… that the Black People mentioned by name in the Bible were invariably prominent individuals?
… that the Black People mentioned by name in the Bible were invariably prominent individuals? Part I.
In a recent History Channel documentary on Pompeii, the expert being interviewed by the commentator pointed out that that the remains of a person who perished in the destruction of Pompeii were those of a black woman. The commentator said something to the effect that he did not know that the Pompeiians had black slaves. The expert quickly corrected him by pointing out that these were not the remains of a slave but of a woman of high position. This is a perfect example of “the inarticulate major premise”, a phrase attributed to U. S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and discussed in Basil Davidson’s The Lost Cities of Africa. The inarticulate major premise here is that blacks have always been a slave race. If blacks show up in ancient times, they necessarily were slaves or at best servile persons of low status. It usually is not articulated but the premise or assumption is always in the background, namely, that blacks were always a slave race.
If we examine the identified Blacks in the Bible, we find just the opposite. Instead of their being of low position, they are invariably individuals of high position, people of influence. The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 is the first place in the Bible where people are identified by race, with the three sons of Noah being the progenitors of three different races, the Black, the Semitic, and the Indo-European. This classification corresponds exactly to the New Kingdom racial classification system of the Ancient Egyptians, found in the Valley of the Kings. Ham is the biblical progenitor of Blacks, Shem the progenitor of the Semitic Peoples, and Japheth the progenitor of the Indo-Europeans. How do we know that Ham has any connection to Black People?
First the word Ham is from the Hebrew Cham which, according to Strong’s Concordance, means “hot (from the tropical habitat)”. The word is the old name for Egypt, Kemit, land of the Black People (not black soil). Therefore, we can trace the genealogy of blacks through the descendants of Ham: Cush (Ethiopia), Mizraim (Egypt), Phut, and Canaan. Up to this very day, Arabs call Egypt Misr, a variation on Mizraim. When the Greeks translated the Old Testament into Greek, they translated Cush as Ethiopia (land of burnt faces). Over time Ethiopia came to refer to the civilization to the south of Egypt, not the Ethiopia of today which previously had been called Abyssinia. Interestingly at the time of the writing of Genesis 10, there were more descendants of Ham than of either Shem or Japheth. Twenty-eight (28) descendants of Ham are identified by name but and only nineteen (19) and eight (14) respectively of Shem and Japheth. Fifteen verses are devoted to Ham’s descendants while only eight (8) and five (5) respectively to Shem and Japheth. So clearly there are many, many Black People in the Bible.
Well educated speakers of English, who have not been blinded by racial prejudice, understand quite clearly who Ham is. On the first page of his novel, Billy Budd, the American writer Herman Melville made the following observation about a sailor who stood out above the rest:
“In Liverpool, … I saw under the shadow of the great ding street-wall of Prince’s Deck … a common sailor so intensely black that he must needs have been a native African of the unadulterated blood of Ham…”
Clearly Melville understood that Ham was the Biblical progenitor of Africans, i.e., Black People.
The first prominent black person after Ham is Nimrod, a son of Cush and a grandson of Ham. The Bible describes him as a mighty one in the earth, a mighty hunter before the Lord, and a builder of cities and kingdoms (Babel, Erech, Accad, Nineveh (the great city), Rehoboth-Ir and Calah). He was the first mighty ruler. Chapter 11 of Genesis tells us that the people of Babel got besides themselves and tried to build a tower to Heaven which caused God to confuse them with many languages and to scatter them. Though verses 1-9 of Chapter 11 do not say that Nimrod led them in the enterprise to build a tower to Heaven, the presumption is that he was the leader.
When King Asa of Judah was feeling safe with walled cities and more than a half million (580,000) soldiers under his command, everything was upset when “There came against Judah Zerah the Ethiopian with a host of a million [that is, too many to be numbered] and 300 chariots …”. (2 Chronicles 14:9. AMP). Asa cried out to God, and “… the Lord smote the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah, and the Ethiopians fled.” (2 Chronicles 14:12). Only divine intervention saved the day for King Asa.
Who were these Ethiopians (Cushites) of old? As far back as 5,000 years (3,000 B.C.), they were renowned for their economic and military prowess. The ancient Greeks were of the opinion that Egypt began as colony of Ethiopians (just like the British colonized America). Isiah 18:2 describes them as a nation,
“Which sends ambassadors by the sea,
Even in vessels of papyrus on the surface of the waters.
Go, swift messengers, to a nation [of people] tall and smooth (clean shaven),
To a people feared far and wide,
A powerful and oppressive nation
Whose land the rivers divide.” (AMP)
Isaiah concludes his prophesy, after saying that Cush would come under divine judgment, by noting that, “At that time a gift of homage will be brought to the Lord of hosts from a people tall and smooth (clean shaven) … To the place [of worship] of the name of the Lord of hosts, to Mount Zion [in Jerusalem].” (v. 7). Some Bible scholars believe that the gift referred to in this verse is the Arc of the Covenant. Furthermore, in the end they would come to the Lord. Cush remained powerful throughout most of the era of Roman dominance, even after Egypt had fallen to the status of a Roman colony.
When the prophet Jeremiah was cast into a dungeon, it was a black man named Ebed-melech, a palace eunuch, an Ethiopian, who went to the king and pleaded for Jeremiah. Though King Zedekiah had approved what Jeremiah’s enemies had done to him, he reversed himself and told Eded-melech to take thirty (30) men and pull Jeremiah out of the dungeon. (Jeremiah: 38: 9-13). Clearly Ebed-melech had influence with the king. The Babylonians were about to burn Jerusalem down. While the siege was in progress, the Lord told Jeremiah:
16 “Go and speak to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold, I am about to bring My words [of judgment] against this city through disaster and not for good; and they will take place before you on that day. 17 But I will [a]protect you [Ebed-melech] on that day,” says the Lord, “and you will not be handed over to the men of whom you are afraid. 18 For I will certainly rescue you; and you will not fall by the sword, but you will have your [own] life as a reward of battle, because you have placed your trust in Me,” says the Lord.’”
Not only did Ebed-Melech find favor with the king, he also found favor with God because of his character and his faith in God. He clearly believed the prophet.
Such was the status of the Black people mentioned in the Bible before the time of Christ, going back more than 3,000 years. My next post will talk about the prominent Black People of the New Testament.