Black Zephaniah
18th-century Russian icon of prophet Zephaniah in Kizhi, Karelia


Last week we saw Ebed-melech, the black saint in the book of Jeremiah; about the same time, 700 years before Jesus, there was prophet Zephaniah. He preached fiercely against corruption, violence, and deception in Judah, and the surrounding nations of Philistia to the West, Moab and Ammon to the East, Cush (Ancient Ethiopia/Nubia) to the South, and Assyria (capital Nineveh) to the North.

This was a time when Cush was a world power and even ruled over Egypt. The black Cushite Pharaoh Taharqa (or Tirhakah) was a military partner to King Hezekiah (see Isaiah 37). Black African Kings, Queens, soldiers, bureaucrats and advisors were involved in world history during Bible times and intermarried with Jews. Thus, there are black Ethiopians today with proven Jewish ancestry.

Zephaniah 1:1 (New Living Translation) says: “The Lord gave this message to Zephaniah when Josiah son of Amon was king of Judah. Zephaniah was the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah.”

The Moody Bible commentary on Zephaniah, by Walter White Jr., states: “The name of Zephaniah’s father, “Cushi” (1:1) means “black” or “Cushite,” sometimes describing someone of Ethiopian or Nubian (African) descent, but… there is insufficient evidence to make any firm conclusions about his ethnicity or heritage…”

However, the Jewish Virtual Library commentary on Zephaniah says: “It has been suggested plausibly that “Cushi” refers to the prophet’s ultimate African origin in the area conventionally rendered “Ethiopia,”… contemporary Sudan…”

The Bible scholar Gene Rice in his excellent commentary on Zephaniah writes: “Since Zephaniah’s ancestry is traced in an unbroken line on his father’s side… it is most natural to think of Cushi’s mother (Gedaliah’s wife) as an African.”

The black presence in the Bible is huge; while it has been denied, overlooked, and downplayed by the white Church in the past, this should not be the case today. There is no doctrine of white supremacy and black inferiority in the Bible.

Lord, thank you for the judgement on racial injustices around the world; teach us how to build racially just and fair societies, Amen! 


Read more – Rice G. (1979) The African Roots of the Prophet Zephaniah, Journal of Religious Thought 36: 21-31


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