Literalism in an approach to the Bible and exclusivism in religious vision are dangerous in multicultural and pluralistic religious contexts; they only foster ethnic conflicts and terrorism. The three monotheistic faiths, which locate ultimate truth and divine revelation in the written word and its prescribed fixed meaning, have had in their collective history constant violence and strife. The expression 'your Book (Koran) against my Book (Torah) against her and his Book (the New Testament)'70 vividly illustrates the power of the scriptures over their respective adherents and the crux of textual hegemony. A series of questions relating to the problem of the claim for absolute authority of the Christian Bible are raised further by David Miller: 'Why earthen vessels are then mistaken for golden bowls? Why my book, with my construction of its meaning, is paraded, in military-style, infallible, over against the books of others? Why human systems of meaning are granted divine status?'71
People of Asia actually experienced in their own history the destructive force of the 'divine word' coupled with a triumphant mentality nurtured by the religion of the book developed in Christianity. Although one should always seek ways to go beyond the tragic onslaught of one's historical experience, the assault of the Bible on Asian scriptures must not be taken too lightly or without thorough investigation into the problematic of book-based religion in the multi-scriptural reality of the Asian scene.
As has been shown, the boundaries of Asian texts, which serve as sacred religious texts to adherents of certain communities, are seldom clearly drawn. The ambiguity allows co-existence and invites cross-reading and confluence. To a greater or lesser extent adherents find borrowing and adaptation between texts of different religious traditions not only bearable, but also encouragingly fruitful. Conglomeration of diverse elements taken from these texts bespeaks not only a textual phenomenon
David L. Miller, 'The Question of the Book: Religion as Texture', Semeia 40 (1987), 53—64 at 53.
of cross-scriptural reading but also intense community neighbourliness. Harmonious inter-religious encounters are characterized by creative tension as well as effective resistance. At the end of a long interactive process, cross-textual enhancement and enrichment will revitalize the scriptural traditions concerned and transform them into new re-configured texts.
Biblical studies, taking on board the non-Christian scriptures of Asia, will make a strong declaration of the minority status of the Christian community in Asia in order to embrace the potential divine inspirational nature of other scriptures. This will eventually broaden the scope and renew the vitality of Christian biblical interpretation and theological discourse which, according to Soares-Prabhu, has remained 'disappointingly parochial'.72 Commenting on the Catholic theologians (though this is equally true, if not more so, of the Protestant scholars), he states further:
Catholic theologians theologize in happy ignorance of religious traditions other than their own, almost as if the affluent, post-Christian world of the West were man's only achievement and God's only concern. Such ethnocentrism in Christian theology was understandable enough in the cultural isolation of the Middle Ages, or the cultural aggressiveness and arrogance of the colonial age. It is anachronistic today. For in our rapidly shrinking global village, the encounter of world religions is a sign of the times which no theologians can ignore with impunity.73
In this respect, cross-textual hermeneutics presses the religious community and the discipline of biblical studies for the acknowledgement of a plurality of embodiments of truth and meaning. The biblical text cannot force its way, as it once did under the colonial power, to ignore and undermine Asian cultures and their religious texts. Cross-textual reading aims at achieving an iconoclastic role for the Bible; it enables the Christian community to open itself up to multi-textuality and the plurality of faiths. The Bible has to constantly engage and negotiate with other scriptures in order to shape a Christian identity in a multi-scriptural context, which is, as it should be, ambiguously hybrid in a postmodern and postcolonial global setting; but still it is empowering and life-sustaining.
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