The Bible and Asia: From the Pre-Christian Era to the Postcolonial Age
R. S. Sugirtharajah
Harvard University Press, 2013
320 pp., $31.50
A "Mean and Merciless Book"?
I'm very glad I read The Bible and Asia once, but I doubt I'll read it again. Make no mistake, R .S. Sugirtharajah's new book is an unambiguously impressive survey of contrarian hermeneutics in an Asian context. Here Sugirtharajah has assembled a motley choir of Asian authors who find themselves singing from multiple scripts: the text of the Bible itself, the holy texts of other Asian faiths, the scripts imposed by various foreign and local colonial powers, and of course the scripts of their home cultures.
Postmodern biblical hermeneutics in this hypertextual environment yields (predictably) a cacophony: a result neither melodious nor harmonious but certainly instructive. Sugirtharajah himself is unapologetic about his agenda; he intends to assess the progress of self-consciously Asian hermeneutics so far, suggesting a path forward that increasingly values local contexts over and above any allegiance to the Bible itself and that simultaneously asserts itself as distinct yet fully equal to dominant Western modes of thinking and interpretation.
All this is a lot too much for a slim volume to bear and The Bible and Asia shows the strain at times. With the constraints of a 100-level introductory course in mind, Sugirtharajah has had to pick his Asian voices carefully. Aware he has no hope of covering the field adequately, he has nevertheless done his best to squeeze as many voices as possible into his book. The result is rather like browsing through a series of heavily filtered selfies on Instagram: one gets a blurred and tinted sense of a particular face and place before being rushed off to consider the next contrarian voice in Asian hermeneutics.
Helpfully, these voices are at least structured around chapter themes: Paul in Asia, the Bible in Asian fiction, traces of Asia in the Bible itself, and several chapters covering the hermeneutical projects of colonial administrators and the contrarian voices of colonized Asians. Grouping voices this way undoubtedly makes for easier ...