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Voices from the Margin INTERPRETING THE BIBLE IN THE THIRD WORLD

Revised and Expanded Third Edition

Edited by R. S. Sugirtharajah


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Founded in 1970, Orbis Books endeavors to publish works that enlighten the mind, nourish the spirit, and challenge the conscience. The publishing arm of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Orbis seeks to explore the global dimensions of the Christian faith and mission, to invite dialogue with diverse cultures and religious traditions, and to serve the cause of reconciliation and peace. The books published reflect the views of their authors and do not represent the official position of the Maryknoll Society. To learn more about Maryknoll and Orbis Books, please visit our website at www.maryknoll.org.

Compilation, introduction, and editorial matter © 2006 by R. S. Sugirtharajah. Published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 10545-0308. Manufactured in the United States of America. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. Queries regarding rights and permissions should be addressed to: Orbis Books, P.O. Box 308, Maryknoll, New York 10545-0308.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Voices from the margin : interpreting the Bible in the Third World / edited by R.S. Sugirtharajah.—Rev. and expanded 3rd ed. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and indexes. ISBN 1-57075-686-4 1. Bible—Hermeneutics—Comparative studies. 2. Christianity— Developing countries. 3. Christianity and culture. 4. Bible. O.T. Exodus— Hermeneutics—Comparative studies. I. Sugirtharajah, R. S. (Rasiah S.) BS476.V65 2006 220.609172⬘4—dc22

2006043892


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1 The Bible and the Five Hundred Years of Conquest ELSA TAMEZ Situating the Bible and biblical interpretation in the five hundred years of colonial domination in the Americas, Elsa Tamez examines four hermeneutical issues: use of the Bible to justify the conquest of the Americas; the rejection of it by the indigenous people; popular and liberating reading by the marginalized; and indigenous readings that seek to incorporate the spiritual legacy and ancient inheritance that was there before the arrival of European conquerors. Tamez’s contention is that future hermeneutics will evolve in dialogue with, or in combination with the indigenous and the imported Christian faith. This is a revised version of a lecture presented at one of the plenary sessions at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in 1992 at Philadelphia. It is reprinted from God’s Economy: Biblical Studies from Latin America, ed. Ross Kinsler and Gloria Kinsler (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005), pp. 3–17. Elsa Tamez is one of the first generation of liberation theologians. She teaches at the Universidad Biblica Latinoamericana in San José, Costa Rica.

Various Christian Biblical scholars and theologians on our continent believe that we live in a new historical moment in the field of biblical thought and hermeneutics.1 Our cultural and social reality has become complex and challenging. Five hundred years after the European invasion we observe a different situation in relation to the beginning of Christianity. On the one hand, the prophetic biblical voice is heard more clearly today than during the time of Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas. There has been a reappropriation of the Christian faith, that is to say, a rereading of the Bible from the side of society’s victims and excluded. On the other hand, there has been a resurgence of Indigenous and African American religions reclaiming dignity and space for their own non-Christian faith. This has been a motive of joy for some, and for others it is alarming. We need to add the fact that many Indigenous sectors practice an Indigenous-Christian faith; this also occurs in the black cultures of the Caribbean and Brazil. This means that they practice a faith in which they assume Jesus Christ to be savior but which includes the spiritual and ritual legacy of their ancestors. Syncretism here is not pejorative, but rather a synthesis of spiritual experience that has been present for centuries and has not been recognized as valid. Bible reading and readings from other sacred books such as the Pop Wuj are sometimes part of the same liturgy. This article has four points. Each one represents a different posture in the treatment of the Bible. These positions have persisted for five hundred years. 13


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They are (1) the Bible and conquest, (2) the rejection of the Bible, (3) the popular reading of the Bible, and (4) Indigenous hermeneutics. I will conclude with an invitation to all of us to move on from the struggle of liberating hermeneutics to a critical analysis of our own Christian-biblical discourse. We will mostly concentrate on the Indigenous challenge because we are more familiar with that reality than with the African American challenge. It is certain that the experiences of both cultures with respect to the Bible are different, but it is also obvious that various aspects of the challenges coincide. BIBLE AND CONQUEST We will not develop a detailed analysis of the use of the Bible by yesterday’s and today’s conquerors and missionaries. Our objective is simply to give some examples of the use of the Bible during the conquest. Let’s look at some of the hermeneutical characteristics. Perception Established before Experience Columbus and the conquistadores (conquerors) take with them the Spanish triumphalistic spirit over “the infidels,” that is, the non-Christians. The triumph over the Moors and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain helped generate in Europe a belief that God was leading the battle. It should not surprise us that in the letters from Hernán Cortez we read phrases such as, “We carried the flag of the Cross and fought for our faith. . . . God gave us so much victory that we killed many people. . . .”2 This triumphalistic spirit explains the fact that Columbus, from the time he arrived on these lands, considered himself chosen for the mission to bring the Christian gospel. One of the hermeneutical characteristics of a reading that accompanies an invasion of one people over another, or between persons or communities, is the rigid perception of concept before experience. This attitude denies any other that might come up in the encounter. The semiologist Tzvetan Todorov analyzes the hermeneutics of Columbus in this sense. For the Admiral, the final meaning is given from the beginning. He did not discover America, says Todorov; he found America where he knew it would be.3 This hermeneutical approach does not consider the existence of nor the respect for the other and his world as such, because only the “I” exists and everything else is shaped in the image and likeness of his I. The objective of the analysis that Todorov makes of the conquest is to show that disrespect of the other brings tragic consequences such as the genocide of the sixteenth century. The Explanation of Suffering as Punishment This interpretation is not new. Job justly protests against this theology of retribution. What is interesting here is the manner in which Fray Toribio de


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Benavente, or Motolinia, interprets the suffering of the Indigenous peoples caused by the Spanish. This, for him, is God’s punishment. The Spanish are the divine instrument. He uses the ten plagues that God sent to Egypt, and he reinterprets them in the light of his situation. Following is a summary of his quotation: God wounded and punished this land and those who were found in it, the naturals as well as the foreigners, with ten terrible plagues. The first was smallpox . . . where they died like masses of flies. . . . The second was the many who died in the conquest of this New Spain. . . . The third plague was the great famine after the city of Mexico was taken. . . . The fourth plague was after the land was divided and the conquerors put in the settlements or towns the Indians, farmers and Blacks. . . . The fifth plague was the great tributes and services required of the Indians. . . . The sixth plague was the gold mines. . . . The Indian slaves who have died in them even today cannot be counted. . . . The seventh plague was the building of the great city of Mexico. . . . There many Indians died . . . (because) the Indians are those who do the work, and at their own cost look for materials, pay the stone masons and carpenters, and if they themselves do not bring their food, they fast. . . . The eighth plague was the slaves who brought those who worked the mines. . . . The ninth plague was those who worked the mines. . . . The tenth plague was the divisions and bands that there were among the Spaniards who were in Mexico. . . .4

Other biblical themes used by Doctor Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda to justify the war or to rationalize theologically the invasion were the flood (Gen. 6–8) and Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 6:19). According to him, God sent the universal flood because of the blasphemous barbarians, and he adds that the contemporaries of Noah were cannibalistic, incestuous, and practiced abortion.5 This is a “rereading” of the flood in the light of the criticism of what the Spanish were doing to the Indigenous peoples. The Invaders Are the Liberators The whole first chapter of Motolinia’s book mentioned above, which speaks of the ten plagues, is a summary of the cruelty and barbarity that were committed against the inhabitants of Abya Yala (Good Earth—in Cuna language for the Americas) during the invasion and the conquest. For this reason, the letter from the same friar to the emperor Carlos V (January 1555) is surprising. In this letter Motolinia furiously denies the accusations that Bishop Bartolomé de Las Casas makes to the kings of Spain against the abuses and the inhumanity of the Spaniards and the missionaries in their treatment of the Indigenous peoples. One way to understand this disparity could be the biblical-theological reading that is used in the situation. For Motolinia, God is the one who wounds and punishes with the plagues, through which God performs God’s will. The Spaniards are the ones who liberate the Indigenous peoples from idols and from burning in hell. The Spaniards are, then, the saviors of these lands: “A great thing it is to have


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saved so many souls . . . and to have impeded and hindered many evils and idolatries and homicides and great offences against God.”6 His opinion of Las Casas and of Cortez is clear from his biblical reading. Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas should convert to God and do penance for having defamed the Spanish.7 And for his love of the Indians, Cortez should be recognized: “Who loved and defended the Indians in this new world like Cortez?”8 The parable of the Good Samaritan does not escape being used in favor of the conquerors. For Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, that parable illustrates what the Spanish, as an evangelical example, should do: have pity on the wounded neighbor and save him. He is referring not to the thousands of Indigenous people who died because of the war and the diseases brought by the Spanish but to those victims who were sacrificed for barbarous blasphemies. He says: He who would not defend his neighbor from such offences commits an error as grave as those that do such crimes and the other enormous abominations. . . . They should be punished by the judges of this world . . . because they are avenging the wrath of God. Therefore, it is right, with excellent and natural right, that these barbarians can be compelled to submit to the Christian Empire.9

The Succession of Empires Is Part of Salvation History, and Tribute Is an Obligation Founded by Christ Motolinia rejects the affirmation of Las Casas that all tributes are illegitimate. The monk goes to the Bible to affirm their legitimacy: tribute to Caesar is affirmed by Jesus, and the succession of empires appears already in Daniel’s vision. How does Las Casas say that all tribute is and has been abused? We see that, when the Lord was questioned if tribute should be given to Caesar or not, he responded yes, but Las Casas says they are badly abused.10

Further on he repeats, “During the dominion of the Roman Emperors the Lord said to give tribute to Caesar.”11 For Motolinia, God “changes the times and ages and gives the reign of one kingdom to another and this because of sins.”12 The statue in Daniel’s vision represents the succession of these empires from Babylon to the Persians and Medes, and these to the Greeks and later to the Romans. Christianity would be the fifth empire, and Motolinia asks God to be diligent in his diffusion “of these infidels.”13 The Conquest of Canaan: A Biblical Paradigm of Invasion The history of the conquest of Canaan is mostly used as the biblical foundation for the conquest of this continent and others. Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda uses this biblical theme to legitimate the war against the Indigenous peo-


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ples.14 Because he reads the Bible in the light of Aristotle, the Indigenous peoples lose. The conquest is justified not only because it punishes blasphemies, but because it is a special donation from God, like the Promised Land (the pope is the Vicar of Christ and has the authority to give lands). God uses the Spaniards to carry out this divine justice against the infidels and to conquer their lands. From there Sepúlveda affirms that the war, besides being licit, was necessary because of the gravity of those peoples’ faults.15 This naming of the conquest of Canaan as a gift was opposed by Francisco de Vitoria. Fray Toribio mentions in the same way the mission of Joshua. It was known that in Abya Yala many died of diseases and pestilence, and the cause was questioned. The answer given was God. Toribio did not dare to affirm with certainty that it was for idolatry and sins, as did Sepúlveda; nevertheless he found a possible answer in the Bible: Joshua was sent by God to destroy seven idolatrous generations and to populate the land with many sons of Israel. What is the cause of so many deaths? God is the one who knows, because his judgments are many and hidden to us. If it is caused by the great sins and idolatries that there were in this land, I do not know. But I see that the promised land of the seven idolatrous generations was destroyed according to God’s mandate by Joshua, and later the land was populated by the sons of Israel in such a way that, when David counted the people, he found the ten tribes had eight hundred thousand strong male warriors.16

His biblical rationale is reduced to this affirmation: It is in the Bible, and that is what should be. These arguments from the Middle Ages are still present, and we know this: the invaders of Panama in 1989 were the “saviors.” This invasion was called “Just Cause.” In the same way, the alliance of the peoples of democratic Europe and the United States invaded the Persian Gulf in 1991 to liberate it. Suffering as punishment or as the will of God is a biblical-theological reading, common in many of our churches, that covers up the mechanisms that cause that suffering. THE REJECTION OF THE BIBLE For the Mayan prophet Chilam Balaam, Christianity and tribute form a hendiadys; they go together. In his book of prophecies, Christianity frequently appears as a synonym for tribute, exploitation, and cruelty.17 For various Indigenous peoples the Christian canon is an enemy of Indigenous life. The Bible has been returned to Christians at various times in history, as a rejection of Christianity. Five hundred years ago, according to a Spanish chronicler, Atahualpa, the Inca of Peru, “threw to the ground the book where the words of God were.” Because of that he and many of his people were executed. For Pizarro, this rejection explains the providential and religious reason for his victory.18


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Five hundred years later, we find another notice of the Bible’s return in a letter that the Indigenous people handed to Pope John Paul II. This surprising event has led many Christian biblical scholars and theologians of our continent to reflect on the reading of the Bible, because this rejection has happened at the very historical moment in which popular, prophetic, and liberating reading has gained much acceptance in our context. The letter reads: We, Indians of the Andes and America, decided to take advantage of John Paul II’s visit to return to him his Bible because in five centuries it has given us neither love, nor peace, nor justice. Please, take your Bible and give it back to our oppressors, because they need its moral precepts more than we. Since the arrival of Christopher Columbus the Bible was imposed upon America with force: European culture, language, religion, and values. The Bible came to us as part of imposed colonial change. It was the ideological arm of the colonial assault. The Spanish sword, which by day attacked and assassinated the body of the Indians, by night changed itself into the cross which attacked the Indian soul.19

Pablo Richard points out that at this moment we are going through a trauma when we face the Bible. The above letter, according to him, expresses the traumatic experience of the Indigenous peoples because, in the conquest and colonization, the Bible was an instrument of domination. Today “this trauma becomes deeper” with the fundamentalist20 use of the Bible and its manipulation against Indigenous religion.21 The protagonism of the Indigenous movement that demands the recognition of their religion and sacred traditions on a par with Christianity has caught many of us biblical scholars—mestizos and whites, Catholics and Protestants, who believed that in this continent there existed no religion other than Christianity—unprepared.22 We thought that the Judeo-Christian Bible was the only canon that had to be reread from the perspective of the oppressed. But not only us. The Catholic bishops recently had difficulty in responding to the Latin American and Caribbean pluricultural reality with the theme, “New Evangelization,” which is very polemical for many Indigenous people. This challenge does not come from miniscule groups that live in the jungle, as many may think. In June 1992, thousands of Bolivian Aymaras and representatives of other Indigenous nationalities and African Americans of the continent met in Tiwanacu on the shores of Lake Titicaca to welcome the Aymara New Year with a thousand-year-old ceremony. One of the newspapers there described it with the headline “Tradition Intact 500 Years Later.”23 Non-Christian ceremonies are taking place with Indigenous peoples of diverse nationalities in different countries. Their attitude, in the first place, is to denounce the missionary practice of Christians, calling the Christian religion Western—with good reason—and to perceive it as something foreign that does not respond to their cosmovision. Nevertheless, they value the effort of Christians committed to the selfdetermination of the Indigenous peoples.24 The reactions of white and mestizo Christians to this new reality vary. Some, with the Bible in hand, will see the devil in these practices and repeat


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biblical texts without any exegetical mediation, such as Acts 4:1–12 (“There is no other name . . .”), and will gird themselves to continue evangelizing according to the mandate to go to all the nations and preach the Gospel to all peoples. Others will try to reread and comprehend these texts that seem to exclude others because of their practices of non-Christian faith. By doing this they hope to respond in part to the petition of the Indigenous people who met in Quito at the Second Ecumenical Consultation of Indigenous Peoples, during which they asked liberation theologians to recognize the fact that the Indigenous religions have their own history of salvation and that God has revealed God’s self in these cultures.25 The Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), through its program on the five hundred years, has elaborated a series of biblical studies for congregations at a simple level, with the intention of helping members of Christian churches develop an open attitude toward other manifestations of faith. In these materials biblical themes that have been used to legitimate the conquest and imposition of Christianity are being reread in a liberating manner.26 How God’s Spirit surprises us! We, who thought that this reality belonged to Christians of Asia and Africa and was alien and far from us, realized with shame our ignorance and above all our arrogance, especially in the way we systematize our Western Christian theological discourse. Dialogue with Asian and African biblical scholars, who have lived in this reality from the beginning, is essential in order to understand how to read the Bible and to elaborate theological thought that takes the other seriously.27 POPULAR READING OF THE BIBLE Bartolomé de Las Casas and Guamán Poma, a Spaniard and an Indigenous Christian, represent, at the time of the conquest and colonization, the reading of the Bible from the perspective of impoverished and exploited peoples and from the marginalized cultures. This way of interpretation, which today we call the popular reading of the Bible, is the approach that is growing most and is strengthened in the Catholic Christian base communities and various Protestant churches with the rigorous exegetical help of biblical scholars who have opted for this reading lens. In fact, all of this article would have been focused on this current, in which I move, if it had not been for the irruption of the Indigenous movement on the occasion of the Fifth Centennial of the invasion and Christianity in Latin America. The reality of the continent makes me reduce this biblical current to one of four points in my presentation. I will be a bit more precise in this section. The popular reading of the Bible, in spite of its weaknesses, has been Latin America’s most significant contribution to Christian hermeneutics. In the context of oppression, repression, persecution, and exclusion of Abya Yala, this reading has helped communities to discern the present times, to struggle for life with dignity, and to strengthen the hope that the situation of death can change because the God of the Bible is a God of justice, love, and


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peace in solidarity with the poorest of the poor. We speak, then, of a militant reading of the Bible. The understanding of the text comes out of the living context to give an answer to the challenges of the daily struggles and the global situation. It looks for the transformation of the reality that denies life. The plagues of Egypt are not God’s punishment, as interpreted by Motolinia, but rather show the power of God in solidarity with the exploited slaves. God hears the cry of the exploited and liberates them. No biblical theme can be used to discriminate against or oppress another, as was done during the conquest. With respect to difficult passages, such as those that discriminate against women, some of us think that sometimes it will be necessary to go beyond the “literal canon” and cling to discerning the Spirit of the whole canon. This means that we will have to privilege the Spirit of the gospel, which, according to Paul, guides us toward justice, life, freedom, peace, and the dignity of all persons. It is possible to go beyond the “literal canon,” not to put it to one side but to be able to follow it with more fidelity. It is precisely this canon, or rather the spirit of the canon in its totality, that serves as the criterion for discernment to identify with more clarity the true spirit of the text. The biblical themes most worked upon in popular reading have been the exodus and the historic practice of Jesus, including the cross-resurrection as a paradigmatic axis. Also common are the themes of the prophets, the apocalyptic literature, and Job. Recently, Paul’s letters are being reread from a liberating perspective.28 What is the popular reading of the Bible? Who is doing the reading? What methods of biblical analysis are used? What are the themes being developed? What is the reality of the life situation? These are the questions to which I will briefly respond.29 Exegetes in Latin America and the Caribbean have to recognize that the popular reading of the Bible is born not out of our intuitions but from the poor believers. These believers took the Bible into their own hands and began to read it out of their own sufferings and struggles.30 The scholarly reading that existed was a copy of European scholarship that was alien to the peoples’ lives and faith. The reappropriation of the Bible by poor communities offered a new horizon to the exegetes that allowed them to rediscover their task as biblical scholars in the service of God’s reign. The conditions of poverty, repression, and a certain ecclesial openness in the 1970s helped to gestate this new way of reading the Bible. The key to the interpretation of this reading is summarized as the integration of the interpretation of life and the interpretation of the Bible in one movement. In this movement,31 according to Carlos Mesters, the principal objective is not to interpret the Bible, but to interpret life with the help of the Bible.32 Pablo Richard points out that the Bible is the fundamental criterion through which we are able to discern where God is today. For this author, the Sacred Scriptures are the historic and subversive memory of the poor.33 This concept of revelation is different; for Mesters, revelation is a


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present reality, and the Bible helps us to decipher it in the world and to “transform the world into a great theophany.”34 A vital part of the hermeneutical key for a popular reading is the option for the dispossessed. Popular communities identify themselves with the histories of liberation in the Bible, and exegetes and scholars are in solidarity with them. Because of this, hermeneutics is partial, in solidarity with the oppressed, and it is understood as evangelical (good news) because it reads the paradigmatic axis of the Bible as God’s solidarity principally with the weakest: orphans, widows, poor, foreigners, and the like. All the biblical themes are read through this lens. This reading of the Bible has spread throughout the continent. We speak of a biblical movement. There is now a network in which groups meet by region to study the Bible through this lens. Bible workshops proliferate. In Central America, for example, frequent workshops at the popular level, both rural and urban, are given in which leaders of the communities share hermeneutical keys to read books or smaller parts of the Bible. Women have challenged the popular reading, demanding the reformulation of the hermeneutical model to understand the Bible as written within a patriarchal culture. This challenge has been taken up by the women themselves. It is helping biblical scholars to reformulate hermeneutical conceptions because new questions are being raised that were not considered earlier, such as the understanding of biblical authority. We women reject as normative those texts that exclude and marginalize us. In this sense, First World feminist hermeneutics helps us in our search that comes from the popular reading. The challenge to popular reading also comes from the black and Indigenous hermeneutics in which the subjects are blacks and Indigenous people themselves. Indigenous peoples are creating their own hermeneutics.35 Contributions of rigorous exegesis are not foreign to the spirit of community popular reading. They are the systematization, at a scholarly level, of the intuitions and aspirations of popular reading. In fact, the majority of the exegetes share the experience of faith within the Christian popular communities. This reading is now entering into an important process of maturation and productivity. About twenty years ago it began with the rereading of certain biblical passages (Luke 6:20; 4:18–19), followed by study of thematic axes and clusters of meaning (exodus, cross-resurrection), and now in the production of biblical commentaries. We believe that this contribution to biblical scholarship, connected to the popular experience, helps to overcome any kind of fundamentalism.36 The methods of biblical exegesis vary. In the process of comprehending the text, approaches are found that use a combination of various methods. There have been valuable contributions in sociological, materialist, gender, structuralist, historic-economic exegesis, and so on. The methods of higher criticism are used when the information is functional for hermeneutics in the pro-


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duction of liberating meanings. Biblical scholarship coming from the First World is much appreciated. It has helped in the understanding of the socioeconomic, cultural, and theological context in the production of the text.37 In relation to the Five Hundred Years, rereading those biblical texts that were used to legitimate the invasion has been productive. Nevertheless, we still have not faced the problem of the Bible’s relation to other sacred texts. INDIGENOUS HERMENEUTICS Questioning by Christian Indigenous peoples (Protestants and Catholics) has begun a new debate for the majority on this continent. We know that in Africa and Asia this discussion is on the table; however, we never thought that it would present itself in our midst. Indigenous Christians claim the Bible as canon and at the same time desire to incorporate their sacred traditions, the ancient inheritance of their ancestors (which are also mine, because I have Indigenous blood). Many orthodox Christians are intolerant of these practices. Nevertheless, what we observe in the faith experience of many Indigenous communities is the practice that we contemptuously call syncretism, but for them it is the living of their faith. Pablo Richard characterizes this as the trauma of Indigenous people with regard to the Bible. We biblical scholars, mestizos and white, who are closely involved with Indigenous communities, are also living this trauma. As Richard says, we remain amazed by the Indigenous religious tradition, by the experience of God in that tradition, and by the religious strength that has made them survivors in spite of 500 years of Christianity. It seems to us inadequate to speak only of our Bible, so distant in time and space, and so culturally alienating because of Western colonial interpretation.38

As scholars of popular reading, we are searching for new hermeneutical guidelines that will help us understand that God’s merciful design transcends our faith and our canon. The problem is difficult because it does not deal with an ad-extra discussion, as Hans Küng would say in his call to Christians to dialogue humbly with other religions.39 It deals with an adintra challenge within the same religion. It is the challenge of Indigenous and various African Caribbean and African Brazilian religious practices. The experience of God in these communities does not allow us to respond to this challenge from an analytical Western rationality, which leads to false dichotomies. To throw out this experience (of five hundred years) with negative value judgments, without any praxeological or epistemological basis,40 would be irresponsible from an academic and a human point of view. To reduce this spirituality to the classification of “syncretistic practice” that must be overcome is to ignore “the other.” Gustavo Gutiérrez is right when he says that if we were Indigenous, we would think in another manner.41 Aiwan Wagua, a Cuna theologian, has the


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same opinion. For him it is problematic to think things from outside Indigenous thought, and this even in a liberating sense. From the option for the poor one has to pass to the option for the other impoverished one. Wagua shows with reason that the Christian church in our midst is sensitive to the poor, but not to the other. The other continues to be a pagan and an infidel.42 Personally, I still do not know how to elaborate a biblical hermeneutics that includes other non-Christian practices. This is a task that we will learn from Indigenous exegetes themselves. What can be done is to rework those parts of the Bible that explicitly exclude, so that we can avoid discriminating attitudes toward the other.43 I do know, from experience, that when I hear in a Christian worship service the Pop Wuj, or other sacred traditions, I feel that God is speaking. We are conscious that it is not for us as mestizos or whites to elaborate the Indigenous or African American hermeneutics. We cannot substitute the work of the Indigenous or blacks who are the subjects of this experience. Our task is to help the non-Indigenous people to open up their mentality to receive with joy and equality those different practices of faith. CONCLUSION We have mentioned four lines of biblical interpretation that come out of the conquest of Abya Yala. The first and the third are strong and common and maintain the hermeneutical struggle of liberation against any legitimation of oppression. The second and fourth are now being listened with more attention. They are new positions that challenge our orthodox understanding of the Bible. One is at the ad-extra level. It deals with other non-Christian faiths that have their own canon. It is a radical critique of Christianity and its Bible. When Christians of this continent open ourselves to recognize that God reveals God’s self in other cultures, we ask for their forgiveness and God’s forgiveness for the disaster that our reading of the Bible has caused for so many years. Possibly then a fruitful dialogue can begin between the two different canons without the intention of one being over the other. The other current happens at the ad-intra level. This challenges us to recognize the experiences of ancient faiths, in relation to key elements of Christianity. This implies a reformulation of fundamental concepts of the biblical canon, but, above all, to leap over orthodoxy to orthopraxis. We all know that our planet is deteriorating at a vertiginous rate. I believe, with Hans Kßng, Harvey Cox, and others, that we must overcome the stage of interreligious arguments that have caused humanity so much harm. And we as Christians should be very critical of our own conception of the world. We believe ourselves to be the only and the best, and we Christians are only 21 percent of humanity and will be, according to some statistics, 16 percent at the end of this century because of the population growth of the Asian Third World.44 In conclusion, I leave a worrisome concern that came to me precisely in 1992. In making a simple and quantitative balance of the role of Christian-


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ity and the Bible, in its Protestant and Catholic versions, in its almost two thousand years of history, we realize with much pain that many deaths have been caused, maybe more than the actual liberation of persons and peoples. This warns us of the possibility of an inherent ambiguity in the understanding of our Christian God. I ask myself, wouldn’t it be better to pass over the hermeneutical struggle to a sincere analysis of the biblical-theological discourse of the Bible in the Christian religion? We see that for five hundred years we have been involved in a struggle of interpretation: some from a liberating perspective and others from a legitimating perspective of oppression. The struggle for a liberating reading of the Bible is good, nevertheless, it seems to me. After taking a look at history and seeing ourselves there as in a mirror, we need to go beyond the hermeneutical struggle. We should revise the discourse of our written canon and the logic of Christian thought; maybe there is a deeper problem that facilitates the rapid inversion of values. I am referring to aspects such as the biblical conception of time, that is, infinite progression toward the final victory (the Day of the Lord, the battle of Armageddon, the crushing of the enemy). These can be a double-edged sword—or the idea of a universalist, tolerant, egalitarian God, which is projected in the following scheme: “God is good for all; for that reason, all are good for God.”45 There is no distinguishing the difference. The sacrificial discourse, principally christological, sometimes degenerates into demands of unnecessary sacrifices or into the logic of crucifying the crucifiers;46 others such as the Elect of God, the Holy War, and so on need to be reworked. This is a matter not just of intellectual concern but of honesty before unjust practices that are easily legitimated with the Bible and theology. All of this leads us to rethink popular hermeneutics and to rework in great depth the significance of biblical authority. NOTES 1. The fundamental content of this article corresponds to the lecture presented by the author in one of the plenary sessions at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in 1992 under the title: “Quetzalcóatl desafía la Biblia Cristiana.” 2. Hernán Cortés, Cartas de relación de la conquista de México (Madrid: EspañaCalpe, 1979), 41. 3. Tzvetan Todorov, La Conquista de América Latina: El problema del otro (México, D.F: Siglo XXI, 1987), 26, 31. 4. Fray Toribio de Benavente, or Motolinia, Historia de los indios de la Nueva España, A critical study, appendix, notes and index by Edmundo O’Gorman (Mexico, D.F: Porrúa, 1984), 13–18. 5. See Juan Stam, “La Biblia en la teología colonialista de Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda,” a paper given at the Escuela Ecuménica de Ciencias de la Religión, Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica, July 1992. 6. Motolinia, “Carta de Fray Toribio de Motolinia al emperador Carlos V,” in Historia de los indios, 33. 7. Ibid., 216.


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8. Ibid., 220. 9. Stam, “La Biblia en la teología colonialista,” 4. 10. Motolinia, “Carta de Fray Toribio,” 221. 11. He wishes to be honest and leaves the decision to the Vatican Council to decide which was more just, the tribute to the Romans or to the Spanish. 12. Here he is alluding to the reign of the Canaanites, which was passed on to the sons of Israel with great punishments (Motolinia, “Carta de Fray Toribio,” 213). 13. Ibid., 212. 14. Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, Tratado sobre las justas causes de la guerra contra los indios (México: D.F. Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1986), 79. 15. See Stam, “La Biblia en la teología colonialista,” 2; and Bartolomé de Las Casas, Tratados (México D.F: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1965), 231. 16. Motolinia, “Carta de Fray Toribio,” 216. 17. “Enormous work will be the burden of Katun because it will be the beginning of hangings, of fire exploding from the end of the arm of the whites . . . when comes the great entrance of tribute in the great entrance of Christianity, when the principle of the Seven Sacraments is founded, when begins much work for our peoples and misery is established on the earth” (Chilam Balam, El libro de los libros de Chilam Balam [México D.F: UNAM, 1984], 68–71). 18. “We came to conquer this land so that all would come to have knowledge of God and of the Holy Catholic faith . . . and so they would know and leave the beastiality and diabolical life that they live. . . . And if you were imprisoned and your people were destroyed and dead, it was because you threw to the ground the book where the word of God is found. Because of that our Lord permitted that your arrogance was brought low and that no Indian could offend any Christian” (cited from Luis Rivera Pagán, “La evangelización de América y la guerra justa,” in PASOS [DEI], No. 2, special edition [1992]). 19. Pablo Richard, “Hermenéutica bíblica india: Revelación de Dios en las religiones indígenas y en la Biblia (Después de 500 años de dominación),” in Sentido histórico del V Centenario (1492–1992), ed. Guillermo Meléndez (San José: CEHILADEI, 1992), 45–62. 20. Richard cites here a popular Guatemalan saying: “When the Spanish came, they asked us Indians to close our eyes to pray. When we opened our eyes, we had the Bible and they had our land,” “Hermenéutica bíblica,” 45. 21. Ibid., 46. 22. Except those non-Indigenous Christians who live very close to the Indigenous experience. The Indigenous and African traditions on this continent have always been present, although sometimes in a clandestine manner. 23. See Presencia (La Paz, Bolivia), June 22, 1992. 24. See “Declaración de los líderes espirituales de los pueblos de Abya Yala reunidos en La Paz, Bolivia, del 19-23 de junio de 1992.” Photocopy. 25. See Part IV, A, Aporte de los pueblos indígenas de América Latina a la teología Cristiana (Quito, July 1996), 78. 26. Some of the themes and biblical texts used are the conquest of Canaan, Joshua and the Promised Land, Idolatry (Hosea), Election (Rom. 9–11), Jesus as the only name for Salvation (Acts 4:1–12), Evangelization from the Excluded Ones (Mt. 8:5–13; 15:21–28). Martirio y esperanza. Reflexiones bíblicas sobre los 500 años (Quito: CLAI, 1992). Other journals also reread this class of texts in relation to the Five Hundredth Anniversary, among them are: Xilotl of Nicaragua and RIBLA (Revista de Interpretación Bíblica Latinoamericana).


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27. The Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) is an excellent opportunity for biblical-theological interchange. 28. See Néstor Míguez, No como los otros que no tienen esperanza: Estudio de 1 Tesalonicenses (Buenos Aires: ISEDET, 1989); Elsa Tamez, Contra toda condena (San José: DEI-SEBILA, 1991). 29. Those who have worked the most on the systematization of this experience are Carlos Mesters, Pablo Richard, Milton Schwantes, and Severino Croatto. 30. Carlos Mesters, Flor sin defensa: Una explicatión de la Biblia a partir del pueblo (Petrópolis: Vozes, 1983), 190. Eng. trans., Defenseless Flower: A New Reading of the Bible (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1989). 31. This is how Teresa Cavalcanti summarizes the work of Carlos Mesters in A lógica do amor: Pensamento teológico de Carlos Mesters (Sa¯o Paulo; Ediciones Paulinas, 1982), 14. 32. Mesters, Flor sin defensa, 192. 33. Pablo Richard, La fuerza espiritual de la iglesia de los pobres (San José: DEI, 1987), 13. 34. Mesters, Flor sin defensa, 199. 35. Pablo Richard, through his contacts with Indigenous groups, has systematized some of their guidelines; see “Hermenéutica biblica india.” 36. Milton Schwantes, “Caminhos da teología bíblica,” Estudios Bíblicos (1989), n. 24. Cf. El Comentario Popular de la Biblía, with the seal of various publishers (Vozes, Impresa Metodista, Editorial Paulinas). Also worth mentioning is the project of the Comentario Bíblico Hispano (Editorial Caribe), whose readers are mostly Protestants; there is in this commentary a strong preoccupation with contextualizing the Bible. 37. See Norman K. Gottwald, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Wayne A. Meeks, Gerd Theissen, and others. 38. Richard, “Hermenéutica bíblica india,” 46. 39. Hans Küng, Teología de la postmodernidad (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1989), 189–226. 40. Following the foci proposed by Todorov in the process of knowing the other; see Todorov, Conquista, 195ff. 41. Gustavo Gutiérrez, “Hacia el V Centenario,” Concilium, No. 232 (1990): 376. See also idem, “Toward the Fifth Centenary,” in The Density of the Present (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1999). 42. Aiwan Wagua, “Consecuencias actuales de la invasión europea: Visión indígena,” Concilium, No. 232 (1990): 422–26. 43. See “La electión como garantía de la inclusión: Rom. 9–11,” RIBLA, No. 12 (1992). 44. See Paul F. Knitter, No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1985), 4. 45. See Todorov, Conquista, 114. 46. Franz Hinkelammert, La fe de Abraham y el Edipo occidental (San José: DEI, 1988).


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