The Bible in Africa: Transactions, Trajectories, and Trends

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

THE BIBLICAL GOD OF THE FATHERS
AND THE AFRICAN ANCESTORS
Temba L.J. Mafico

There are many similarities between the religio-cultural life of the Israelites and that of pre-colonial Africans. The phrase “pre-colonial Africans” refers to people who lived in Africa prior to the colonization of the continent by Europeans beginning in the seventeenth century. Hereinafter, the term Africans refers to pre-colonial Africans. The beliefs and cultural traits of pre-colonial Africans remain prevalent in rural areas of Africa where Western civilization has not yet made inroads. One can find the religio-cultural beliefs of Africans not only in rural areas, but also in stories told by old people who moved to live with their children in the cities, as well as from songs, poetry, artifacts, tales, legends and in some meagre historical records. It can be argued that no culture disappears without leaving a trace. Traces of ancient culture are clearly present among Africans who have maintained their traditional culture in defiance of the overwhelming influence of Western civilization.

One of the strongest connections between modern and ancient times is the African belief in ancestors. This subject is interesting to me because of the similarities between the place of ancestors in the life of Africans and the place of the gods of the fathers in the life of Israel. Both the ancestors and the gods of the fathers seem to have shaped their respective societies and so my discussion of this topic will invariably include an examination of the African and the Israelite social structure. Although my discussion of ancestors generally reflects practices of the whole continent of Africa, specific examples will be drawn from the Ndau people of Zimbabwe, with whose culture, religion and philosophy of life I am more familiar.

My interest in this research was triggered in 1972 when I was pursuing a doctoral degree in Old Testament at Harvard University. Prior to attending Harvard, I had been a pastor for several years in Zimbabwe and had maintained a fundamentalistic attitude toward the Bible and Christian teachings. I regarded God's revelation to the world through Jesus Christ as the only, and ultimate revelation God

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