Cain Hope Felder
African American biblical scholarship is steadily becoming a fully grown tree near the dense forest of Eurocentric biblical exegesis and interpretation. Only a few decades ago white Bible scholars, who held exclusive prerogatives as the academic elite, would have found it unthinkable that African Americans could be bona fide Bible scholars. The very notion would have brought either laughter or some condescending quip from members of the Euro-American biblical academies, which were then composed entirely of white males. Until recently, the idea of a black Bible scholar—whether Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish—was something of a novelty, an aberration. The tragedy in this aspect of American and Western religious history is that such attitudes totally ignore the simple fact that African Americans have long been students and “scholars” of the Bible. While African Americans for most of their history in the United States have been treated as second-class citizens of both the nation and the church, they have not infrequently been extraordinary interpreters of the Bible, often making profound scholarly insights that are now being more fully documented and proven correct.
With the publication of Stony the Road We Trod, we arrive at a new phase in the tradition of black biblical scholars, who have, by dint of historical circumstances unfavorable to them, tended to work virtually in isolation from one another. There are today just a little more than thirty black North Americans with a completed Ph.D./Th.D. in biblical studies (less than one-fifth of 1 percent in North America alone). As of this writing, there are but two African American female Ph.D.'s in New Testament and two in Old Testament. Clearly, there has been a critical need for blacks in the biblical field to become acquainted with and thereby become resources for each other. The pattern of isolation, damaging in many ways, has resulted from three factors. First, African American graduate students in the biblical field have been few due to economic