Baby Krishna, Infant Christ Paperback – September 15, 2011
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About the Author
- Publisher : Orbis Books (September 15, 2011)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1570759324
- ISBN-13 : 978-1570759321
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.5 x 9.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,442,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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FIRST FOR A FEW POSITIVE FEATURES:
*There is some helpful information on the young Krishna and his place in a certain strand of Hindu bhakti devotionalism for those who are totally new to the subject. The author has made an admirable attempt to understand this particular strand of Krishna devotion.
*The book (written by a Christian an ostensibly for a Christian audience - though it is unclear precisely what kind of Christian the author is addressing) strives throughout to be positive toward Hinduism. It is non-critical toward Hinduism, perhaps to a fault.
*The book gives a very succinct definition of what "comparative theology" is all about (though this is done basically by quoting a few of the main scholars in the field).
*The book makes some points which Christians may fruitfully ponder; i.e., the joyfulness of God, the physicality of salvation, etc. (Of course, it should immediately be noted that these are areas Christian theologians have been speaking and writing about for centuries without needing to be "taught" these things by Hinduism).
NOW FOR A FEW OF THE PROBLEMS:
*The book's methodology is far from clear. On what basis, besides the author's personal preference, does she elevate the Bhagavata Purnana (the childhood of Krishna) over the Bhagavad Gita (the adult Krishna)? On what basis does she seek to elevate non-Canonical Gnostic texts and hold them up next to the canonical Gospels in the Bible? She calls these latter texts "Christian" but it is probably better to call them Pseudo-Christian. She would like the church to be more "open" to the texts of early Gnostic communities, but she fails to understand why the church overwhelmingly rejected these texts (or simply ignored them). It should be pointed out that just because an ancient text purports to tell us something about Jesus does not indicate that it does so with any sort of reliability.
* The evidence marshaled in support of the argument of the book is weak overall. The endnotes which support the author's contentions are overwhelmingly from secondary western sources (many assertions have no endnotes at all). While the author has a commendable ambition, one gets the feeling that the author is dealing in this book with a set of fields (Hinduism, the Bhagavata Purana, the New Testament, non-canonical pseudo Christian texts) which are outside of her own specialization. Not surprisingly, the author uses secondary sources which are inclined toward her viewpoint - for instance Bart Ehrmann on non-canonical pseudo-Christian texts.
*Central to the author's argument is that Christianity lacks something. For one, it lacks detailed narratives of Jesus' childhood, a lack the author seeks to redress (A) by appealing to the childhood legends of Krishna contained in the Bhagavata Purana, (B) by rehabilitating late non-canonical pseudo-Christian texts that contain dubious legends of the childhood of Jesus. But what exactly is the logic here? Having failed to prove that this is a genuine gap for Christianity, she has failed to show that Krishna or the non-canonical "Infancy Gospel of Thomas" have (or should have) anything to do with redressing this gap. One suspects that the author has selected the texts she has (both from Christianity and Hinduism) because they support the conclusions she wanted to reach from the outset. To take another example: it is ironic that the author wants to remind Christians of the physicality of salvation in part through a reminder that Jesus was a real human being. Notwithstanding the tendency of Christians historically to overemphasize either the divine or human in Christ, the full humanness of Jesus has always been one of the givens of the Christian tradition. In light of this, it is odd that the author appeals to Gnostic texts which overwhelmingly emphasize the divine otherworldly Christ at the expense of his humanity. It is even more odd that she appeals to the child Krishna, who as an avatar, is emphatically not considered by Hindu traditions to be fully (or even remotely) human.
*Another lack the author sees is the alleged lack of playfulness in Christianity. On p. 51 she writes, in contrast to the playfulness of Krishna,
"...`play' and `playful' are never used to describe Jesus in the Bible - and in fact I would venture to guess that...in the Christian tradition, those words can't have been used in a Christological context over a handful of times, if even that many. All the more reason, then, why Christians should learn more about Krishna, 'the divine player par excellence of Indian religion.'"
What is the logical connection here? Surely the lack of the word "play" need not automatically entail the absence of the thing itself? Even if we grant the absence of "playfulness" in Christianity, considering this a lack or gap which should drive Christians to a deeper appreciation of Krishna is not a necessary or obvious conclusion. One might just as well say that the lack of redemptive suffering in the life of Krishna should drive Hindus to Christ. This may or may not be the case for certain individuals, but it is by no means a self-evident or necessary conclusion. In fact, the same paragraph in which this quotation appears ends by saying that two basic insights emerge from Krishna's youthful play which Christians can learn from: 1. The revelation that God is joyful, 2. The transcendence of the distance between God and humanity. Actually, these two insights have been basic to Christian theology for centuries, the latter particularly to the Incarnation. Again, what precisely is the author arguing for?
*Overall, therefore, the argument of the book tends to move forward not so much through careful analysis, but through unsupported assertions and selective use of evidence. What we have as an end result is the author's comparison of a truncated (or caricatured) Christianity (which is too often portrayed as humorless, dogmatic and sexually repressed) with an equally one-sided portrait of Krishna devotionalism (which is portrayed spontaneous, open, erotic and playful).
*Related to this is the author's tendency to universalize her own Christian experience. She thinks that "most Christians" focus on the crucified Jesus, neglecting other aspects of his character and work. She thinks that "in the Christian church as a whole" there is too much of a focus on the divine in Christ and not enough on the human. But, in light of the highly diverse and global nature of the church today, on what basis is she making these sweeping generalizations?
*The author repeatedly introduces important statements in the book with "I suggest," "I maintain," "I argue," "I would venture to guess", etc. This may only confirm the reader's feeling that what we are reading here is not so much a piece of scholarship, as much as a creatively conceived opinion piece.
It should be stressed in conclusion that there are indeed fruitful grounds for comparison between Krishna and Christ (and many have written on this in the past). Genuine comparison, however, will seek to be as true and accurate to each tradition as possible. That is, good comparative theology should be predicated on careful work in comparative religions (understanding religions on their own terms). Only through a deep and sympathetic knowledge of Hinduism and a deep and sympathetic knowledge of Christianity can accurate comparisons be made between the two. A shallow knowledge (or a shallow portrayal) of each, by contrast, combined with a tendency to compare the worst in one tradition with the best in the other, will obviously produce comparisons that are deeply flawed. This is unfortunately what is found here. For more thoughtful efforts at comparative theology between Hinduism and Christianity, readers should look elsewhere (John Carman, Robin Boyd, or Francis Clooney for instance).