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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

Liberation Theology: Africa and the Bible

Gerald West

Introduction

‘Further developments in African Christianity will test the depth of the impact that the Bible has made upon Africa’, says Kwame Bediako in the final sentence of his ‘Epilogue’ to Ype Schaaf's book On their Way Rejoicing: The History and Role of the Bible in Africa. Bediako's statement points to the significant role the Bible has played in the formation of African Christianity. Unfortunately, however, this formulation perhaps gives the impression that the encounter between the Bible and Africa is in one direction: from the Bible to Africa. The Bible, in this formulation, is the subject and Africa is the object. The Bible as subject, it would seem, is static and has an essential and self-evident message which has had a series of effects upon Africa.

What if we make Africa the subject and the Bible the object? We would then have the following formulation: further developments in African Christianity will test the depth of the impact that Africa has made upon the Bible. This statement points to the role that Africa has played in the interpretation, and construction, of the Bible. Africa is no longer acted upon, but is itself an actor. The Bible is no longer the agent, but is the object of the actions of others (African others).

By placing these two sentences alongside each other we can speak of the encounter between Africa and the Bible as ‘a transaction’. The word ‘transaction’, with its economic and legal connotations, is used here to signify that this process is not innocent. When, for example, the Bible was brought to Africa by the missionaries and colonialists, it was part of a ‘package deal’. However, the missionaries and colonialists did not always have their own way. As Tinyiko Maluleke reminds us, ‘While oppression and imperialism have been real and ruthless, Africans have at a deeper level negotiated and survived the scourge—by relativising it, resisting it, and modifying it with uncanny creativity.’ We could make the same point concerning the Bible. While the Bible has been used for purposes of oppression and imperialism, both because of the ideologies of those who have used it and because of the ideologies intrinsic to it, ordinary Africans have at a deeper level negotiated and transacted with the Bible and partially appropriated the Bible—by relativizing it, resisting it, and modifying it with uncanny creativity.

Liberation Theology: Africa and the Bible

Joseph's Story in Egypt, a linocut by John Muafengejo, portrays the events of Genesis 37. The subject of slavery has a particular resonance in Africa.

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© John Muafangejo Trust.

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