Book Review: Sabbath Roots: The African Connection

Sabbath Roots: The African Connection, by Charles E. Bradford

A book like this is supremely frustrating to review. What makes it frustrating is its combination of both excellent and awful historiography, a combination of an eloquent defense of the Sabbath day which mirrors my own thoughts [1] and an indefensible politically correct approach that engages in hypocritical and racist anti-European libels. In the end, the book must be taken for what it is, a mixture of very good and very evil, and sometimes very contradictory, and not a whole lot in between. That makes for a supremely frustrating book, although one from which much useful information can be gleaned about the importance of the Sabbath to Africa as well as the intriguing likelihood of an Israelite diaspora within Africa hiding in plain sight, as it were. But all this is nearly obscured by the author’s willful and unacceptable hostility to whites and his exaggeration both of the importance of the SDA’s and of blacks in general, both of which are inexcusable offenses to this reviewer.

It’s very clear that I am not the intended audience for a book like this. Mr. Bradford is a retired (black) SDA leader who has served in various positions including eleven years as the president of the North American Division of Seventh Day Adventists. He clearly has a depth of understanding about the importance of the Sabbath to Africans and the importance of indigenous Sabbitarian movements in Africa, something which I have seen myself in Ghana with the Ashante people, which extends to the tribal level for people like the Lemba (who are descended from Israel, and whose leading clan is descended from the Levitical priesthood), as well as numerous other peoples in Sudan, Ethiopia, South Africa, Congo, and other areas. The fact that the author praises the efforts of Africans for uhuru, downplays Muslim atrocities (contradicting himself by saying that the Muslims treated Africans better than Europeans and that the Muslims were only hostile to the Ethiopians in the 16th century because of the Portuguese in the beginning of the book, and then telling the correct and anti-Muslim truth later on) and goes out of his way to insult Europeans is highly offensive.

Additionally, this book, even where it gives valuable insights about how Africans correctly saw the relationship between the biblical seventh-day Sabbath and freedom from oppression [2] [3], makes numerous errors due to the biases of the author. For one, the author makes no mention of the broad-based movement among Christians to recover the lost Hebraic roots of Christianity, making this seem an entirely black phenomenon, when it is clearly not. Additionally, the author makes the false claim that the SDA’s are the only Euro-American Sabbitarian group to have a missionary interest in Africa, again something that is demonstrably false given my own personal experience. It is plain that this author needs to be better informed before making false categorical claims and showing lamentable bias, but this bias is hard-wired into the book, with its virulent anti-white racism.

On the one hand, it is wonderful and inspiring to hear of God’s effort in Africa to help people realize the need to obey God’s laws (including the Sabbath and food laws), as well as the promise of citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem that is above and of freedom from oppression. Far be it from me to think that the presence of American or European missionaries or leadership is necessary for people to be brought to God. However, what could have been a useful and necessary book on the importance of the Sabbath in Africa is sabotaged at least in part by the author’s willful hostility to whites. Look, I know your ancestors were enslaved. I know Africa suffered horribly under colonialism. Get over it already, though. What’s done is done, and your people and your continent need to show themselves as overcoming their past and not wallowing in victim theology. It is black Americans and Africans themselves that have far more responsibility for their contemporary suffering than American and European whites.

The book also engages in blatant hypocrisy. The author takes European and American historians to task for making Egyptian civilization seem like southern Europe, no doubt seeking to score points for the Africanist movement among many of our benighted intellectual community within the West. Then the author makes the same mistake in trying to claim Israelite and Mesopotamian society as being African or Afro-Semitic, to appropriate the glories of Persia and Assyria and Jerusalem for blacks. In addition, while the author shows no understanding of the Israelite origin of Northern and Western Europeans, he goes out of his way to proclaim an Israelite origin for a handful of African tribes, including the Ethiopians. This is self-serving historical hypocrisy at its worst.

It is massive problems like this that make Sabbath Roots an intensely frustrating read. It would be far easier to celebrate the focus of African Sabbatarians on justice and obedience to God’s laws (including food laws) if the author didn’t keep on grinding his racialist axes so frequently and trying to appropriate black hostility towards whites and a superior spirituality for Africans because of their Sabbath-keeping ways, ignoring the huge amount of Sabbatarians among other peoples, like whites and Southeast Asians and Filipinos too. Then the author, after making racist comments against whites, says that those who do not believe that God is the father of all are part of the problem. Perhaps the author is just unconscious of his extreme anti-European and anti-white racism and thinks (like most left-leaning types) that he is far more tolerant and accepting of others than he really is. Nonetheless, it makes for a very off-putting read when a reader is both so close and so far from the mindset of the author simultaneously.

In short, this book covers some very useful and important material in showing that Africa is worthy of praise for its comparative fidelity to the Sabbath, and for the likelihood that Jesus’ return to establish His kingdom and His just rule will be welcomed by far more Africans than we may think of. The importance of apocalyptic and prophetic writings to a people who suffer as much as the people of Africa is also a clear point to remember, and to compare with similar people in other parts of the world. In addition, the book’s commentary on the Sabbatarian background of Coptic and Ethiopian Christians is also very helpful, and allows a Sabbatarian to feel a sense of community with many African Christians as well, some of whom suffer intense persecution for their beliefs here and now. Nonetheless, this book would be vastly better and vastly easier to recommend if it came from an author who was content to write positively about the history and genuine Sabbatarian spirituality of the Africans without constantly trying to score points against people from a European background. It is ultimately the bogus and racist political worldview of the author that prevents this work from being a masterpiece in historiography about a very often neglected subject. And that is a tragedy.




About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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