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Review of An African Background to the Old Testament By Isaac Boaheng

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Abstract

This paper presents a critical review of the book titled An African Background to the Old Testament written by Rev. Dr. Isaac Boaheng. The purpose of this review is to assess how this book has achieved its objective of enhancing African readers’ contextual reading of the Old Testament(OT). From my perspective as a graduate student in Practical Theology, I am of the opinion that the book has achieved this purpose. Therefore, this review serves to sustain this assertion. The review starts by presenting the book’s overview commencing from the Foreword and ending with Chapter 7. I then conclude the review with a brief evaluation of the extent to which the book has achieved its stated and implied goal(s) followed by some recommendations.
E-Journal of Religious and Theological Studies (ERATS)
ISSN 2458 - 7338 | Volume 8 Issue 2- February 2022 pp 22-26
Available online at: https://noyam.org/journals/erats/
DOI: https://doi.org/10.38159/erats.2022821
© 2022 The Author(s). Published and Maintained by Noyam Publishers.
This is an open access article under the CCBY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Review of An African Background to the Old Testament
By Isaac Boaheng
BIBLIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION
Author: Isaac Boaheng
ISBN 978–9988–3–2359–2
DOI:10.38159/npub.eb2021901
Published: 23rd September, 2021.
Publication URL - https://noyam.org/eb2021901/
INTRODUCTION
This paper presents a critical review of the book titled An African Background to the Old Testament written
by Rev. Dr. Isaac Boaheng. The purpose of this review is to assess how this book has achieved its objective of
enhancing African readers’ contextual reading of the Old Testament(OT). From my perspective as a graduate
student in Practical Theology, I am of the opinion that the book has achieved this purpose. Therefore, this
review serves to sustain this assertion. The review starts by presenting the book’s overview commencing
from the Foreword and ending with Chapter 7. I then conclude the review with a brief evaluation of the
extent to which the book has achieved its stated and implied goal(s) followed by some recommendations.
OVERVIEW OF ITS CONTENT
Foreword, Preface and Introduction
Written by Dr. Joel Mokhoathi, Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies from the University of Free State, South
Africa the foreword describes this book as a resource that enables African readers to use the OT to interpret
their cultural context and ideas.1 In its preface, Boaheng claries that the book is written to help African
Bible students to access the right background information needed for informed theological reection within
the African setting.2 The preface also claries that the book’s main audience are lay-preachers, academics
and specialists in the area of biblical and religious studies with special reference to OT.3
In its introductory chapter, the book presents its purpose, methodology and content overview. The
author species that he wrote it to “showcase the numerous connections that the African society has with
the biblical word to facilitate a better understanding of God’s word within their own setting.”4 The chapter
also states that as the book’s main readership entails both undergraduate and postgraduate students, it also
includes a set of questions at the end of each chapter for reection and revision.
1 Page vii.
2 Page xi.
3 Page ix.
4 Page xiii.
Correspondence
Vusimuzi Goodman Nkuna
Email: vg.nkuna@gmail.com
Publication History
Received 14th January, 2022
Accepted 24th January, 2022
Published online 2nd February,
2022
Vusimuzi Goodman Nkuna1
1 South African Theological Seminary, Sandton, South Africa.
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Nkuna V.G. /E-Journal of Religious and Theological Studies Vol.8 No.2(2022) pp.22-26
Chapter 1 - Inspiration, Canonization and Transmission
Boaheng acknowledges that he uses this chapter to oer elementary knowledge to the study of OT,5 focusing
on its inspiration, canonization and transmission. With this chapter, he claries the doctrine of inspiration,
canonization principles, divisions of OT, the Apocrypha, Judaism’s Hebrew Bible, the human factor in Bible
authorship and the role of oral tradition. He also shows the connection between Jewish oral tradition and the
African oral tradition. He also enlightens the readers on the various materials that were used in developing
biblical manuscripts and how some of them relate to the traditional African practices, e.g. inscriptions on
rocks. The chapter also discusses biblical languages and points out that the Hebrew language is part of the
Semitic family of languages that are also spoken in parts of North Africa and East Africa.6
Chapter 2 - Geographical Background
This chapter presents the general geographical milieu of the Ancient Near East, inclusive of specic
geographical settings of ancient Israel, and their linkage to that of Africa. Of signicance to the African
readers, the book covers the noticeable presence of ancient Egypt and to some extent Cush in the OT text.
Regarding Egypt, the book covers its ancient religion and how its gods were challenged by the God of Israel
through plagues recorded in the book of Exodus. In addition, the chapter also touches on the demographic
aspects of this geography by highlighting that amongst the inhabitants of the area were Africans who feature
in the OT text, namely Nimrod (Genesis 10), Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 10), Cushan Rishathiam
(Judges 3), and Abishag (1 Kings 1, 2).7
Chapter 3 - Historico-Political Background
The chapter discusses some of the major empires that featured during ancient Israel, viz. the Sumerians,
Akkadian, Assyrian and Persian empires. The book states that Sumerian Empire had inhabited southern
Mesopotamia during the fourth to the second millennia BCE.8 It further discusses that the Sumerians were
polytheistic, had an established political system, and used to make human sacrices for their kings like some
African tribes do.9 One of the most prominent and powerful empires mentioned in the book is the Babylonian
Empire which reigned in Mesopotamia from 1900 to 500 BCE10. The book states that this empire actually
became the world’s superpower after conquering the Assyria capital in 612 BCE.11 Another notable empire
is the Assyrian Empire which this book says was known for its fearsome military prowess and use of deadly
chariots and iron weapons in war.12 Lastly the book states that the Persian Empire rose into power under
the rulership of Cyrus who used religious and cultural tolerance to maintain order.13 Of signicance to the
African reader, the book states that this empire’s territory included Nubia in northeastern Africa.14
Chapter 4 - Social Background
In this chapter, Boaheng presents the relationship between the social background of ancient Israel and that of
the traditional Africans.15 Among other aspects, he describes the nomadic life of ancient Israel from the era of
Abraham and arms that such patterns were prevalent among African nomads. He further examines family
and community life and notes that in ancient Israel family members were united by religious observances and
5 Page 21.
6 Page 15.
7 Page 26.
8 Page 54
9 Page 54–58.
10 Page 59.
11 Page 61.
12 Page 64.
13 Page 65.
14 Page 61.
15 Page 69.
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Nkuna V.G. /E-Journal of Religious and Theological Studies Vol.8 No.2(2022) pp.22-26
economic interdependence.16 He argues that, similar to ancient Israel, “traditional Africans live in nuclear
households, often with their relatives in clusters of houses around a common yard.”17 Likewise, the chapter
also covers aspects of marriage, the communal worldview of wealth and interdependence.
In his comparison of ancient Israel and traditional African societies’ similar traditions, Boaheng is
not ignorant of their unique discrepancies.This is illustrated in his discussion of the practice of circumcision
where he indicates that under Mosaic Law newborn Hebrew males were circumcised during the eighth day
after birth in observance of their covenant with Yahweh, while in the African context the motif is dierent.18
For instance, he notes from literature that among the Xhosa people of Southern Africa, male circumcision is
practiced as a principal rite of initiation,19 as is the case with many other traditional African societies.
Chapter 5 - Economic Background
The chapter draws parallels between the economy of ancient Israel and the traditional African economy.20
The book alludes that in both contexts, land is evidently treated as a means of living and has predominantly
been used for farming.21 The rest of the chapter discusses a number of resources which formed part and parcel
of and/or enablers in the economy of ancient Israel such as water sources, transport system and metrology.
While the book does not provide enough comparative information on these aspects, Boaheng counsels that
knowing them will serve as a hermeneutical key for OT students.22
Chapter 6 - Religious Background
This chapter covers the ancient Jewish religious tradition with specic reference to priesthood and temple
worship which according to Boaheng might or could not have parallels in the African community.23 The
chapter also includes a discussion on religious observances like the Passover as well as the role of the
synagogue. Boaheng concludes the chapter by highlighting the signicance of OT blood sacrices in the
development of the “doctrine of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrice.”24 The book argues that for many Christian
traditions, Jesus Christ’s crucixion has replaced all forms of animal sacrices which were oered to God in
the OT and as practiced in some African Traditional Religions.
Chapter 7 - Intertestamental Background
The chapter oers an exposition of the political, religious and socio-economic contexts of the intertestamental
period.25 Boaheng states that an understanding of this setting is important not only to OT scholarship but also
contextualizes Christianity’s emergence from Judaism. In the political context, he highlights the repressive
conditions which confronted ancient Israel under the imperial rule of Alexander the Great, Ptolemy and
Antiochus III, respectively. The chapter also cites how deliberate attempts by Antiochus, in alliance with
the Syrians failed to exterminate Judaism due to resistance from the Maccabees.26 In addition to discussing
how the Maccabees contributed to the preservation of Judaism, the chapter brings to light the Judaism sects
that were prevalent in Israel during that period. Probably, a point of signicance to the African context
is that Alexander founded the city of Alexandria in Egypt.27 Ferdinand Deist whose work features in this
book latently reveals the importance of this move by Alexander. He states that this city became a hub
16 Page 74.
17 Page 76.
18 Page 85.
19 Page 84.
20 Page 86.
21 Page 87-88.
22 Page 97.
23 Page 99.
24 Page 110.
25 Page 112.
26 Page 122-124.
27 Page 114.
25
Nkuna V.G. /E-Journal of Religious and Theological Studies Vol.8 No.2(2022) pp.22-26
of Hellenistic culture where a university which later became a centre of learning during the Christianity era
was built.28
EVALUATION
The outcome of this review suggests that this book has achieved all its objectives. The evidence of enabling
“African readers’ contextual reading of the Old Testament” was revealed by its instant citation by African
scholars, such as Vusimuzi Nkuna who did so within three months of its publication.29 In the same article,
Nkuna also inadvertently armed the book’s intent to enable “African readers to use the OT to interpret
their cultural context and ideas” by using some of its content in analyzing the state of religious pluralism
in South Africa. This anecdotal evidence suggests that the book would equip many other African Bible
students to access the right background information needed for informed theological reection within the
African setting. The book also clearly achieved its goal to “showcase the numerous connections that African
society has with the biblical word.” These connections relate to historical, cultural, political, geographical
and religious contexts, just to highlight a few.
While Boaheng modestly limits the book’s audience to students and lecturers in the eld of Theology,
its content can also be useful in other disciplines in the humanities. For instance, its content on socio-cultural
aspects are relevant to Anthropology, Sociology and Social Psychology. The geographical background may
be useful to Geography in the areas of climatology and settlement geography. It may also invoke an inquiry
in the eld of Archeology to investigate some of the details about the context of that area. This implies that,
while it was necessary for the author to carefully demarcate its audience, any careful reader from these elds
may nd some of this book’s content very relevant to their respective elds.
The book’s African perspective is as inclusive as possible, regardless of the author’s West African
heritage. While it could not be possible to use every available example of the African context to illustrate
aspects covered in the book, Boaheng has demonstrated a substantial attempt to be as inclusive as possible.
This implies that the book has achieved its African specicity as mentioned in the title and its implied
goal(s). Likewise, its content also concurs with the works of other prominent African scholars in the eld
such as Tuesday Adamo who revealed that Africa and Africans are mentioned more than any other foreign
nations in the OT.30 Lastly, the idea of writing this book with little OT jargon makes its content accessible to
non-specialists as well, a challenge that OT scholars such as Aloo Mojola who wrote on a related topic, notes
could aect the vast majority of the OT readers.31
RECOMMENDATION
The above evaluation explicitly reveals my recommendation of this book to a wider audience than initially
anticipated. Both undergraduate and graduate students will undoubtedly benet from reading this book to get
a holistic perspective of the connection between the African context and that of ancient Israel. It could also
equip ministers of the gospel to use OT text hermeneutically in their sermons. The use of this book for tuition
in homiletics and pastoral care should be considered as some of its content could be used as case studies to
enrich practical lessons in these two areas of theology.
28 Ferdinand E. Deist, From Eden to Rome: The Narrative Literature of the Bible: Story, Composition and Authors Point of
View (Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers, 2004), 132.
29 Vusimuzi G. Nkuna, “Comparative Analysis of the State of Religious Pluralism between Intertestamental Palestine and Post-
Apartheid South Africa,” E-Journal of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences 2, no.12 (2021), 225-226.
30 David T. Adamo, “The Historical Development of the Old Testament Interpretation in Africa,” The Historical Development
OTE 16, no.1 (2003), 23.
31 Aloo O. Mojola, “The Old Testament or Hebrew Bible in Africa: Challenges and prospects for interpretation and \
translation,” Verbum et Ecclesia 35, no.3 (2014), 1.
26
Nkuna V.G. /E-Journal of Religious and Theological Studies Vol.8 No.2(2022) pp.22-26
REFERENCES
Adamo, David T., “The Historical Development of the Old Testament Interpretation in Africa,” The Historical
Development OTE 16, no.1 (2003): 9–33.
Deist, Ferdinand E., From Eden to Rome: The Narrative Literature of the Bible: Story, Composition and
Author’s Point of View (Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers, 2004).
Mojola, Aloo O., “The Old Testament or Hebrew Bible in Africa: Challenges and prospects for
interpretation and translation,” Verbum et Ecclesia 35, no.3 (2014).
https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v35i3.1307
Nkuna Vusimuzi G., “Comparative Analysis of the State of Religious Pluralism between Intertestamental
Palestine and Post-Apartheid South Africa,” E-Journal of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences 2,
no.12 (2021): 224-233. https://doi.org/10.38159/ehass.20212123
ABOUT AUTHOR
Vusimuzi Nkuna received his MTh with distinction from North-West University, South Africa. He also
holds an MBA from the University of South Africa and a BA Social Work from the University of Fort Hare,
South Africa. He is at the foundational stage of his studies towards a PhD in Theology at the South African
Theological Seminary. He has been a mentor at the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University
of Pretoria, South Africa since 2020. His research interests include pastoral care, the occult in Africa and
freedom of religion.
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Article
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Religious pluralism has characterized societies since time immemorial and has been one of the sources of conflict in many societies. This article compares how religious pluralism was handled in intertestamental Palestine and the manner it is managed in post-apartheid South Africa. The study used academic literature which applied the Apocrypha to describe the religious context of Palestine between 336 BC and 63 BC. The themes that emerged from this analysis were then used to source academic literature that describes the religious context of South Africa from 1994 to 2021. This process led to the synthesis of the similarities and differences of the two contexts. The findings latently reveal the contribution of the Apocrypha to theological reflection while simultaneously showing that the Roman Empire’s violent attempts to undermine religious pluralism in intertestamental Palestine bred counterviolence. The paper further reveals that post-apartheid South Africa’s use of legal instruments to promote religious pluralism seems to contribute to the optimization of religious freedom and peaceful co-existence. These findings are likely to contribute to the discourse of religious pluralism, interfaith dialogue, and intercultural communication.
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The Old Testament or Hebrew Bible is much loved in Africa. It is however encountered almost exclusively in translation, either through translation into local indigenous languages or translation into foreign, non-local languages. The source language Hebrew text is inaccessible to the vast majority of readers, including Christian pastors or theological students who would naturally be expected to have access by virtue of their profession. Knowledge of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible is thus mediated through existing translations and interpretations, and through the popular or scholarly writings of Old Testament or Hebrew Bible experts. In many parts of Africa the latter are in very short supply. This article is an attempt to engage and critically reflect further on some of the issues arising out of this situation with specific reference to the work of Knut Holter, as well as others. This situation and the challenges posed for a full and unencumbered encounter with the Hebrew scriptures and prospects for the future is explored.Intradisciplinary and/or�interdisciplinary�implications: It is expected that the translation of the Hebrew scriptures involves interaction with local cultures and belief systems opening space for new interpretations from the perspectives of local world views and practices. The challenges for local Christian theologies and Christian doctrine in general arising from this are unavoidable.
The Historical Development of the Old Testament Interpretation in Africa
  • David T Adamo
Adamo, David T., "The Historical Development of the Old Testament Interpretation in Africa," The Historical Development OTE 16, no.1 (2003): 9-33.