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Posted February 19, 2007

Book: Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World
Edited by: R.S. Sugirtharajah
Orbis Book. Maryknoll, New York. 2006. Pp. 506

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

Let me begin with a personal anecdote. In the break between sessions at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meeting in Atlanta in 2003, I ran into two people who, seeing my name badge, approached me. One of them said, “When Voices from the Margin came out were students and among the book’s first users, and now we are teachers and continue to use it in our class. Thank you very much for your work.” Before I say anything they had gone. While I was still standing there, Francisco Lozada, a biblical scholar, saw me and said “I have been wanting to say this to you. There is a person in my class who after reading your Postcolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation wants to leave the church.” Two different but intriguing responses to two texts. Later in this chapter, I will try to unravel these different reactions.

Two brief historical notes, one sober, and the other flippant: it was no more than a coincidence, though perhaps a significant one, that the publication of Voices from the Margin coincided with the initiation of a section at the SBL meeting to deal with the Bible in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. At that time th SBL felt a need to globalize the field of biblical studies. The SBL section had it tenure, after which its work was parcelled out to other groups that have continued to frame and drive forward the debatge on minority hermeneutics.

My own initiative with Voices had an amusing birth. I was looking through a Society of the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) catalogue and was surprised to see that it included a reader in “animal theology” but nothing on the theologies of the Third World. So I wrote to a commissioning editor at SPCK, suggesting that if there could be an anthology highlighting the “theological propensities” of animals, why not a volume on people from the Third World? Thus began this long hermeneutical journey.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The Sick

In Judaism, sickness like other forms of ill fortune was considered to be punishment for sin. There are evidences of this notion also in the Gospels (cf. John 9.1; Luke 13.2; Mark, 2.5, etc.). This idea became even more dominant when the Pharisees applied the law to cleanliness to the common people. Consequently, in particular, lepers, the mentally ill and hemophiliacs were also alienated. The sick appear many times in the Gospels, and in many cases it seems that they have already been deserted by their family and neighbors. The reason why the sick were socially alienated was because they were poor and their condition contrary to the law of cleanliness. They were thus also alienated on religious grounds. The belief that their unfortunate lot was punishment for crime made it possible to exclude them from the community.

Some people feel that, according to Mark 2.5b, Juesus also had such an idea, but his is wrong. Mark speaks of belief here, but he does not speak about the belief of the patient himself, but of the people who carried the sick person on their shoulders. There are two more cases like this (5.36; 9.23) where belief is seen as a precondition for healing. We must recognize the fact that here belief means pure trust, regardless of belief about redemption. If this text gives weight to the idea of absolution from sin, the advent of the Kingdom of God must be regarded as bringing liberation not just from sins but rather from the whole dominating system and from the ideas upon which it is founded.

In this connection, we must take note of two things regarding the character of the healing story. One is that most of the sick had already left their dwelling-houses and were in the alienated situation of wanderers. The other is that, in most cases, Jesus sent them to their homes after curing them.

A good illustration of this character of the healing story, namely, the restoration of the lost rights, occurs in those stories concerning the lepers, who were typical of persons alienated by the law of cleanliness. Furthermore, lepers were isolated frm places where others lived. Hence, an important aspect of the restoration is for the cured leper to show himself to the priest to prove that he is cured and to offer the sacrifice that Moses ordered. Except for cases where the sick were children (5.33ff; 7.24ff) and where healing storiies have another purpose (3.1ff), Jesus says, “God back home!” or “Go!”. the phrase in 5.19 that the cured man wanted to follow Jesus emphasizes the fact that Jesus sent him home in spite of the fact that he wanted to remain with Jesus. The restoration here is different from ‘to call him’ (kalesai), which was a different process for the restoration of rights of people in society.

Table of Contents:

Part 1: Readings Strategies

1. The bible and the five hundred years of conquest
2. Re-reading for liberation: African American women and the bible
3. Marxist critical tools: are they helpful in breaking the stranglehold of idealist hermeneutics?
4. Developments in biblical interpretation in Africa: historical and hermeneutical directions
5. Postcolonial biblical interpretation

Part 2: Subaltern Readings

6. Jesus and the Minjung in the gospel of Mark
7. Breaking hegemonic boundaries: an intertexual reading of the Madurai Veeran Legend and Mark’s story of Jesus
8. Anti-greed and anti-pride: Mark 10.17-27 and 10.35-45 in the light of tribal values
9. The Cornelius story in the Japanese cultural context
10. The forgiveness of debts in Matthew and Luke: for an economy without exclusions
11. The skin of Miriam became as white as snow: the bible, western feminism and color politics
12. Wresting the message from the messenger: the Rastafari as a case study in the Caribbean indigenization of the bible
13. “Barak God and die!” Women, HIV, and a theology of suffering

Part 3: Many Readings: Exodus

14. A Latin American perspective: the option for the poor in the Old Testament
15. An Asian feminist perspective: the Exodus story
16. A Palestinian perspective: biblical perspectives on the Land
17. A Native American pespective: Canaanites, cowboys, and Indians
18. Exodus-toward-Egypt: Filipino-Americans’ struggle to realize the Promised Land
19. Let my people go!: threads of Exodus in African American narratives

Part 4: Postcolonial Readings

20. Returning to China: biblical interpretation in Postcolonial Hong Kong
21. Reading for decolonization (John 4. 1-42)
22. “Clothed in her right mind”: Mark 5. 1-20 and Postcolonial discourse

Part 5: Inter-textual readings

23. Two mission commands: an interpretation of Matthew 28.16-20 in light of a Buddhist text
24. The Book of Ecclesiastes and Thai Buddhism
25. Interpreting John 14.6 in Religiously plural society
26. The rhetorical hermeneutic of 1 Corinthians 8 and Chinese ancestor worship
27. Ego and self in New Testament and in Zen
28. On developing liberation theology in Islam
29. Wrestling in the night

Part 6: People as Exegetes: Popular Readings

30. A Brazilian example: ‘Listening to what the spirit is saying to the churches’ – popular interpretation of the bible in Brazil
31. A Malawian example: the bible and non-literate communites
32. A Nicaraguan example: the miraculous catch — Luke 5. 1-11.
33. An Indonesian example: the miraculous catch – Luke 5. 1-11
34. Toward a post-apartheid black feminist reading of the bible
35. The role of the bible in the rise of African instituted churches: the case of the Akurinu Churches in Kenya

Afterword: The future imperfect