Secondary Resources on Sacrifice

While doing research for an encyclopaedia article on sacrifice in African theology, I have also found many valuable secondary resources, some of which are freely accessible online. The following text is a draft of the section that introduces some of the best examples.

There are no articles or books that provide an overview of the theme of sacrifice across the entire field of African theology, but there are a number of key articles that offer useful points of entry into different areas of discussion. Sawyerr 1969 is a classic that provides historical background to the discussion, indicates key questions that the practice of ritual sacrifice raises for African theologians and suggests ways in which African notions of sacrifice can contribute to wider discussions. Awolalu 1973 and Ukpong 1983 are exemplary contributions to the study of ritual sacrifice in African traditional religions. Awolalu shows the importance of paying close attention to African sacrificial terminology and making detailed descriptions of a wide variety of sacrificial practices. Ukpong demonstrates the need to understand ritual sacrifice in relation to African systems of thought rather than foreign frames of reference. Ekem 2007, Kalengyo 2009 and Oduyoye 1986 exemplify the study of sacrifice in three major areas of African theology: biblical studies, liturgical theology and systematic theology. Ekem stresses the need for constructive dialogue between biblical notions of sacrifice and African concepts, practices and stories of sacrifice in a dynamic and open-ended encounter. Kalengyo shows that such an encounter has important implications for how the Eucharist should be celebrated. Oduyoye offers a carefully nuanced articulation of Christian sacrifice, drawing a crucial distinction between making a sacrifice and being sacrificed.

Awolalu, J. Ọmọṣade. “Yoruba Sacrificial Practice.” Journal of Religion in Africa 5, no. 2 (1973): 81–93.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/1594756

Access: Free

A well-organised and systematic presentation, based on fieldwork, by a Nigerian Anglican scholar of religion and clergyman, that deals with the purposes, materials, and object of sacrifice. Awolalu writes that sacrifice among the Yorùbá has both a positive and a negative side, is referred to using the single term ẹbọ, contra Mbiti’s distinction between sacrifice and offering, and is indirectly offered to Olódùmarè, the Supreme Being. Free via subscription from JSTOR.

Ekem, John D. K. “A Dialogical Exegesis of Romans 3.25a.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30, no. 1 (2007): 75–93.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0142064X07081547

Access: Paid

A pioneering article in the field of mother-tongue biblical theology by a Ghanaian Methodist biblical scholar and translator. Ekem presents a novel exegetical method called ‘dialogical exegesis’ and illustrates it with a case study on the term hilastērion in Romans 3:25a. He examines various translations of the verse in European and African languages and then analyses both sacrificial concepts and popular legends among the Abura-Mfantse of Ghana in order to propose a better translation.

Kalengyo, Edison M. “The Sacrifice of Christ and Ganda Sacrifice: A Contextual Interpretation in Relation to the Eucharist.” In The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology, edited by Richard J. Bauckham, 302–18. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.

Kalengyo, a Ugandan Anglican priest and theologian, presents a clear and insightful example of liturgical inculturation. He uses a tripolar interpretive process, which involves first examining the biblical text (Hebrews 9:1-10:18), then analysing the context (the concept and practice of sacrifice among the Ganda of Uganda), and then addressing the question of appropriation (an inculturated understanding of Eucharistic sacrifice). He finally explores the implications for how the Eucharist should be celebrated.

Oduyoye, Mercy A. “Church Women and the Church’s Mission.” In New Eyes for Reading: Biblical and Theological Reflections by Women from the Third World, edited by John S. Pobee and Bärbel von Wartenberg-Potter. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1986.

URL: https://archive.org/details/neweyesforreadin00john

Access: Free

An important contribution by a Ghanaian Methodist theologian and ecumenical leader. Oduyoye’s starting point is her experience of the sacrifice of women in the African. She explains her understanding of the close connection between mission and sacrifice, investigates ritual sacrifice and self-sacrifice in African social contexts, and calls on the whole church – both men and women – to follow the example of Christ in the scriptures and the sacrificial lives of African churchwomen. Free via subscription from Internet Archive.

Sawyerr, Harry. “Sacrifice.” In Biblical Revelation and African Beliefs, edited by Kwesi A. Dickson and Paul Ellingworth, 57–82. London: Lutterworth Press, 1969.

Sawyerr, a Sierra Leonean Anglican priest and theologian, famously describes sacrifice as “the open sesame of the heart of the African to Christian teaching” (p. 58). He gives examples of sacrifices offered in West Africa, discusses their structure and purpose, and relates his reflections to wider discussions about the origin of sacrifice, the use of blood and the debate about expiation and propitiation. This classic article placed sacrifice squarely on the African theological agenda.

Ukpong, Justin S. “The Problem of God and Sacrifice in African Traditional Religion.” Journal of Religion in Africa 14, no. 3 (1983): 187–203.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/1594914

Access: Free A well-presented and sophisticated discussion, by a Nigerian Catholic priest and biblical scholar, that reassesses why some African peoples offer sacrifice to God only occasionally or not at all. He argues that both the Deus otiosus theory and the mediumistic theory are inadequate. Instead, he suggests that just as Ibibio etiquette demands that the king should not be approached often, so God is not given sacrifice frequently out of deference. Free via subscription from JSTOR.

Primary Resources on Sacrifice

While doing research for an encyclopaedia article on sacrifice in African theology, I have found lots of great primary resources online. The following text is a draft of the section that introduces some of the best examples.

There are a rich variety of primary resources available on the internet that are very relevant to the study of sacrifice in African theology. This section includes some examples from African religions and African Christianity. There is a good deal of material on African religions online, much of it collected by European ethnographers in the twentieth century. Evans-Pritchard 1935, Daneel 2004 and Cole 1973 are examples of photographs taken by ethnographers that bring out different aspects of sacrifice: the killing of a sheep, the butchering of an ox, and a building that has been created as a sacrifice to a deity. There is a wealth of material on African Christianity on the internet. Some of this material has been collected, but most of it has been added by African clergy and Christians. The earliest resources available are Ethiopian paintings of the crucifixion that depict Jesus as the Lamb of God (e.g., Double-Sided Gospel Leaf [first half 14th century]). Njau 1959 and Mveng second half 20th century are classic examples of modern African art that draw on African history and culture in their portrayals of Christ’s sacrifice. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century a vast amount of audio and video recordings have been put online. Eschatos Bride Choir 2016 is one of the most well-known African hymns that speaks about salvation through the blood of Jesus. This key notion has also been taken up in African liturgies, such as the Kenyan Eucharistic text that was used at the opening service of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and the closing service of the 2010 Cape Town Conference (Lausanne Movement 2011). Mbewe 2012 and Duncan-Williams 2016 are examples of an African Evangelical sermon on what it means to be a living sacrifice and an African Pentecostal sermon on having faith in the blood of Jesus.

Cole, Herbert M. Mbari Shrine House. 1973. Photograph of architecture and sculpture. Digital Collections of the University of Washington Libraries.

URL: https://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/digital/collection/buildings/id/6087

Access: Free

The front side of an mbari house built by Igbo artists in Owerri, Nigeria in the early 1960s. An mbari house is form of religious architecture containing painted sculptures that is created over several years as an elaborate sacrifice to the goddess Ala and other deities. For more photographs and an analysis of the process of building an mbari house, see Cole’s article, “Mbari Is a Dance,” which is freely available by subscription from JSTOR.

Daneel, Marthinus L. ATR High God Shrine Vembe – 45. 2004. Photograph. Old and New in Shona Religion, a project of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University.

URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/africanphotoarchivebu/15541834301/

Access: Free

The butchering of an ox as part of a rain calling ceremony at the cave shrine of Vembe in the Matopo hills of Zimbabwe. Priestess Intombiyamazulu, “Virgin of the Rain Clouds,” mediated for the delegation. According to Daneel, “Often the animal is black, symbolizing black clouds that bring rain. Some portions are kept and consumed by the priestess and her family.”

“Double-Sided Gospel Leaf [first half 14th century].” Tempera on parchment. Tigray, Ethiopia, 7 February 2017. The Met.

URL: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/477148

Access: Free

According to the Met, “The compelling images on this double-sided leaf are from a group of early fourteenth-century Gospels that feature a revival of motifs that reached Ethiopia from the eastern Mediterranean, probably in the seventh century.” The reverse side of the leaf depicts the crucifixion. Instead of portraying Jesus on the cross, the Lamb of God appears above the cross, a striking symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and victory.

Duncan-Williams, Nicholas. The Place of the Blood in a Believer’s Life. Sermon video, 1:05:22. Given at the Prayer Cathedral of Action Chapel International in Accra, Ghana. Posted 23 May, 2016.

URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KI_XVWwtQwg

Access: Free

Duncan-Williams is the Archbishop and General Overseer of Action Chapel International, a Ghanaian Pentecostal megachurch with a worldwide network of churches. In this sermon (4:00-) he particularly draws on Rev. 13:8 and 12:11, to show that the blood of Jesus is the key to a believer’s identity and a life of victory. A believer must have faith in the blood, which means believing in and invoking it in daily life, as well as participating in sacrificial giving.

Eschatos Bride Choir. Tukutendereza Yesu. Hymn Audio, 43:42. Posted 23 December, 2016.

URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwwMmm5NOGg

Access: Free

A beautiful rendition of the legendary hymn of the East African Revival (0:00-4:00). The words of the chorus proclaim the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus: “Tukutendereza Yesu / Yesu Mwana gwendiga / Omusaigwo gunazi’za / Nkwebaza Mulokozi” (We praise you Jesus / Jesus Lamb of God / Your blood cleanses me / I praise you, Saviour). The hymn is also closely connected with stories of sacrificial martyrdom in East Africa.

Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. Nuer sheep sacrifice. 1935. Photograph. Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

URL: http://photographs.prm.ox.ac.uk/pages/1998_355_21_2.html

Access: Free

The killing of a sheep as a sacrifice to the lion-spirit for a girl who was possessed by the spirit and had a seizure. According to Evans-Pritchard, “Her family sacrificed a sheep to the spirit and dedicated a cow to it, for the seizure was thought to have been due to their failure to dedicate a cow to it earlier; and the girl was restored to her normal self.”

Lausanne Movement. The Holy Communion – Closing Ceremony – Cape Town 2010. Worship video, 21:10. Given at the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town 2010 Congress on 24 October, 2010. Posted 8 October, 2011.

URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bumWSpYbkYk

Access: Free

The text of the Eucharistic Prayer and Institution (5:40-7:20, 11:01-13:50) is taken from the Church of the Province of Kenya’s A Kenyan Service of Holy Communion (Nairobi: Uzima Press, 1989). The words explicitly draw on both biblical and African understandings of sacrifice. In particular, the phrase “We are brothers and sisters through his blood,” (12:18) uses the African notion of blood brotherhood to proclaim the new kinship that believers have through Christ’s sacrifice.

Mbewe, Conrad. True Repentance Makes a Living Sacrifice. Sermon audio, 47:41. Given at Kabwata Baptist Church, Lusaka, Zambia. Posted 16 September, 2012.

URL: https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=919122325358

Access: Free

Mbewe, the Pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church, has gained an international reputation as “the Spurgeon of Africa.” In this sermon he interprets Psalm 51:18-19 in light of Romans 12:1-2, to show that true repentance means giving everything to God (9:37-). In view of Christ’s self-offering, believers are to give themselves as living sacrifices (34:30-). The Ethiopian eunuch and the conversion of Ethiopia is an example of such a life of surrender and the fruit it can produce (40:15-).

Mveng, Engelbert. Ugandan Martyrs Altar. Second half 20th century. Photograph of a mural on the apse of the Chapel of Libermann College, in Douala, Cameroon. ArtWay.

URL: https://www.artway.eu/content.php?id=1142&action=show&lang=en

Access: Free

Mveng was a Cameroonian Jesuit priest, artist and historian. As he writes, “The Christ in majesty standing above the altar recapitulates the offering of the whole world and all of humanity in the sacrifice of the cross. At the foot of Christ crucified stand the martyrs of Uganda: they are the image of all those people in Africa who have united the sacrifice of their lives to that of Christ crucified.”

Njau, Elimo. Crucifixion. 1959. Photograph of a mural on the interior north wall of the Saint James and All Martyrs Memorial Cathedral in Murang’a, Kenya, 3.5m x 4.5m. Pinterest.

URL: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/62417144810802902/

Access: Free

Njau is a Tanzanian artist who studied at Makarere University in Kampala, Uganda. The painting is one of five murals depicting scenes from the life of Christ in a church that was built as a memorial to Christians who had died during the Mau Mau rebellion. Njau draws on Kikuyu culture and the local landscape in his portrayal of Christ’s sacrificial death. The blood of Jesus trickles down from the cross, cleansing the people and the land.

Stories of Sacrifice from Below

My article entitled “Stories of Sacrifice from Below: From Girard to Ekem, Kalengyo and Oduyoye” has now been published in Stellenbosch Theological Journal 6, no. 4 (2020): 183-212. https://doi.org/10.17570/stj.2020.v6n4.a8.

Abstract:

In the Global North, the notion of “sacrifice” is highly controversial in contemporary discussion. In recent years, the influential work of René Girard has succeeded in putting sacrifice back on the intellectual agenda, but his story of sacrifice has primarily emphasised the theme of violence. Today, many theologians consider sacrifice inherently problematic and some would like to do away with it altogether. In Africa, however, the notion is highly popular across a wide range of theological traditions. The work of three African theologians – John Ekem, a Ghanaian mother-tongue biblical scholar, Edison Kalengyo, a Ugandan inculturation theologian, and Mercy Oduyoye, a Ghanaian women’s theologian – challenge Girard’s theory in three important ways. First, they challenge his traditional typological approach with a dialogical typological one. Second, they challenge his focus on violence by highlighting multiple themes. Third, they challenge his lack of an ecclesial dimension with fresh ways of appropriating Jesus’ sacrifice today.