Cush and Ethiopia
[Editor’s note: Footnotes in the original are omitted. The footnotes contain the King James Version of the scripture being discussed.]
There is good evidence that “Cush” or Kûwsh, son of Ham, is not synonymous with the region south of Egypt, biblical African Ethiopia. In the Scriptures, it is seldom, if ever, used as a synonym for biblical African Ethiopia. This is especially true for Genesis 2:13, 10:6ff; Numbers 12:1; 2 Samuel 18:21; 2 Chronicles 14:8ff, 21:16; Psalm 87:4; Isaiah 11:11, 20:3, 43:3, 45:14; Ezekiel 28:10; and Habakkuk 3:7.
Most, if not all, biblical dictionaries identify Cush with Ethiopia, a region south of Egypt. However, most mention the existence of an Arabian Cush. The biblical African Ethiopia stretched from Aswan in present-day Egypt through northern and eastern present-day Sudan into northern present-day Ethiopia. It was the region between the junction of the Blue and White Nile to the First Cataract, the location of present-day Aswan and biblical Syene.
In the Septuagint and Vulgate, “Cush” is usually translated “Ethiopia.” In the King James Version, Kûwsh is translated “Cush” eight times and “Ethiopia” nineteen times. Kûwshîy (“Cushite”) is translated “Ethiopian” eight times and “Ethiopians” twelve times. Many other translation follow the King James Version. The Hebrew words should have been consistently and correctly translated “Cush” or “Cushite.” Such translation would have avoided the confusion of identifying Cush with modern-day Ethiopia, Nubia, or biblical African Ethiopia.
Most often, Cush refers to a people or region in Arabia instead of the region in Africa south of Egypt. As noted above, a number of Scriptural passages support this conclusion. Some of them are reviewed below.
First, Moses married a Cushite woman (Numbers 12:1) of Midian (Exodus 2:16,21; 3:1). Midian is in northwest Arabia and eastern Sinai. Zipporah is the only wife of Moses mentioned in the Pentateuch. Did Moses travel to the Upper Nile to Nubia or Abyssinia to find his wife or did he take a wife in eastern Sinai or northwest Arabia? The latter. (Some commentators claim that Zipporah is not the Cushite woman. Their argument is based on rejecting Midian as part of Cush. However, if Cush was Arabia, as most Scriptures referring to Cush imply, instead of Abyssinia or Nubia, then this claim loses its weight.) Cushites include Midianites and other Arabic people. In Habakkuk 3:7 Cushan is mentioned in parallel with Midian identifying two names for the same region. (In Hebrew “cushan” (kûwshân) is believe to be derived from “cush”(kûwsh). Hence, “cushan” is another name for “cush.”) In Judges 1:16, Moses’ father-in-law is called a Kenite. The Midianites, Kenites, and Cushites referred to in these passages are all the same people.
Second, in Ezekiel 29:10, God says that He will make Mizraim (or Egypt) a land of desolation from the tower of Syene (Seveneh) to the borders of Cush. Syene was Aswan near the Nile’s first cataract on the border of Egypt and Nubia (Ethiopia). If Cush is synonymous with Ethiopia, then the passage reads, “from Ethiopia to Ethiopia,” which is nonsensical. However, from Syene to Cush beyond the Isthmus of Suez gives the passage sense. Cush refers to Egypt’s eastern border, not its southern border. Hence, Cush refers to Arabia or a region of Arabia.
Third, in Genesis 10:7-8, lists the descendants of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, Sabtechah, Sheba, Dedan, and Nimrod. Nimrod is associated with Mesopotamia. The remainder are associated with the Arabian Peninsula. However, Seba appears to have crossed over to Africa and settled along the coast of present-day Ethiopia and Djibouti.
Fourth, in Genesis 2:13, before the Noachian Flood, Cush was identified with Mesopotamia. This identification assumes that Eden was in or near Mesopotamia. However, because “Cush” is translated “Ethiopia,” some place Eden in present-day Ethiopia. Thus, the four rivers flowing from Eden are the White Nile, The Blue Nile, the Atbara, and the Tekezé (Takkaze). More likely, Eden was where the Pamir Plateau of Central Asia is now with the four rivers being the Indus, the Jaxartes (Syr Darya), the Oxus (Amu Darya), and the Tarim (see Allen’s Adam to Abraham for a more detailed discussion). This would place the original Cush in Central Asia. In any event, it is not in Africa where the King James version places it. However, if the Noachian Flood was global, trying to locate Eden based on post-Flood geography is ridiculous. After the Flood washed away all land and covered much of the planet with sedimentary deposits, which in some place is more than a mile thick, the geography before the Flood bears no resemblance to the geography after it.
Fifth, the description given in Isaiah 11:11 indicates that Cush is Arabia. This verse names countries to which the Jews were dispersed during the Exile. Pathros was part of Egypt (Ezekiel 29:4). Hamath was north of Phoenicia. Elam and Shinar bordered the Persian Gulf. Islands of the sea were the islands of Greece and the Mediterranean. Cush must have represented Arabia and not some country 1500 miles away. If Cush is Arabia, then the countries named circumscribe Judea. That Jews were dispersed to nearby Arabia, part of which was under the rule of Babylon, is highly probable and likely. That Jews were dispersed to a far away country beyond the southern border of Egypt and beyond Babylon’s rule is highly improbable and unlikely. Furthermore, if Cush here is not equivalent to Arabia, then this immense peninsula, which was very familiar — much more so than Ethiopia — to the Judeans, would be omitted from the list of countries around Judea. (The King James Version got this one right.) Moreover, the Jews were recalled from the regions in which the remnant remained. However, at that time, the Jews had never colonized Ethiopia and were never carried there in their captivity.
Sixth, according to 2 Chronicles 14:13, the Cushites (or Ethiopians) fled to Gerar, which is located in southern Palestine in the foothills of Judean mountains in southern Philistia; it was between the Kingdom of Judea and the wilderness of Shur and Paran. Hence, it is the extreme northwest of Cush (Arabia) to which Zerah fled. Thus, the battle was in northwest Arabia. Zerah was probably a powerful chieftain coming out of Arabia instead of a Nubian from south of Egypt.
Seventh, in 2 Chronicles 21:16, the Arabs are described as being near, living near, or located by the Cushites (or Ethiopians in most translations). In this verse, Cushites must be in Arabia instead of Africa. Arabs at this time were much nearer Arabia than Africa.
Eighth, in Psalm 87:4, the Psalmist names Rahab (or Egypt), Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia (Cush). This verse describes the countries encompassing Zion or Judea: Rahab to the south and southwest, Philistia to the west, Tyre to the northwest and north, Babylon to the north and east, Cush to the southeast and south. Here Cush must refer to Arabia, not Africa, to complete the encompassing.
Several verses are occasionally cited to prove that Ethiopia (Cush) was south of Egypt and, therefore, Ethiopians were Negroes. These verses include 2 Kings 19:9; 2 Chronicles 14:9-14; Isaiah 20:3-5, 43:3, 45:14; Jeremiah 13:23, 46:9; and Ezekiel 30:5, 38:2-6. A few of these are discussed below.
First, Jeremiah 13:23 is used to prove that Ethiopians were Negroes; thus, Ethiopia would then be in Africa south of Egypt. This verse does not identify the race of the Ethiopians and, therefore, does not prove that Ethiopians were Negroes (they were Melanochroi regardless of their location in Nubia and Abyssinia or Arabia). However, this verse does imply the immutability of the races, species, of humans.
Second, in 2 Kings 19:9, Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia (Cush) was more likely an Arab than an African. The king of Assyria observed Tirhakah advancing toward Hezekiah. The Assyrian king’s ambassador advised Hezekiah that Tirhakah would not save Judea from the Assyrians. Was it more likely that the Assyrians learned of an African army before Hezekiah, whose kingdom was contiguous Africa? Or, was it more likely that the Assyrians would have notice an army coming out of Arabia before Hezekiah did? One point in favor of Tirhakah coming from Africa instead of Arabia is that African Ethiopians had recently gained control of Egypt.
Third, excluding Magog, which is unidentifiable, although some believe it is Russia, the nations described in Ezekiel 38:2-6 are in or around Assyria if Cush is understood to mean Arabia instead of the region south of Egypt and Libya is not the region west of Egypt. The King James Version translates bow as Libya. Most other translations translates bow as “Put” (In Genesis 10:6 and 1 Chronicles 1:8, the King James Version translates bow as Phut, and elsewhere it translates it as “Libya” or “Libyans.”) Although the location of Put or Phut is disputed, most place it in Africa. It is most commonly identified with Libya. It is also identified as east Africa bordering the Red Sea, i.e., from Upper Egypt to Somaliland. Based on the assumption that Cush is the region south of Egypt, Put has been identified with Punt, present-day Somaliland. If Cush is in Arabia and Lud refers to the Lydians in northeast Egypt (see the discussion on Lud below), then Put would be to the east of Egypt. “According to Glaser the name [Put] first referred to E. Arabia, was then transferred to the S. Arabian incense coast, and was eventually applied to the African coast of Somaliland” (Davis p, 504).
Fourth, Ezekiel 30:5 mentions Cush (Ethiopia, KJV) together with Put (Libya, KJV), Lud (Lydia, KJV), and Chub. Chub or Cub is probably Lub or Lubim. Like Lub, Cub is generally identified as Lybia. Likewise, Lud or Ludim is often identified as Libya. However, some identify Lud with the Lydians who came from Lydia in Asia Minor and settled in northeast Egypt. Others identify Lud with a Berber tribe, a tribe in Cyrenaica, or Ionian and Carian mercenaries. Another possibility is mercenaries from Lydia in Asia Minor. In any event, Lubim were mercenaries, who were famous as archers. Nevertheless, the connection of the countries mentioned in Ezekiel 30:5 implies a geographical proximity. However, the proximity may be to the east of Egypt as well as to the south of Egypt. Arabia is a better choice because the Cushites are known to have settle in Arabia. However, that the Cushites or any other Hamites settle south of Egypt is doubtful.
When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the Septuagint translation, the translators translated “Cush” as “Ethiopia.” It is this maltranslation that has led to confusion of the Arabs with Nubians and the Arabian Peninsula with the Upper Nile.
In Greek “Ethiopian” means “scorched-face” or “burned-face.” Hence, “Ethiopian” is a dark-complexioned person, such as a suntanned Arab. It was applied to the inhabitants of Arabia and northwest India. Herodotus described Asiatic Ethiopians in the army of Xerxes, who were different from the African Ethiopians. Only later, after 525 B. C., did the Greeks become aware of the Nubians, who were Melanochroi, and true Negroes south of Egypt. Over time “Ethiopian” became reserved only for these people.
In summary “Cush” refers to Arabia in its widest sense and Arabian tribes, who are mostly a dark-complexion, Melanochroi, in chapter ten of Genesis. With perhaps the exception of a few passages in the later books of the Bible where geographical precision is sacrificed for poetry, “Cush” means Arabia not Abyssinia or Nubia. Where it may refer to an African people, it refers to Nubians and true Ethiopians, neither of whom are Negroes, but who are Melanochroi. It never includes any of the Negro races.
Allen, Thomas Coley. Adam to Abraham: The Early History of Man. Franklinton, North Carolina: TC Allen Company, 1998.
Allen, Thomas Coley. Integration Is Genocide. Franklinton, North Carolina: TC Allen Company, 1997.
Davis, John D. The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible. Revised by Henry Snyder Gehman. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 1944.
Douglas, J.D. et al., editors. The New Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962.
Fausset, A.R. Fausset’s Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1949.
Jacobus, Melanchthon W., Edward E. Norse, and Andrew C. Zenos, editors. A New Standard Bible Dictionary. New York, New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co., 1926.
Miller, Madeleine S. and J. Lane Miller. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. 6th ed. New York, New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1959.
Unger, Merrill F. Unger’s Bible Dictionary. 3rd edition. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1960.
Winchell, Alexander. Preadamites or a Demonstration of the Existence of Men Before Adam; Together with a Study of Their Condition, Antiquity, Racial Affinities, and Progressive Dispersion over the Earth. Fourth Edition. Chicago, Illinois: S.C. Griggs and Company, 1888.
Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Coley Allen.
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