Reading the Bible through Sudanese eyes

In September, my brother-in-law and his family (Michael and Karen Masso – World Harvest Mission) are moving to Sudan (Mundri). There, they will be working with a NEGST graduate who was my next door neighbor our first year here and is now the Bishop of the Anglican church in Mundri. (Michael and Karen have been in Bundibugyo, Uganda.)

So I was especially interested in this post by John Hobbins linking to a page of the Duke Divinity School website:

The church in Southern Sudan is probably the most rapidly growing church in the Anglican Communion and among the fastest growing churches in the world. As a result, the need for strong indigenous theological education has become acute.

Through the Renk Visiting Teachers Program, jointly sponsored by Duke Divinity School and Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), advanced students, graduates and faculty teach for periods of two to six weeks at the Renk Theological College in Southern Sudan.

Ellen Davis, a faculty member at Duke, has this to say:

It is time for us to begin reading the Bible through Sudanese eyes. I said, “you tell me how animal sacrifice has been practiced in your tribe, and what it means to your people.” Many hands flew into the air for the first time; for the rest of that day and on into the next we heard accounts, as detailed as those in Leviticus, of sacrificial practices among the Dinka, Moru, Shilluk, Zande, and Nuer. . .

. . . [T]his experience of studying Leviticus in Sudan . . . challenges the assumption long established and widespread in the Western church that it is our task to teach Africans how to read the Bible with understanding and critical insight. When British missionaries began translating the Old Testament into tribal languages, they omitted Leviticus altogether—fearing that the new converts would find too much similarity between African traditional religion and biblical faith! Yet ironically, the Western church itself has produced little theological insight into that book. . . . [M]aybe it is time for Christians in Sudan to write a commentary on Leviticus, and on other books—Isaiah, Psalms—that have guided and sustained their faith through much suffering. It is time for us to begin reading the Bible through Sudanese eyes.

We had a similar experience during a seminar on the Pentateuch with an esteemed visiting professor who had written a very well-known commentary on Leviticus. As my African collegues began to describe various types of sacrificeses from their traditions all over Africa. This scholar suddenly changed from professor to student; for the next hour, he asked pointed questions and took detailed notes. BTW, one of the great Dinka giants and statesment is a member of our PhD cohort here – Ramadan Chan.

There are great benefits to doing biblical studies in Africa.

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