Well, before we even get into this topic of ethnicity and African presence in the bible, we have to deal with certain regions in the bible. Once we do that, we then have to look at the climates of those regions. After looking at those two things we must then look at the people in the bible. Lastly we will look at Jesus himself. Why does this matter? It matters because there is still a detachment from Christianity that some African Americans feel because most of the art and movies about biblical characters look more Caucasian than African.
This is not a new topic for me. Starting as a teenager and then moving into my young adult days I became radical thinker. If you’ve read my blogs you may have noticed that not much has changed. As a Christian I was very intrigued by other religious beliefs. In the late ’80s and early ’90s I learned a lot about my own beliefs by having very spirited yet respectful discussions with young men who were a part of the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam is thought by some to be a hate group and by others to be an Islamic sect that strongly emphasizes African American self-esteem. Either way the guys I talked to studied the Bible a lot and challenged me to become a better Bible student. One thing that the guys from the Nation of Islam challenged me on is the topic of Christianity being a “White Man’s” religion. This was something that stuck with me. They would show me pictures of a blonde haired, blue eyed Jesus. They pointed out how Cecil B. Demille avoided having any of the biblical characters in his movies showing any hint of African lineage. If that were not enough, they then pounded me with Elisabeth Taylor playing Cleopatra. This forced me to study. I was shocked to find what I found. I came to learn that they were right about some of the distortions of historical fact. They were correct in pointing out that a lot of the biblical imagery that is portrayed in art and movies was and still is at times very Eurocentric.
In the first chapter of Genesis God created everything in 6 days and then God rested on Saturday. Things get very sticky for some when we get into the 2nd chapter. Most Sunday school lessons and Biblical commentaries omit any discussion that involves verses 10 through 14 of the 2nd chapter. In those verses the writer of Genesis tries to give the readers the location of Eden and it’s surrounding territories. In verses 11 through 13, the writer gives a lot of detail but verse 14 is almost an afterthought. The writer describes the flow of an unnamed river that flows out into four rivers. Where this river is placed is important because it flows out to four critical locations. The main regions were named after the people who first settled those regions according to scripture. The first place mentioned is the land of Havilah. I will get back to Noah and the flood in a moment but if you look up the land of Havilah you will find that it is the name of the land now known as Arabia. Havilah is also the name of one of Noah’s great grandson. The second place mentioned is the land of Cush which the Greeks called Ethiopia. Cush is one of Noah’s grandsons. The land of Cush is on the African continent. The writer went into a lot of detail to talk about what is found in Cush and Havilah. What is interesting is the fact that the Nile flows northward, meaning, from south to north and at one point flowed to all of the regions mentioned by the writer of Genesis. Many scholars and theologians fail to mention or write about the similarities of the Nile and the unnamed river in the 2nd chapter of Genesis. Hmm, I wonder why? In the 14th verse Tigris and Euphrates are mentioned as after thoughts with not much detail. If we look at the way the passage says the river flowed into four heads, in order to flow to Tigris, Euphrates, Ethiopia and Arabia this river would have to flow north and not south. This puts Eden somewhere in the continent of Africa.
With this being the case it is highly unlikely that Adam and Eve would be, by American standards, white or Caucasian. What is also mentioned in Genesis 3:8 are the words “…the cool of the day”(KJV). There is no “cool of the day” without the warm or even hot of the day. Hot and even warm means sun. To my knowledge there were no buildings in Eden, so that meant that Adam and Eve were outside all day. If you are out in the sun all day every day, it is impossible to have a light completion. One of Adam and Eve’s descendants was Noah. I know you have heard about the flood but some taught the falsehood that Noah’s 3 sons represented the three hues of man (Mongoloid, Caucasoid and Negroid). According to false teaching, a White man named Noah had a Black son named Ham, an Asian son named Japheth and a White son named Shem. It’s obvious that if Adam and Eve were dark skinned people from the continent of Africa then their descendants would be dark skinned as well. By American standards, Noah and his family including his 3 sons were all of African descent. In Genesis 10:6 we find that one of Ham’s descendants is Cush. Remember the writer of Genesis called a region Cush that was near Eden. The Greeks named the people of this region Ethiopians which means burnt faced people. The Greeks named where these people lived Ethiopia, because it was the land of the burnt faced people. In other words, these people were dark skinned Negroid or black people. In Genesis 10:7 Cush had a son named Havilah. Havilah, as a reminder, settled in Arabia. Scientists would even be hard pressed to prove that life began in Europe. What some would deem Caucasian people didn’t existed at this point in Genesis if you use Genesis as a historical guide to the beginnings of humanity. Once we get to the 11th chapter, we reach the story of the tower of Babel.
A brief synopsis goes like this; everybody on earth was in one place and decided to build a tower as high as they possibly could. God sees what they are doing and knows that it is possible as long as they were unified. In order to stop this building project God came down and caused everyone to speak different languages. At this point those who spoke Spanish found others who spoke Spanish and migrated to Spain. The same happened with English speaking people and so on and so forth. If you think about it, those who went to colder climates adapted to those climates. Over time, after many descendants, it’s safe to say they probably began to look different from the darker skinned people who remained in the hotter climates. Let’s move to the story of who is believed to be the writer of Genesis, Moses. I’m sure you know or have read about Moses being put in a basket by his Sister to float down a river to a place where Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing in Egypt. Moses was taken in by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the house of Pharaoh as her child. There is no way Moses could have looked like Charlton Heston and flown under the radar in the house of Pharaoh. Moses had to at least resemble the Egyptians to be treated as one of their own. Keep in mind the Egyptians you see today are not the Egyptians Moses saw. In 353 BC, Egypt fell to the Persians. This fall meant that those peoples intermingled. Prior to that Egyptians looked like Ethiopians. All of them were burnt faced people, according to the Greeks. Keep in mind that this was not a derogatory term by the Greeks but merely the best description they had to describe dark skinned people. With that said the Hebrew people including Moses had to look like the Cushites or Ethiopians or as the Greeks described burnt faced people. Hold on to your hat for this one, according to American standards, Abraham and his descendants, including Moses, at the very least, looked like what Americans would describe as Negroid or black. I could go into all of the times Ethiopia and Egypt are mentioned in the Bible but to some that would seem heavy-handed. Keep in mind I am only expounding on what the Bible clearly lays out about the appearance of certain people in scripture. There is so much biblical history about Africa that it would take much longer to go into all of the facts but I will point out something else that is quite interesting. In Matthew 2:13 an angel of God tells Joseph to take his family to Egypt. The angel gave these instruction to Jesus’ earthly father because Herod was about to kill all of the boys 2 years and younger around Bethlehem during that time. We’ve already noted that Egypt was a region of dark-skinned, African people. Would God have His angel to tell Joseph to hide himself, his wife and Jesus in a region where they could be easily spotted? Can you imagine Joseph, Mary and Jesus being white by American standards trying to move about in the midst of a bunch of dark-skinned people, African people? To put it bluntly Herod would have found Jesus and killed him. Going to Egypt was smart because they could blend in. Wait a minute!!! That means, by American standards, Jesus had to be black. How do I come to this conclusion? First, he had to look Egyptian, second, he was a descendant of Abraham and third, he was in a sun drenched region that is still very close to Africa. One last thing, check out Acts 21:37-39. A Roman commander thought Paul was an Egyptian. Even the Apostle Paul looked like what Americans would call a black maan. According to Ephesians 1:7 “He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.” Is this passage saying that the the whole body of Christ is black according to America’s “one-drop rule”? Ok, I have now scared a lot of people so let me say here that in the Bible skin color didn’t matter. Unfortunately in a lot of art and literature skin color mattered too much. Sadly in most American churches Africa is conveniently forgotten about as it relates to biblical history. Christianity is for all people of all colors and nationalities. I just wish that the African presence in scripture was not extracted through ignorance or blatant racism. With that said, the Church should be more like the church was in Antioch. In Acts 13:1 we see that many nationalities were in this church’s congregation.
This blog should help dispel the myth that Christianity is a “White Man’s” religion.