Let My People Live reengages the narrative of Exodusthrough a critical, life-affirming Africana hermeneutic that seeks to create and sustain a vision of not just the survival but the thriving of Black communities. While the field of biblical studies has habitually divided “objective” interpretations from culturally informed ones, Kenneth Ngwa argues that doing interpretive work through an activist, culturally grounded lens rightly recognizes how communities of readers actively shape the priorities of any biblical interpretation. In the Africana context, communities whose identities were made disposable by the forces of empire and colonialism—both in Africa and in the African diaspora across the globe—likewise suffered the stripping away of the right to interpretation, of both sacred texts and of themselves. Ngwa shows how an Africana approach to the biblical text can intervene in this narrative of breakage, as a mode of resistance. By emphasizing the irreducible life force and resources nurtured in the Africana community, which have always preceded colonial oppression, the Africana hermeneutic is able to stretch from the past into the future to sustain and support generations to come.
Ngwa reimagines the Exodus story through this framework, elaborating the motifs of the narrative as they are shaped by Africana interpretative values and approaches that identify three animating threats in the story: erasure (undermining the community’s very existence), alienation (separating from the space of home and from the ecosystem), and singularity (holding up the individual over the collective). He argues that what he calls “badass womanism”—an intergenerational and interregional life force and epistemology of the people embodied in the midwives, Miriam, the Egyptian princess, and other female figures in the story—have challenged these threats. He shows how badass womanist triple consciousness creates, and is informed by, communal approaches to hermeneutics that emphasize survival over erasure, integration over alienation, and multiplicity over singularity. This triple consciousness surfaces throughout the Exodus narrative and informs the narrative portraits of other characters, including Moses and Yahweh. As the Hebrew people navigate the exodus journey, Ngwa investigates how these forces of oppression and resistance shift and take new shapes across the geographies of Egypt, the wilderness, and the mountain area preceding their passage into the promised land. For Africana, these geographies also represent colonial, global, and imperial sites where new subjectivities and epistemologies develop.
Suitable for small-group study, a downloadable study guide written by the author is available for free.
“This is not a standard monograph on the book of Exodus; rather, it is an encounter between an ancient text and a person of African descent who has found that text to be a vehicle that speaks to the concerns of African people across the globe. This book is a must-read for all those who wish to become familiar with the achievements and possibilities of Africana hermeneutics. It is a testament to the importance of context in interpretation and to the insightful creativity of interpreters who take context seriously.” – The Bible Today
“Kenneth Ngwa’s Let My People Live is a refreshing academic exercise in reading for liberation. It not only takes African, postcolonial, and liberation biblical hermeneutics to a whole new level of execution, it also effortlessly occupies a whole new place in the biblical scholarship, generating new ways of writing, reading, analyzing, seeing, and interpretating. Ngwa thus invites us to a new exodus—a journey to a whole battalion of new ways of reading the narrative of Exodus, a story that has vexed the oppressed, displaced, dispossessed, and liberation questors in claiming the God who sees, knows, hears, and acts of the behalf of the oppressed, while at the same time authorizing the erasure of native people. The God we love to hate. Ngwa’s Let My People Live encourages readers to take up the gershomite-ogbanji postcolonial identity and hermeneutics, in quest of ‘the quality of life forged across time and space outside constructions of erasure, marginalization, and singularity.’”— Musa W. Dube, Professor of New Testament, Emory University
“The author ably foregrounds Africana hermeneutics as being about life. Forces of erasure, alienation, and singularization are resisted in favor of liberation for the communal flourishing of the Africana. An invaluable resource for Hebrew Bible scholars and students alike.”
— Madipoane Masenya (Ngwan’a Mphahl