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The Talking Book

The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible

ALLEN DWIGHT CALLAHAN
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npzb4
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  • Book Info
    The Talking Book
    Book Description:

    The Talking Bookcasts the Bible as the central character in a vivid portrait of black America, tracing the origins of African-American culture from slavery's secluded forest prayer meetings to the bright lights and bold style of today's hip-hop artists.The Bible has profoundly influenced African Americans throughout history. From a variety of perspectives this wide-ranging book is the first to explore the Bible's role in the triumph of the black experience. Using the Bible as a foundation, African Americans shared religious beliefs, created their own music, and shaped the ultimate key to their freedom-literacy. Allen Callahan highlights the intersection of biblical images with African-American music, politics, religion, art, and literature.The author tells a moving story of a biblically informed African-American culture, identifying four major biblical images-Exile, Exodus, Ethiopia, and Emmanuel. He brings these themes to life in a unique African-American history that grows from the harsh experience of slavery into a rich culture that endures as one of the most important forces of twenty-first-century America.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13787-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PROLOGUE
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    AFRICAN AMERICANS ARE THE children of slavery in America. And the Bible, as no other book, is the book of slavery’s children.

    The evidence is everywhere in African-American culture. In black churches, of course, where preaching is a venerable art form with all the virtuosity and inventiveness of jazz, a sermon not based on a biblical text is unthinkable. The Bible’s impact on the African-American imagination also has been broad and varied in the arts. Negro spirituals, that great corpus of African-American sacred music, are shot through with biblical allusions, and the genre of African-American music called “gospel” takes its...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Talking Book
    (pp. 1-20)

    HE WAS STYMIED. In the 1850s, William Brown Hodgson struggled to translate a manuscript written in Arabic script by a West African Muslim named London who was a slave on a Georgia plantation. The language corresponded to none of the dialects that the learned philologist knew. The letters formed the following mysterious sounds: “fas chapta o jon /inde be ginnen wasde wad / and wad was wid god / ande wad was god.” Hodgson puzzled over the unintelligible text until, sounding it out phonetically, he realized that the lines of Arabic script were from neither an Arabic text nor an Arabic translation...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Poison Book
    (pp. 21-40)

    IN NEW YORK CITY IN 1849, Frederick Douglass and the Presbyterian minister Henry Highland Garnet engaged in public debate over a campaign to solicit funds to provide Bibles for slaves in the South. Their confrontation was a rematch of sorts. The two had first debated in Buffalo, New York, in 1843. At that time the fiery and learned Garnet, whom Douglass described as “the most intellectual and moral colored man in our country,” was advocating armed resistance to slavery.¹ Douglass, then an abolitionist in the mold of William Lloyd Garrison and so a pacifist, led the reasoned opposition in favor...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Good Book
    (pp. 41-48)

    IN 1837 THE FUGITIVE SLAVE Charles Ball described religion among the slaves this way. “The idea of revolution in the conditions of whites and blacks,” he insisted, “is the corner-stone of the religion of the latter. . . . Heaven will be no heaven to him if he is not avenged of his enemies.”¹ As one devout Christian slave opined, “Some folks say slaveholders may be good Christians, but I can’t and won’t believe it, nor do I think that a slaveholder can get to heaven. He may possibly get there, I don’t know; but though I wish to get...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Exile
    (pp. 49-82)

    IN 587 BCE, THE BABYLONIANS conquered Judah, the southern kingdom of ancient Israel. They destroyed the Temple in the capital city of Jerusalem, and took many Judean elites to Babylonia as prisoners. The shock of what came to be known as the Babylonian Exile registers across the width and breadth of Israel’s sacred scriptures and is mourned in the poignant poetry of the psalmist:

    By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept,

    when we remembered Zion.

    We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

    For there they that carried us away captive required...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Exodus
    (pp. 83-137)

    IT LITERALLY MEANS “the way out.” A loanword from the Greek,exodussignifies the road of escape. The biblical drama of Exodus recounts the story of the escape of the ancient Israelites from Egypt and their formation as a new people in Canaan. The Lord had commanded that the Egyptians “let my son [Israel] go” (Exod. 4:23), and the imperative phrase “Let my people go” is repeated seven times in the drama that climaxes in the Israelites’ flight across the Red Sea.¹

    African Americans heard, read, and retold the story of the Exodus more than any other biblical narrative. In...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Ethiopia
    (pp. 138-184)

    PSALM 68:31, “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God,” is the most widely quoted verses of the Bible in African-American letters.¹ Psalm 68 is an oracle celebrating the centrality of the Jerusalem temple in which the psalmist predicts, “Because of thy temple at Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto thee” (Ps. 68:29). The song may have been sung in antiquity during the Judean pilgrimage to the Temple Mount. By the lights of its African-American interpreters, however, the text did not point back to Zion. It was an oracle pointed forward to...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Emmanuel
    (pp. 185-239)

    AT A BLACK BOY’S FUNERAL described in Toni Morrison’s novelSula(1973), the very mention of the name of Jesus evokes among the women mourners a sense of identity with him. Morrison verbally choreographs the scene with movements of reverence and memories of pain.

    As Reverend Deal moved into his sermon, the hands of the women unfolded like pairs of raven’s wings and flew high above their hats in the air. They did not hear all of what he said; they heard the one word, or phrase, or inflection that was for them the connection between the event and themselves....

  12. Postscript
    (pp. 240-246)

    IN THE FOUR COMPELLING images of Exile, Exodus, Ethiopia, and Emmanuel, slavery’s children have called into question their history and their destiny, and all things human and divine—including themselves.

    The effects of Ezekiel’s exilic vision show that the question of exile remains alive in the African-American imagination. This is so because the issues of the Middle Passage and its aftermath are very much with us. Those who insist that we put slavery behind us, that “that was all in the past,” close their eyes to the valley of dry bones that African Americans having been singing about, preaching about,...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 247-274)
  14. SUBJECT INDEX
    (pp. 275-283)
  15. SCRIPTURE INDEX
    (pp. 284-286)