Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Studying Leviticus in Sudan" by Ellen F. Davis

The WebSite for our Renk, Sudan Visiting Teachers Program, hosted on Duke's webserver has recently been updated. Click here to visit! Included in the updatings is a fascinating brief essay by Ellen Davis on "Studying Leviticus in Sudan" (click here). Here are two excerpts from the article:

Rev “Mama Ludia” Galia Gambo

...“So,” I said, “you tell me how animal sacrifice has been practiced in your tribe, and what it means to your people.” Many hands flew into the air for the first time; for the rest of that day and on into the next we heard accounts, as detailed as those in Leviticus, of sacrificial practices among the Dinka, Moru, Shilluk, Zande, and Nuer. In some cases these were based on first-hand experience; many Southern Sudanese Christians grew up in families and villages that practiced African traditional religions. In other cases the students were recounting rituals they themselves had never witnessed. The Moru, for instance, have been Christians for a century, yet Mama Ludia, a diminutive priest with wrinkled face and sparkling eyes, could speak at length about the sacrificial practices of her ancestors. This, I realized, is the power of the oral tradition in a culture that has treasured it over centuries, maybe millennia.

...But does this experience of studying Leviticus in Sudan have any significance beyond the interest and edification of those of us in the room? To put the question boldly: Does the 21st-century church stand to gain anything from it? Perhaps. For it challenges the assumption long established and widespread in the Western church that it is our task to teach Africans how to read the Bible with understanding and critical insight. When British missionaries began translating the Old Testament into tribal languages, they omitted Leviticus altogether—fearing that the new converts would find too much similarity between African traditional religion and biblical faith! Yet ironically, the Western church itself has produced little theological insight into that book. So I suggested at the end of our week of study that maybe it is time for Christians in Sudan to write a commentary on Leviticus, and on other books—Isaiah, Psalms—that have guided and sustained their faith through much suffering. It is time for us to begin reading the Bible through Sudanese eyes.

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