Does the Bible include people of color?
In an attempt to nurture “diversity and integration” we have recognized the need to address preconceived notions regarding the Bible. One of the issues that must be addressed is what J. Daniel Hays refers to as “cultural pre-understanding.” We tend to read our cultural norms into the scriptures and, consequently, undermine any attempt to soundly appreciate inspired revelation. This tendency has (intentionally or unwittingly) resulted in an omission of “black Africans” from the scriptures. The following is a brief excerpt from an essay written by Pastor Brandon in which he defends a Black African presence in the Bible. By way of example, he emphasizes the Cushites, a prominent kingdom that was located in the region that is modern day Sudan.
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The Cushites: A Black Nation
“Cush” was located south of Egypt along the Nile River in the region of modern day Sudan. The Cushites were a prominent Black African kingdom and major geopolitical player in the ancient near east. In spite of their prevalence, some Old Testament scholars have downplayed their significance. Much of this disregard may be the result of what J. Daniel Hays refers to as “cultural pre-understanding,” which is the tendency to “project much of our culture into the setting and into our understanding of the characters.” This bias may have led some scholars to, intentionally or unwittingly, categorize the Cushites in a manner that diminishes a Black African presence. William McKissic and Anthony Evans affirm this concern when they say that, historically, Caucasian commentators tended to adopt a definition of “Caucasian” that would include people groups who “otherwise would be thought of as Blacks or people of color.” Essentially, the role of black characters in the Bible is overlooked because westernized scholarship routinely identified them as Caucasian. This resulted in the flawed perception that the biblical story has “no Black African involvement.” This accusation may have merit. For example, in his essay, Cush, found in the revered International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, T. G. Pinches asserts that, “The Cushites were probably migrants from another (more northerly) district, and akin to the Canaanites – like them, dark, but by no means black, and certainly not negroes.” Pinches concedes that the Cushites were “dark” while denying the certainty that they were Black Africans. If this sentiment is typical of mid-twentieth century scholarship, there is little wonder as to why there was a presumed absence of Black Africans in the Bible.
In spite of the “cultural pre-understanding” that was common in previous generations, modern day scholarship has set out to correct the diminished view of the Cushites. Presently, there is little controversy regarding the racial identity of the Cushite kingdom. Rodney Sadler avows, “Cushites were known through Egyptian and Assyrian epigraphy as a dark skinned people with features consistent with modern day notions of ‘negroes.’” In fact, Cushites were routinely identified according to their “phenotypical presentation, ‘burnt face.’” The color of their skin was so distinct as to result in proverbial statements such as, “Can a Cushite change his skin?” (Jer. 13:23) They were also popular subjects of Egyptian art, which clearly depicts them as possessors of typical Negroid features – dark skin, full lips, broad noses, and curly hair. The mounting evidence confirms that the Cushites were a black nation on African soil. Any attempt to identify them as Caucasian must traverse the significant artistic and literary testimony of the Ancient Near East.
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 It is not uncommon for Bible Translators to use the word “Ethiopia” instead of “Cush.” This can be misleading as the Greek’s use of “Αἰθίοψ” referred to every nation south of Egypt. It is not a reference to modern Ethiopia. J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 26, 36.  J. Daniel Hays, “The Cushites: A Black Nation in Ancient History,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (1996): 406.  Ibid., 396.  Hays, From Every People and Nation, 25.  Ibid., 27. William Dwight McKissic and Anthony T. Evans, Beyond Roots II: If Anybody Ask You Who I Am (Wenonah: Renaissance Productions, 1994), 95.  Hays, From Every People and Nation, 27. T. G. Pinches, “Cush,” in The International Bible Encyclopedia, edited by James Orr, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans, 1939), 767-8.  Rodney Steven Sadler, Can A Cushite Change His Skin? (New York: T & T Clark, 2005), 16.  Ibid., 17.  Hays, From Every People and Nation, 38-9.  Ibid., 36-7.  Hays, The Cushites: A Black Nation in Ancient History, 409.