Rekha Chennattu’s Special Lecture on the Gospel of John and Indian Feminist Biblical Hermeneutics

Posted: August 26, 2017 in General

Blog PictureUnion Biblical Seminary’s (Pune, India) Department of New Testament Studies organized a Special Lecture on 25th August 2017 in the Seminary campus. The Resource Person was Prof. Dr. Rekha M. Chennattu, Professor of Biblical Studies at Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pontifical Institute of Philosophy and Religion, Pune, India. She has a Licentiate in Scripture from Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome (1996), and holds a PhD in Biblical Studies from the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. (2004). She earned her PhD under the supervision of Prof. Francis J. Moloney. Since 1996, she has taught Scripture in India and abroad and presented papers at various national and international conferences and published more than 90 scholarly articles in journals and books in India and abroad. Some of her articles are translated from English into more than 20 (European and Asian) languages. Among her works, Johannine Discipleship as a Covenant Relationship (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006) is well-known among the Johannine scholars. Her forthcoming monographs include Biblical Women as Agents of Social Change and A New Commentary on John’s Gospel from Indian and Feminine Perspectives.

Dr. Rekha’s lecture was structured under three major sections. In the First Section, she emphasized the challenges of interpreting the Scripture in a context of various paradoxes. Keeping that important challenge in mind, she highlighted some of the hermeneutical principles for Biblical Exegesis (based on her article entitled “The Svadharma of Jesus: An Indian Reading of John 5:1-18,” in Seeking New Horizons: Festschrift in Honour of M. Amaladoss, 317-35). In that process, she explored the following four aspects in details: first, the “author meaning” is not immediately accessible through the text, because of the historical distance and the cultural gap between the ancient author and the modern readers; second, the “author meaning” is not always identical with the “text meaning,” because the written text has semantic autonomy; third, in a Christian interpretation of the Scripture, the “text meaning” should be in continuity with the “author meaning”; and fourth, in a contextualized interpretation of the Scripture, the reading should be sensitive to the local context: the socio-politico-economic situation and the spiritual-cultural mind or worldview.

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In the Second Section of the lecture, she explained in nutshell the experiences of the Indian women in relation to the Principles of Indian Feminist Biblical Exegesis. In that connection, she suggested the following two things: first, a feminist biblical interpretation upholds the dignity of all human persons in general, and the dignity of women in particular; and second, a feminist biblical interpretation upholds the sacredness of the cosmos and our inter-relatedness and interconnectedness. In the Third Section, Dr. Rekha offered a Case Study based on John 4:1-42 (for more details see her article: “Women in the Mission of the Church: An Interpretation of John 4,” Vidyajyoti: Journal of Theological Reflection, 760-73). She argues that:

The Gospel of John presents women positively, and they play significant roles in the narrative. The story of the Samaritan woman is very significant because it not only reflects the socio-cultural reality of the Johannine community but also announces our ideals, aspirations and struggles. Like Jesus, she shows an openness, which transcends her social traditions as she enters into a dialogue with Jesus. She is rooted in her traditions, yet open to receive the revelation from Jesus. But she is not depicted as a passive receiver, accepting unquestioningly all that is said by Jesus. If we understand leadership as an animating role characterized by critical mind, creative initiative and committed action, she is presented as ideal leader of her community. Her religious background, personal interests and spontaneous appropriation of the role of an apostle to bear witness to Jesus in the city are outstanding and significant. Through this story, the Johannine community is also challenged to become a new temple (dwelling place) of God in the world, to become a covenant community of God. In other words, we (the disciples of Jesus) are called to become a community which makes God’s loving presence visible in the world.

The Lecture was followed by a Q&A Section, where several significant biblical and contextual questions were raised. Dr. Rekha responded to all the questions with ease and spontaneity. Her explanation of John’s story from the perspectives of “behind the text” (Johannine Community), “in the text” (Jesus’ own story in John), and “in front of the text” (the contemporary readers of John in India) was one of the highlights of the lecture. The polyvalent and gnomic natures of John were once again revealed through her lecture. The lecture was moderated by Dr. Johnson Thomaskutty, Head of the Department of New Testament Studies at UBS, Pune.

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