FaithWorld

An “Indian Bible” or a “Bible for India”?

April 28, 2009

flight-to-egyptAnnotated Bibles come in all shapes, sizes and standpoints. One of the most interesting recent examples is The New Community Bible in India. The novelty is not the text itself but the extensive footnotes comparing and contrasting Christian teachings with those of India’s main religions. Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s 1.1 billion population compared to 80% for Hindus and 13% for Muslims. The illustrations are also clearly Indian — in the drawing for the Flight to Egypt (at right), Mary wears a sari and a bindi on her forehead while Joseph sports a turban.

The New Community Bible (NCB) stirred up some controversy when it was published, with official Church approval, by a Roman Catholic group in Mumbai last summer. A Protestant pastor called it “a complete turn back from the real Bible.” Hindu natiotionalists denounced it as a bid to convert Hindus to Christianity. A blog named after Hindu guru (CORRECTED: see comment below) Sathya Sai Baba warned that Christian missionaries were “taking aim at India” with a “deceptive Bible and other questionable tactics.” . There was also criticism from Catholic laity, enough to prompt the bishops to order a study of the issue and have the publisher hold off with a second edition. That’s too bad because the first edition quickly sold out.

During my recent visit to India, I got a look at a friend’s copy of the NCB and found it fascinating. Following are a few points that stood out while I paged through it (and a few not very professional photos I took of its illustrations):

In Genesis:

  • woman-with-fireAfter its opening “in the beginning,” the footnote observes: “Even in the Upanishad, some creation accounts open with the word ‘agre’ (at the beginning)…”
  • At the phrase “God saw that the light was good,” it notes: “Light is considered good and desirable also in the Vedas. The expression “TJ” is well known. Tamasoma jyotirgamaya…” Lead from from darkness to light… (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28).”
  • After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve “become shamefully conscious of their nakedness and plan a cover-up from God (3:7-8). To use Indian terminology, they regress into avidya, that is nescience or lack of right perspective, which causes alienation and suffering.”
  • On Noah and the Flood – “There exist myths of the flood in almost every religion, and the Biblical acocunt shows some striking parallels to the Mesopotamian flood story. Satapath Brahmana (1.8.1-10) offers the earliest Indian version. The Mahabharata (3.187) also narrates a similar story.”
  • On the Tower of Babel — “For the Yahwist author, Babel meant confusion, a athetic symbol of the folly of human pride and self-sufficiency… We can find modern Babels all around us, constructed by the stinking rich and proud politicians. Instead of using wealth and power to creatively solve the real problems of the people, they use these to bolster their own images and pamper their presitge. To make a name for themselves, they ignore, nay, trample down on the legitimate rights of millions of poor and oppressed people. The resentment and revolt this causes is another sort of babel, confusion, alienation.”

family-in-hovelworkersSince it’s aimed at today’s Indians, Bollywood naturally rates a mention. At the end of the Book of Job, when God restores Job’s fortunes, a footnote comments: “Like in modern TV soap operas and box-office films from Bollywood, ‘God’ reenters in the form of a deus ex machina who, with a word and a magic wand, restores everything to its earlier felicity and Job lived happily ever after.”

Not all references are to Hinduism. In Matthew’s nativity account, the NCB notes: The Koran, written some six hundred years after the Gospels (about AD 650), affirms the virginal conception of Jesus – called Isa, probably an Arabic form of the Syriac version of his name (Sura 19:16-22). This forms part of the common belief of Muslims. Interestingly, Joseph is not mentioned in the Koran… The wise men were priests of the Zoroastrian religion, which used to be the religion of Persia before the country was taken over and converted by Islam. It now survives as the religion of the Parsees in India… For Matthew, the magi are the highly respected religious leaders, representing non-Jewish religions.”

The NCB notes that Mahatma Gandhi was inspired by the Sermon on the Mount and uses Jesus’s criticism of the Jewish purity laws as an opportunity to make a wider point about Indian society today: “The same kind of distinction underlies the caste system in India. The ‘dalits’ are treated as ‘untouchables’ by the so-called ‘clean’ castes, because the kind of work they do brings them into touch with ‘polluting’ things and so makes them in Hindu society ritually impure. Jesus completely abolishes this kind of purity/pollution distinction. He shows that true ‘purity’ (that is, fitness for worshipping God) does not depend on external things but upon the attitudes of the heart.”

The illustrations also make points about modern-day India. In the Exodus story of Moses and the burning bush, the NCB notes that God told Moses to take off his sandals because he was on holy ground. The accompanying illustration (below) shows modern footwear in front of a church, a mosque and Hindu and Sikh temples. “Every religion is deserving of our respect, even if we do not accept all of their cultural and social wrappings,” the footnote says. “As Mahatma Gandhi said, respect for other religions helps us to understand our own religion better.”

bible-burning-bush-pages-resized

The NCB tries to explain Christianity in the Indian context, both to Christians living in a culture marked much more by other religions and Indians of other faiths trying to understand the Christians among them. Why should that be controversial?

Comments
53 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

@As to Pagan Rome, please read again your history how the Pagan Rome persecuted the Christians. The conversion of Constantine the Great was not by means of violence. Please learn the History ofChristianity in its entirety so that you will not arrive at a false conclusion rajeev.
posted by Daniel

Daniel: Are you trying to tell me that there was no violence in Rome and elimination of pagans never occurred or what? From the details that I have seen over a period of 4 days in Rome and the guides I read and through my discussion all I can arrive at is there was bloodshed and the result was pagans got eliminated. Are you offering me a theory that it was all willingly .Read again and visit again with an open mind–I amk astonished how you missed that if you ever went to Rome.

So you are saying in Australia it was non-catholic Christians who killed Aborig? and then said Oops and same about Incas–kill and Oops!

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

I’m sorry that I am late. I saw this blog just today.
It is my opinion that, with a couple of exceptions, all comments were uninformed or misinformed because no one has actually STUDIED the New Community Bible [NCB], or their arguments have strayed from the focus of Tom’s article which was the NCB.
With a team of priests [including learned theologians] and lay people, I have led a campaign to get the New Community Bible withdrawn because it certainly not an ‘inculturated’ version as many might think, and because the commentaries contain theological and other errors.
We have no problem with Hinduism or other faiths, but we do have serious concern if Catholicism is Hinduised which is what is happening in India. The Kanchi Shankaracharya shares our concern.
However, contrary to popular belief, the NCB does not have either conversion or proselytization in mind. But who among my Hindu friends is ready to believe that? In fact, what the NCB endeavours to say is that all religions are equally good. Which is what we are also objecting to.
Tom, copies of the NCB are not only sold out. They have been withdrawn from the shelves in many cities after our protests which were widely reported in the national and international media.
Presently Rome [I am in touch with officials there] is studying the reports — and copies of the NCB — that we have submitted to them.
They have to be read from a Catholic-faith perspective or they will not be understood. Four of them are hosted at our website home page: http://www.ephesians-511.net. Five more are being hosted this week. Another two will follow.
Just this week the Kanchi Shankaracharya has called for the banning of the NCB: http://www.kanchiforum.org/forum/viewtop ic.php?t=2535 [point no. 11].
Thanks and regards, Michael Prabhu, Chennai, India

 

MICHAEL PRABHU:
Ignoring your sweeping judgement on the posts, here are my comments/Qns.

@It is my opinion that, with a couple of exceptions, all comments were uninformed or misinformed because no one has actually STUDIED the New Community Bible [NCB], or their arguments have strayed from the focus of Tom’s article which was the NCB.
-I bet Tom did not expect that the posters are well versed with the New bible.

@With a team of priests [including learned theologians] and lay people, I have led a campaign to get the New Community Bible withdrawn because it certainly not an ‘inculturated’ version as many might think, and because the commentaries contain theological and other errors.
–But why was it released in first place? Being withdrawn because of opposition to the “theological errors” or the opposition?

@We have no problem with Hinduism or other faiths, but we do have serious concern if Catholicism is Hinduised which is what is happening in India. The Kanchi Shankaracharya shares our concern.
–Do you see a danger of Catholicism being Hinduised by the release of new bible or other means by the church. I wholeheatedly share your concern.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

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