P. D. Devanandan, Preparation for Dialogue (Bangalore: CISRS, 1964). Stanley Samartha's works on inter-religious dialogue are numerous. Noteworthy among them for our purposes is Stanley J. Samartha, Courage for Dialogue: Ecumenical Issues in Inter-Religious Relationships (Geneva: World
14 Council of Churches, 1981).
These writings include Wesley Ariarajah, Bible and People of Other Faiths (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1985) and Not Without My Neighbour: Issues in Interfaith Relations (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1999).
language. Therefore, the authority of the Bible was not operating over against the authority of Hindu scriptures; but rather, it was a newly-found authority which was based on the early Indian Christians' actual possession of the Bible in their mother-tongues and holding it in their hands. Having their own copy of the Bible was a symbol of dignity and pride for Indian Christians.15
A related issue was the choice of a term to denote the Bible. The main Hindu scriptures were named Veda. Is the Bible a Veda? The Tamil Bible has gone through an interesting history of choosing the right term for biblion. Those who named the Bible as Veda had to argue it either as one of the Vedas of Hindu faith or as the true Veda replacing the Hindu Veda. For example, Robert De Nobili, a Roman Catholic missionary to India in the sixteenth century used Veda as the term for the Bible, arguing that the Bible was the fifth Veda which was lost in a flood, according to Hindu mythology.16 Protestants, on the other hand, beginning with Bartholomew Ziegenbalg, who was the first Protestant missionary, have used variations of the term Veda such as Vedapusthagam (Veda-Book) and Vedaagamam (Veda and Agamas together), to claim a superior status for the Bible over and above the Hindu scriptures. More recently, Tamil Christians — both Roman Catholic and Protestant — prefer the term viviliyam, which is a transliteration of biblion!7 In choosing viviliyam they have acknowledged the Bible as one among the many scriptures of the world, deriving its authority from the community of faith that claims it as its scripture.
Secondly, what is the relation between the Hebrew Bible, Asian Scriptures and the Bible, especially in relation to the canon? For the firstcentury Jewish Christians, it was a smooth, though not easy, transition from the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament since the Hebrew Bible was Jesus' Bible too. How do Asian Christians move from their earlier scriptures to the Christian Bible? Those who denied any scriptural authority to Hindu, Buddhist and other scriptures claimed the canonical books of the Bible as their scripture. However, for those converts who accorded scriptural status and authority to their earlier scriptures, a different
5 See M. Thomas Thangaraj, 'The Bible as Veda: Biblical Hermeneutics in Tamil Christianity', in R. S. Sugirtharajah (ed.), Vernacular Hermeneutics (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), l6 pp. !33—43.
For a detailed treatment of Nobili's use of Veda, see Soosai Arokiasamy, Dharma, Hindu and Christian, According to Roberto De Nobili: Analysis of its Meaning and its Use in Hinduism and Christianity (Documenta Missionalia, 19, Rome: Editrice Pontifica Universita Gregoriana, 1986), chapter 5.
view of the biblical canon began to emerge. Arvind P. Nirmal, an Indian Christian theologian, puts this quandary in the following manner:
In spite of my desire to join in a recitation of the Deuteronomic Creed, 'A wandering Aramean was my father .. .', I really cannot identify myself with that Creed. This because I know for certain — historically — that this wandering Aramean was not my father. My father or forefathers were Indian Shudras and not Arameans.18
In dealing with this quandary, some Asian theologians have argued for viewing the Hindu, Buddhist, or Confucian scriptures as the 'Old Testament' for Asian Christians. For example, writing about the movement of Japanese Christianity during the Showa period, Yasuo Furnya mentions that 'for the Japanese, if not for Westerners, Shintoist ancient writings such as Kojiki and Nihonshoki are the Old Testament'.19 In India, on the other hand, it was Pandipeddi Chenchiah, an Indian lay-theologian, who viewed the Hindu scriptures as the Old Testament for Indian Christians.20 He was willing to view the New Testament as fulfilling some of the expectations and longings embedded in the scriptural writings of Hinduism — similar to the way in which early Christians interpreted the Hebrew Bible.21
Thirdly, how do Asian Christians negotiate the idea of the Bible as a source for theology in the midst of and in relation to other sources; such as, experience, the scriptural writings of Asians, folk stories, hymns and poems and art? One of most significant and distinctive elements in Asian theological enterprise is the place afforded to experience in the construction of Christian theology. In the Hindu philosophical traditions, anubhava (experience) plays a significant part in epistemology. Picking up on that significance, Asian theologians have argued for the primacy of experience as a source for theology. By the word 'experience' different theologians mean different things. After describing the context of Asia with its poverty, oppression, religiousness and so on, Peter Phan writes:
In an Asian theology whose form and method are moulded by and related to the historical context of Asia, as distinct from a theology in Asia whose structure and style are not shaped by such a context, the Asian reality as described above and not the Bible and/or tradition, is the starting point.22
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