Exhibition | The Slave Bible: Let the Story Be Told

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on January 21, 2019

From the press release (26 November 2018) for the exhibition:

The Slave Bible: Let the Story Be Told
Museum of the Bible, Washington, D.C., 28 November 2018 — April 2019

The Slave Bible: Let the Story Be Told spotlights an abridged version of the [Christian] Bible used by British missionaries who worked with enslaved Africans in the Caribbean. The exhibition provides insight into a dark moment in history in which the Bible and religion were used for imperial and economic gain.

Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands, an abridged version of the Bible, which became known as the Slave Bible, was published in London in 1807 and used by some British missionaries to convert and educate enslaved Africans about Christianity—while instilling obedience and preserving their system of slavery throughout their colonies. Only three surviving copies are known to exist. British colonists created the Slave Bible by removing sections—and in some cases entire books—from the Bible out of fear that the full Bible would promote rebellion among slaves or offer hope for a better life. The story of the Exodus from Egypt and the book of Revelation were stripped from this truncated version of the Bible. The results were drastic. A typical Protestant edition of the Bible contains 66 books, a Roman Catholic version has 73 books, and an Eastern Orthodox translation contains 78 books. By comparison, the astoundingly reduced Slave Bible contains only parts of 14 books.

“The Slave Bible was used to push a specific message to enslaved people. But this important artifact raises questions about much more than just this moment in history of human enslavement and Christian missions; it raises questions about how we understand and use the Bible today,” said Seth Pollinger, Director of Museum Curatorial.

Some examples of texts omitted from the Slave Bible include
• Exodus 21:16  “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.”
• Galatians 3:28  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
• Jeremiah 22:13  “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages and giveth him not for his work.”

For many African Americans, the book of Exodus is a cultural touchstone and continues to be exceedingly influential. The story of the suffering of Israelites as Egyptian slaves and their deliverance spur comparisons of the capture of Africans, the experiences of African Americans in the United States, and their hope for a better tomorrow through emancipation and civil rights legislation.

“I urge people of faith to see the Slave Bible exhibit, which provides an important historical view on how religion was distorted for man’s profit. While the abridged Bible was used as a book of oppression, the Bible today, indeed, is a book of freedom and hope for all communities, across the globe,” said Reverend Matthew Watley, Executive Minister of Reid Temple in Washington, D.C.

The exhibit is presented in coordination with Museum of the Bible partners Fisk University and the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life at the Museum of African American History and Culture. Museum of the Bible will hold a series of cultural events and panel discussions with clergy, historians, educators, and thought leaders to highlight the artifact and its impact on religion today.

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