Rev. Dr. Cain Hope Felder, former dean of Howard University’s School of Divinity and a groundbreaking Bible scholar who called attention to the presence of black people in the Bible, died Oct. 1 at the age of 76. He was the general editor of The Original African Heritage Study Bible (Judson Press, 2007).
According to CT, “Dr. Felder’s research challenged generations of scholarship that ignored or downplayed race in Scripture. By showcasing the numerous people with dark skin mentioned in the Bible, the longtime Howard University School of Divinity professor argued that white interpreters had erased black people from the text. That erasure, he said, enabled modern, racist readings of the Scripture.”
“Black people are not only frequently mentioned,” he wrote, “but are also mentioned in ways that are favorable in terms of acknowledging their actual and potential role in the salvation history of Israel.”
CT reports: “Based on his textual and linguistic analysis, as well as his research into the cultures of the ancient Near East, Dr. Felder concluded that Moses’s wife Zipporah was black; there were black people in King David’s army in 2 Samuel; and Ebed-Melek, the royal official who saved the prophet Jeremiah’s life in Jeremiah 38, was also black. Dr. Felder said it was possible the prophet Zephaniah was black too.
Dr. Felder is on record saying he didn’t believe that the Bible was a preeminent sacred text “over all other sacred texts of the world.” He said, “I believe that God can be called by names which are strange to me, and that there are many roads that lead to the summit.”
CT reports: “In the late 1980s, Felder helped start a reading series for African American Bible scholars, to help advance black Bible scholarship. In 1991, he edited and published a landmark collection of academic essays, Stony the Road We Trod (Augsburg Fortress, 1991), showing the important differences in African American interpretations of the Bible.
“A few years later, Felder published The Original African Heritage Study Bible. To date, it has sold more than one million copies.”
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