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Pillars of Cloud and FireThe Politics of Exodus in African American Biblical Interpretation$
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Herbert Robinson Marbury

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479835966

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479835966.001.0001

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Exodus in the Wilderness

Exodus in the Wilderness

Making Bitter Water Sweet

(p.49) 2 Exodus in the Wilderness
Pillars of Cloud and Fire

Herbert Robinson Marbury

NYU Press

This chapter discusses black biblical interpretation between 1865 and the Nadir. It analyzes the interpretive activity of two prominent figures: Frances E. W. Harper and John Jasper. In the wake of the Civil War's radical disruption of the South's slave economy, and amid the promise of Reconstruction, Harper's Moses: Story of the Nile, published in 1869, shows optimism about the possibilities for black life. In the epic poem she fashions a Moses with virtues of the politics of respectability and commends him to the black community as the key to racial uplift. Nine years later, after any hopes of the promise of Reconstruction had been eroded, John Jasper, the towering pastoral figure of Richmond, Virginia, takes Exodus 13:5 and preaches his renowned sermon, “The Sun Do Move.” Defiant rather than optimistic, Jasper's pillar of fire politics rejects the truth claims of the new scientific discourses from which African Americans have been barred access.

Keywords:   black biblical interpretation, Frances Harper, John Jasper, Civil War, slave economy, Reconstruction, black life, black community

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