Primary Resources on Sacrifice

Samuel K. Bussey | May 2022

One of the goals of the BEAT is to point readers to relevant primary resources on the internet that will help bring the subject to life. The aim is to show the connection between African theological discourse and the grassroots theologies of African Christian communities. In this post I introduce the primary resources section from a recent article on sacrifice and explain the rationale for the selection.

Primary Resources Online

There is a rich variety of primary material on sacrifice that is freely accessible on the internet. This section includes some examples from both African traditional religions and African Christianity that are relevant to the study of sacrifice in African theology. There is a good deal of material on African traditional religions online, much of it collected by ethnographers in the twentieth century. Evans-Pritchard 1935 and Cole 1973 are examples of photographs that bring out different aspects of sacrifice: the killing of a sheep and a building that has been created as a sacrifice to a deity. There is also a wealth of material on African Christianity online. 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 (Double-Sided Gospel Leaf [first half 14th century]) and Ethiopian Anaphoras (Harden 1928). Njau 1959 and Mveng 1960 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 includes 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 Service of Holy Communion 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: Link   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 free via subscription from JSTOR.

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

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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.

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Duncan-Williams is the Archbishop and General Overseer of Action Chapel International, a Ghanaian Pentecostal megachurch with a worldwide network of churches. After a worship song about the blood of Jesus and a prayer (0:00-4:00), he draws on Rev. 13:8 and 12:11 to argue that the blood is the key to a believer’s identity and a life of victory. Having faith in the blood 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: Link   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.

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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.”

Harden, John M., trans. The Anaphoras of the Ethiopic Liturgy. London: SPCK, 1928.

URL: Link   Access: Free

A translation of the Ethiopian Anaphoras as they have existed since around the sixteenth century. The concept of sacrifice is very important in Ethiopian liturgy; in Ge’ez the word qwarbān means both sacrifice and Eucharist. In the Anaphora of Saint Athanasius, which is used on Sundays, the Prayer of the Fraction declares that “to Him we do sacrifice, who is Himself the sacrifice” and calls on “the Lamb” to be present at the celebration (p. 99).

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: Link   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: Link   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 argue 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. 1960. Photograph of a mural on the apse of the Chapel of Libermann College, in Douala, Cameroon. ArtWay.

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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: Link   Access: Free

Njau is a Tanzanian artist who studied at Makerere 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.

Rationale for Selection

In the primary resources section above I try to do several things. First, I try to include examples that illustrate the different thematic sections of the article: Missionary Accounts, Anthropological Studies, African Theology and African Traditional Religions, Biblical Tradition, Christian Liturgy and Spirituality, and Christian Social Ethics.

The first three thematic sections cover sacrifice in African Traditional Religions from missionary, anthropological and theological perspectives. Although missionaries and theologians have gathered some primary material on this subject, it seems that very little of it is currently accessible on the internet. Anthropologists, on the other hand, have collected a good deal of primary material, which has been carefully preserved in university archives. Some of this has recently been digitized and is now freely available online. Given this, I use Evans-Pritchard 1935 and Cole 1973 to bring out different aspects of sacrifice in African traditional religions.

The next three thematic sections cover sacrifice in African Christianity, primarily from theological perspectives. The rise of the internet has led to a wealth of primary material on this subject, which is freely available online. Sermons provide useful examples of African Christian engagement with biblical tradition. I use Mbewe 2012 and Duncan-Williams 2016 to show two different ways of relating the sacrifice of Christ to the Christian life. Worship particularly helps to bring African Christian liturgy and spirituality to life. Duncan-Williams 2016 also includes singing and prayer and Lausanne Movement 2011 provides a helpful example of sacramental worship. Finally, artwork such as Mveng 1960, which depicts both Christ and the Ugandan Martyrs, offers important reflection on Christian social ethics.

In the primary resources section, I also try to illustrate the different kinds of resources that are available on the internet: photographs (Evans-Pritchard 1935), including photographs of artwork (Cole 1973Njau 1959 and Mveng 1960) and photographs of manuscripts (Double-Sided Gospel Leaf [first half 14th century] and Harden 1928), audio recordings (Eschatos Bride Choir 2016 and Mbewe 2012), and video recordings (Duncan-Williams 2016 and Lausanne Movement 2011).

Finally, I try to include examples from different African contexts. Unfortunately, I was unable to find sufficient English secondary resources to make a thematic section on sacrifice in Ethiopian tradition, so I decided to highlight this important area by including two primary resources instead (Double-Sided Gospel Leaf [first half 14th century] and Harden 1928). Hopefully in the future, I will be able to add a proper section. The other primary resources included come from Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, (South) Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia.

In sum, the aim of the primary resources section of the article is to introduce the reader to the rich variety of primary resources on sacrifice accessible on the internet and demonstrate their value for theological research on the topic. No researcher attempting to engage with African theological discourse on sacrifice can afford to ignore this wealth of digital material!

Samuel K. Bussey is a doctoral student in Intercultural Theology at the Protestant Theological University in Groningen, the Netherlands.

Photo Credit: “Double-Sided Gospel Leaf [first half 14th century],” The Met, accessed 30 May 2022. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/477148.

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