IN AFRICA: HISTORICAL AND
Justin S. Ukpong
Africa can rightly be referred to as the cradle of systematic biblical interpretation in Christianity. The earliest such attempt can be traced to the city of Alexandria and to such names as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others who lived and worked there (Trigg 1988: 21–23). The foundation laid by this tradition, which was largely allegorical and uncritical in the modern sense, lasted in the Western Church till the onset of the Enlightenment. It was replaced by the historical critical method in the 18th century followed by the literary approaches in the 20th century. These methods, developed in the West, have today been well established and recognized as veritable scientific tools of modern biblical research. In Africa South of the Sahara, which is the focus of this essay, the impact of these modern methods began to be felt about the middle of the 20th century. This corresponds with the period of political independence and the founding of African universities where these methods were taught. By the third quarter of the century, the use of these methods in academic interpretation of the bible in Africa had become widespread (Onwu 1984–85: 35; Le Roux 1993). Biblical scholarship in Africa today is therefore to some extent a child of these modern methods of Western biblical scholarship.
In spite of this however, biblical scholars in Africa have been able to develop a parallel method of their own (Holter 1995, LeMarquand 1996: 163). The particular characteristic of this method is the concern to create an encounter between the biblical text and the African context. This involves a variety of ways that link the biblical text to the African context such that the main focus of interpretation is on the communities that receive the text rather than on those that produced it or on the text itself, as is the case with the Western methods. To be sure, there are two currents of academic readings of the bible in Africa, one follows the Western pattern, while the other follows the African pattern of linking the text with the African context. Many