The Cushites: A Black Nation in Ancient History -- By: J. Daniel Hays

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 153:611 (Jul 1996)
Article: The Cushites: A Black Nation in Ancient History
Author: J. Daniel Hays

The Cushites: A Black Nation in Ancient History

J. Daniel Hays

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

Research on the subject of blacks in the Bible has been sparse.1 Scholarly silence on the subject is surprising in light of the fact that the Cushites, who were obviously black, are mentioned fifty-four times in the Scriptures. Furthermore, a tremendous wealth of historical information dealing with the nation and people of Cush is also available. This two-part series summarizes the historical background of the Cushites and explores the role of the Cushites in the Bible.


One of the confusing aspects of studying the Cushites is that scholars use several terms in referring to the civilization that stretched along the banks of the Nile, south of Egypt, upstream of the Nile’s cataracts, in what is now the country of Sudan. Scholars refer to this area as Nubia, Wawat, Cush, Meroe, and Ethiopia. Each of these terms refers to the same general land area sometime in the past. Apparently the Egyptians originally called this area as Ta-sety, “Land of the Bow,” a reference either to the great bend in the Nile that defined the area or to the famed Cushite skill with the weapon.2 Within this domain were two “regions” or

perhaps two “tribes” or groups. The northernmost area (between the first and fourth cataracts) was called Wawat and the southernmost area (above the fourth cataract) was called Cush.3 During the Eighteenth Dynasty in Egypt, these terms represented two distinct provinces,4 but the terms soon became interchangeable. The southern area became more powerful and dominant, and thus the name Cush became the common word used in Egyptian texts for the entire region.5

In 538 B.C. the Cushites moved their capital upstream to a city called Meroe. Some sources therefore refer to the Cush of this period as the Meroitic Empire or simply Meroe.

The Greeks indiscriminately called every black people group south of Egypt “Ethiopian” (the burnt faces). Most of the Greeks’ encounters with black people were with the Cushites, because of their connection with Egypt. So “Ethiopian” in most of the references in Greek literature refers to people along the Nile, above the fourth cataract, whom this article refers to as Cushites. This differs from modern Ethiopia, however, which lies wel...

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