The Cushites: A Black Nation in the Bible -- By: J. Daniel Hays

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 153:612 (Oct 1996)
Article: The Cushites: A Black Nation in the Bible
Author: J. Daniel Hays


The Cushites: A Black Nation in the Bible

J. Daniel Hays

[J. Daniel Hays is Assistant Professor of Religion, Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas.]

As a major power in the ancient world, the Cushites had commercial and political dealings with many nations. Therefore it is no surprise to find them mentioned frequently in the Bible. Indeed, the Old Testament has fifty-four references to Cush or to Cushites. These references occur in Genesis, Numbers, 2 Samuel, 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Esther, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, Nahum, and Zephaniah. The New Testament also refers to the Cushite civilization at Meroe when it uses the term “Ethiopian” of the eunuch whom Philip encountered in Acts 8.

Genesis 2:10-14 and 10:6-12

Genesis 2:10–14, a puzzling passage in Genesis, states that one river flowed out of Eden and then split into four rivers. One of these rivers, the Gihon, flowed around the whole land of Cush. One of the other rivers was the Euphrates, located in Mesopotamia. How is Cush to be understood here? Some writers have noted that because of the apparent connection between Cush and Mesopotamia in Genesis 10:8, Cush should be identified with the land of the Kassites.1 However, as Westermann notes, the Old Testament uses the word “Cush” consistently to refer to the country south of Egypt along the Nile, and this meaning should be retained here.2 Both positions have problems, but Westermann seems to be on stronger semantic ground.

The passage in Genesis 10 is scarcely less difficult. In 10:6 Cush is said to be a son of Ham and a brother of Egypt, Put, and Canaan. This close association with Egypt fits with the normal usage of the term “Cush” in the Hebrew Bible and in other literature of the ancient world. However, Genesis 10:8–12 also states that Cush was the father of Nimrod, who founded the great Mesopotamian civilizations. Nimrod, however, remains an enigma. Numerous possibilities have been suggested to explain Nimrod’s identity, but no one of them is convincing.3 Connections with the Kassites have been argued, but the relationship remains tenuous.

Of interest in this article is the fact that the Old Testament presents Cush as closely related to the origin of the nations. As...

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