Afrocentric Biblical Interpretation -- By: Edwin M. Yamauchi

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 39:3 (Sep 1996)
Article: Afrocentric Biblical Interpretation
Author: Edwin M. Yamauchi


Afrocentric Biblical Interpretation

Edwin M. Yamauchi*

On October 12, 1994, the New York Times carried an article concerning Warner Sallman, whom it called the “best-known artist of the century” for his painting of the head of Christ, which has been reproduced more than 500 million times. Our earliest descriptions of the appearance of Jesus come from the middle ages. In an alleged report by Lentulus, which dates from the twelfth century, Jesus is described as follows:

He has wavy hair, rather crisp, of the colour of wine, and glittering as it flows down from His shoulders, with a parting in the middle of the head after the manner of the Nazarenes… He has a beard abundant and of the same hazel-colour as His hair, not long, but forked. His eyes are blue and very bright. 1

This is quite obviously an imaginative Eurocentric portrait of Jesus.

Contrast this imagery with the recent portrayal of a black Jesus from a new Afrocentric Bible 2 that represents in photographic illustrations and textual commentary the conviction that all the Biblical figures from Moses to Jesus were black. The image of Christ as black appeared as early as 1700 when a Congolese girl, Beatrice Kimpa Vita, taught that

Christ appeared as a black man in Sao Salvador and that all his apostles were black. He was a Christ who identified himself with the Africans, who threw in his lot with that of the suffering, oppressed blacks as opposed to the white exploiters and oppressors. 3

In a 1963 interview Malcolm X declared: “Christ wasn’t white. Christ was a black man.” 4 The March 1969 issue of Ebony magazine depicted a kinky-haired, broad-nosed black Christ.

These diverse representations raise the issue of Eurocentric versus Afrocentric interpretations of ancient history in general and of the Bible in particular.

* Edwin Yamauchi is professor of history at Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056.

I. Eurocentric Interpretations

One could cite many examples of even recent interpretations of African history, written by white scholars, that are transparently racist and condescending. In Africa and Africans in Antiquity, which I have edited for Michigan State University Press, several of the contributors noted such interpretations. For example, we note the attempts by scholars from Zimbabwe to attribute the great stone structures in that country to either Solomon

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