Some time ago I received a post about a project that I found highly intriguing, and one that made me feel as did the Apostles Peter and John all those years ago when they had to admit that while they did not have gold or silver to give, I would give that which I had, and that is a bit of time to write about it and my encouragement of the project and letting it be known to others . The project in question is the Africa Study Bible, and it seeks to connect the perspective of Africa and Africans to the Bible, rather than mediate the truths of God through the perspective of Western Europe and North America, as has tended to be the case in the past. Given the difficulty that many of us have in separating our own cultural perspective and standpoint from the point of view of the Bible itself , the project has merit even on the level of simply presenting us with a perspective of the Bible that springs from a different background and different concerns than our own, and which will likely focus on different parts of the Bible that do not strike Western audiences as immediately relevant. If that is all the Bible does, allowing others to connect with the Bible more directly, with commentaries that demonstrate the relevance of the Bible to Africa and the problems and difficulties that Africans face, translated into local languages with a care for nuance, then it will have done its job.
Of course, it ought not to be a surprise that concurrent with the release of information of the Bible there was the simultaneous desire for financial help with the project. This brings up the reason why this sort of project is not very common. Publishing, even Bible publishing, is a big business. People write books for a market and write what will please the market and ensure sales. It should come as little surprise, therefore, that Bibles are created and sold for people who have the means to pay for them, and that the free copies sent out to impoverished reviewers like myself are done in the expectation that our thoughtful words about the books being created will help sell the copies to those who have less time and less skill with writing but deeper pockets. A Bible of the kind that is being created in the Africa Study Bible is normally a fairly expensive book, as the study bibles I have seen are often published for somewhere around $50-60, easily. Such books, it might be imagined, are well beyond the reach of most African Christians, many of whom would struggle to earn $1 a day, barely enough to keep themselves fed and housed, much less enough to spend two months of their income on a single volume, as treasured as it would be.
This set of constraints, in that the reason for the undertaking of this Bible project is a desire to connect the African perspective to the Bible, but that it depends on the same time on the assistance of European and North American Christians who are being told that their perspective is hindering bringing Africans to a genuine biblical understanding, is admittedly a difficult undertaking. To be sure, there are some people who are sufficiently critical of Western Civilization to support such efforts merely on political grounds, but this audience is not a particularly generous one in terms of action. One thinks of the many Portland leftist social Gospel peddlers who write many books  but have somehow completely failed to do the work of evangelism in the Portland area, which is one of the least Christian areas in the United States. Talk is cheap; one reason I blog so prolifically is that it is speech I only have to pay for with my time, and as a reasonably fast typist that is a far less heavy charge than it would be for many others. The target base of support for such a project consists of people who want to do good for others, but who do not feel any sense of guilt as a result of the good fortune of having been born in this nation instead of in Africa. This puts the promoters of the project, one could imagine, in a bit of a bind, but one that I can certainly understand. We are being asked to help others learn from a Bible that speaks with a perspective that is not our own, and that may often be viewed as critical to our own perspective. That is not, to put it bluntly, an easy sell, and to ask for assistance in such a matter is a brave request.
This is not to say that the project is without criticism. The textual base of the Bible being used for the Africa Study Bible is the New Living Translation, a fairly defective paraphrase that often sacrifices textual precision for a good story. Given the fact that the translation project itself is so heavily freighted with political relevance, basing this critical framework on top of a weak translation in terms of doctrinal value is a questionable proposition. Those who are fans of the New Living Translation are likely to celebrate the spread of such a paraphrase version, but given the legitimate desire for Bibles that speak to other experiences that are not our own, the most obvious goal in mind would be that this is not the last, but only the first such effort, and that better Bibles (one thinks, for example, of the M-Text that undergirds our best English-language New Testaments) could be made to allow Africans in their own native languages the ability to understand the dilemmas faced by believers in what Bible to read, and which to base our doctrinal views upon. In that light, let us hope that this Bible is merely one of many such projects in the years to come, one that will allow Africans the same, or least a similar, standpoint of our own where there is an embarrassment of riches and many ways to understand and interpret the Bible in our own patois. One can dream, after all, right? It is delicious to imagine, for example, an African equivalent of the Geneva Bible with its sound textual base and its biting and culturally relevant commentaries, and therefore worthwhile to encourage such efforts where one can, even if the biting commentary is sometimes targeted at ourselves.
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