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The Genius of Liberation: Biblical Interpretation in the Antebellum Narratives of the Enslaved, Emerson B. Powery and Rodney S. Sadler, Jr.

July 21, 2016

The Genius of Liberation: Biblical Interpretation in the Antebellum Narratives of the Enslaved, Emerson B. Powery and Rodney S. Sadler, Jr.  Westminster John Knox Press, 2016.

3 stars

Biblical scholars explore how slaves in the American South creatively used the Bible to structure their personal stories and to understand the situation in which they found themselves.

Biblical imagery appears so often in African American spirituals and narratives that we seldom consider how remarkable the practice was.  Scholars Emerson Powery and Rodney Sadler explore this phenomena and the particular use of the Bible by those who were enslaved in their new book, The Genius of Liberation.  Slaves rejected the message to “Obey your masters”that owners stressed and learned to read specifically to be able to read the Bible for themselves. The authors discuss the particular Biblical messages of freedom, the Sabbath, whiteness, the particular problems of Paul’s writings, and suffering of Jesus.  In doing so, they affirm our growing understanding that slaves were not passive victims of oppression, but instead created and developed their own paths to dignity and humanity—including the value of Christianity.

As an historian, I appreciate the authors’ increased evidence of the creative manner in which slaves understood and coped with their inhumane conditions.   The ideas put forth in this book are important, but hardly seem original. Thy are supported by footnotes from numerous other scholars.  Perhaps the book would be more valuable if addressed to a non-academic audience who are not already familiar with these stories.

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