The Bible in Africa: Transactions, Trajectories, and Trends

By Gerald O. West; Musa W. Dube | Go to book overview

CURSED BE EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE:
PASTORAL IMPLICATIONS OF DEUTERONOMY 21:22–23
AND GALATIANS 3:13 IN AN AFRICAN CONTEXT
Eliud Wabukala and Grant LeMarquand

Then they came to the tree from which Okonkwo's body was dangling, and they stopped dead.

“Perhaps your men can help us bring him down and bury him, ” said Obierika.

“We have sent for strangers from another village to do it for us, but they maybe a long time in coming.”

The District Commissioner changed instantaneously. The resolute administrator in him gave way to the student of primitive customs. “Why can't you take him down yourselves?” he asked.

“It is against our custom, ” said one of the men. “It is an abomination for a man to take his own life. It is an offense against the Earth, and the man who commits it will not be buried by his clansmen. His body is evil, and only strangers may touch it. That is why we ask your people to bring him down, because you are strangers.” “Will you bury him like any other man?” asked the Commissioner. “We cannot bury him. Only strangers can. We shall pay your men to do it. When he has been buried we will then do our duty by him. We shall make sacrifices to cleanse the desecrated land” (Achebe 1962: 146–47).

We begin with the observation that the tradition of a hanged person being cursed and a hanged corpse bringing a curse on the land, is common to the Deuteronomist and to some parts of Africa.1 This paper will examine two contexts in which this tradition concerning hanging has resulted in theological and pastoral difficulties: the preaching of the cross in early Christianity, and the funeral practice of the Babukusu people of Western Kenya and Eastern Uganda. We shall argue that the Pauline solution to the Jewish Christian dilemma

____________________
1
This preliminary observation was first discussed by the authors in a class at St. Paul's United Theological College, early in 1987. The eventual result of that discussion was Eliud Wabukala's B.D. thesis, which Grant LeMarquand supervised (Wabukala 1988).

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