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Poverty in Ethiopia: An Historical-Theological Analysis from John Iliffe

The following notes reference a significant work by John Iliffe, The African Poor: A History, African Studies(Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987).  The notes are limited to Illiffe's discussion of poverty in Ethiopia.  The publication came just 4 years before Mengistu's Communist government fell, but the focus Illiffe has is more broadly historical--and therefore, in the case of Ethiopia, also theological.  Too often, discussion of matters of wealth and poverty in Christian theology are inadequately rooted in the right fields of study, such as Biblical exegesis and theology, historical research, and cultural analysis.  Instead, one finds theoreticians who build discussion on principles and values and lay themselves open to ideological agendas and unstated presuppositions that easily and regularly distort the Biblical text, Christian history, and actual contexts.  So, these notes are offered as exemplary for the kind of discussion needed at one level (the others being Biblical exegesi…

(Mis)interpreting Scripture on Issues of Justice, Wealth, Poverty, and Property

My following outline of notes engage the argument of Jose Miranda, Marx and the Bible(London: SCM and Orbis Press, NY, 1977), pp. 14-22, as reproduced in Robin Gill, ed., A Textbook of Christian Ethics (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1985), pp. 278-287.  Miranda represents one argument among liberation theologians--perhaps an extreme position (and note the date of his publication).  He maintains that private property ownership is unbiblical and unchristian, and he is quite eager to argue for a Marxist interpretation of Scripture on the issue of wealth, poverty, and property.  In my view, Miranda is easily criticized for poor scholarship, but seeing where his interpretation goes wrong and why is a helpful exercise in exploring how to engage Scripture on the issues of justice, wealth, poverty, and property.

I. One must appreciate the tenor of Miranda's appeal, that Christianity affects us not only in our faith but also in our treatment of others and in what we do with our wealth.  Thi…