves/ To the descendants of Shem and Japhets […]God bless Shem,/ And may Canaan be his slave./God bless Japhet,/And let him share the prosperity/of Shem,/ And let Canaan be his slave.”
One ought to highlight that the other sons of Ham, namely Cush, Misrayim and Put aren´t targeted in this “Curse of Noah”.
This incident was falsely renamed the “Curse of Ham” and has always been used to justify the Atlantic slave trade, slavery in general, oppression, subjugation, exploitation, colonization, outrages and barbarities meted out against blacks and black nations. By the way, it´s assumed that blacks and folks of color are the offspring of Ham and of his four sons Cush, Misrayim, Put and Canaan.
How are blacks and/or people of color perceived in the Bible?
First of all, as it´s axiomatic and beyond all doubt that Cush, the first son of Ham, was black, we may safely infer by induction that his father Ham was a black and/or a human of color. That is one of the reasons why it´s generally recognized that Ham was the ancestor of all blacks and/or people of color. Besides, there are still remnants of Cushite people, the descendants of Cush, son of Ham, living in East Africa. On this score, the historian Steven Feierrman wrote: “ The hypothesis identifying the earliest cattle keepers with the Cushites, despite the relative absence of Cushites today, is based on the survival of isolated groups of Southern Cushites speakers in Tanzania´s Rift Valley, as remnants of what must once have been a more widespread community.” – Steven Feierman, 1995.
Now then, the Bible reports that God blessed Noah and his sons, i.e., Shem, Ham, and Japhet – Genesis 9: 1. This explains the reason why Noah didn´t dare curse Ham when the latter discovered, saw and broadcast the nakedness of the former. Instead, Noah cursed the innocent Canaan, one of the four sons of Ham, although Canaan was not even involved in the incident. According to spiritual principles, natural laws and the Bible, a curse uttered without any cogent ground or reason is ineffective, inoperative, and null and void.
In another respect, Yours truly refers to the scriptural book of First King and to the biblical book of Second Chronicles. We gather in the two books that Solomon, son of David, asked King Hiram of Tyre, a Canaanite, to assist him with the project of building the Temple for the Lord God Almighty and a palace for himself. King Hiram even sent him “a master craftsman”, the “famous Huramabi!”, “ a brilliant man”, “an engraver […] and an inventor” – 1 King 5 and 2 Chronicles 2.
So we do understand that the curse uttered by Noah remained without any effect whatsoever.
We wish to point out here that even the Lord Jesus, the Lord of lords, the King of kings, found sanctuary in Egypt, the homeland of Misrayim/Misr and Ham, when he was a child – Matthew 2.
Since it has been ascertained that Misrayim, the second son of Ham, was the ancestor of ancient Egyptians and the founder of Egypt; and that the homeland of Cush, the first son of Ham, was located to the South of Misrayim, Egypt or Misr, it would therefore more illuminating, interesting, constructive and productive to focus on Cush, Misrayim and their descendants. Incidentally, Egypt is called “Misr” in Arabic.
Genesis 10:20 informs us that the descendants of Ham “spread abroad in many lands and nations, with many languages. And Genesis 10: 8 reads as follows: “One of the descendants of Cush was Nimrod, who became the first of the kings. He was a mighty hunter, blessed of God, and his name became proverbial.” This passage shows that those who keep peddling that blacks are eternally cursed by God and that the harbinger of that curse is the black skin color, squarely lie.
Admittedly, it´s arguable that Jeremiah 13:25 – “Can the Ethiopian change his skin?” – refers to and alludes to the black skin color of the Ethiopian or the black. As a matter of fact, “Ethiopian” derives from the Greek word “Aithiopes”, which means “burned face” or dark or black; but there´s no racist and slighting innuendo in the aforementioned question. Actually, we learn in the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon or the Canticles that the black skin color is beautiful. Any explanation of a poem in literary analysis can never blank out its literal meaning. The figurative sense cannot be the starting point of any interpretation. In hermeneutics or the art of interpretation, literal meaning and figurative meaning are also parts and parcels of the hermeneutic circle.
Furthermore, the theologian and scholar Keith Augustus Burton expounds in his book “The Blessing of Africa: The Bible and the African Christianity” (2007) that the territory of Cush stretched from East Africa through the Near and Middle East. In this book, he explains that “biblical Africa” or the “land of Ham” is the hub of biblical events. Burton writes: “Cush bears the honor of serving as the cradle for Eden […], Misrayim was a reliable place of refuge for God´s people […], and the enigmatic Canaan is the cursed land of promised blessing […]
Moreover, “Acts of the Apostles” – in the New / Second Testament – mentions at least one black who was officiating as prophet and teacher in the early Christian church at Antioch: “Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch were Barnabas and Symeon ( also called “The Black Man”), Lucius ( from Cyrene), Manaen ( the foster-brother of King Herod), and Paul – The Holy Bible, Living Bible Edition, Pocket Edition, International Bible Society, Tyndale House Publishers, 1995. In one German translation of the New / Second Testament, by Ulrich Wilken, published by Furche – Verlag of Hamburg, Germany, in 1970, this Symeon bears the nickname “< der Neger>” in German, meaning “the negro” in English. However, a number of versions in German, French and English read: “ […] Simon called Niger”.
Keith Augustus Burton rightly notes: “The King James translation stands in stark contrast to some contemporary Bible versions that demonstrate blatant racism in their translations.”
But we know that Latin was the language of the Roman Empire and that North Africa was then part of the Roman Empire. “Niger” is a Latin word that means “black”. “Negro” ( Spanish), “Negro” ( English), “Nègre” ( French) and “Neger” ( German) derive all from Latin “Niger”. This “Simeon” or “Symeon” was in all likelihood pitch-black – an human with a lot of melanin. Also, Lucius ( from Cyrene) in the same verse was from Africa because Cyrene was then a locale and town in present-day Libya; and that region was called “Cyrenaica” ( in Africa). Probably Lucius was a human of color but not pitch-black.
Burton shows in his book that the early inhabitants of North Africa were kindred and related to ancient Egyptians who, according to the prototypical historian Herodotus -- who ranks as the father and founder of historiography -- were “dark-skinned” and had “curly hair” or “woolly hair”.
The theologian and philosopher St Augustine of Hippo was from North Africa. He is regarded in the Western civilization as the “Teacher of the West” – Johannes Hirchberger.
Last, but not least, one should recollect and keep in mind that the arch apostle Paul ( Saul) was member of this early Christian church of Antioch when Symeon the Black Man, appointed by God Almighty, was prophet and teacher there. The Bible declares in the “Acts of the Apostles”: “ ( It was there at Antioch that the believers were first called “Christians”) – Acts of the Apostles 11 : 26.
Eventually, we opine that the Bible itself is not detrimental for blacks; rather, it´s the misconception and distortion of some biblical passages that can be used by malicious minds to spread deleterious innuendos about blacks. The hitch on the parts of many blacks and/or people of color is that they at times lend credence to those trumped up stories without bothering to fastidiously and rigorously verify if what they hear agrees with the Scriptures.© The Entrepreneur Newspaper 2009. All Rights Reserved
Mathias Victorien is a PhD candidate at the Goethe-University of Frankfurt/Main, Germany, and a PhD researcher at Leiden University, the Netherlands. Besides, he read Philosophy and Linguistics of Romanic Languages / Francophone Studies at the Goethe-University of Frankfurt/Main, Germany, as well as General Linguistics and ( the Linguistics of ) African Languages at the University of Yaounde I, Cameroun.