Traditional Western Old Testament Scholarship

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It is now necessary to return to the sources and attempt another interpretation of the Cush texts.37 To facilitate this work we have decided to group texts according to their presumed thematic functions. Thus, this chapter will analyze these texts according to the following themes: References to Cush concerning information on proper names (Jr. 36:14; 46: 9; Zph.1:1; Ps.7:1); references to Cush which concern information about places or geographical locations (Gn 2:13; 10:6-8; Ezk 29:10; Est 1:1; 8:9) and, finally, texts which point in the direction of the cultural and / or anthropological functions of Cush (Nm.12:1; Is.18:2; Jr.13:23).
However, the analysis of these Cush texts is undertaken against the backdrop of two basic assumptions already alluded to in this thesis. The first is that the term ‘Cush’ refers to a territory south of ancient Egypt, inhabited by the people referred to as Cushites. The second is that the Cushite presence in Egypt and Syria-Palestine was not only a reality but in fact went back many centuries. However, when exactly this presence started to take root is, historically speaking, very difficult to define. Anderson (1995:57) has argued that traditions regarding Cushites in Egyptian history and material-cultural remains from archaeological excavations must constitute the primary basis for understanding the Cushite presence in Syria-Palestine, and not primarily biblical traditions, which he considers are ‘often polemical or tendentious regarding non-Judeans.’ Citing Säve-Söderbergh (1941:26-27) and Trigger (1976:112-113), Anderson (1995:60) adds that Egyptian literature shows that the Cushites performed a wide variety of tasks, which included positions ranging from ‘[…] slave to mercenary or military conscript to court official to household servants.’
I am of the view that it would of course be presumptuous to think that the Cushites performed the same roles when they finally interacted with the Jews, which is why it is very important to analyze the texts in order to establish what tasks Cushites did in fact carry out. As for Anderson’s view that biblical traditions cannot be used as a primary basis for understanding a Cushite presence in Syria-Palestine, I am inclined to argue the opposite. Personally, I think that biblical traditions can indeed provide us with ample information about Cushite involvement with Syria-Palestine. In addition, information derived from history and archaeology, as Anderson has argued, can serve to corroborate or complement such information.
As would be expected, we are also assuming that the Cushite interactions with the inhabitants of the biblical world such as Egypt, Syria and Palestine must have taken on many forms: religious, cultural, political, economic, military, and so forth.38 Therefore, it is no surprise to find them mentioned frequently in the Bible. Indeed, the Old Testament has 56 references to the term ‘Cush’ and its cognates. Furthermore, it would seem that the mixing of races seems to have been less of a problem in ancient times than it is today (cf. Anderson 1995:69). Nevertheless, in analyzing the Cush texts, it will be incumbent upon us in the following chapters to try to decipher the form which the mention of the individual Cush texts took. Notice that these assumptions preclude the identification of Cush with the Kassites, whose influence is usually assigned to a period during the Late Bronze Age and whose power most likely did not directly permeate the political life of Syro-Palestinian states. Thus, the identification of the Cushites with a group from Mesopotamia is a most unlikely position which cannot be substantiated.39
In this chapter, we shall try to revisit the references to Cush which point to names of individual persons, names of places or the people associated with a particular geographical locale, and finally those references to Cush which have anthropological and / or cultural connotations. The analysis of these texts is carried out in terms of the problem this thesis is to investigate, namely that firstly, they have not been given the priority they deserve especially in traditional western biblical scholarship, and secondly, that where they have been accorded whatever attention, cases of misinterpretation have not been uncommon. The translations offered generally follow the text of the RSV (1952) and any variations are those of the researcher.

Proper names

The first of the texts which seem to point in the direction of Cush as providing the names of individual persons are: Jeremiah 36:14, Jeremiah 46:9, Zephaniah 1:1 and Psalm 7:1. The thread that joins these texts together is the designation ‘Cush’ as an appellation. The question which posits an exegetical challenge here, however, is the need to identify who Cush is and / or the role played by him in these texts. This is the challenge we now take up in the following sub-sections.

Jeremiah 36:14

Masoretic text:
ydwhy-ta $wrb-la ~yrfh-lk wlvyw
tarq rva hlgmh rmal yvwk-!b whymlv-!b
whyrn-!b $wrb xqyw $lw $dyb hnxq ~[h
ynzab hb
~hyla abyw wdyb hlgmh-ta
Then all the officials sent Jehudi son of Nethaniah son of Shelemiah son of Cushi to say to Baruch, “Bring the scroll that you read in the hearing of the people, and come.” So Baruch son of Neriah took the scroll in his hand and came to them.

Preliminary remarks

The mention of Cush in this verse is imbedded in the phrase yvwk-!b. Out of context this phrase may be translated either as ‘son of Cushi’ or ‘son of a Cushite’. In the former case Cushi would denote a proper name whereas in the latter case it would connote a generic or gentilic usage of the phrase; therefore the function of Cush here would point to an ethnic marker. In either case, none of these renderings furnishes a clear identity for Cush or its function.
In order to identify the Cush referred to in this verse it is necessary to narrow down the scope of the verse and situate it in its historical context. Jeremiah 36 pertains to events which take place during the fifth year of the reign of king Jehoiakim of Judah (ca 604 BCE.), and this particular chapter generally marks an important incident in the life of the prophet Jeremiah (Davidson 1985:114). Verse 14 forms part of the so-called ‘Jeremiah’s Scroll’, (Jr 36:1-32). As a literary unit, Jeremiah 36 can be divided into four parts: 1) The recording of Yahweh’s word (Jr 36:1-8); 2) The reading of the scroll or the hearing of Yahweh’s word (Jr 36:9-20); 3) Jehoiakim destroys the scroll or the rejection of Yahweh’s word (Jr 36:21-26) and, 4) The scroll is re-written or the preservation of Yahweh’s word (Jr 36:27-32). Thus, Jeremiah 36:14 belongs to part two which focuses on the reading of the scroll and the hearing of Yahweh’s word, both important aspects in the context of God’s word.

Analytical remarks

The reader is informed that the state officials sent a certain Jehudi to bring Baruch in person and have him read the scroll again in their hearing. This is the second time it has been read, the first occasion having been in the temple during a fast. The officials listed here were, to use modern terms, the cabinet ministers in the court of king Jehoiakim. Apart from Elnathan ben Achbor and Gemariah ben Shaphan, we know nothing further about these men. Jehudi is the raison d’être for the Cush reference. It is, however, unusual to find the ancestry of Jehudi, an otherwise unknown person, given in such detail to the third generation; and Cushi happens to be one of his ancestors. According to Carroll (1986:659), lists of this length are usually reserved for significant characters. Thus, there can be no doubt that Jehudi (and by inference his ancestor Cushi) was a significant character. The apparent courtesy with which the state officials treated Baruch indicated their friendly attitude and the possibility that he too was of noble birth. If this is granted, then it is understandable that it required someone with ‘sufficient’ credentials, in this case Jehudi, to summon him. Jehudi’s credentials proceed most probably from the fact that he himself was of noble ancestry. Consequently Cushi, his great-grandfather, must be presumed to be part of that noble ancestry; or else how would one explain his linkage to Jehudi Hence we should enquire: who was this Cushi to whom Jehudi’s ancestry is linked?
To decipher his identity it would have been helpful to trace the identity of Jehudi himself, but this does not lead us far. Jehudi is a practically unknown figure as he appears only in this chapter (once in v.14; twice in v.21 and once in v.23). In all these instances, he is mentioned in connection with the incident of the scroll. He is sent to summon Baruch (v.14); he is sent by the king to bring the scroll (v.21); and he reads the scroll before the king (v.23). After this no further mention is made of him. Thus, while this connection between Jehudi and the scroll makes him someone important in the king’s court, it is of little use in establishing the identity of Cushi his great-grandfather, who appears in this incident only once in v.14.
Other possibilities may be considered. One is to consider that Cushi is here not in fact a personal name but rather a generic or a gentilic designation. In this sense the phrase would then serve as an ethnic marker to mean that Jehudi simply stemmed from a family of Cushite ancestry and that this fact was apparent to those who knew him.40 It would denote that though his ancestry could be traced to indigenous Judeans with characteristically Yahwistic names, his lineage could ultimately be traced to an unnamed Cushite. This is a real possibility, especially given that we are confronted with events which took place barely half a century from the demise of the twenty-fifth Egyptian dynasty, the ‘Cushite’ dynasty.41 Rice (1979:27-28) suggests that owing ‘to his political ties with the Cushite dynasty in Egypt, a Cushite may well have served in Hezekiah’s administration to help conduct diplomacy with Judah’s southern allies.’ Another possibility is to investigate other appearances of Cushi as a proper name, such as those in Jeremiah 46:9, Zephaniah 1:1 and Psalm 7:1. These will constitute the subject of our investigations below.
Nevertheless, it would be interesting to discover if the Cushi referred to in these texts is the same person. Even though some authors have speculated about this possibility,42 the chronological separation of the narratives makes it unlikely. It is impossible to believe that someone who had lived in the tenth century (the period of David’s reign) could be the same person who also lived in the late seventh century (the time of Jehoiakim’s reign), a time difference of about three centuries! Thus, even from the chronological point of view, our investigation into the function and the identity of Cush in v.14 does not lead us very far. The most we can say is that whether the designation ‘Cushi’ in v.14 is an individual name or a generic designation, there can be no doubt that the prophet attached importance to that name. This is so for two reasons. First, if this had not been the case, there would be no reason why Cushi would have been mentioned in the first place in the genealogy of an otherwise important personage such as Jehudi. Second, it can also be postulated that if Cush had borne any negative connotations, the term would have been deleted altogether from the ancestry of Jehudi.
Thus, in Jeremiah 36:14 we have not only an instance whereby a Cushite presence in Israel is affirmed, but also a situation where that presence was viewed positively. This is the conclusion arrived at also (among others), and expressed more or less in similar words by Rice (1996:407), Adamo (1998:112), and Sadler (2001:220-221). Of these three authors however, the remark by Adamo probably deserves most comment for he writes: ‘[…] Yehudi is not only of African ancestry, he was probably one of the highest and most educated royal state officials’ (cf. 1998:112). But how can this be known for certain? My view is that there is no way we can know whether this was the case with Yehudi because the text does not tell us so in a manner which excludes any doubt. To say the things Adamo attributes to Jehudi would probably be to read a little too much into the text, rather than out of it.
Another reference to Cush as an individual person is found in the first verse of the book of the prophet Zephaniah.

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Zephaniah 1:1

Masoretic text:
yvwk-!b hynpc-la hyh rva hwhy-rbd hdwhy $lm !ma-!b whyvay ymyb hyqzx-!b hyrma-!b hyldg-!b
The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi son of Gedaliah son of Amariah son of Hezekiah, in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah.

Preliminary remarks

Zephaniah 1:1 has received some attention in recent literature. The reason is largely twofold: first, the possibility that Zephaniah, one of the Hebrew prophets, was actually of African ancestry, and second, because his pedigree, carried back to the fourth generation and stopping with the name Hezekiah (one of the reformer kings of Israel), suggests that he was a descendant of the king thus called;43 and so was of royal blood and personally acquainted with court circles. That he was also familiar with Jerusalem is indicated by his mention of localities there, which are hinted at in Zephaniah 1:10,11, and also by the use of the expression ‘this place’ (in reference to Jerusalem) in Zephaniah 1:4. But apart from this rather scanty information, the Hebrew Bible provides little other information about the life of this prophet. Consequently, as Sadler (2001:141) has for example pointed out, Zephaniah ‘[…] has inspired an enormous amount of controversy and numerous theories regarding its interpretation.’
Some chronological indications might be of help in putting his ministry into its historical context. The prophecy of Zephaniah was most probably delivered in the reign of Josiah (ca 637-607 BCE), and probably before the religious reformation mentioned in 2 Kings 23:1-24, which is presumed to have taken place in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign. The indication that this was the case is to be found in the references to the wickedness which still seems to be prevalent (cf. Zph 1:4,5,8,9,12), a ‘natural consequence’ (we might say) of the long reign of the unprincipled previous king, Manasseh (ca 687-642 BCE), having been born probably around 699 BCE. The book, though placed in the canon after both Nahum and Habakkuk, is chronologically prior to them.

Analytical remarks

The author of the biblical text bluntly calls Zephaniah ‘son of Cushi’, who is presented with an extended genealogy. The questions which arise therefrom are: What purpose do these extended genealogies serve, and who was this ‘Cushi’ who was the father of the prophet Zephaniah? Answers to these questions may help unravel the controversy usually associated with this prophet.
As a matter of fact, Zephaniah is the only prophet in the Hebrew bible with such an extended genealogy, naming four of his paternal ancestors. His father Cushi is given the only name in the list which stands out oddly, since all the others are Israelite names. As we have already pointed out in reference to the analysis of Jeremiah 36:14, Carroll (1986) considers that these extended lists of genealogies are usually reserved for significant characters. Another scholar, Wilson (1986:279-280), argues that there would be no other legitimate reason to provide such an extended genealogy except to identify an important ancestor and that in the case of Zephaniah, only king Hezekiah was significant enough for this long list. Thus, the mere presence of Cushi in this extended genealogy is perhaps meant to tell the reader that we are here dealing with an important pedigree.
Other authors have speculated that the long genealogy serves the purposes of legitimization (cf. Fohrer 1978:456). This theory is based on the presupposition that it is rather problematic to have a prophet who is both a descendant of a Cushite and at the same time a Judean. Thus, a long genealogy such as this one would be necessary to mediate the potential ‘damage’ Zephaniah’s father’s name or ethnic origins might cause from the Judean point of view. In this case the genealogy would then serve to prove that the prophet is of good Judean stock (cf. Szeles 1987:62). This seems to be the point of view of Gottwald, according to whom, ‘Zephaniah is given an extended genealogy (1:1), which may either intend to show that he was a great-great grand son of king Hezekiah or that his father Cushi (‘Egyptian / Ethiopian’?) was after all a full Israelite and not a foreigner’ (1985:390).
Other authors have even argued that nothing of Zephaniah’s origin or position can be gleaned from this long introduction. Such is the view, for example, of Ben Zvi (cf. 1991:42-51) and also of Craigie (1985:106). Others such as Kapelrud (1975:43-45) have argued against any royal descent. Still others, such as Larue (1968:237), have posited that Cushi is just a proper name, not an ethnic designation.
Further objections are based on chronological grounds. It is argued that whereas there are four generations from Zephaniah’s ancestor, Hezekiah, there are only three from King Hezekiah through his successors on the throne: Manasseh, Amon and Josiah. But the fact that Zephaniah appears in the fourth generation after Hezekiah, whereas Josiah, with whom he was contemporary, was only in the third, can easily be explained if it is assumed that Amariah was born to Hezekiah many years before Manasseh (who was only twelve when he came to the throne), and that both married and died early. Thus, there is no reason why Zephaniah and Josiah, two contemporaries, cannot both have been descended from King Hezekiah, whose reign is usually placed between 715-687 BCE.
Kapelrud (1975:43-45) is of the opinion that the name Hezekiah was a common name and if the author intended to say that the prophet was related to king Hezekiah, this point would have been made more explicit. But if this were not the case, it would be difficult to understand why the name Hezekiah would have been included in this genealogy. Most probably, therefore, the Hezekiah referred to is indeed one of the famous Israelite kings. In addition, Smith (1984:125), although he concedes that Cush usually refers to the geographical region south of Egypt, nonetheless decides against considering the identification of Zephaniah’s father as a Cushite and instead suggests the possibility of intermarriage.
Furthermore, from the chronological point of view, we are still in the range of the period, well-attested in scripture, when the Cushite presence was not uncommon. This brings us to our investigation into the identity of Cushi. Although from the historical point of view it is possible to understand ‘Cushi’ here as a generic or a gentilic designating a person from Cush, we wish to argue, like Larue (1968:237) and also Copher (1993:40), Adamo (1998:117) and many others including Sadler (2001:157), that all the indications suggest that Cushi was probably the name of an individual and that the person so called was also a Cushite. The fact that it is the only name in the list which does not exhibit a Yahwistic connotation like the rest serves to corroborate this view. The name ‘Zephaniah’ most probably means ‘Yahweh has treasured’.
Thus, the view put forward by Anderson (1995:54) that the identification of this Cushi cannot be known is difficult to maintain. Nor can that of Bentzen (1949:153) who, as a typical exponent of traditional western biblical scholarship, has suggested that he was a temple slave. Bentzen further elaborates that Cushi was a Negro, perhaps from a slave family, although there is nothing in the text to substantiate this. He however does not suggest the same interpretation for other occurrences of ‘Cushi’.
Support for a generic or a gentilic understanding of ‘Cushi’ in Zephaniah 1:1 is further corroborated by an appeal to the following arguments: Buzi (Ezk 1:3; Job 32:2), father of the prophet Ezekiel, designates a man of Buz or a Buzite; Gadi (2 Ki 15:14), refers to a Gadite; while the name Hachmoni refers to a Hachmonite (1 Chr 11:11; 27:32). We could also point out that in our own days, we are aware of cases in which the name of a place can also be (come) the name of a person. We know, for example, that certain people bear the name ‘Africa’. Therefore, similarly, in the case of Zephaniah 1:1, it can be argued that Cush designates a man from Cush or a Cushite. It is consequently most probable that the designation ‘Cushi’ must have been the proper name of Zephaniah’s father and that he was also of African ancestry.
Nevertheless, the African ancestry of the prophet has met with objections from a number of authors.44 Vlaardingerbroek (1999:12) even writes: ‘Nowadays there is occasional reference to Zephaniah’s “African roots” […]. Neither [Zephaniah] 1:1 nor
2:12 offer any support for this. It is not necessary in 1:1 to read yvwk to mean
“Cushite”. Apparently Cushi existed as a proper name just as in our time there are people with the last name Black, Brown, or De Moor.’
However, the use of the name ‘Cushi’ in Syria and Phoenicia is usually cited as the main reason for the objection. One interpreter thinks he can demonstrate that the name of Zephaniah’s father does not imply African ancestry. He accepts all the names of Zephaniah’s genealogy as genuine, but maintains that Cushi was a common name in the time of Zephaniah and has nothing to do with his national origins. To support his argument he cites a certain Cushi from the Assyrian province of Harran who is known to have had a father and a brother with genuine Aramaic names. In another instance a Cushi from Abu Simbel demonstrates the ability to write Phoenician. From this it is therefore concluded that Zephaniah cannot have been of African origin. But as Rice (1979:23) has argued: ‘For this argument to be valid, all Ethiopians [read Cushites] would have to have been confined to their homeland with none ever becoming resident in other lands.’ Moreover, when one takes into consideration the fact that Judah and the Twenty-fifth Cushite Dynasty of Egypt were allies in revolt against Assyria not long before the birth of Zephaniah’s father, then this objection can no longer hold water. Instead the African origins of the prophet are reinforced.

READ  General criticism and justification

1.1 A brief overview and statement of the problem
1.2 Aims and objectives of the study
1.3 Clarification of thesis
1.4 Methodology
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Traditional Western Old Testament Scholarship
2.3 African American Interpretations
2.4 African Scholars’ Interpretations
2.5 Conclusion
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Proper Names
3.3 Places
3.4 Cultural Matters
3.5 Conclusion
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Economic matters
4.3 Political and military matters
4.4 Conclusion
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Isaiah 11:11
5.3 Isaiah 18:7
5.4 Isaiah 43:3
5.5 Amos 9:7
5.6 Zephaniah 3:10
5.7 Psalm 68:32[31
5.8 Psalm 87:4
5.9 Conclusion
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Analytical Outcomes
6.3 Implications for the way forward
6.4 Conclusion

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