Arguments exist over the racial identity of many important figures, including Jesus, in biblical history, and the list of black prophets is also a matter of much debate. According to Lisa Jones, in Ebony magazine, blacks were "among the major actors in the Bible." Some of these figures include the Queen of Sheba, Zipporah, Moses's Cushite wife and Sarah's handmaiden Hagar. Black prophets include two men, Ebed-melek and Yehudi, associated with one of the most important of Biblical prophets, Jeremiah.
Jeremiah prophesied disaster for Jerusalem with the rise of King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylon assault on his people. When Jeremiah recommended that people give in to the Babylonians rather than be slaughtered, King Zedekiah declared him an outlaw. Considered mainly a prophet of apocalypse, he preached bitterly against "forsaking
God and the Torah and turning to idolatry," according to The New Jerusalem Mosaic. Religious scholar Gene Rice notes that Jeremiah tried to "prevent needless bloodshed," but he was branded a traitor for his efforts.
Enter the Ethiopian Ebed-melek into Jeremiah's life. The four leading princes urged King Zedekiah, considered weak and often indecisive, to put Jeremiah to death, but he refused to. Therefore, the princes had Jeremiah placed in an empty, dark cistern, where he was exposed to the elements and left to die without food and water. Ebed-melek discovered this covert plan and sought out Zedekiah and told him of the plan. Confronting Zedekiah in such a manner put Ebed-melek's life at risk, but he did so anyway, and was rewarded when the king put him in charge of a rescue mission. Ebed-melek used lengths of rags lowered into the cistern to pull Jeremiah out. "Moved to save the life of another and acting without calculation or counting the cost, an otherwise unknown black man emerges from obscurity to immortality," notes Rice.
Another Ethiopian, Yehudi, figures into the prophet Jeremiah's life. He was, according to Rice, "not only of African descent, but one of the royal officials comprising the king's cabinet." Jehoiakim, the king of Judah in 604 BC, was an arrogant man not prone to seeing how his kingdom was going to ruin because of what Jeremiah prophesied as a spiritual illness. Jeremiah wrote a series of sermons read by his close friend Baruch because Jeremiah was forbidden from the temple. Royal officials who heard the sermons interpreted them, Rice says, as a "divine ultimatum," and then Yehudi took the scrolls and read the sermons to the king, who ordered Jeremiah's arrest.
While scholars have yet to agree on any actual black prophets from the Bible, the cases of influential black people, such as Ebed-melek and Yehudi, who were associated with prophets and other important figures continue to be explored.
- Jones, Lisa C. "Blacks in the Bible." Ebony 49.4 (1994): 60. Middle Search Plus. EBSCO. Web. 5 Aug. 2011
- The New Jerusalem Mosaic
- Rice, Gene. "Two Black Contemporaries of Jeremiah." Journal of Religious Thought 32.1 (1975) 95. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO Web. 5 Aug. 2011
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