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Biblical Cush

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See also: Kingdom of Kush

Cush (Hebrew: כּוּשׁ, Modern Kuš Tiberian Kûš ; "Dark", IPA: [kuʃ]) was the eldest son of Ham, brother of Canaan and the father of Nimrod, and Raamah, mentioned in the "Table of Nations" in the Hebrew Bible (Book of Genesis 10:6, I Chronicles 1:8). The name is usually considered to be the eponym of the people of Kush.

According to Genesis, Cush's other sons were Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabtecah, names identified by modern scholars with Arabian tribes.

Josephus gives an account of the nation of Cush, son of Ham and grandson of Noah: "For of the four sons of Ham, time has not at all hurt the name of Cush; for the Ethiopians, over whom he reigned, are even at this day, both by themselves and by all men in Asia, called Cushites." (Antiquities of the Jews 1.6).

The existence of the historical Kingdom of Kush in what is now Southern Sudan cannot be reasonably questioned, although the term may later have been employed with some latitude. In addition, the modern Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken by various populations in the Horn of Africa, is named after the Biblical Cush.[1] The Cushitic-speaking peoples today comprise the Somali, Afar, Oromo and several other tribes, and are considered offspring of Cush in Masudi's Meadows of Gold from 947 AD[2]. The Beja people, who also speak a Cushitic language, have specific genealogical traditions of descent from Cush[3][4].

Explorer James Bruce, who visited the Ethiopia highlands c. 1770, wrote of "a tradition among the Abyssinians, which they say they have had since time immemorial", that in the days after the Deluge, Cush, the son of Ham, travelled with his family up the Nile until they reached the Atbara plain, then still uninhabited, from where they could see the Ethiopian table-land. There they ascended and built Axum, and sometime later returned to the lowland, building Meroe. He also states that European scholars of his own day had summarily rejected this account on grounds of their established theory, that Cush must have arrived in Africa via Arabia and the Bab el Mandab.[5]. Further, the great obelisk of Axum was said to have been erected by Cush in order to mark his allotted territory, and his son Ityopp'is was said to have been buried there, according to the Book of Aksum, which Bruce asserts was revered throughout Abyssinia equally with the Kebre Negest.

The wife of Moses was a Cushite, according to the Book of Numbers 12:1. Exagoge 60-65 by Ezekiel the Tragedian (fragments reproduced in Eusebius) has Zipporah describe herself to Moses as a stranger in the land of Midian, and proceeds to describe the inhabitants of her ancestral lands in Africa:

"Stranger, this land is called Libya {an ancient name for the African continent}. It is inhabited by tribes of various peoples, Ethiopians, dark men. One man is the ruler of the land: he is both king and general. He rules the state, judges the people, and is priest. This man is my father {Jethro} and theirs."

Scholars like Johann Michaelis and Rosenmuller have pointed out that the name Cush was applied to tracts of country on both sides of the Red Sea in the Arabia (Yemen) and in Africa. In the 5th century AD, the Himyarites in the south of Arabia were styled by Syrian writers as Cushaeans and Ethiopians.

Page from Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary by Elijah Levita

A page from Elia Levita's 16th century Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary contains a list of nations, including the word "כושי" Cushite or Cushi, translated to Latin as "Aethiops" and into German as "Mor".

Babylonian inscriptions mention the Kashshi or Kassites, and it was once held that this signified a possible explanation of Cush, the ancestor of Nimrod in Genesis chapter 8.

Although decisive evidence is lacking, it is still alleged by some that the several references to Cush in the Old Testament do not refer to Ethiopia; however, its frequent inclusion with Phut and Mizraim (Egypt) strongly suggests that it was at least considered to be African. Views on their precise location generally depend on how willing certain scholars are to concede that Ethiopia could have enjoyed the prominence claimed for it by others.

The rhetorical question "Can the Cushite change his skin?" in Jeremiah 13:23 implies people of a markedly different skin color from the Israelites, probably an African people; also, the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament made by Greek-speaking Jews between ca. 250 BC and 100 BC uniformly translates Cush as "Ethiopia."

The Persian historian Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (c. 915) recounts a tradition that the wife of Cush was named Qarnabil, daughter of Batawil, son of Tiras, and that she bore him the "Abyssinians, Sindis and Indians".[6]

Another person named Cush in the Hebrew Bible is a Benjamite who is mentioned only in Psalm 7, and is believed to be a follower of Saul.

References

  1. Armstrong, David F. (1999). Original Signs: Gesture, Sign, and the Sources of Language. Gallaudet University Press. pp. 155. "....The names Shem and Ham are current in linguistic classifications today, in the names for the dominant language families of the Middle East (Semitic) and North Africa (Hamitic), respectively. We can even find a Cushitic group of languages in Africa after Cush, one of the sons of Ham..." 
  2. Masudi's The Meadows of Gold (947 AD); Wahb ibn Munabbih (738) included among Cush's offspring "the "Qaran", the Zaghawa, the Habesha, the Qibt, and the Barbar", none of whom are Cushitic speakers.
  3. A History of the Beja Tribes of the Sudan, Andrew Paul, p. 20
  4. The Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Deciphering of Meroitic Script, Unesco, p. 54.
  5. Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, p. 305
  6. Tabari's Prophets and patriarchs
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