The meaning of Africa in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
af'-ri-ka: The name of this tract, as a continent, does not occur in the Bible, and it was only in later days known as one of the quarters of the world, under the name of Libya—that portion opposite the coast of Greece and West of Egypt.
1. Africa as Known to the Ancients:
Naturally the most considerable part of Africa known to the Hebrews was Egypt itself, but Libya is regarded as being referred to under the names of Lehabim and Lubim (Ludim) (Genesis 10:13; II Chronicles 12:3)—words indicating, as often with the Semites, not the country itself, but its inhabitants. Other portions of Africa known to the Hebrews were Cush or Ethiopia, and Put, whose inhabitants they regarded as belonging to the Hamitic stock. Canaan, also Cushite and therefore Hamitic, naturally did not belong to the African continent, showing that the divisions of then known world into "quarters" (Europe, Asia, Africa) had not taken place when the Table of the Nations (Genesis 10:1 ff.) was drawn up—indeed, these division were not apparently thought of until many centuries later. The Casluhim and the Naphtuhim (Genesis 10:13-14) were in all probability African peoples, though their position is in general regarded as uncertain. For the Hebrews, to all appearance, the southernmost point of Africa was Cush or Ethiopia, called by the Assyrians and Babylonians Kusu and Meluhha (Meroe), which included the district now known as the Sudan, or Black region. The sons of Cush, and also those of his firstborn, Sheba, were all Arabian tribes, nominally under the domain of Mizraim or Egypt, and on this account classed with the descendants of Ham.
2. The Cushites and the Negroes:
It will thus be seen that the Negro districts were practically unknown to the ancient Hebrews, though men and women of Negro race must have come within their ken. It seems doubtful, therefore, whether there be, in the Bible, any reference to that race, either collectively or individually, the word Cushite standing, not for Negro, but for Ethiopian. This term is applied to Moses' (first) wife (Numbers 12:1), and it will probably be generally admitted, that the great Hebrew lawgiver is not likely to have espoused a Negro woman. The Ethiopian eunuch converted by Philip the Evangelist (Acts 8:26 ff.) was an official of Meroe, and an educated man, for he could read the Old Testament in the Greek(Septuagint) version. Commerce must have revealed to the Hebrews the whereabouts of the various peoples of Africa with whom they came into contact, and they acquired a personal knowledge of Egypt when the 12 tribes were in bondage there. During this period, it may be supposed, they saw from time to time visitors from the South—people who are not mentioned in the sacred books of the Old Testament because the Hebrews, as a nation, never came into contact with them. Apart from Egypt, the history of the portion of Africa known to the Hebrews was a chequered one, as it came successively under Egypt, Phoenicia, Greek and Roman civilization. That it was not overrun, or even influenced, by the barbarous tribes of the South, is due to the fact that the Mediterranean tract is isolated from the central (and southern) portion of that continent by the Sahara.
3. Hebrew Tradition:
In the Talmud it is related that Alexander penetrated Africa on Libyan asses to find a race of women, with whom he had conversation, and from whom, as he afterward confessed, being a fool, he learned wisdom—a legend suggesting some possible tradition of the Amazons of Dahomey. But even in the Talmud it is mainly the nearer (Northeast) portion of Africa which is referred to, the Africans, who had the reputation of being flat-footed, being associated with the Canaanites.
See also CUSH; ETHIOPIA; MIZRAIM.
T. G. Pinches
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