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Niles, 'The Word of God and the People of Asia', in Butler et al. (eds.), Understanding the Word:

38 Essays in Honour of Bernhard W. Anderson, p. 282.

A. C. C. Lee, 'Genesis 1 From the Perspective of a Chinese Creation Myth', in A. Graeme Auld (ed.), Understanding Poets and Prophets: Essays in Honour of Professor George Anderson (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), pp. 186—98; A. C. C. Lee, 'Theological Reading of Chinese Creation Stories of Pan Ku and Nu Kua', in John C. England and Archie C. C. Lee (eds.), Doing Theology and Asian Resources (Auckland: Pace Publishing, 1993), pp. 230—37; A. C. C. Lee, 'The Chinese Creation Myth of Nu Kua and the Biblical Narrative in Genesis 1—11', Biblical Interpretation 2 (1994), 312—24; A. C. C. Lee, 'Death and the Perception of the Divine in Zhuangzi and Koheleth', Ching Feng 38 (1995), 68—81.

Reconciling the existence of the Asian text (Text A) and the biblical text (Text B) and seeking ways to appropriate them require us to construct a broader framework of meaning to accommodate different religious perspectives.39 Niles sees in this a better chance of a deeper search for and an engendering of meaning in the interplay of these perspectives, which does not necessarily lead to polarization.40

Aloysius Pieris, a Sri Lankan Christian-Buddhist scholar, is convinced that biblical interpretation in Asia must acknowledge and take into account scriptures of other Asian religions in their search for the divine-human encounter and the 'God-experience' in the human concern for liberation praxis. He sees theology and biblical interpretation as oriented towards praxis ('theopraxis') and seeking mutuality and harmony between 'God-experience which is silence and the man-concern which makes it heard'.41 Pieris characterizes Asian religions in terms of mutuality of praxis and theory and further urges theological articulation in Asia to reconcile and engage with the plurality of Asian religions and the social-political struggle for liberation of the poor. Pieris has implemented theopraxis in reading the Bible and Tripitaka in seminars for Buddhist-Christian dialogue groups that he has conducted in Sri Lanka in the last twenty years or so. He summed up very well the different approaches to understanding the Bible and other scriptures under the suggested rubric of 'cross-scriptural reading', when he was invited to write on his experience.42

He proposed three major approaches, grouping together some present efforts at such a reading: the extra-contextual confrontation of text, the liturgical appropriation of text, and the symbiotic encounter of text. In the extra-contextual confrontation of text, Pieris underlines the easy equation of the two scriptures by de-contextualizing the two texts under study. He identifies the superficial comparison as an irenic approach, achieving similarity of ideas and messages without respecting the difference

39 A. C. C. Lee, 'Cross-Textual Interpretation and its Implications for Biblical Studies', in Segovia and Tolbert (eds.), Teaching the Bible, pp. 247—54; A. C. C. Lee, 'Cross-textual Hermeneutics on Gospel and Culture', Asia Journal of Theology 10 (1996), 38—48; A. C. C. Lee, 'Weaving a Humanistic Vision: Reading the Hebrew Bible in Asian Religio-Cultural Context', in Leonard J. Greenspoon and B. F. Le Beau (eds.), Sacred Text, Secular Times: The Hebrew Bible in the Modern World (Omaha, Nebraska: Creighton University Press, 2000), pp. 283—95. Niles, 'The Word of God and the People of Asia', in Butler et al. (eds.), Understanding the Word:

41 Essays in Honour of Bernhard W. Anderson, p. 301.

Aloysius Pieris, 'The Asian Sense in Theology', in John England (ed.), Living Theology in Asia

42 (London: SCM Press, 1981), pp. 171—6 at p. 175.

Aloysius Pieris, 'Cross-Scripture Reading in Buddhist-Christian Dialogue: A Search for the Right Method', in Philip L. Wickeri (ed.), Scripture, Community and Mission (Hong Kong: Christian Conference of Asia, London: The Council for World Mission, 2003), pp. 234—55.

of paradigms in the two texts.43 This approach to Asian biblical interpretation is therefore a superficial comparative method of bringing the biblical text together with an Asian text, wherein a comparable situation, event, or theme forms the contact point between the two texts. The similarities in both texts are illuminated, but it is more often than not that the philosophical concepts are compared and contrasted without acknowledging their respective context.44 Pieris's symbiotic approach to the reading of texts stresses the living encounter of religions, 'resulting in a further articulation of implicit meanings which these texts would not reveal unless they are mutually exposed to each other's illuminating dis-courses'.45 Examples are cited, by Pieris, for the reciprocal significance of cross-scriptural reading in the mutual illumination of the biblical text by the Buddhist scriptures and vice versa.46

Asian Christians inherit two textual traditions - that of the native Asian scriptures and that of the newly acquired Christian Bible. This fact should exert a great challenge to the hermeneutical task and compel Asian Christians to develop a new interpretive approach. Samartha further infers that 'if this fact is taken seriously Asian Christians could provide a bridge through which the insights of different scriptures might be shared in the larger community'.47 The obstacle to the realization of an enriched religious world embodied in scriptures is, among other political and institutional factors, the preconceived presupposition of the supremacy of the Bible in Christian understanding, which assumes an absolute authority and an exclusive truth-claim of the Christian text that is set against the unreality and idolatrous perversion of other religions. Such an antagonistic attitude makes it impossible for Asian Christians to quest for a new hermeneutics that could both enhance Asian theological construction and enrich the larger global community, in the search for an integrated human spirituality and harmonious social order for humanity as a whole.

With the extended view of the notion of scripture that comes to terms with the multiplicity of scriptural traditions in Asia, it is only natural that the Bible entering the world of religion in Asia does by no means hold sway over the other scriptural texts; and it is definitely imperative that it be read cross-textually with other members of the scriptural family of humankind.

Khiok-Khng Yeo, 'Amos (4:4-5) and Confucius: The Will (Ming) of God (Tien)', Asia Journal of

Pieris, 'Cross-Scripture Reading in Buddhist-Christian Dialogue: A Search for the Right Method',

46 in Wickeri (ed.), Scripture, Community and Mission, p. 244.

Ibid., pp. 244-53. 47 Samartha, One Christ — Many Religions, p. 75.

READER, IDENTITY AND CROSS-TEXTUAL INTERPRETATION

Reading scriptures, according to Soares-Prabhu, involves dialogical exchanges between the reader and the text, where each is open to the claims of the other. The reader, bringing his/her pre-understanding and contextual concerns to the Bible, must 'respect both the historical distance of the text and specificity of the religious experience it seeks to com-municate'.48 Soares-Prabhu advocates a different method of reading the biblical text when the alleged standardized historical critical method is shown to be 'ineffective, irrelevant and ideologically loaded'.49 The inadequacy of historical criticism prompts him to seek for a 'cross fertilization of modern methods of biblical exegesis with the Indian exegetical tradition'.50

Based on Soares-Prabhu's discontent with historical criticism in interpreting the Bible and the multi-scriptural Asian milieu, Moon-Jang Lee proposes a fresh approach which aims at the fusion of the western academic historical—critical method and the Asian intuitive reading of the Bible.51 In order to build a wider framework of interpretation to facilitate the reading of the Christian Bible in the midst of other Asian scriptures, this has been a constant call for making use of the principles of interpretation in the Asian philosophical and religious traditions.52 Samartha also calls our attention to the long history of hermeneutical and exegetical traditions in Asia that have developed independently of the impact of western Christian interpretive tools.53 There are, however, problems with these Asian hermeneutical tools, which originated from abstract philosophical traditions, born out of historical contexts that are mostly biased towards the ruling and the literary class, as revealed by dalit and minjung interpretation.

Asian biblical interpretation does not seek for mere information from the past, which historical criticism may shed relevant light upon. In a way,

Soares-Prabhu, 'Interpreting the Bible in India Today', in D'Sa (ed.), Theology of Liberation, p. 5. George M. Soares-Prabhu, SJ, 'Toward an Indian Interpretation of the Bible', in I. Padinjarekuttu (ed.), Biblical Themes for a Contextual Theology Today: Collected Writings of George M. Soares-Prabhu SJ (Pune: Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, 1999), pp. 207—22 at p. 208. The article was originally

50 published in Biblebhashyam 6 (1980), 151—70.

51 Soares-Prabhu, in D'Sa, (ed.), Theology of Liberation, p. 216.

Moon-Jang Lee, 'A Post-Critical Reading of the Bible as a Religious Text', Asia Journal of Theology

In the case of India, K. P. Aleaz has provided a summary of different efforts in understanding Christian ideas through Indian traditions: K. P. Aleaz, Christian Thought Through Advaita Vedanta (Delhi: ISPCK, 2000); and R. S. Sugirtharajah and Cecil Hargreaves have edited a collection of articles on Indian Biblical hermeneutics in part 4 of Readings in Indian Christian Theology (London: SPCK, 1993).

Samartha, One Christ — Many Religions, p. 68.

historical criticism may lend a helping hand in the reconstruction of the past, but historical data are not all that readers are concerned with in reading a religious text. Furthermore, practitioners of the method often admit that 'what lies behind the text' (what really happened?) and 'what the authorial intention was' (what exactly was said?) are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to recover. The shift from the author to the reader and from the past to the present is a challenging movement that modern readers of the Bible, as a religious classic, in search of the meaning of existence and in quest of practical liberation, would be ready to affirm.54 David Tracy has shed some light on our understanding of religious classics, one of the characteristics of which is their 'excess of meaning'. He asserts that '[e]very classic lives as a classic only if it finds readers willing to be provoked by its claim to attention'.55 The readers do not repeat but interpret a classic from their own contexts and with their pre-under-standings. The act of interpretation is therefore considered absolutely necessary and fully public by Tracy, who acknowledges the process of retrieval of tradition and critical appropriation in the present. He further assumes that both text and reader are never static realities but realities-in-process.56 Through the reading of classics the reader is confronted, surprised, shocked and challenged.57 In the process of interpreting the classics the readers are interpreted as well. Classics embody the cultural experience of human reality and 'disclose a compelling truth about our lives'.58 In them lies the realized experience, the memory of the past and the hope for the future.59 There is, therefore, recognized 'remarkable resonances, even profound continuities, between many of the major literary and religious classics and expression in the culture'.60 Religious classics open up a world of meaning and truth experienced in historical human context. The contextuality does not set a limit and constraint but profoundly relates to the whole of reality. With a continuous effort of interpretation, religious classics empower and transform the interpreters. Tracy uses the notion of conversation to bring out the dynamics of interpretation in reading scriptures. The quality of a demand for attention resting in a classic invites constant interpretation but resists a fixation of

55 Soares-Prabhu, 'Interpreting the Bible in India Today', in D'Sa (ed.), Theology of Liberation, p. 4. D. Tracy, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture ofPluralism (London:

59 Ibid., p. 105. 57 Ibid., p. 107. 58 Ibid., p. 108.

According to Tracy, the act of new interpretation is awaited by classics, and it is not only social and

60 communal but also dialogical, ibid., pp. 115—24.

meaning and an absolute certainty. The excess of meaning and the radical otherness will open up the possibility of 'similarity-in-difference' and leads to 'an analogical imagination'.61 The contemporary affirmation of plurality of lived experiences and diversity of contexts inevitably generate a variety of interpretations of the Bible.62 Here the shift from the text to the reader must be underlined. Paul Ricoeur believed strongly that the process of composition was not completed in the text, but in the reader, in whom the reconfiguration of life is made possible by narrative. Ricoeur puts his position precisely and concisely in the following words:

I should say, more precisely: the sense or the significance of a narrative stems from the intersection of the world of the text and the world of the reader. The act of reading thus becomes the critical moment of the entire analysis. On it rests the narrative's capacity to transfigure the experience of the reader.63

While cross-textual interpretation aims at addressing the reader, for Asian Christians in the context of multi-scriptural Asia, neither the historicity nor the literary characteristics of the text is the primary concern. Simon Kwan, a young theologian from Hong Kong, rightly criticizes the inadequacy of both the literalist mode (text-oriented) and the contextual approach (context-oriented) in Asian hermeneutics. He summarizes the alternatives attempted by some Asian scholars under the rubrics of the interpreting subject 'who mediates between the text and the context'.64 Cross-textual reading, which Kwan classifies under his framework of the interpreting subject, finds its primary location in the reader in community, which seeks to make sense of the Bible in the midst of a religiously plural neighbourhood facing both the impacts of globalization and the rising new forms of colonialism. The reading community is therefore the subject who has to negotiate meaning from the dialogical interactive interplay of the multiple texts under its custodianship. We must reiterate that the well-defined and restricted notion of text has been called into question and the boundary of any text must extend well beyond the traditional literary form and its immediate context. No text should hold sway over

Ibid, pp. 445—57; David Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope (Chicago:

62 University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 20.

David Tracy, 'Reading the Bible: A Plurality of Readers and a Possibility of a Shared Vision', in D. Tracy (ed.), On Naming the Present: Reflections on God, Hermeneutics and Church (London:

Paul Ricoeur, 'Life in Quest of Narrative', in David Wood (ed.), On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and

64 Interpretation (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 20—33 at p. 26 (original italics). S. Kwan, 'Asian Critical Hermeneutics Amidst the Economic Development of Asia', PTCA Bulletin 11:1 (1998), 4—13 at 5.

other texts. The mono-textual supreme status of the Bible must be challenged and the local texts, too, should not have any overpowering claim. The two texts should be subjected to a vigorous and down-to-earth critical appraisal by readers who seek a renewed configuration of the identity of Asian Christians in a wider community.

Since the other Asian scriptures have been disgracefully pushed aside or embarrassingly discredited for some time, simply rescuing them from their present powerless status and enthroning them again is a hopelessly retrospective effect. In an age of dynamic changes and fluidity a static authentic identity recovered from the past or simply constructed from a narrowly defined localized site is never a desirable alternative to the apparently ambiguous and multivalent identities that may have bothered some in this globalized village. But the fact of the matter is that, while almost everybody nowadays is in possession of dual, triple or multiple identities and religiously 'almost everybody is everywhere',65 no one should dream of a pure identity fossilized or frozen in the past. The way forward in biblical studies for the Asian religious community is what Wai-Ching Angela Wong proposed in the inaugural address of the Congress of Asian Theologians (CATS). According to her, hybridity is the key to the Asian theological agenda of the twenty-first century and to the construction of the identity of Christian community in Asia. It helps theology and biblical interpretation to go beyond the binary opposite of east and west, which sees Asian identity in the category of difference constructed and designated by the west.66

Sugirtharajah also affirms the positive contribution of 'the post-colonial category of hybridity as a potential tool' in working out a Christian theological discourse in the Indian/Asian context. In his words, the proposal will address the issue of Christian identity in Indian theology and the Indian Church in responding to the challenge of religious pluralism:

The postcolonial notion of hybridity is not about the dissolution of differences but about renegotiating the structure of power built on differences. It is not synonymous with assimilation. Assimilation is something that the colonialists, and later the na-tivists, advocated. It is a two-way process — both parties are interactive, so something new is created. Living in multiple contexts means reforming the Christian identity. In this way, it will be accepted as complementary to other religious discourses in India and as a companion in the search for truth and religious harmony.67

66 Mark Juergensmyer, Global Religions: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 4. W. C. Wong, 'Postcolonialism', in Fabella and Sugirthararjah (eds.), Dictionary of Third World

R. S. Sugirtharajah, Postcolonial Reconfigurations: An Alternative Way of Reading the Bible and Doing Theology (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2003), p. 26.

As pastor of a grass-roots Christian church in a local parish of Hong Kong in the i970s, I personally witnessed the dichotomy in the Christian community. At the times of birth, marriage and death, the congregation fell back to traditional values, customs, beliefs and ethoses. The Christian faith and its symbols just could not cope with the life situations at hand. Christianity failed to address the emotions and feelings of loss and bereavement; it did not adequately provide or contain the understanding of life fit for the life situation. I remember vividly funerals where the congregation reverted to traditional Chinese practices regarding veneration and the taboos of the dead. Beliefs in the world of the ancestors and its close link with the living were still alive despite years of vigorous Christian education. After these many years of Christianization and modernization, the religio-cultural texts supposedly eliminated from the community of Asian Christians are still in operation. They may be idling and inactive at times, when it comes to matters concerning the Christian faith, but they will pop up and claim their legitimacy in the daily interaction with the non-Christian world and in times of crisis.

In the religious world of the Chinese, the beliefs in the world of ghosts and spirits, yin and yang, feng-shui, fate and destiny as well as the realm of the dead and its impact on the living permeate different aspects of daily life and cultural practices.68 Given the syncretistic approach to religion in the Chinese popular religious sphere, there is little wonder that in Christian funerals, wedding feasts and birth celebrations, traditional customs survive in various forms and creep into the supposedly triumphant world of the Christian gospel.69 Should Chinese Christians continue to be in this situation of guilt, timidly hiding some of these unorthodox practices 'under the carpet'? Should the pastors go on pretending that they do not see or hear what happens behind the scenes in a Christian funeral? How long do we have to function as a split self, having to play with one 'text' at one time and the other in a different setting? Asian Christians can no longer live with integrity when the 'two texts' are held in different compartments. Somehow there needs to be an integrative process and a creative interface as well as a dialogical relation between

A. C. C. Lee, 'The ''Aniconic God'' and Chinese Iconolatry', in Yeow Choo Lak (ed.), Doing Theology with Religions of Asia (Singapore: The Association for Theological Education in South East Asia, 1987), pp. 33-57; A. C. C. Lee, 'Syncretism from the Perspectives of Chinese Religion and Biblical Tradition', Ching Feng: A Journal on Christianity and Chinese Religion and Culture 39:3 69 (i996) 1-24.

I understand that in the Christian west, the gospel has been variously contextualized, having local 'pagan' practices brought in to 'enrich' it; European Christianity can, therefore, in no way claim to be pure and original.

them. In the long run and for a healthy lived self, the 'suppressed text' must not be left unattended; the cross-textual interpretation is an attempt to address this issue concerning the Christian community in Asia. It attempts to achieve a new configuration of the identity of the reader and facilitate Asian Christians to live in an open community with active interaction with their multi-religious neighbourhood.

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