Most people today are not keenly aware of Biblical history for many reasons with many critics claiming it to be merely another white man’s book. However, is that really true? Not at all, the Bible was not written by individuals that modern groupings would classify as ethnically white. Also, there are many persons in the Bible that are African or have a connection to Africa which may not be notable at a quick glance.
One of the most ancient Kingdoms mentioned in the Bible is Cush (Kush Egyptian: 𓎡𓄿𓈙𓈉 kꜣš, Hebrew: כּוּשׁ) which is a synonym for Ethiopia. Yet, thinking of Ethiopia today would be incorrect as Cush actually spread from Upper (South) Egypt with the capital in what is today Khartoum in Sudan and spreading across into the West part of modern Ethiopia.
In the 8th Century BC, the Kushite Kingdom (Ethiopia) invaded and subjugated Egypt in a crushing defeat beginning the 25th Dynasty also known as Nubian Egypt. Pharoah Taharqa, called Tirhakah in the Bible is a notable Nubian Pharaoh who attempted to prevent Assyria from gaining complete control of Judah in 732BC.
“After the Rabʹsha·keh heard that the king of As·syrʹi·a had pulled away from Laʹchish, he returned to him and found him fighting against Libʹnah. Now the king heard it said about King Tir·haʹkah of E·thi·oʹpi·a: “Here he has come out to fight against you.”- 2Kings 19:8-9
Tirhaqa and other Pharaoh’s of the 25th Dynasty’s African heritage is clearly discernible from the archaeological evidence of carvings and statues that depict Kings with Bantu features rather than the types of faces found in other Dynasties which are Middle Eastern or Libyan in appearance.
The Bible also makes mention of Zerah the Ethiopian (Cushite) who invaded Judah with one million soldiers (2 Chronciles 14:9), the largest army the ancient world had ever seen. This Zerah is likely Usermaatre Setepenamun Osorkon II and while the 22nd Dynasty of Egypt to which he belonged was held by the Berber tribe of Meshwesh Libyans it is possible that he was born in the area of Cush hence the appellation.
The term Cushite could also apply to those on the other side of the Red Sea on the Arabian Peninsula, so there is some disagreement if the territory of Cush extended to the far side of the Red Sea or if those with dark complexion were collectively referred to as being Cushite. Zipporah the wife of Moses was from Midian, and is called Cushite.
1 Kings 11:40, 14:25 and 2 Chronicles 12:2–9 speaks of Pharoah Shishak (Shoshenq I) who gave shelter to Jeroboam I of the Northern Kingdom of Israel after being defeated by Solomon of the Judean Kingdom. It appears that Jeroboam was married to the sister of Pharoah Shishak’s wife, which would explain the relationship between the two. Shishak invaded Judah during the fifth year of Rehoboam of Judah.
Another well known African is Ebed Melech who’s name means “Servant of the King” (מֶ֨לֶךְ עֶֽבֶד־) although in this case the actual Semantics for “King” may denote “God”. The Bible refers to Ebed Melech as a Eunuch however this should not be confused with a castrated male. While the Biblical Hebrew word for Eunuch (סָרִ֗יס) can refer to such a person it is more commonly used in the sense of a Court Official. Two other reasons for this rendering are as part of the culture in Judah, the Hebrews did not practice castration of boys or men like the pagan nations around them, a castrated male was not permitted to become a part of Israel. Furthermore, Ebed Melech was a person of considerable status in the Kingdom, being brave enough to ask permission from the King to rescue the prophet Jeremiah from certain death in a watery cistern into which he had been thrown by irate and apostate princes. Ebed Melech took thirty soldier with him to save the prophet and his name is recorded favourably in the scriptures, he did not perish in the coming Babylonian invasion.
The scripture reads;
“Go and tell Eʹbed-melʹech the E·thi·oʹpi·an (Lit: of Kush -הַכּוּשִׁ֜י), ‘This is what Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, says: “Here I am fulfilling my words on this city for calamity and not for good, and in that day you will see it happen.”’
“‘But I will rescue you in that day,’ declares Jehovah, ‘and you will not be handed over to the men you fear.’
“‘For I will surely provide you with escape, and you will not fall by the sword. You will have your life as a spoil, because you trusted in me,’ declares Jehovah.”- Jeremiah 39:16-18
Africans who were Jewish proselytes (converts to Judaism) seem to have been fairly common sight in ancient Israel even as Jewish Ethiopians are seen in Israel today.
"Then Joʹab said to a Cushʹite: “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” At that the Cushʹite bowed to Joʹab and ran off." – 2 Samuel 18:21
The modern name of Ethiopia comes from the Greek name Ai-thi’o’pia meaning “Region of Burn Faces”. The strong connection between Jewish converts in Ethiopia to Israel is seen from the account in Acts 8:27-31;
“With that he got up and went, and look! an E·thi·oʹpi·an eunuch, a man who had authority under Can·daʹce, queen of the E·thi·oʹpi·ans, and who was in charge of all her treasure. He had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and was sitting in his chariot, reading aloud the prophet Isaiah. So the spirit said to Philip: “Go over and approach this chariot.” Philip ran alongside and heard him reading aloud Isaiah the prophet, and he said: “Do you actually know what you are reading?” He said: “Really, how could I ever do so unless someone guided me?” So he urged Philip to get on and sit down with him.”
In this case once again the tern Eunuch does not refer to a castrated man but to a Court Official. This devout man likely had to travel more than 2500 kilometres in one direction in order to worship in Jerusalem. It is interesting to note that he was reading Greek because Ethiopia had been Hellenized under Ptoley II (308-246 B.C) This Court Official was the servant of an Ethiopian Candace or Queen (Kandake, kadake or kentake (Meroitic: 𐦲𐦷𐦲𐦡 kdke, 𐦲𐦴𐦲𐦡 ktke), the Candace referred to in Acts of Apostles is likely Queen Amanitaraqide.
Yes, there are many Africans mentioned in Biblical history, with just a little research one gains a deeper understanding of African history as recorded in scripture.
Alaric Naudé is a professor specialising in education, linguistics and social science. He is widely recognised as having a great face for radio.