The Brown Bible

I’m no expert on the Bible or anything… but I’m pretty sure this depiction of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus is just a bit inaccurate:

Barefoot and wearing a sari, with a bindi on her forehead and a naked baby on her shoulder, the woman in the picture is unmistakably Indian. So is the man behind her, clad in a loincloth and turban.

It’s the Bible for Indian people, created by the Society of St. Paul, in an effort to convert Hindus.

The notes even quote Hindu scriptures, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics, to help to explain Christianity to prospective converts. “We wanted to show the parallels between the themes in the Bible and in Indian religions,” Father Tony Charanghat, a spokesman for the Archbishop, said. “We’ve put the sacred text in a local context.”

For example, when Jesus tells disciples to turn the other cheek, the notes compare this to Gandhi’s creed of non-violence. Conservatives say that such devices corrupt the Bible’s original meaning, while Hindu nationalists say that they amount to blatant proselytising.

… It features 27 sketches of typical Indian scenes: one shows a family in a slum beneath skyscrapers. Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa also feature in lengthy notes interpreting the text for Indian readers.

So far, the 30,000 published copies are selling like hotcakes.

You know, I want to believe tailoring the Bible to fit other cultures is not going to work… That the subjects will hear the stories, but they’ll find out someone’s been lying to them about the details. And the whole conversion plan will backfire.

I want to think that… but unfortunately, I don’t think the people being targeted know enough to question what they’re reading.

I doubt they would be as enthusiastic, though, if they knew the people writing these “special” Bibles had no regard for their ancient religions/cultures at all and just wanted to find a way to convert them.

They wouldn’t be so enthusiastic if they knew the publishers just saw them as brown people with targets on their back, needing to be “saved.”

I’m also surprised Christians would let this happen without condemning it at all. Where’s the uproar from them? Isn’t this changing the sacred “word of God”?

(via The Invisible Pink Unicorn)

  • Tao Jones

    You mean the Christians that believe Jesus was white?

    Ever ask an average Christian if Jesus was Jewish? They totally freak out.

  • Radovan Karadzic

    eh, don’t get upset over this. “creative artwork” on this Christian Bible isn’t much different than having Barbie Dolls with different ethnicities.

    They’re both pure fiction, although it could be argued that the bible, with all its mixed messages, death, disease and contempt for humanity .. is far more harmful than Barbie could ever be.

  • http://obimomkenobi.wordpress.com Obi-Mom Kenobi

    One more butt in a pew equals (at least) one more dollar rupee in the collection plate. Jaded? Perhaps. Annoyed by conversion efforts? Definitely.

  • Craig

    Isn’t this just one more step (or branch) in the evolution of the bible stories? I don’t see how this version is any less true than the version it is based upon.

  • llewelly

    You know, I want to believe tailoring the Bible to fit other cultures is not going to work… That the subjects will hear the stories, but they’ll find out someone’s been lying to them about the details. And the whole conversion plan will backfire.

    Actually, it’s worked many, many times before. Christians have been doing this sort of thing for hundreds of years.

  • Ulrich

    More like thousands. Many of the stories about Jesus seem to be made specifically to convey to readers from various cultures the impression that he was a really special person – the virgin birth, the “adoption” by God during his baptism, etc.

  • http://www.homealley.co.za fabrulana

    Great collector’s item. But seriously – Christians only take what they want from the bible anyhow… If I may quote from The Hiram Key :

    “Various versions of biblical texts were found and all of them were over a thousand years older than the oldest surviving Hebrew texts that were produced by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher in AD 1008. Prior to the discovery of the scrolls the Jewish and Christian world did not know for sure how accurate our current Old Testament was, we only knew that during the Christian era even the tiniest deviation has been frowned upon. From the great variety of competing texts, each carefully stored in the caves of Qumran, we now know that there were a large number of different texts and that the one translated into the Greek Septuagint was just one of them – so there is no ‘correct’ version of the Bible after all.”

  • Christophe Thill

    I like the “Jesus and parents as Indians” thing. It helps seeing that they’re a collective myth, that they can take the appearance of any part of humanity. I’d love to see them as Africans, as Indians from the Andes, as Inuits… It can’t be less accurate that the traditional Western Jesus with his flowing, blond hair and beard and his light-coloured eyes.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    “I’m no expert on the Bible or anything… ”

    As someone who would claim some expertise in Bible interpretation and cross cultural contextualization, let me provide an evangelical Christian perspective. There does not seem to be any indication that the text has been abused in any way, and the changes that are identified seem to be exclusively associated with the explanatory notes and illustrations. In other words, they are superficial. What is more, there is a well established tradition within Christianity of translating art into local forms. In this context I would consider it more problematic if the bible featured illustrations of white anglo saxons. The only thing that may warrant closer examination is the bindi, but given this is often used to indicate marital status as much as anything else within Indian culture I am inclined not to get too worked up about it. I would suggest Atheists need not get worked up about it either.

  • cipher

    Maybe they could publish one with the Jesus from South Park for people who watch Comedy Central.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    Hmmm, I think people would get too confused about my identity if I promoted that. There is a manga bible though.

  • http://agersomnia.blogspot.com Agersomnia

    Beh.

    Christians suck at this adaptation thing.

    Here they took local festivals to different deities and turned them into Christian things… but things didn’t went exactly as they wished.

    Aztec and the rest of the Mesoamerica’s cultures had deities that required an exchange for favors, called “mandas” (mandates, orders or commands, freely translated). If you didn’t fulfilled your end of the deal, things could go very very bad for you.

    Now the people from these ancient cultures that are still left belive Saints will help, in exchange for mandas, and if you fail to deliver what you promised you’ll go to hell.

    Virgin Guadalupe was white in Spain, but oh surprise, sun-tanned for Mexico. Oddly enough, she supposedly appeared in the middle of a bunch of roses on the same hill that for centuries was used by Tonantzin, an ancient deity, to appear every year to her loyal people. BTW, one of her many titles was Chicomexochitl, or “Seven Flowers”, so she was a floral goddess.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    Well an important thing to remember is that the English language bible is an adaption thing too. Its an adaption from ancient Greek. Short of insisting that everyone wanting to read the Bible learns ancient Greek first, adaption is unavoidable. Now, it is reasonable to distinguish between good adaption and bad adaption; personally I think it is better to translate direct from ancient Greek to Indian and avoid foisting Anglo-American culture on them.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    Surely Christians would prefer a little “creative licence” with the appearance of Jesus (I’m not aware of a biblical description) over the idea of allowing those poor brown non-Americans to burn in hell for eternity.

    Come to think of it, wouldn’t you expect the bible to have at least one description of Jesus? Two really. Different ones, of course.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    Actually I’ve discovered a description:

    Isaiah 53:2b: “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”

    There you have it, Jesus was fugly.

  • ash

    @Matt Stone

    There does not seem to be any indication that the text has been abused in any way, and the changes that are identified seem to be exclusively associated with the explanatory notes and illustrations. In other words, they are superficial.

    methinks Bart D. Ehrman would beg to differ; see specifically ‘top 10 verses that were not originally in the new testament’ in Misquoting Jesus and the implications this would have on any sect of Christianity that practises snake-handling, glossolalia, or laying-on-of-hands healing.

    also, i seem to remember some kerfuffle about whether ‘virgin’ had been mistranslated from ‘young maiden’ in early scriptural resources…does anyone know any reputable sources i can go research this from?

  • Scotty B

    But… if this could happen in India, how do we know it hasn’t already happened in America? What if Jebus isn’t really white?! Oh, the huge manatee!

  • cipher

    I swiped the following from The Jewish Response to Missionaries, by Rabbi Bentzion Kravbitz of Jews for Judaism. The book is available in PDF format at their website, and contains a useful collection of counter-missionary arguments (bold and italics are R. Kravitz’s):

    In an attempt to prove the concept of the “virgin birth,” the book of Matthew 1:22-23 states: “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, ‘Behold a virgin shall be with child and will bear a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel,’which translated means, G-d with us.” Missionaries claim that this is the fulfillment of a prophecy recorded in Isaiah 7:14, that actually reads: “Behold, the young woman is with child and will bear a son and she will call his name Emmanuel.”

    There are numerous inaccuracies in the Christian translation. For example:

    1) The Hebrew word, “almah”, means a young woman, not a virgin, a fact recognized by biblical scholars*;

    2) The verse says “ha’almah”, “the young woman,” not “a young woman”, specifying a particular woman that was known to Isaiah during his lifetime; and

    3) The verse says “she will call his name Emmanuel,” not “they shall call.”

    Even apart from these inaccuracies, if we read all of Isaiah Chapter 7, from which this verse is taken, it is obvious that Christians have taken this verse out of context.

    This chapter speaks of a prophecy made to the Jewish King Ahaz to allay his fears of two invading kings (those of Damascus and of Samaria) who were preparing to invade Jerusalem, about 600 years before Jesus’ birth. Isaiah’s point is that these events will take place in the very near future (and not 600 years later, as Christianity claims). Verse 16 makes this abundantly clear: “For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.”

    In fact, in the very next chapter this prophecy is fulfilled with the birth of a son to Isaiah. As it says in Isaiah 8:4, “For before the child shall know to cry, ‘My father and my mother’ the riches of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.” This verse entirely rules out any connection to Jesus, who would not be born for 600 years.

    * Some missionaries argue that in an ancient translation of the Bible called the “Septuagint,” 70 great rabbis translated the word “almah” in Isaiah 7:14, as “parthenos”, and that this Greek word means a virgin. This claim is false for several reasons: 1) The 70 rabbis did not translate the book of Isaiah, only the “Pentateuch,” the five books of Moses. In fact, the introduction to the English edition of the Septuagint states concerning the translation, “The Pentateuch is considered to be the part the best executed, while the book of Isaiah appears to be the very worst;” 2) In Genesis 34:2-3 the word “parthenos” is used in reference to a non-virgin, a young woman who had been raped; 3) The entire Septuagint version that missionaries quote from is not the original, but from a later, corrupted version.

  • Karen

    This is a common evangelical practice. I remember putting together missionary literature to be handed out to the “unsaved,” and it often depicted biblical characters who looked like the local population on the mission field.

    There’s no real discussion of fine-tuned ethics when it comes to evangelism. The ends always justifies the means.

  • Matt Stone

    hoverFrog said,

    Come to think of it, wouldn’t you expect the bible to have at least one description of Jesus?

    The very fact that the Bible does not contain a description of Jesus suggests that his appearance was not crucially important to the authors of the New Testament. There is the vaguest hint that, since he blended into the crowds, his appearance was nothing special. Maybe the more crucial matters are to be found elsewhere? Maybe your expectations need to be re-examined?

    As for the Isaiah prophecy, well, I would not read too much into this since the writers who recognized it as prophesying Jesus were quite evidently far more concerned with the “pierced bit” than the “appearance” bit. Nevertheless, the fact that they saw no essential conflict on that score would tend to support what I have already said above, that on the surface there was nothing special about him. Jesus and the apostles always challenged people to look deeper than surface appearances. Wouldn’t it be more puzzling if they did get hung up on his appearance?

    Karen said,

    This is a common evangelical practice. I remember … missionary literature … often depicted biblical characters who looked like the local population … There’s no real discussion of fine-tuned ethics when it comes to evangelism. The ends always justifies the means.

    On the contrary, there has been much discussion of ethics in evangelism in recent decades and what has emerged is recognition that what is truly unethical is “cultural imperialism”. That is, the pushing of western culture (customs, cuisine, language, art, etc) onto Christian converts, as the conquistadores did, as if spiritual conversion necessitated cultural conversion. Missionaries have become far more conscious of respecting local culture and distinguishing between essential issues and peripheral issues. The more unethical thing here would be to push Euro-American artistic conventions onto the local population. It would alienate converts from their culture, in a totally unnecessary way, and potentially lead to confusion as to what the gospel is really all about. Your suggestion that cultural contextualization is more unethical suggests to me that you have not really understood the essence of the gospel, and that there is no difference between American culture and Indian culture in Christ Jesus.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    Matt Stone said:

    Wouldn’t it be more puzzling if they did get hung up on his appearance?

    Like the Christians changing the appearance of Jesus to be more Indian you mean?

    I do think it is telling that there is no description. It seems that the writers of the bible had never even seen the man. Which would fit the other historical records.

  • ash

    cheers cipher…!

  • cipher

    cheers cipher…!

    Yeah, well, I always say… if you want to know what the OT says, ask the people who wrote it in the first place.

    (I get called a Pharisee for saying that, btw – which is another example of Christian misunderstanding. The irony!)

  • http://veggiedude.com veggiedude

    This is nothing new. The bible has always changed to suit the reader. In the first 200 years, christians did not eat meat. Then a Roman emperor who converted to Christianity decided to make it more popular by changing it to accept meat eating. The muslim view of jesus as a vegan is supported by the “Essene Gospel of Peace, Book 1″. But I’m no expert on these things either.

  • Matt Stone

    This is nothing new. The bible has always changed to suit the reader.

    You’re being disingeneous here vegedude. There is nothing in that news report to suggest there have been any changes to the text. It only suggests there have been changes to the packaging and explanatory notes for readers. If you think there have been changes introdued to the actual text, of the specific bible in question, list them. Your a rationalist, aren’t you? List your evidence.


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