The Bible and Asia: From the Pre-Christian era to
the postcolonial age
R. S. Sugirtharajah
Harvard University Press £22.95
Church Times Bookshop £20.65 (Use code CT912
R. S. SUGIRTHARAJAH's book The Bible and Asia is a rich
and fascinating account of the history of the Bible in Asia from
the pre-Christian era to the post-colonial age. The author writes
directly and informatively a series of essays on a variety of
themes varying from a definition of "Asia" through to the way in
which the Bible appears "Between the Lines of Asian Fiction".
Key to understanding the part played by the Bible and its place
in Asia are merchants, moralists, and poets. Sugirtharajah explores
the little-known history of the period between 50 BC and AD 100,
when India played a leading part in the world's history, commerce,
and wealth, and how this influenced the part played by religion in
the Mediterranean region.
From the colonial period, the reader is invited to consider the
impact of Semitic influence upon Asian theology, and of the
necessity for the Asian nations of going "through their own
experiences of exodus, captivity, nation building, rebellion
against heaven", if salvation history is to have authenticity in
The impact of the use and abuse of Christian texts by Western
missionaries, and their demonisation of traditional Asian
religions, makes fascinating, if disturbing, reading. At the same
time, while Sugirtharajah comments on the way in which many played
"fast and loose" with the text and honour of the Bible, he also
indicates the necessity of reading it with Asian eyes, and
interpreting it appropriately.
The colonial era produced Hindu and Buddhist writers who
challenged "both colonial rule and the colonial version of their
indigenous faith". They perceived their task as one of "reforming
Christianity" through the elimination of Hebrew Scriptures and the
passages in the New Testament where Jesus is depicted as
"quick-tempered and intolerant".
Perhaps most fascinating for the contemporary reader is the
author's chapter on "Paul the Roman in Asia". Here, the attitude of
St Paul to empire, which is described as "a complicated one", is
played out in the way in which Paul was used and abused by
missioners and their critics alike. In my view, this book is worth
reading for this chapter alone.
This book deserves a wide readership, not least because of the
re-emergence of India as an economic, military, and cultural power
in today's world. But, further, if we are to achieve an
understanding and mutuality of peoples of faith in the struggle to
see the world saved from the worst excesses of religion towards
humanity, then Sugiritharajah's plea for understanding, research,
and study needs to be heeded.
The Rt Revd Peter Price is a former Bishop of Bath &