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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.

An Interpretative History of the Bible in Africa

An important aspect of the Bible in Africa, then, is an account of the transactions that constitute the history of the encounters between Africa and the Bible. Historical accounts of the encounters between Judaism and/or Christianity and Africa are rich and detailed in their analysis of most aspects of these transactions, but consistently exclude the Bible. This is the case in the otherwise excellent recent work by Elizabeth Isichei, A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present, where the historical, sociological, geographical, cultural, economic, and religious dimensions of, for example, the emergence of North African Judaism centuries before Christ and then Christianity in the beginning of the first century, the initial interface between Judaism/Christianity and Islam, the impact of Portuguese (Catholic and Protestant) evangelization and exploitation between 1500 and 1800, the nineteenth-century missionaries and colonialists, and the expansion of Christianity through African evangelists in the twentieth century are all described and analysed in detail, but the biblical and hermeneutical are hardly mentioned.

Even Ype Schaaf's book, On their Way Rejoicing: The History and Role of the Bible in Africa, belying its title, provides little analysis of the Bible's interpretative history in Africa. Much is implicit, as with the work of Isichei, but explicit analysis is absent. Though Schaaf deals with the topic of translation of the Bible in great detail, this discussion does not lead into any inventory of its interpretative history.

So while the accounts we have of the encounters between Africa and Judaism and/or Christianity are well documented, the encounters between Africa and the Bible are partial and fragmentary. That the Bible is seldom treated separately from the arrival and reception of Judaism and/or Christianity is not surprising, particularly as it can be argued that the Bible is analytically bound up with being a Jew and/or a Christian. However, without disputing the interconnectedness of the Bible and Judaism and/or Christianity, the nature of the interconnectedness ought to be examined more carefully. We should not assume, for example, that the reception of Christianity and the reception of the Bible always amount to the same thing. Vincent Wimbush's interpretative history of the Bible among African Americans provides compelling reasons for analysing the reception of the Bible as distinct from but related to the reception of Christianity.

Furthermore, if Wimbush is right in asserting that the array of possible modes of interpretation or interpretative strategies forged in the earliest encounters of African Americans with the Bible are foundational in that all other African-American readings are in some sense built upon and judged by them, then such analysis has tremendous hermeneutical significance (relevance in theorizing about methods of interpretation) for our current context. The early African-American encounters with the Bible have functioned, according to Wimbush, ‘as phenomenological, socio-political and cultural foundation’ for subsequent periods. While there are many significant differences between African-American transactions with the Bible and indigenous African transactions with the Bible, there are also many striking similarities which make Wimbush's analysis heuristically valuable.

Writing from the Kenyan context, Nahashon Ndungu would seem to support elements of Wimbush's analysis. He notes that when the Akurinu Church emerged among the Gikuyu in Kenya there was a deliberate rejection of the beliefs and practices of the mission churches and a turn to the Bible, from which they identified their own teachings and practices. A more comprehensive account of such transactions is necessary if we are construct a picture of early African encounters with the Bible and if we are to understand the interpretative resources of ordinary Africans today.

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