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Alex Snow Essay

I suppose answering THE QUESTION depends, geographically and topologically, upon whose history we’re talking about or focusing upon.  I assume there is an implicit and potentially misplaced assumption in the question that we should be querying western history for such positive and negative forces per se.  However, it is also at least interesting to consider that the Bible is portrayed essentially as the cultural, spiritual, and literary product of west Asia, and that its subsequent primary influence on Euro-American history has received far more academic and popular attention than its reciprocally complex, critical, and creative consequences on eastern cultures, countries, continents, and cosmologies.  R. S. Sugirtharajah, Emeritus Professor of Biblical Hermeneutics at the University of Birmingham, is among those who have worked hard to counter this professional imbalance, providing complimentary studies of east Asia's sometimes subversive and oftentimes idiosyncratic relationships with the Bible.  Therefore, the question as to the Bible’s potential negative/positive force in history can and should also be implicated into the stories of various south and far east Asian “missionaries, imperialists, exegetes, reformers, and nationalists” who appropriated Biblical texts each according to their own -- simultaneously influencing the daily lives of peoples from Delhi to Beijing to Kyoto.[1]

According to such scholarship, when various versions of the Biblical texts inevitably reached east and southeast Asia in the third century CE, the scriptures were already beginning to “bare the traces of Asian commodities and moral stories.”  For example, as Sugirtharajah shows, in China the Bible merged and reemerged intertwined with the teachings of figures like the Buddha and Lao Tzu to produce something only recently dubbed quite fantastically as the “Jesus Sutras.”  As some scholars reconstruct how Christianity and the Bible were influenced by other Asian religions, Sugirtharajah goes so far as to foreground the “controversial issue of Buddhist and Vedic influence” on Biblical religion and hermeneutics.  Used overwhelmingly as a tool to rationalize Euro-American imperial/colonial dominance in Asia, the Bible can also be applied to promote the paradoxically spiritual salvation of Asian women, outcasts, and untouchables.

[1] R. S. Sugirtharajah, The Bible and Asia: From the Pre-Christian Era to the Postcolonial Age, Harvard University Press, 2013