The Slave Bible

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 18, 2022

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIn 1970 while I was a faculty member at Fordham University, New York, I taught a course on the development of Afro-American literature. One of the books I used was William Wells Brown, Clotel or the President’s Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States, published in England in 1853.

The novel told the story of Clotel, a daughter of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, who fathered three children by his slave, Sally Hemmings. Although the white power structure denied this incident for two centuries, in November 1998 the truth of this claim was authenticated by DNA evidence.

Apart from Clotel being sold into slavery, the novel was concerned with challenging the Biblical justification of slavery and that enslaved people should be obedient to their masters. One such exchange occurs when Pastor Hontz Snyder at The Poplar Farm took the enslaved through a recital of the following question-answer session:

Q: “What command has God given to servants concerning obedience to their masters?”

A: “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God.”

Q: “What does God mean by masters according to the flesh?”

A: “Masters of the world.”

Q: “What are servants to count their masters worthy of?”

A: “All honour.”

When the British missionaries came to the Caribbean, particularly in Jamaica, Barbados and Antigua, “to convert and educate” the enslaved, they brought with them their own version of the Bible tailored to their activities. Entitled Select Parts of the Holy Bible for the Use of the Negro Slaves in the British West-India Islands, this Bible was a “shockingly bowdlerised version of the New- and Old Testaments” that was printed in England in 1807—the same year the British slave trade ended in the West Indies.

Anthony Schmidt, associate curator of Bible and Religion, in the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, says that about 90 per cent of the Old Testament and 50 per cent of the New Testament is missing. He adds: “Put in another way, there are 1,189 chapters in a standard Protestant Bible. This Bible contains only 232.”

Charlotte McKillop-­Mash, project archivist, Bodleian Collections at Oxford University, notes: “This Bible has been carefully edited to remove any mention of people freeing themselves from bondage. In just one instance, it skips directly from Genesis 45:28 to ­Exodus 19, so it includes the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) but ‘disappears’ the first eighteen books of Exodus, in which the Israelites escape slavery in Egypt.”

This Bible was published by the Society for the Conversion and Religious Education of Negro Slaves—an organisation founded by Bishop Beilby Porteus, the son of a Virginian tobacco planter and a slave owner who was born and raised in England. Brigit Katz argues this Bible also sought “to teach enslaved Africans to read, with the ultimate goal of introducing them to Christianity”. (Smithsonian Magazine, January 4, 2019.)

Paradoxically, Porteus, who later became the Anglican Bishop of London, “criticised the Church’s position on slavery, preached and campaigned against the slave trade, and voted numerous times to ban it”. He believed the abridged Bible would be more acceptable to the planters.

The verses that were placed in the Slave Bible reinforced the institution of slavery. One such edict, “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ” (Ephesians 6:5) was replicated by Pastor Snyder in his question-and-answer session with the slaves that I reproduce above. Incidentally, Pastor Snyder was referred to as “a missionary” in the novel.

Sharon Brous, the founding rabbi of IKAR in Los Angeles, noted that the Slave Bible was designed to introduce enslaved people to Christianity and to preserve the system of slavery. “The slaveholders,” she says, “were surely concerned that the enslaved people would see themselves in the Israelite struggle for liberation, that they would find strength in God’s identification with the oppressed and be inspired by the triumph of faith over even one of the strongest regimes in the ancient world”. (New York Times, April 14.)

Physical suffering, as Esau McCaulley observes, is “at the core of the Christian story”. (New York Times, April 15.) Easter Sunday, according to the canonical texts of the Holy Bible, promises the triumph of our spiritual dimension over the death of the physical body. The Apocryphal gospels of the early Christians (such as the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Thomas) offer other events or sayings in Jesus’ life.

As we celebrate Easter, the holiest day of the Christian calendar, we should remember that many of our ancestors did not have the comfort of Jesus’ promise. Fr Martin Sirju, however, links Jesus “to the kingdom to truth” and suggests that Holy Week “begins with a politically subversive act—a peasant, apocalyptic preacher entering Jerusalem on a donkey”. (Express, April 13.)

The Holy Bible also tells us that the meek shall inherit the earth, which suggests that everything presented in the Slave Bible was meant to prevent the meek, the oppressed, the overused Africans from realising the possibility of knowing the comfort of Jesus’ message.

It is noteworthy also that the Slave Bible left out Jeremiah 22:13 from its abridged version of the Bible. The offending passage reads: “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s services without wages and giveth to him not for his work.”

It is something our business people should ponder as they reflect upon the blessing that Easter brings to Christians throughout the world.

9 thoughts on “The Slave Bible”

  1. “When your God and savior looks like your master and enslaver, you become the principal agent of your own destruction”. Today as we speak, the religion representing the twelve vices of darkness continue to shackle the descendants. The goal of the European Christians, was to create a Man/Wo in their own image. This they succeeded in doing. Some , like yourself Dr Cujoe, have herald the monstrous Anglican church. Their participation in the enslavement of Africans and the demise of all the Native peoples is where Crime against Humanity originated. “Seneca the younger” wrote some time back, that “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful”. Worshippers are naked, as they follow blindly the lies perpetrated by Evil men and Women both of the Book and modern day mortals. The History of European Christianity have been Hell for every other Ethnic group. Colonialism & Christianity have worked in tandem from day one, to mind control their subjects. REPARATIONS from the Christian Church must be front and center, together with all the European countries that benefited directly from enslaving the African, South Asian, East Asian and the extermination of the peoples of this hemisphere.” When light mixed with darkness, it makes the darkness shine. when darkness mixed with light, it dimmed the light and become neither light nor darkness, but rather gloom”. We need to reset the mindset.

  2. “Worshippers are naked, as they follow blindly the lies perpetrated by Evil men and Women both of the Book and modern day mortals.” Truism indeed!

    Trump and the Evangelical movement is a summary of Gandhi’s statement that religion and politics are inseparable. Looking at the Florida governor espousing critical race theory makes you wonder whether the slave bible is still operational today.

  3. “They basked in the righteousness of the poor and the exclusiveness of the downtrodden. Let the whitefolks have their money and power and segregation and sarcasm and big houses and schools and lawns like carpets, and books, and mostly—mostly—let them have their whiteness. It was better to be meek and lowly, spat upon and abused for this little time than to spend eternity frying in the fires of hell.”
    American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou used this technique in this excerpt from her 1969 autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

  4. — Mr Cudjoe , you are allways head-on !
    What a chock at first . Thinking it through , the Bibel as a whole , is a political manifest to enslave physically and mentally .
    I write from the holy land , Italy . Slave till today . You can be greeted by people who do not know you , with ” SALVE ” .
    The first time I heard it , I said what ?
    The only SALVE I know ( danish word ) is something you buy in a pharmacy , for skin problems . Jesus was/is called the anointed one .
    A game with words , take the L after S = SLAVE
    It is not about how words are spelled ( Harry Poter ) and the vowels are interchageabel , it is about how the word sounds .
    The Game for every one is still working , keeping slaves working.
    A seed is planted in the brain and it becomes YOU.
    The slave-bibel , bibel was/is a political manifest a RE-LEGION
    RE=KING and his LEGION / army .
    KING on earth or in HEAVEN
    The Church condoning SLAVERY , oh yah !
    Good Day and Thanks . ruth

  5. One might say the goodly professor writing is an act of heresy. How could a loving creator condone the suffering of his beloved creation? Slavery today is still practiced in many parts of the world without the blessings of the Bible. In the markets of Cairo to the jungles of Nigeria where Boko Haram captures at will and enslave African females. For the good pleasure of the criminals hiding under the shroud of Islam. Such mischief has not felt the piercing power of the pen.

    To correct the professor heresy that stems from a body of African American thinkers who at one point Islamize those born in the ghetto. I will appeal to the greatest Christian thinker of all times (no we don’t discount intellectualism for so called blind faith), the apostle Paul who wrote a letter to a slave owner. One must note the context of any writing and the time period. The apostle Paul wrote at a time when slavery was very common. So common that the Roman language of Latin was replaced by the Greek language because of the vast amount of slaves in the Roman Empire.

    The book of Philemon addressed the issue of a runaway slave name Onesimus “Philemon 1: 8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus,[b] who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me“

    Paul appeal continues for the runaway slave “ 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
    17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”. Note what Apostle Paul wrote “welcome him as you would welcome me”. He sent Onisimus back but appeal strongly to Philemon to treat him as a brother. Dear Professor does that sound like the Bible condoning slavery?

    Slavery has never been a divine construct, it is or was a human construct to extract free labour from those in chains. Let’s not say God condone the brutalization of his creation, such ignorance should not exist in the minds of the inquirer. Most African American slaves could not read the Bible back then anyways and the plantation owners were racist and exploitative.

  6. The central figure of the Bible is the person of Christ. Sometimes I would read the teachings of St. Paul, for instance he wrote “let the women keep silence in church”. That is not a moral imperative statement, it alludes to the culture of the time. Men were the leaders in faith. Under Judaism to start a liturgical service the requirements was 10 men, not 10 women. And the men read the Torah. When I come across something like that I go back to the teachings of Christ and how he treated women. The women were always there ministering to him. Mary Magdalene was the first evangelist “he is not here he is risen” (voice trembling ecstatic with joy).

    Then Christ broke cultural barriers when he met the Samaritan woman at the well. Jews despised the Samaritans as half breed and would not have anything to do with them. Yet with a short conversation he exposed her life and she became the village evangelist “ come see a man who told me everything, is he not the messiah”. This despised Samaritan woman who had 5 husbands understood who Jesus was better than the rabbis.

    Would Jesus give his stamp of approval on slavery? Certainly not! He said “ do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, “love your enemies”, “pray for them that despitefully use you” “love your neighbour as you love yourself”. A lot of evil has been done in his name…on that day they will hear the words from his lips “depart from me I NEVER knew you”.

    The greatest church movement call the Pentecostal church was started by the son of a slave. ON April 14, 1906, four days before the San Francisco earthquake, a subtler but more enduring upheaval also began in California. A religious revival, led by the Rev. William J. Seymour, a son of former slaves, started in a rundown building on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Yes the Pentecostal church became the fastest growing church and still draws many lost souls to the feet of the cross.

    The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is one of the fastest-growing trends in World Christianity today, and it has been for some time. This movement grew from 58 million in 1970 to 656 million in 2021. The Global South is home to 86 percent of all Pentecostals/Charismatics in the world.Dec 22, 2020 Hard to imagine God used the descendant of a slave to spur the greatest revivals of the last century.

    Mention names like TD Jakes, Creflo Dollar or in Africa mention the name Pastor Adeboye and you are looking at over 2 million followers and the man who has expanded the Pentecostal church in Nigeria more than any other, well respected. Or Daniel Olukoya 1/2 million attends his church on Sundays….Amazing what God has done through African people….

    1. Mamoo, whilst I’m often a critic of your postings, I am pleased to say that what you posted on this topic was educational for me, that the founder of the Pentecostal church was the son of a former slave.

      This solidifies my belief that we can always learn from each other inspire of our differences. I have never thought about the history of the Pentecostal church but your posting has enlightened me on our journey from slavery to spiritual development.

  7. So… What about The Slav (Slavic) Bible? I see Vladimir Putin went to church… well,

    Russia’s Putin attends midnight Orthodox Easter mass in Moscow.

    Doh mind they try to blind ‘we’… and still telling we to ‘look’..
    We must ask, What’s in a NAME, AZOZ-STAL Steel Plant, Professor? You have to wonder what the Nazis, rather, how much of Ukraine’s industry is controlled by the Nazi AZOV?
    It is chilling as this video of Muslim Chechen Soldiers declaring victory.

    The question is… how will this NAZI thing play out with our Black Brothers and Sisters in Authority, Professor?

    As he tackles extremism, Lloyd Austin draws on military’s experience dealing with 1995 racially motivated murders.

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