Jesus as Spirit, Jesus in the Spirit: Interpreting the Risen Jesus with Restless Spirits and Ancestors (Luke 24:1–49)

In: Biblical Interpretation and African Traditional Religion


This chapter brings the interpretations of the Lukan resurrection narrative into dialogue with African scholarship on Ancestor Christologies. Post-mortem existence is considered in cross-cultural context and illuminates further the notion of the extended person that began in Chapter 4. The rejection of the idea of Jesus as ancestor generates conversation with the Christologies of Pobee (1979), Nyamiti (1984), Bediako (1995), and Bujo (1986). However, the central question is why the notion was rejected, and therefore the dialogue is focused on studies that also raise objections to Ancestor Christologies (e.g. Palmer 2008).

The early missionaries determined that beliefs surrounding ancestors (aathithi) were incompatible with Christianity. However, their significance is shown here to endure (as but one aspect of the lived experience of spirits), demonstrated through reports of making libations in order to traverse aathithi fields – burial grounds – without hindrance. The indigenous, pre-Christian realm also came to the fore when discussing the egumbo (homestead): as one participant put it, ‘culture is more at home but only the culture that is good [goes] to church’. This chapter discusses further the sense of parallelism presented by the participants regarding the relationship between local culture and Christianity. For example, children reported sleeping ‘traditionally,’ rather than ‘by Christianity.’ It is arguable that the aathithi, too, would fall within the non-church realm, engaging with ideas of egumbo, aathithi fields, pre-missionary culture and oral wisdom. Perhaps this might further the distinction between them (egumbo-based) and Jesus (church-based).