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Tsunami, Text and Trauma: Hermeneutics after the Asian Tsunami

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image of Biblical Interpretation

This essay is about the political and hermeneutical ramifications of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which had such a devastating effect upon millions of people. The first section deals with how a national disaster like a tsunami becomes a vehicle for both decolonization and recolonization. In Dutch colonial Indonesia, an earlier tsunami became in the hands of nationalists an ideal gift to whip up anti-colonial sentiments. The current humanitarian reconstruction, with all its good intentions, lends itself to economic, cultural and spiritual neo-colonialism. The second section looks at how the biblical flood story was utilized for the justification of colonial projects such as the invasion of South America and also used as a benchmark to evaluate and judge other peoples' history and chronology, and how in the process the authenticity of the biblical account was established. The third section addresses the theological reactions of different faith communities, which tend either to blame an angry God for the misfortune, or attribute the disaster to the misbehavior of the people. The last section advances the idea that a possible place to look for an answer to the theological conundrum produced by the tsunami is in secular stories which, in contemporary society, act as surrogate sacred texts. The essay analyses two novels—José Saramago's The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and Vicente Leñero's The Gospel of Lucas Gavilán, which shed new light on old stories and offer a complex picture of God.

Affiliations: 1: University of Birmingham


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