Rev.K Jesurathnam teaches in the Department of Biblical Studies (Old Testament) at United Theological College Bangalore, India.
The following article appeared in the Bangalore Theological Forum, Volume 34, Number 1, June 2002, page, 1-34. Bangalore Theological Forum is published by The United Theological College, Bangalore, India. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Dalit-liberative hermeneutics is scientific and praxis-oriented. The Psalms of Lament enhances and empowers the Dalits in their struggles.
In their struggle for identity, Dalits have emerged as the strongest force in India today as ever in history. Nearly 200 million Dalits in general and 15 million Dalit Christians among them are active subjects of this great history of India today.1 As the struggle of Dalits is on to regain their lost identity, the issues related to that struggle are not new.
The term Dalit is derived from the Sanskrit root dal which means to crack, open, split etc. When used as an adjective or noun it means burst, split, broken or torn asunder, downtrodden, scattered, crushed, destroyed and so on. The noun forms of dal for masculine, feminine and neutral are: dalitach, dalita, dalita(m) respectively.2 In line with this definition, the reality of Dalits is vividly depicted in the recent human rights watch report:
More than one-sixth of India’s population, some 160 million people, live a precarious existence, shunned by much of society because of their rank as untouchables or Dalits – literally meaning “broken” people – at the bottom of India’s caste system. Dalits are discriminated against, denied access to land, forced to work in degrading conditions, and routinely abused at the hands of the police and of higher caste groups that enjoy the state’s protection. In what has been called “hidden apartheid” entire villages in many Indian states remain completely segregated by caste.3
In the light of such a precarious situation Dalits raise their voice of protest, revolt, resistance and persistently argue in order to regain their lost identity. Several issues are in the forefront in this struggle of Dalits : untouchability, dehumanizing poverty, social ostracism, caste and power dynamics, cultural and religious oppression and soon. Christian Dalits are part of this struggle with additional problem of caste and hierarchy in the church. The fourfold alienation of Christian Dalits along with others is succinctly stated by M.E.Prabhakar:
Christian Dalits, who suffer along with other Dalits, suffer fourfold alienation: First: The State does not allow them to receive economic assistance or securing political representation even if they claim membership in SC communities; Second: other Dalits look at them with disfavor, as if the former has been helped by missionary patronage; Third. So called (upper) caste Christian treat Dalit Christians contemptuously and Fourth: The Dalit Christians are at odds with themselves, being divided on sub-caste, regional or linguistic basis.4
In view of this Dalit Christians in particular are on genuine look out for some of the religio-cultural and theological resources that would directly address to heal their wounded psyche.
Since their problems are notched up with several unjust systems and structures both within and around their church situation, they are on a serious search for their liberative and praxis oriented resources available in and around the Bible, which stands as the centre of their religious fervor. If Dalits are seeking their liberation from casteist oppression, and to identify their religio-cultural energies from a religious and social base for their corporate and individual attempts at liberation, the Bible stands as a dynamic source of energy. It should be noted that the attempts to create a dynamic and vibrant conversation between the Dalit world and Biblical world is not entirely a new venture. Almost over a decade several robust attempts on this venture has yielded some fruits.5 However, these ventures are neither exhaustive nor exhausting. There are several promising strides that this approach can take in the near future.
The present study makes an attempt to re-read the Bible in the light of Dalit hermeneutical focus. The Psalms of Lament are used as a fertile ground on which the quest for Dalit liberative praxis can be sufficiently planted. In this venture two things are done specifically: First: to situate the Psalms of Lament in their original setting (if at all that is possible) for a meaningful appropriation of their message and Second: to appropriate the interpretative keys available with the Psalms to resonate and to discover the liberation potential that is in convergence with the Dalit liberation. In order to venture into this task, few methodological observations should be made at this point.
2. Methodological Observations
For any critical and constructive engagement of Dalit liberation with the biblical resources we need to take note of the following important methodological observations that will enhance the process of our interpretation.
2.1 First: The issue of common ground between Biblical world and Dalit world is of paramount importance for any heuristic exploration of either of these areas and to see their integral interconnection. The struggles of Dalits can easily find certain natural affinity towards the struggles and experiences of the marginalized communities of the Bible written down as the faith expressions in their various traditions.6 In other words, there are certain points of convergence in the matrices of both the Biblical and Dalit world. The Biblical matrix of preferential option towards the alienated and marginalized and the Dalit matrix of their struggle for egalitarianism are placed on the same plane.7
2.2 Second: The liberative hermeneutics is the common ground and concern in our quest to see inter-relatedness between Biblical and Dalit worlds. The important objective in the liberative praxis for Dalits is their liberation from the socio-cultural oppression. The Dalit liberative praxis oriented hermeneutics is geared towards the liberation of Dalits from the psychological, cultural and social oppression and to empower them to get organized in their struggle for freedom.8 The biblical narratives with liberation potential are already processed and reprocessed accounts addressed in their original settings and they continue to negotiate and renegotiate in our context to make the liberation potential possible. It is this understanding that should precolate the context of the oppressed communities of Dalits in India as they search for human experience of God in and through their socio-cultural milieu.9
2.3 Third: In the light of the above two criteria set out for the common ground of interpretation for both Dalit liberation and Biblical foundation for that purpose, certain new textual stirrings have been noted in the Indian interpretation of the Bible. By disentangling the biblical texts from the clutches of oppressive caste and hierarchical elements and to look out for more crucible points of liberation hermeneutics, several biblical scholars and theologians have already been engaged in a serious process of dialogue between Bible and Dalits. In this process both synchronic and diachronic methods of biblical interpretation is adopted.10 The other major concerns surfacing in this process are: the orality and literacy of the text, God as an active agent of poor and marginalized and the vulnerability of God alongside the sovereignty. These issues will naturally let us move into our ground reality of considering the issue of Dalit hermeneutics.
3. Dalit Hermeneutics for Liberative and Praxis Oriented Exegesis
In order to engage ourselves in Dalit hermeneutics for liberative and Praxis oriented reading of the biblical texts, it is inevitable that we should clearly set our goals and objectives. While this task is not radically different from what we do in biblical hermeneutics, the interpretative principles are similar to some extent in both. However, Dalit hermeneutics is dalit-context-specific with clear cut defined objective and goal. It seeks to read the texts in transaction with grassroots and other subaltern communities who may have inherited similar methodology. It further seeks to retell the text or texts, once or many times, with different or new characters, to address dalit or other subaltern audience, circumstances, or contemporary or historical issues. It further ventures into reading the texts as tricksters (if needed), using strategies of and interplay with, the domestic, local and particular mechanisms of power in order to subvert such powerful and exploitative power mechanisms and dynamics.11 While these general functions are in order with the Dalit hermeneutics for Liberative and Praxis oriented purposes, the specificity of its function can be seen in different ways.
3.1 First: By using the hermeneutics of “suspicion”, “retrieval” and “representation”’2 Dalit hermeneutics seek to concentrate on the integral liberation of Dalits themselves. Some of the key interpretative questions raised by the scholars or people who are engaged in Dalit hermeneutics are well summarized by A.M.Raja:
Are the actual and official preaching from the pulpits or platform vibrating with the biblical claims of God’s bias in favor of the people thrown to the periphery? Would the eschatological promise of the biblical texts be the mesmerizing agents in persuading the Dalits to forget the present phase of apparently inconclusive pain and suffering due to oppression? Is biblical orientation other-worldly? Is the jubilant song of the exodus people after crossing oppressive Egyptian boundary, a meaningless composition? Could the “silence” of Job in the thick of wretched conditions, be the source of inspiration for activating the legitimate wrath of Dalits against their enemies? Should the suffering servant of God nakedly crucified in public be the model of liberation to the Dalits who are “crucified” day in and day out, openly and subtly?13
To these areas of interrogation of the diverse trajectories of the Bible, we could even add: can the agonizing and anguishing moments of the faith of Psalmists be hidden in and around their destiny? Has the rule of Yahweh come and outbroken to change the existing situation? Who are the evil people, people of violence and people of tongue that can cause so much damage not only to the reputation of the Psalmists, even to their very existence. How about the advocacy of the Psalmists which show a favoritism towards the poor and weak, who are crushed at the gate of justice? (Cf. Psalms 41:1-2; 82:3-4). These questions are well within the operation of hermeneutics of suspicion employed by the Dalit Christian readers of the Bible when they are brought into a direct encounter with the latter. At the same time Dalit readers of the Bible should not ignore the fact that there is a tremendous liberation potential available with the Bible for the transformative and performative functions that can permeate blood and nerve of Dalit quest for liberation.
If this presupposition is taken seriously, the hermeneutics of retrieval helps the Dalit interpreter to approach the biblical text with hope and aspiration. What is to be retrieved in this process? A.M. Raja puts it succinctly:
God is biased in favor of the victims of human history right from the beginning till the end. Heaven and earth will certainly become a new heaven and a new earth. The “silence” of the suffering Job is that of the well-composed sufferer in total control of the situation. The crucified Messiah though alienated i.e., the model for daringly encountering the suffering while revolting against the unjustly imposed suffering.14
To this again we may add that the retrieval of the loss of energy by the Psalmist needs to be examined in the context of his or her deep-death experience in life. As a book of the school of prayer, the Psalms retrieves the language of reality of God in whose presence we are able to present ourselves with honest realism. This idea of retrieval is long ago identified by R.H. Pfeiffer when he comments on the Psalms in general and the laments in particular
The intense emotions of these earnest souls, their longing for God’s presence, their joyful faith, flaming hatred, agonizing doubt, black hours of despair, all find expression in the Psalter. This book is the voice of those humble believers whose virile hope, in spite of despair, and unyielding tenacity in the midst of reverse, has kept Judaism alive and militant to the present day.15
Thus both the hermeneutics of suspicion and retrieval are equally helpful for the Dalit hermeneutical task when it engages in dialogue with the biblical text.
3.2 Second: Dalit hermeneutics is also the net result of bringing to the fore the glaring social reality of caste system (Varna of Hindu religious tradition) and from there it proceeds to work out a hermeneutics based on the principle of equality. It is also the net result of disentangling the biblical text from its firm entanglement with ‘high culture’ and the caste Christians.16
Moreover Dalit hermeneutics emerged as a reaction against the narrow perception of missionaries and their interpretative methods concerning the biblical text. R.S. Sugatharajah makes this point clearly:
On one level, the missionaries projected the Bible as the new Moses, leading an Exodus from caste-ridden Hinduism. But on another level, the missionaries were reluctant to press home the egalitarian potency of the gospel. With a long-term view of attracting Brahmins, the missionaries were concerned about biblical elements which might cause offence to brahminical sensibilities. For instance, the passages related to the ritual slaughter of cows – feasting on a fatted calf as Abraham did with his heavenly guests of the killing of a fatted calf to celebrate the return of the prodigal — would be seen by Brahmins as sacrilegious accounts, for the cow was regarded as a sacred animal.17
If the biblical text has to become a tool or vehicle of emancipation, Dalit reading of the Bible has to take its liberative and egalitarian potential in all its parts. This is helpful not for Dalits alone, but for all the readers of the Bible. In this sense Dalit hermeneutics has the goal and purpose to serve to bring out a counter culture against the oppressive caste culture and it further questions the dominant traditions of Hindu philosophy and brahminical Indian Christian Theology as well as the ambiguous missionary reading of the biblical texts which seems to legitimize the status quo.18 This necessitates in opting not only for a methodological exclusivism of Dalit hermeneutics, but also creating a counter epistemology, ~ which is against caste hierarchy and missionary subtlety but in tune with Dalit liberation and struggle. The words of Maria Arul Raja coincide with this view:
Being down to earth people rooted in the materiality of reality (land, Sweat, food materials in the process of production, carcass, leather of the dead animals), the Dalit modes of perception feel out of place with the logic of logocentric, idealistic or positivistic outlook, determinancy, belief as system, literacy-based communication or text-bound interpretation. And hence Dalit mind and heart intuitively deconstruct any meta-narratives including the Bible when it is presented so. The Dalit way of understanding reality innately acknowledges its sense of fluidity, particularity, indeterminacy, partiality and contextuality. And so it does not believe in universal claims of having elicited the true message from the Bible for all times and for all peoples. In other words, the Dalit mind does not seek to control the Bible nor does it permit the Bible (presented as a meta-narrative-grande histoire) to control its own brand of interpretation. As the realm of Dalit discourse the petite histoire so also the biblical materials are presented in this way. 20
3.3 Third: Dalit hermeneutics also share in common some of the relevant concerns on par with any liberation hermeneutics for contemporary exegesis and various processes related to it. Biblical hermeneutics is the source of interpreting the texts, especially of their past history, whose original meaning is no longer immediately available to present in the light of their present experience. Hence hermeneutics has two eyes. one before and one behind. With the ‘eye behind’, it looks back to the experiences of God’s people, Israel, their creedal confessions and even the retelling of their own traditions. This process will help us to be clear about the historical biblical context. With the ‘eye before’ hermeneutics looks to the present. It discovers the challenges of current social and historical reality. It further tries to make an integral connection between faith and life, between the loving actions of God in the past in the realm of Israel’s faith and the present socio-economic and cultural reality.”21
This being the case, where to begin our interpretation? Historical-critical methodology proposes that one should first understand the text in its context before seeking its relevance to the present (readers) context. The priority falls on the past rather than on the present. But what we need to affirm is the interconnectedness between both then and now contexts. Since we are already determined by our own context, we should not simply allow our own historical issues determine what we see in the texts, rather we should also allow the text to speak in our own context. J.L. Segundo articulates this dialectics when he writes:
“it is the continuing change in our interpretation of the Bible which is dictated by the continuing changes in our present day reality, both individual and social.”22
This process in the hermeneutic circle makes us think rightly that the circular nature of interpretation of the biblical texts stem from the fact that each new reality obliges us to interpret the biblical texts afresh, to change reality accordingly, and then go back to the texts again, and so on.23 If once we realize this fact we are well within the scientific and ‘objective’ plane of our proposed Dalit hermeneutics as a contextual reality of dealing with the past and historical biblical text. Then this will resonate the meaning and appropriation of a given biblical text to Dalit struggle and liberation.
3.4 Fourth: Dalit hermeneutics takes a serious note of intertextuality. By this we mean the biblical texts should be in constant dialogue with the “living stories” and “concrete experiences” of the Dalits. For instance the stories of Dalit martyrs and the stories of Biblical martyrs can be matrixed in such a way to find common elements in both for an integral Dalit liberation. The words of George Aichele and Gray A. Phillips are in order to see the point:
. . . (intertextuality) arises from the subjective or idealogical, juxtaposing of text with text on behalf of specific readers in specific historical/material situations in order to produce new constellations of texts/readers/readings.. (it further makes the expression of desire and of broken socio-cultural interests). Making these investments public and holding readers accountable to them. . . 24
In other words, Dalit hermeneutics situated within the wider context of third-world post modern and post colonial readings of the Bible is not interested in some metaphysical truth. Rather, it primarily journeys along with other “texts” in the light of its own biblical texts to discover what is its meaning for the poor, women, Dalits and other marginalized communities and the process of their struggle to liberate themselves.25
The process of intertextuality also summons us to think in terms of orality of the scripture, “oral traditions”, and “orally transmitted” stories of the Bible which speaks of their fluid and flexible intertextual participation in their faith and liberation journey. Sathianathan Clarke puts this comprehensively:
In a situation where Dalits and Adivasis are unable to participate in the literacy-based world view of the Bible because of their semiliteracy or illiteracy, they live with and under oral versions of Biblical narratives that are corporately weaved together through the calculating and creative interpretations of their ears-eyes. Oral scriptures are open-ended and fluid; however, they have their origins in readings of the written word. And such oral scriptures perform in their ability to transform. This notion of performance as transformation is native to oral cultures.26
Therefore, one needs to think transformative and liberative purposes of Dalit Hermeneutical inquiry which is at its heart. With this concatenated way of thinking of Dalit hermeneutics in the literary and non-literary ways of functioning, one can also look for a candid presentation of Dalit interpretation of the biblical world for liberative purpose.
4. The Psalms of Lament as a Critical Domain for Dalit Hermeneutical Task
In our previous sections we have noted the positive contingency of Dalit Liberative hermeneutics which has multi-modal and multi- ‘eclectic’ purposes based on which it is intercepted through the biblical texts. In this so called ‘latent’ approach, we identified several points of convergence (although at times divergent elements are noticed) that are inherently embedded in the dialogical process between Dalit and Biblical worlds. We have also proposed in our discussion that the Dalit Liberative hermeneutics be actively engaged in the process of negotiation and re-negotiation to recover the text and its meaning relevant and appropriate for its own purpose. This is to be carried out by using several tools of Dalit hermeneutics as already proposed. The hermeneutics of suspicion and retrieval are used simultaneously to dissect the biblical text for an authentic and transformative appropriation. Biblical Laments as found in the Book of Psalms can be one potential and fertile ground on which the seeds of Liberative hermeneutics of Dalits can be planted.27 To that process of implantation we shall turn our attention.
4.1 Sitz im leben (the setting in Life) of the Psalms of Lament
The problems and issues related to the setting in life of the Psalms in general is not a settled question. 28 However, ever since Hermann Gunkel’s attempts at breaking new ground in Psalms scholarship several further and fruitful attempts are made although they maintain the basic premise of Gunkel’s proposals.
Hermann Gunkel proposed that the communal laments (Klagelieder des Volkes) were extensively used on several occasions of public calamity or disaster such as: crop failure, pestilence, danger or defeat by some enemy. When disaster fell upon them, they instantly tried by means of expiatory rituals to plead or persuade Yahweh to act on behalf of the community, either through a confession of sin and concomitant plea for forgiveness or through a protest of corporate innocence.29 Regarding the setting of personal or individual laments Gunkel believed that the original circumstances evoking the laments were later generalized (the sickness, attack of enemy on individuals for various reasons and also identity of the enemy varies) to make the prayers more universal. He further noted that a peculiar feature of personal or individual laments within the Psalms is a decisive transition from plea to confident trust that Yahweh will act to redress the situation.30
Followed by Gunkel, his pupil Sigmund Mowinckel made a remarkable contribution to the Sitz mi leben of the Psalms. Mowinckel found cult as the fertile ground to understand the setting of Psalms. Gunkel already proposed that the basic purpose of Psalms although cult, but moves further to persistently argue that these Psalms were later used privately due to the development of personal piety. But for Mowinckel there is no question of association of the Psalms to any individual use. 31 For him the Sitz im leben of the Psalms is seen only in the festival of Enthronement which is modeled after the Babylonian New Year festival. 32 Based on Gunkel’s classification and identification of gattung (genre) scholars began to concentrate on the genre i.e., a particular genre of the Psalms. Notable among such scholars is Claus Westermann, who spelt out very clearly the importance of lament genre in the theology of Old Testament. He cogently and consistently argues that praise and lament are the two major genres that are crucial to understand the basic elements in the relationship between God and the people of Israel. Lament as a genre has a long and independent history in the religious social history of Israel. Thus deliverance in the Old Testament is God’s response to a cry of distress: Lament therefore is an integral part of God’s saving deeds or events.33
The most impressive and significant contribution to the Sitz im leben of the Psalms is made by Walter Brueggemann who identified the vital dimension of the function of the lament in the theological discourse of the Psalter and in the Old Testament. In general he discusses on the issue of the ‘lament’ and the ‘response of God’. He calls the laments as the Psalms of disorientation. This category plays an important role of linking the reality of life and God in a consistent way, by way of bringing a dangerous and pathetic situation of the discourse with God. The lamenter is committed to express her or his distress to Yahweh who is the Lord of human experience and partner with us in it. These pathetic human experiences must be addressed to God as God is the one who can bring change in the distress situation. He writes the real purpose of these Psalms of disorientation (as probably meant also in their original setting):
The use of these “Psalms of darkness” (laments) may be judged by the world to be acts of unfaith and failure. But for the trusting community, their use is an act of bold faith, albeit a transformed faith. It is an act of bold faith on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way. On the other hand, it is bold because it insists that all such experiences of disorder are a proper subject for discourse with god. . . But the transformation concerns not only God. Life also is transformed (lamenter’s life). 34
Craig C. Broyles classified the laments based on structural and form elements: God-lament, I-lament and They-lament. The aspects of accusing or rebuking God as being silent in the God-lament are found in complaint form. In this process, a confession of trust in God is envisaged and expected with an ardent hope that God’s earlier saving deeds are recollected in a sense that those acts of God in the past motivate Godself to act in the present distress. In other words, in view of God not acting in the present as was in the past God-lament and other laments are invoked. 35
There are others like Erhard Gerstenberger and Rainer Albertz who showed and argued consistently that the individual Psalms of Lament are devoid of any institutional and Jerusalem temple cult setting. Gerstenberger writes:
. . . the individual complaints belonged to the realm of special offices for suffering people, who probably assisted their kinsfolk, participated in a service of supplication and curing (probably rehabilitation) under the guidance of a ritual expert. The liturgies of such offices very likely would vary a good deal from place to place and throughout the centuries. It is important to note that individual petition rituals were apparently independent of local shrines. 36
In other words Gerstenberger departs the already existing consensus that the Psalms of Lament are used in central shrine (Jerusalem) for an encounter concerning safety, innocence, acquittal and well being of the suppliant. But Gerstenberger thinks that the main function is rehabilitation of an individual member in the context of tribe, clan or family setting.
Rainer Albertz argues that the setting of the individual laments is in the worship of small groups subordinate to official religion of Jerusalem cult. In both Gerstenberger and Albertz the function of laments serve the purpose of restoration or rehabilitation. 37
On the basis of our brief discussion on the Sitz im leben of the Psalms of lament we make two observations:
First: The Sitz im leben of the laments may be clear in most cases and stand at two levels: the (Jerusalem cult) or in the local shrines or tribe, clan or family setting. While all of the laments may have been used in festival contexts or in cultic context in general, the main function of them may be restoration or rehabilitation, although no consensus has emerged in this direction.
Second: The Psalms of lament as intended in their original setting are addressed to Yahweh and make Yahweh get involved in the resolution of the distress experienced by the lamenter.38 This observation also makes us move further to show the relevance of Psalms of lament for our theological and religious discourse to engage in Dalit Liberative hermeneutics.
4.2 Why the Psalms of Lament?39
Few important theological and religious dimensions are seen as a common ground between Dalit liberation and Biblical laments to fervently argue for and work towards their points of divergence and dialogue. We shall state few reasons why Psalms of lament are potential and valid ground for any liberative-praxis oriented engagement.
4.2.1 First: The Psalms of lament are set within the wider context of the deliverance motif. This became the basis of Israel’s relationship with God, and hence we may argue that the laments are situated in the matrix of the saving acts of God. In general laments are also termed as: “the call of distress” and the “cry out of the depths”, which constitute a fundamental recalling of the process in which one can state what happens between God and human beings. In this sense, lament as an affliction looks forward to God that the lamenter’s affliction be taken away and it is the only possibility in life left for the lamenter as long as there is breath in him or her.40
4.2.2 Second. Psalms of lament also identify the cause of the lamenter as with God’s cause and their enemies with God’s enemies. Therefore when they pray to God for recompense or vengeance against their enemies, it is the only possible weapon they possess as powerless against all their powerful ‘enemies’ or ‘tormentors’. The lamenter looks for God’s deliverance right here and now. Israel in general believed that all God’s dealings with them took place between their birth and death, thus it is imperative that God should act here and now to vindicate the righteous and punish the oppressed.41
4.2.3 Third: The reality of sickness and unjust accusations in the Psalms seen as an integral part of Psalmists’ theological discourse may be seen sometimes as metaphorical expressions. This however calls into question the validity of establishing the Sitz im leben of the Psalms of lament in general and setting of specific prayers. We have already noted in our discussion on the Sitz im leben of the Psalms, which is rather incomplete in the sense of no consensus is possible to have universal claim on the issue. However no one disagrees with the fact that despite problems encountered on the precise setting of the Psalms, the metaphorical nature of the Psalms in their language cannot be ignored. Perhaps even in their original setting this idea of metaphor and symbolization may have been present. This idea helps and becomes an advantage to the faithful communities of each generation and people who actually pray the prayers and look for a word about God and their own lives under God.42 Patrick D. Miller makes this point clear:
The search for a readily identifiable situation as the context for understanding the laments may, however, be illusory or unnecessary. The language of these Psalms which is stereotypical, generalizing, and figurative style is open ended that later readers, on the one hand are stopped from peering behind them to one or more clearly definable set of circumstances or settings in life, and on the other hand, are intentionally set free to adapt them to varying circumstances and settings.43
4.2.4 Fourth: It is an undeniable fact that the Psalms of lament reflect several human themes in our search for God-human relationship. Such trajectories of faith speak of the comprehensive and indissoluble nature or the articulation of Psalmist’s experience. Rejection, resilience, resistance and resolution – all reflect and resonate the purpose and context in which the cry is situated. This cry in itself addressed to God seeks to engage in serious and intense dialogue with God and in the process God is made to get involved and thus the lamenter is set to evoke God’s response. This process is carried out in anticipation with and in the light of liberative potential that may ultimately come from God. Walter Brueggemann puts this beautifully:
What difference does it make to have faith that permits and requires this form (lament) of prayer? My answer is that it shifts the calculus and redress the distribution of power between the two parties, so that the petitionary party is taken seriously and the God who is addressed is newly engaged in the crisis in a way that puts God at risk. As the lesser, petitionary party (the Psalm speaker) is legitimated, so the unmitigated supremacy of the greater party (God) is questioned and God is made available to the petitioner. The basis for the conclusion that the petitioner is taken seriously and legitimately granted power in the relation is that the speech of the petitioner is heard, valued and transmitted as serious speech… the lament form thus concerns a redistribution of power.44
4.2.5 Fifth. The language and discourse of Psalms of lament is the language of protest, be it symbolic, metaphorical or even realistic. Elsewhere we pointed out the lament is the only genuine language of the oppressed and afflicted. A language of protest of course is a legitimate response to suffering. Moreover the lament implores God to be compassionate to those who suffer. In other words the way in which it implores to God itself comes out of a protest language. Norman K. Gottwald stridently argues that the language of protest operative in the Psalms of lament has to do with the socio-economic context of the people themselves. He writes:
. . .there can be little doubt that an enormous part of the suffering which Psalmists protest is the pauperization of the populace through the manipulation of debt and confiscation procedures in such a way that even the traditional courts of Israel can be used to amass wealth in defiance of the explicit laws of the community. In fact, because the oppressors so flagrantly violate the laws attributed to deity, their conduct and attitude loudly declare, “There is no God!” no matter how piously they may dress up their appearance.45
While protest language of the lament as the conversation between the Psalmist and God is on progress, certain observations can be made at this point. First: In the laments no flattering of God is possible. Yahweh can be directly confronted with bold confidence; Second: even in anger, the Psalmist affirms Yahweh’s fidelity,46 that is Yahweh’s genuine intervention is sought and Third: the result of such a protest is pathos of God, God’s response. God’s active involvement and finally it reveals God’s character itself.’7 In the words of Claus Westermann, one can read this idea more firmly:
. . . the lament of the nation contains a dimension of protest, the protest of a people who cannot understand what has happened or has been done to them. It is a protest directed at God to be sure, but it is nevertheless a protest; it does not endure absurdity submissively and patiently: it protests! . . . it lays the matter out before God so that God has accepted their protest.48
5. The Psalms of Lament and Dalit Liberation: As Tenacious and Complementary for Constructive hermeneutical Engagement
As noted earlier the Psalms of Lament functioned in the community of Israel not in any inert fashion but they made indelible impression, not for a mere descriptive purpose but for declarative and evocative experience on their part and also on the part of present readers. On the one hand the Dalit reading of Psalms attempts to demystify and disenchant the text using the hermeneutics of suspicion and on the other hand using the hermeneutics of retrieval, the Dalit reading of the Psalms goes beyond the suspect aspect of the text in that the texts are recovered for liberative and evocative potential for Dalit Liberation.
One more type of hermeneutical tool can be employed for a positive orientation on the functional and performance dimension of the Psalms of lament for Dalit Liberation. That is : hermeneutics of representation which re-symbolizes and re-describes the life of the Psalmists as well as the readers from Dalit Perspective. Brueggemann explains this as follows:
I should argue (in Ricoeur’s terms of demystifying and representing) that the function of the Psalms is twofold. First, the Psalms bring human experience to sufficiently vivid expressions so that it may be embraced as the real situation in which persons must live. . . Secondly, the language of these poems (laments) not only helps persons to embrace and recognize their real situation. In dramatic and dynamic ways, the songs may also function to evoke and form new realities that did not exist until or apart from the actual singing of the song. 49
Any reading of Psalms of Lament for Dalit liberation perspective will certainly have the bearing of all the above three hermeneutical tools mentioned. These tools not only have a tenacious hold on both Biblical and Dalit interpretative contexts but also work as agents to serve comprehensive and complementary purpose of interpretation. The Psalms of lament ventures into a territory of unknown paths of grief that is experienced both in their context and also opens up new realities of interrogation for Dalit liberative mission engagement.
5.1 The Moments of ‘silence’ of God, suffering and Death:
The expressions of ‘silence’ of God, experience of ‘death’ and suffering are the concrete yearning of Psalmists in their helplessness and distress. These yearnings are the result of the situations of war, defeat, persecution, epidemics, mockery, famine, disease, imprisonment, drought, sadness, despair, anguish, frustration, betrayal and so on. Out of these real situations (or even symbolic) the Psalmist expects Yahweh to break silence. The prolonged silence of God results in increased anxiety and this experience leads the Psalmist to the nearness of death. The knowledge of being away from remembrance of God is worse than any painful situation. It shreds the mental. psychological and spiritual dimensions of the Psalmist. Life without God finds no meaning for the Psalmist. The relationship between Yahweh and the Psalmist is at stake and this is an experience of suffering and nearness to death, for the Psalmist cannot understand and bear it. The reality of death begins when Yahweh is silent, when a person whom Yahweh has forsaken cries out of depths (Psalm 130).50
C. S. Song calls the silence of God as the silence of protection, silence of grief and silence of pain to God. God is grieved into silence, the deep grief finds no words to speak. God partakes with the people in bearing the pain of suffering and separation. In silence therefore God identifies with the people whom he created.51
Commenting on the silence of God the Psalms of Lament, Samuel Amirtham argues that expressions like: “O God be not far from me” (Pss. 22:11, 19; 38:22; 69:18; 70:5; 71:12; 141:1) and “Why, Yahweh, do you stand far off?” (Ps. 10:1) are not prayers of God’s abandonment as they look at first glance, nor are they talking about lamenters’ separation from God, instead they affirm an assurance of actual presence of God in vivid form vis-à-vis the threatening world outside God’s protection.52
God is often manipulated and captivated from Dalit communities by the brahminical dominance. Scriptures are not made accessible to the Dalits by virtue of their ‘low-caste’ birth. Naturally the God whose nature is to suffer with the suffering ones is completely untold to Dalits. In death, silence and suffering the god who identifies with people whom he created is seen in the pathos of God. (Pain-Pathos as an important theological category once prevalent in Dalit theological discourse). But moving along this pole of pain-pathos, we can see the reality of Dalit goddesses or gods as the mortals-turned deities who have been killed in their very act of protecting the village boundaries in times of danger. Majority of the local deities are slaughtered in this process of expressing their solidarity and giving new life to the weak and suffering Dalits.53 This ‘suffering’ God concept clearly resonates with the biblical religiosity:
The new life of the Divine solidarity, sprouting out of the bloodshed resulting from the very act of affirming the humanity of the Dalits (Jesus’ cross, bloodshed and finally death itself for the sake of others) is the privileged interpretative ground in the dialogue between Dalits and the Bible.54
The experience of death as a result of suffering and silence of God (may be symbolic) is not an end in itself. This gives birth a strong hope and conviction to the Dalits that (as is the case of the Psalmist) they are in a ground reality that brings them closer to God to work in constant engagement with their God and their fellow human beings right here in the midst of the troubled world. The words of M.C. Raj are appropriate here:
Dalitism does not believe in the existence of heaven and hell. It has not developed any such escapist jargons. Instead Dalits just live by life and death as they come. They are not unduly worried about the fact that all people, irrespective of their being good or bad, have to die one day. For Dalit people suffering is universal. . . Dalit spirituality is not how we philosophize or theologize death and life but how we support one another in times of tribulations. . . Dalitism should make this world a better place to live instead of showing another world and creating misery for people. 55
5.2 The Reverberations of ‘Politics’ of God:
Psalms of Lament, always reverberate certain kinds of God-language in the voice of humans. These reverberations cannot be seen in any simple scheme or model but are found in a multiple and various facets of God’s operation in the community. Some such echoes are seen in: the sovereignty of God, the retributive mechanics of God, the reign of God, and so on. In all these factors one can see the way in which God uses the politicking’ dimensions of his own style of operation in dealing with the community. In this process of God’s politicking, the lamenter is dragged into situations of confidence, hope and boldness all in relation to each other.
God is conceived by the lamenter both as problem and solution. On the one hand God is responsible for the Psalmist’s plight and on the other hand God is the only hope. The immeasurable affliction like sickness, suffering and death as conditions of creatureliness is increased when the Psalmist is influenced by either or choices, to be blessed or to be separated from God (cf. Ps. 6). The stark realities of life like: terror, disease, weariness, grief and even the awareness of mortality all are in order to stand between God and human beings. However, the positive note is that in the midst of all of them, it is possible to live with integrity, purpose and hope.56
This means that the Psalms of Lament insist on the proclamation of the reign of God even in the midst of circumstances that seem to deny it. The fundamental theological queries raised by the people of Israel are: Who is sovereign? Can the foes who carried out the destruction be put in their place? Can God enact God’s purposes for the whole creation? Can God ultimately establish the sovereignty over against ‘other Gods?’ The answer to all these questions is a big ‘yes’, although it seems foolish to do so. But the Psalmist realizes that the real foolishness is to deny the character and power of God (Ps. 74:18, 22). In Psalm 79 the crucial question is: ‘Why should the nations say. Where is your God?” Here the Psalmist never loses the sight of harsh realities facing God’s people (74:1-5), but simultaneously the Psalmist never loses hope. In a way the Psalms of Lament prepares the way to answer the question: “Where is God?” Moreover in the face of adversity when their pain is visualized as an interpretative and remembering community they would hold on to the trust in God to maintain a fulcrum for the future generations. Walter Brueggemann puts the same idea succinctly:
Biblical faith is not romantic. It reckons with evil and it knows that evil strikes at all that is crucial and most precious. Nevertheless it does affirm. It requires and permits us to move beyond the venom to the Lord of mined temples. 57
The issue of God’s sovereignty calls us to give particular attention to the common ground between biblical laments and God or Goddesses’ temperament in Dalit religiosity. The Dalit consciousness of divinity is primarily experienced through the symbol of goddesses. The asexuality of Hindu goddesses is very impressive in Dalit religion. Unlike caste-Hindu goddesses who are associated with their spouses (Siva-Parvathi; Brahma-Sarswathi; Vishnu-Lakshmi), Dalit goddesses are wholly independent. The words of Sathianathan Clarke affirm the same:
Dalit goddesses do not become objects of male gods’ sexual pursuits or subjects that endeavour to manipulate and control the passions of these gods. The personal sexuality of the Dalit goddesses is not part of any of their myths and religious narratives.58
This brings us to the awareness that the images of biblical God and Dalit goddesses are freed from any association with spouses. In both cases the divine is completely disentangled from the coercive and oppressive manipulation or co-option worked out by other gods or spouses. Maria Arul Raja’s comments are also on the same line:
That is why perhaps both the Dalit and biblical religiosities are to a great extent an iconic in orientation, in the midst of a rich symbolism in rituals and celebration … the blend of affection with assertion, tenderness with ferocity and sustaining embrace with protective confrontation are common to both.
In the context of covenant relationship, the politicking of God is brilliantly weaved into the functioning of God-Israel relationship. The Psalms of Lament addresses the issue at several points. The power relationships between God and Israel alter to the extent that God is made available to the lamenter either by God’s own initiative or due to the persistent prayer of the lamenter. This is the same ground on which Dalit religiosity is operative. Dalit view is that the divine is perceived to be available to the petitioner at any moment of the day or night, in joy or sorrow, either in community celebration or in individual appeal,60 without any preconditions. Maria Arul Raja passionately argues on this point:
Meditation with the Divine in the forms of the institution of priesthood or of prescription of the purity-pollution regulations related to persons (holy priest vs. Inauspicious widow), language (godly Sanskrit vs. common parlance), food (vegetarianism vs. non-vegetarianism), clothing (specific attire for prayer vs. soiled dhoti for work), order in worship or gifts for the deity, is not the primary obsession with Dalit religious discourse. ii
The God of lamenter in the Psalms and the goddesses/god of Dalits are therefore the Gods of justice and equality and their politics is seen in their sustained and unconditional participation in the struggles of their people. Brueggemann makes the same point on Psalms of lament:
Cultically we may assume that such speech (the lament) is taken seriously by God. Such a speech pattern and social usage keep all power relations under review and capable of redefinition.62
In Psalms we see the prayer of Psalmist as an authentic and realistic prayer that seems to be an open-ended one without any realistic end. This is precisely the form of politics of God that is evident in the Psalms and they hope at last. The words of Richard Bauckham opines the same when he comments on Psalm 10;
God is at once the source of impatience for justice and freedom, rage against injustice, perplexity at its continuance, comfort in extremity, strength to continue hoping . . . . even in his absence (God), and, in being addressed, is found to be near.63 (This is the political act that the God of Psalmists and the God of Dalits are involved in.)
5.3 ‘Violence’ and Protest as a means of Determination and Defense:
There is certain justification to talk about the issues of violence and protest which in the heart of the Psalms of Lament. In fact, in the evocative and perceptive language of the Psalmist, the expression of ‘violence’ and protest surface clearly.
In Psalm 109 (vv. 6-19), one may find the issue of violence in the sense of Psalmists desire for vengeance, that is, the punishment should fit the crime (in the sense of lex talionis). The Psalmist had been victimized. It is natural, however, that when persons become victims, they are bound to react with rage. In other words, the Psalmist demands justice because he is treated unjustly (the word “tried” in v.7 could be translated “brought to justice.” It implies in a sense, “what we thought a poisonous yearning for vengeance sounds more like a just claim submitted to the real judge.”64 This is also a healthy demand for justice of the one who has been victimized. However, it is in a sense also non-violence, the Psalmist here seems to have honoured God’s claim: “Vengeance is mine” (Deut. 32:35; Ps. 94). J. Clinton McCann Jr. observes:
This vehement, violent-sounding prayer is, in fact, an act of non-violence. Psalm 109 suggests that evil, injustice and oppression must be confronted, opposed, hated because God hates them (Ps. 82). The Psalmist affirms that God’s steadfast love means judgment upon victimizers for the sake of the victims — the poor find the needy. Psalm 109 thus teaches us who God is, what God wills and does, and what would have us do. To be instructed by Psalm 109 is to take our stand with God, which means we shall stand with the poor and the needy as well (see v. 3l) 65
Protest is yet another major dimension of the evocative language used by the Psalmist in laments. Although it cannot be classified as an independent literary genre, it is well within the framework of the theology of laments. This protest language has its contextual backing in the post-exilic socio-economic horizons. The evocative language as protest is an outcome of their socio-economic oppression. N.K. Gottwald explains the context of such a protest. He writes:
The accused and beleagured sufferer has been charged with crimes and cruelly slandered in order to deprive him of rights, means of subsistence, good standing in the community, and even of health and freedom of movement. These accusations and deprivations are carried out by fellow Israelites who are in a superior social position and wield their power to get what they want. “Rich” and “wicked” are often spoken of in the same breath. The oppressors spill innocent blood in their greed for grain, seize the poor in village ambushes, speak deceitfully and bring false testimony, bribe judges shamelessly, all the while trusting and boasting in their wealth and virtue while they scorn and mock the sufferer.66
The pauperization of the poor, mocking at the poor for their plight are strongly expressed in the laments. As a reaction, the language of lament carries the ingredients of violence and protest in its evocative expressions. These expressions are not only against God but also are directed against: “wicked”, “tormentors”. Moreover, these expressions are indicators to understand Psalmists way of determination and defense (in the sense of claiming their rightful place in the community).
Speaking on the violence meted out to the Dalits, we see a clear reflection of Psalmists language on the Dalit issues of violence and protest. Speaking on the same issue M.C. Raj talks about the culture of violence imposed on the Dalits in India by giving the following facts:
The Right to life and dignity: During these fifty years of survival after independence from colonial powers the Dalit situation has not improved. It has in fact become worse which is borne out by the fact that every hour 2 Dalits are assaulted; every day 3 Dalit women are raped; every hour 2 Dalits are murdered, every day 2 Dalit houses are burnt down.67
The violence meted out to Dalits bespeaks their dehumanized state of living in India. Dalits have hope in their god/goddesses who primarily “do not function as a means to subdue a section of society; they are not designed to exploit a section within the community; they function to create a common cultural ethic, one that energizes the masses so that they can engage in productive activity.”68
Like the biblical Psalmists, Dalits, in spite of the violence meted out to them, which is felt by them in a perceptive way, do not take aggressive measures to deal with it unless they are dragged into the cycle of violence deliberately. Thus Maria Arul Raja comments:
Aggression, conquest, domination and colonial occupation do not seem to be the mainline categories of the Dalit cultural realm. Even the whole spectrum of historical decline of Dalit autonomy and assertiveness in the socio-cultural realm could be attributed to this factor that the Dalits by nature are not inclined to be a warring people to lord it over the ‘other’.69
The protest and ‘violence’ (in the sense of resistance) carried out by Dalits is to usher an alternative vision for equality and fraternity. To usher the casteless society, just social order and egalitarian society are some of the goals of protest elements. It is also a protest against dehumanizing poverty, social ostracism and to establish human dignity. All this language of protest and ‘violence’ is only a means to the end of determination and defence. The Dalits as well as the Psalmists affirm their determination in the community life that they are the people of God and they defend their own identity in order to subvert the ‘trick’ of an enemy and a calculated ‘glitch’ of the oppressor against their very survival. The language of protest expressed in the Psalms of lament: and its dynamic evocative interplay between the text and context is the clear will of God expressed even in the Dalit Liberative hermeneutics. Thus Walter Brueggemann affirms concerning the laments:
Any talk of the will of God doesn’t lead to life for the community here and now is idolatry. Anything which creates life for the community, no matter what its source, (protest language may be violent in expression) is the will of God.70
5.4 Rejection, Affliction and Resilience:
Rejection and Resilience motifs are dominant in both Biblical and Dalit world-views. Psalmist feel a time of utter rejection due to their experience of affliction. This comes out in a powerful evocative and emotional expression. However, after a period of dissonance the Psalmists as well as the Dalits move into the realm of resilience, at times even look for ‘retaliation’. Brueggemann writes:
That experience of radical dissonance is what is presented to us in the laments. They are speeches of surprised dismay and disappointment, for the speaker never expected this to happen to him or her. They are fresh utterances, sharp ejaculations by people . . . they are the shrill speeches of those who suddenly discover that they are trapped and the water is rising and the sun may not come up tomorrow in all its benevolence. And we are betrayed.71
The Hebrew root znch appears quite frequently in the Psalms along with other roots to express the idea for ‘rejection’. Originally this word may have been used in cultic context where people lamented God’s bringing disaster upon them. But later a specific meaning is given in the context of Zacharia (10.6) to contrast God’s former rejection of Israel with their future restoration. It is also used in the context of ‘rejecting’ God’s sanctuary and handing it over to the enemy (Lam. 2:7 cf. 3:17, 31). In the Psalms in particular it appears only among the complaints since God is the grammatical subject in every case.72 (cf. Ps. 44:25 et al. for the use of znch). This verb implies a violent and humiliated treatment given to the lamenter.
In this light we can see Psalm 22. which vividly portrays an evocative expression of the lamenter as a result of rejection and affliction. The “outcry” of the Psalmist here indicates a strong bond of human relationship with God. In fact this “outcry” serves as an important matrix of covenantal relationship between humans and divine. Here the Psalmist explains the physical torment and public humiliation caused to him in an intense and evocative language. Through the proliferation of animal imagery (worms – v.7; bulls – v.13; lions – v. 14; dogs – v.17 and oxen – v. 17) the Psalmist portrays a total collapse of his religious and social worlds in a dehumanized manner. The positive expectations of the Psalmist are totally inverted and subverted. Consequently the Psalmist goes to the extent of charging God as his ‘enemy’: who is responsible for this alienation and rejection. This is clearly expressed in v.15: “You lay me in the dust of death”. From this extremities of pain, suffering, affliction, rejection and even nearness of ‘death’ the Psalmist suddenly turns to talk an entirely different language as if he is in intersection with God’s world of hope and salvation. The language of laments transformed into the language of celebration and hope.
Ellen F. Davis using Paul Ricoeur’s expression of resymbolization method comments on the change of mode from lament to celebration in Psalm 22:
Psalm 22 is an individual lament whose theme is praise. The Psalms subject is the possibility, efficacy and necessity of giving praise to God in extremis . . . (in the second section of the Psalm, vv. 19-31, the Psalm moves): toward creation of a symbolic order capable of encompassing the vastly expanded territory of the Psalmist’s experience.73 (this Davis calls resymbolization process).
This process of ‘resymbolization’ or even ‘redescription’ of the reality in any evocative poetic language as in the case of Psalms of Lament, we may attempt to call it the language of resilience. When we observe Psalm 11 we note along with the Psalmist that the “foundations” of morality and social order in this world are thoroughly destroyed. Like the Psalmist, we may raise our question: What can we do? (v. 3). The overwhelming opinion at this point would be to give up. We may try to seek secure places and other comforting zones; but there is no sense even in them. But suddenly (vv. 4-7) the Psalmist felt as if he is awake. From the situation of contest and confrontation, the poet moves to ‘redescribe’ the reality that it is a situation of resilience, that he would be upheld by a righteous God, whose grace we can behold in the midst of the struggle and chaos.74
Speaking on the positive notion of symbols, especially, the drum as an aniconic symbol for Dalit communities, Sathianathan Clarke affirms the liberative dimension of symbolic systems. He writes:
Thus, the drum is introduced as a symbol that gathers up, represents, circulates and interprets the various dimensions of subaltern-based orality.75
In other words, the biblical language of symbolism accentuates and redefines the world of the poet in such a manner that even the language of despair and rejection is turned into a language of resilience and resymbolism. In the words of A. Maria Selvam, this becomes clear:
A Dalit in India is raising his “voice of supplication” through Ps. 140 to Yahweh, the Lord of history to intervene powerfully and exterminate completely the wicked discriminators and exploiters and eventually… the right of the poor will be upheld and the just and upright will enjoy peace, security and God’s intimacy on the basis of universal brother/sisterhood and of God’s mother/ fatherhood.76
The indepth experiences of rejection and affliction prepared Dalits to realize their potential now. Now they realize that their resilient experience should move beyond resilience towards resistance and retaliation (in the sense of resymbolization) so as to establish justice in the Dalit and in general world. M.C. Raj’s passionate expression attests this fact:
Mother Earth is resilient. She has borne all sorts of evil designs by the male man. Dalits share this resilient character of the Earth. We have endured nearly 3,500 years of continuous oppression, marginalization and exploitation. . . . The Dalits have to rise in revolt and retaliate just as Mother Earth does occasionally. She takes her anger out whenever it becomes too much to bear.”
5.5 Eschatological Horizons
Psalms in general and in particular has a strong eschatological dimension. In fact, this eschatological character of the Psalms makes them more relevant and appropriate to the contemporary readers and interpreters. The eschatological dimension embedded in the Psalms keeps the hope dimension intact in the midst of hopelessness. It puts God and human relationships along with God’s creation as part and parcel of God’s universal plan for the entire creation including human beings irrespective of their caste, creed and color Perhaps we may even call this the universal dimension of the Psalmists.78
In Psalm 7 we can notice a clear indication of eschatological flavour.79 The Psalmist is hunted down by his enemies for no mistake of his own. To begin with the Psalmist protests to establish his innocence (vv. 3-5) and then appeals to God to act as a judge to vindicate his cause (vv. 6-8). In the end Psalmist trusts in a ‘righteous judge” (vv. 11-13) and concludes by celebrating God’s righteousness (v. 17). The dynamic of mechanical operation of retribution is far beyond the scope of this Psalm. This Psalm as it is situated in its eschatological horizon believes in a God who can finally conquer. That openness, although seen in the present, is still open ended yet to be realized. Ralph da ‘Costa puts the experience of Psalmist clearly:
The absurdity of the injustices of life can only make man affirm the meaninglessness of existence. That one does not destroy the perpetrator of injustice, or the cause of these contradictions of life, could come from various reasons, but ultimately the human mind understands that destruction of the other is no solution to human problems. He therefore, appeals to God to make sense of the situation.80
We live like visionaries through which we anticipate joy in the future. This becomes a present reality even in the midst of distressing situations (Ps. 126). With eager, expectant hope the Psalmist anticipates the time when God will reverses their present plight. The present therefore provides us with the opportunities of hope with celebration and joy. “Discovery of God in darkness — the experience of the Psalmists — must at the same time be the gift of hope”.81 This repository of hope is also a common ground for us to read Dalit experience. The patient ‘waiting’ for the Lord begins at the moment of greatest despair. H.J. Kraus defines it clearly:
In the Psalms, “to wait” means not giving up, nor growing tired, not surrendering to overwhelming grief, but per -severing expectantly. The distinctive feature is the certainty that the eyes of the Lord are upon those who “hope in his steadfast love” (Ps. 33:18) . . . “waiting” is not a silent expectation that there will be a turn for the better, but involves calling and crying out, being constantly on the look out.82
Dalit communities constantly look for a God who suffers with them (not in passive sense) and that God is grounding hope of their present distress and affliction which will eventually turn their suffering into celebration with full hope and joy. For Dalits, liberation is the ultimate goal of life. Liberation from all kinds of oppression, to put it in the words of Ambedkar; liberty, equality, justice and fraternity. This liberation is not only present within the history, but it moves beyond history. The words of James Cone, although addressed to the black people are relevant to Dalit situation:
But if the oppressed, while living in history, can nonetheless see beyond it, if they can visualize an Eschatological future beyond history of their humiliation, then “the sigh of the oppressed”. . . . can become a cry of a revolution against the established order. It is this revolutionary cry that is granted in the resurrection of Jesus.83
In other words, the Dalits are not for ‘other-worldly’ futuristic eschatology. Rather Dalits look for a future defined by God, not by human oppressors who may deny the quality of life to Dalits under the guise of future deliverance.84
Dalit communities also seek to appropriate the meaning and message of symbol of life for creative, constructive engagement of celebration in concrete situations. Maria Arul Raja defines this lucidly:
In spite of the denial of human dignity on a par with the co-humans and thus divided and defaced, the Dalits refuse to be intimidated by the high-handed measures of the repression of the caste hierarchy. The rhythmic beauty and the aesthetic expression built into the Dalit consciousness are spontaneously and creatively at play, even within a limited space. The eloquent expressions of the celebration of life to the maximum – with noise, illumination and corporate activities in open space – even with limited availability of minimum resources, are commonly witnessed in the lives of the Dalits.85
The celebration as an eschatological dimension of the Psalms affirms a simple yet profound truth. The whole cosmos and all its people, creatures and things belong to God. This is political, socio-economic and ecological dimension within the eschatological horizon of the Psalmists. When life and its sources are negated to Dalit communities, their song of celebration will be very much like this:
We shall awaken the cell system of as many people as possible to dignity, liberty, equality, resilience, hospitality, fraternity, celebration of life by consciously and actively communicating our feeling and thought waves.86
We began our enquiry by identifying the rich and potential grounds for Dalit liberative hermeneutics by substantiating its vitality and vibrancy. We have identified the biblical Psalms of Lament as a fertile field to plant the seeds of Dalit hermeneutical construction. We have consistently argued for the possible resonance between the Biblical and Dalit worlds of religiosity and faith. We shall now conclude this study by making three succinct observations.
First: Dalit-liberative hermeneutics is scientific and praxis-oriented, very much suitable to ‘feet-on-the-ground’ theological and biblical discourse.
Second: The Psalms of Lament with its evocative and emotional expressions serve as a medium through which liberative-praxis-oriented faith experience is construed and constructed. In the midst of consternation, the faith of the Psalmist is tested and refined in a way that would open up new vistas for a meaningful moving forward in his/her faith journey. In a similar fashion Dalits find Bible (laments) as a matrix of their liberation maxim that would enhance and empower them in their struggle towards achieving a status of full humanity.
Third, Dalit communities will immensely benefit from the Psalms of lament in their anticipation towards an eschatological community of hope, joy and celebration to regain their lost dignity, identity, liberation and above all their due place in God’s creation.
1. According to 1991 census, in the total population of 846 million in India, Dalits (excluding non-Hindu religions): 138 million; Dal its (including all non-Hindu religions — conservative estimation): 150 million: Christians (all castes and denominations): 22 millions; Dalit Christians: 15 million. For other details cf. A. Maria Arul Raja, “A Dialogue Between Dalits and Bible: Certain Indicators for Interpretation”. Journal of Dharma XXIV:l (1999). p. 41; cf. Jose Kananaikel, Christians of Scheduled Caste Origin (Delhi: Indian Social Institute, 1986), p. 1.
2. Sir Monier Williams. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1976)- Reprint, 1988. Cf. Eleasor Zelliot, From Untouchables to Dalit: Essays on Ambedkar Movement (New Delhi: Manohar. 1992), pp. 267-271. For an important connection between the Sanskrit root dal and other ancient language roots like Hebrew and Akkadian see James Massey, Towards Dalit Hermeneutics: Re-reading the text, the History and the Literature (New Delhi: ISPCK, 1994), pp. 1-6. Massey argues: “The Hebrew root dall and Sanskrit root dal, which resemble, born in sense (idea) and sound through the Akkadian relationship with dalulu, have their roots prior to both present classical Sanskrit and Hebrew. There is a real possibility of ‘Dalit’ or daluth belonging either to the language used by the people of Babylonia or the people of the Indus Civilization”. (p. 3). It is also clear from the Hebrew root dll which is translated as: hang, below; in Qal: below, brought low and in Niphal: be brought low, laid low. As an adjective dal also means: weak, poor, thin, used in the context of reduced to be weak and helpless. See: F. Brown, S.R. Driver and C.A. Briggs, The Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Pub. 1906) reprint, 1999. p. 195.
3. Human Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s “Untouchables” (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999), pp. 1-2. Also see Godwin Shiri, “The Wide Prevalence of Traditional Occupations Among Christian Dalits As Sign of Continued Oppression”, Religion and Society 42 (1995), pp. 22-37. Shiri argues that the Christian Dalits are twice-alienated community in comparison with the plight and problems faced by Dalits in general.
4. M.E. Prabhakar, “The Search for a Dalit Theology” in A Reader in Dalit Theology (Madras: Gurukul, 1992), p. 43. The Problems faced by Dalits are already well identified, argued and defined, the details are readily available in several Dalits concerned literature. It is beyond the scope of this paper to list out all such details.
5. Several monographs and articles have appeared since a decade. It is not possible to mention all the works here except few important ones. V. Devasahayam, Outside the Camp: Biblical Studies in Perspective, (Madras: Gurukul. 1994): Ibid., Frontiers of Dalit Theology (Madras: Gurukul, 1996), pp. 6-75: Ibid. Dalits and Women: Quest for Humanity. (Chennai Gurukul Summer Institute, 1992): George Koonthanam, “Yahweh the Defender of the Dalits: A Reflection on Isaiah 3.12-15”, Jeevadhara XXII: 128 (1992), pp.112-123; A Maria Selvam, “The Cry of the Dalits: An Interpretation of Psalm 140”. Jeevadhara XXII: 128 (1992), pp. 124-139; George Soares-Prabhu, ‘The Table Fellowship of Jesus: Its Significance for Dalit Christians in India Today”, Jeevadhara XXII: 128 (1992). pp. 140-159: A. Maria Arul Raja. “Authority of Jesus: A Dalit Reading of Mark 11:27“. Jeevadhara XXV: 145 (1995),pp. 123-128; Ibid., “Towards a Dalit Reading of the Bible: Some Hermeneutical Reflection”, Jeevadhara XXV: 151. (1996), pp. 29-34: Ibid., “Some Reflections on a Dalit Reading of the Bible”. Indian Theological Studies XXXIII:3 (1996), pp. 249-259: Ibid., “Exorcism and Dalit Self-affirmation”. VJTR 60 (1966), pp.843-851: Ibid., “Reading Bible From a Dalit Location: Some Points for Interpretation”, Voices From the Third World, XXIII: I, (2000), pp. 71-91; George Kanairkath. ‘A Dalit Reading of the Prophetic Writings” in Indian Interpretation of the Bible, ed.. Augustine Thottakara. (Bangalore: Dharmaram, 2000) pp. 231-251; J. Susaimanickam, “An Indian Problem of Evil: The Caste System. A Dalit Reading of the Book of Job”, Indian Interpretation of the Bible, (2000). pp. 181-200; Ibid., “Dalit Hermeneutics: A Proposal For Reading the Bible”, Vaiharai 5:3,4 (2000), pp.3-24: Ibid., “Protest: The Language of Prophecy”, Journal of Dharma XXVI:3 (2001), pp. 311-335: M. Gnanavaram, Dalit Theology and the Parable of the Good Samaritan”. JSNT50 (1993), pp. 59-83: Ibid., “Hermeneutical Issues in Dalit Theology”, AJTR xi:l, 2 (1998), pp. 118-129; Felix Wilfred, “Towards a Subaltern Hermeneutics: Beyond the Contemporary Polarities in the Interpretation of Religious Traditions”, Jeevadhara XXV: 151 (1996), pp. 45-62; Dhyanchand Carr, “A Biblical Basis for Dalit Theology”, in Indigenous People: Dalits, ed. James Massey, (Delhi: ISPCK, 1994), pp. 231-249; Sathianathan Clarke, “Viewing the Bible through the Eyes-Ears of Subalterns in India”, An unpublished draft copy (Bangalore: UTC, 2001), pp. 1-22.
6. J. Servio C’roatto, Exodus: A Hermeneutics of Freedom, (New York: Orbis, 1981): A. Maria Arul Raja, “A Dialogue Between Dalits and Bible”, pp. 40-50. The point made by these authors is that the Paradigms like Exodus, Prophetic Proclamations against Israel and other nations have a common concern of both biblical exclusivistic and inclusivistic tendencies, very much subjected to the kind of interpretation that comes from the interpreter. The themes of election, Zion, land, people, aliens. conquest may seemingly do a damage to the inclusivistic tendencies of biblical religion. The exclusivistic interpretation subverts the relevance of biblical text to the marginalized communities. However, going beyond this kind of lopsided views of interpretation it is possible if we think in terms of God’s extermination or the guilt, solely on the basis of other nations’ behavior towards the oppressed and marginalized communities. This yardstick is applied not only to other nations (Philistines, Ammorites, Edomites, Moabities, Ammonites, Tyrians and others) but equally it is applied to Israel (Judah), the chosen nation of God. This kind of interpretation has liberation potential to any community that is oppressed and unjustly treated. See Hans Walter Wolff, Joel and Amos (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), pp. 112-173; “Compassion for the oppressed is that which determines the destiny of both the People of God and the nations in general”. (p. 173).
7. A. Maria Arul Raja, “Assertion of the Periphery”. pp. 25-35.
8. M. Gnanavaram “Hermeneutical Issues”, p. 122: Gnanavaram argues that. “. . . . An Indian Christian (Dalit) interpreter is to interpret the Word of God, so as to lead people to hope and work for a new humanity whose hallmarks are Christian love, equality and justice if these socio-economic expects form the historical determinants of our hermeneutical criteria, then we need to re-read the texts only in and out of this context” – see M. Gnanavaram. “Dalit Theology and the Parable of Good Samaritan”, p. 65. For similar view see Jose M. Bonino Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Context. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), p.88f.
9. For a more detailed discussion on this point see. George Kaniarakath, “A Dalit Reading of the Prophetic Writings”, pp. 231-250.
10. By this we mean to say that in a diachronic method the changing interpretation of the Dalit world based on biblical paradigms and vice versa. For a more clear view on this point see A.P. Nirmal’s conception of “Wandering Aramaean” model that has come through the Dalit hermeneutical discourse for more than two decades. In a limited way a synchronic method is used in Dalit hermeneutical discourse to delve into the possible areas of comparison between Dalit Liberative Hermeneutics with other liberation struggles in Latin America and African contexts and even in the light of other tribal, subaltern and marginalized communities in India. However certain amount of methodological exclusivism can be observed in each of these specific studies.
11. Musa W. Dube, “Introduction” in Other Ways of Reading: African Women and the Bible, ed. Musa W. Dube (Atkabta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001), pp. 1-19. For a similar kind of view, detailed exposition and exegesis on the feminist hermeneutical Perspective, See: Ibid., “Five Husbands at the Well of Living Waters”, in A Decade in Solidarity with the Bible, eds. Musini Kanyoro and Nyamburia Njoroge (Geneva: WCC. 1998), pp. 6-26.
12. This will be taken up later in section 5.0 below.
13. A. Maria Arul Raja. “Reading the Bible from a Dalit Location”, pp. 77-91.
15. R.H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (New York: Harper & Row, 1948), p. 620 cf. Also Marvin B. Tate, “The Interpretation of the Psalms”. Review and Expositor LXXXI :3 (1984), pp. 363-375.
16. There are several attempts at explicating and appropriating the Bible by the so-called high caste Christians. For a detailed survey on this matter see: R.H.S. Boyd. “The Use of the Bible in Indian Christian Theology”, Indian Journal of Theology. 22:4 (1974), pp. 141 -62. Other prominent Indian interpreters of Bible include: Robert de Nobili (1577-1656. although not a caste Christian, was in support of Brahminical way of appropriating Christianity and the Bible): Vedarayagam Pillai, H.A. Krishna Pillai. A.J. Appasamy (some of his works are: Christianity as Bhakti Marga. (Madras: CLS. 1921): What is Moksha?: A Study in the Johannine Doctrine of Life’. (Madras CLS. 1931 and his edited work: Temple Bells: Readings from Hindu Religious Literature (Calcutta: Association Press. 1930); Mungarmuri Devadass, Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya. Sadu Sunder Singh (some of his writings are: The Real Pearl. 1921: At the Master’s Feet, 1922; The Real Life, 1927) and many others who interpreted the Bible in the light of Hindu, brahminical philosophical thing. For brief summary of ideas on this issue see. P.A. Sampathkumar, “Current Trends in Indian Biblical Studies”. Bible Bhasyam. XXV: 1. (1999) pp. 64-77.
17. R.S. Sugirtharajah. The Bible and the Third World: Precolonial, Colonial and Post -colonial Encounter (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press. 2001). p. 231. Personally I encountered several converted Christians from Brahmin caste who interpret Jesus as ‘Sadguru’ , the true Priest, who can only wash away the sins of ‘low caste’ people. They made God in Christ as the ‘Chief of Purity’ and ‘ritualistic ceremonies’ and also view that the salvation to these marginalized ‘low-caste’ and ‘impure’ communities only His grace. Therefore, they ‘converted’ God in Jesus Christ as ‘high-caste’ and brahmin deity’.
18. M. Gnanavaram, “Hermeneutical Issues in Dalit Theology”, p. 22. R. S. Sugirtharajah also commenting on the similar lines writes: Dalits see their task as wresting the Bible from brahminical management and its alleged brahminical alliance. The Bible’s valency depends upon its ability to espouse dalit causes and, more pertinently, its potentiality to resonate with the dalit mode of thinking”, The Bible and the Third World, p. 235.
19. For some discussion on the issue of Dalit-Bahujan Epistomology see Kancha Ilaiah. “Dalitism Vs Brahminism, the Epistemological Conflict in History” in Dalit Identity and Politics. ed. Ghanshyam Shah, (New Delhi: Sage Publications. 2001) pp. 108-128. Ilaiah argues that: “the Dalit-Bahujans have their own theory of knowledge which produces and reproduces itself in the day-to-day interaction with Prakruti (nature) — land, water, air, seeds, trees, animals, birds, and so on. . . Dalit-Bahujan epistemology is constructed around materialism and the Brahmanical epistemology is constructed around supernatural forces or idealism” (pp. 110-11). In order to counter this idealism of Brahmanic epistemology as a counter epistemology Dalit Liberation struggle emphasizes the materiality of the reality of the people, who are subjected, and such oppressors are challenged.
20. A. Maria Arul Raja, “A Dialogue Between Dalits and the Bible”, p. 44. Kancha Ilaiah has demonstrated clearly how Dalit Bahujan espistemology is unique as against the system of knowledge of Brahminism. For details see: Kancha Ilaiah, “Dalitism Vs Brahminism: The Epistemological Conflict in History” in Dalits and Peasants: The Emerging Caste-class Dynamics, ed. Ashish Ghosh (Delhi: Gyansagar Pub. 1999), pp. 18-41.
21. Lenardo Boff. Faith on Edge (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989). pp. 19, III: Also M. Gnanavaram. “Dalit Theology and the Parable of Good Samaritan”. p. 60, and A.C. Thiselton, The Two Horizons (Exeter; Paternoster, 1980). Thiselton is of the view that, the horizon of the Past and the horizon of the Present are inevitably interconnected. In the first case, for instance. the experience of the salvation of the community in Jesus Christ is of paramount importance. In that light we need to interpret the signs of the present time in order to incarnate that faith in the horizon of past and to accomplish the liberation of the present. This being the case, the role of biblical interpretation is to make biblical writing relevant to the life of the community in each epoch.
22. J.L. Segundo. The Liberation of Theology Trans. By John Drury (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1976), p. 8.
23. M. Gnanavaram, “Dalit Theology and the Parable of Good Samaritan”, p. 62. It should be noted at this point that this dialectic way understanding of moving from the text to the context (and vice versa) need not bother us too much in today’s context of biblical interpretation, when it has already moved from author-centered historical-critical methods to the text-centered literary critical methods, and new towards the reader-oriented hermeneutical (re) readings. For more details on this point see: G.A. Yee. “The Author/Text/Reader and Power: Suggestions for a critical framework for Biblical Studies” in Reading From This Place, eds. P.R Segovia and M.A. Tolbert, (Minneapolis: Fortress. 1995), pp. 109-110.
24. George Aichale and Gary A. Phillips, “Introduction: Exegesis, Eisages. Intergesis”, Semeia 69/70 (Society of Biblical Literature. 1995), p. 15. See for more details on the issues related to Dalit Martyrs in the History of Christianity, Franklyn J. Balasundaram (ed.) Martyrs in the History of Christianity (Delhi : ISPCK, 1997).
25. Kwok Pui-lan, Discovering Bible in Non-Biblical World (New York: Orbis. 1995), p. 12 and also A. Maria Arul Raja, “Reading the Bible From a Dalit Location”, pp. 87-88 and 91.
26. Sathianathan Clarke, “Viewing the Bible Through the Eyes-Ears of Subalterns in India”, p. 18, for similar view see: Felix Wilfred, Asian Dreams and Christian Hope. (Delhi: ISPCK, 2000), pp. 266-268.
27. There can be several Biblical domains for our critical and constructive engagement of Dalit-liberative hermeneutics with Biblical World. Some of the relevant studies conducted in this regard include: Exodus narratives, Prophetic texts. Wisdom literature (especially Job), several texts in Synoptic, Johannine and Pauline versions. For specific details on some of the seminal works in this regard see note 5 above.
28. Some of the prominent works in this direction are: Douglas Knight, “The Understanding of Sitz im leben in Form Criticism”, SBL Seminar Papers 1 (1974), pp. 105-125: Martin Buss, “The Idea of Sitz im leben — History and Critique”, ZAW 90 (1978), pp. 137-70: Rolf Knierim, “Old Testament Form Criticism Reconsidered”, Interpretation, 27 (1973), pp. 449-68; Martin J. Buss., “The Study of Forms” in Old Testament Form Criticism ed., John H. Hayes, Trinity University Monograph series in Religion, 2 (San Antonio. TX: Trinity University Press, 1974), pp. 1-56, Erhard Gerstenberger, “Psalms”, in Old Testament Form Criticism, pp. 179-223 and others.
29. Hermann Gunkel, The Psalms: A Form Critical Introduction Trans. by Thomas H., Homer (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), pp. 13-15. Gurukul identified different Gattung (genre) in the literary units of the Psalter. He classified the Psalms into four major categories and a mixed type. They are: The hymn, the community lament, the community thanksgiving and individual lament. He further classifies other Psalms as mixed categories. Gunkel also gave enough space to deal with Royal Psalms as a separate category.
30. James L. Crenshaw, The Psalms: A Form Critical Introduction (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), p. 82.
31. Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship Vol.1, Trans. by D.R. Ap. Thomas, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962), pp. 106-129.
32. Followed by this Proposal of Sigmund Mowinckel, some scholars proposed different setting for this kind of celebration. Few are in order: Artur Weirer; the covenant renewal festival of autumn season may be the proper setting of the Psalter. See his The Psalms OT Library (London: SCM Press, 1962): Hans-Joachim Kraus: The royal Zion festival celebrating the foundation of Davidic dynasty and the divine choice of mount Zion. See his work: Psalms 1-59 Trans. by Hilton C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988): A. A. Anderson: He is of the opinion that we should over-emphasize one over the other. It is likely that all these three pilgrimage festivals are in the background of the Psalms. See his contribution, in The Book of Psalms New Century Bible Vol. I. (London: Oliphants, 1972).
33. Claus Westermann. Praise and Lament in the Psalms (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981); Ibid., “Role of Lament in the Theology of the Old Testament”, Interpretation, XXXIII: 1 (1974), pp. 20-39.
34. Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), p. 52: Ibid., The Psalms and the Life of Faith ed. Patrick D. Miller (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995). In his classification of the entire Psalms based on their function Brueggemann proposes that they are: Psalms of Orientation (may be descriptive hymns), Psalms of disorientation (laments) and Psalms of New (re) orientation (Thanksgiving Psalms, celebration Songs). He further notes that “Human experience. . . . Moves in a Painful way from orientation to disorientation and in a surprising way from disorientation to reorientation”, see The Psalms and the Life of Faith, p. 30.
35. Craig C. Broyles, The Conflict of Faith and Experience in the Psalms: A Form — Critical and Theological Study (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989), pp. 61-78.
36. Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Psalms Part I: With an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, FOTL.14 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), p. 14.
37. Rainer Albertz, Weltschopfung und Menschenschopfung. Calwer Theologische Monographien 3 (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1974). pp. 171-172 cited in Walter Brueggemann, The Psalms and the Life of Faith, pp. 85-86. Brueggemann comments that: “the movement towards smaller unit reflects a general shift in Old Testament studies away from the hegemony of the Jerusalem-covenant renewal hypothesis”.
38. It should be stated that we derive these observations on general understanding of the sitz im leben. However, there are complex issues and problems involved in several proposals made by scholars (apart from the one we discussed) which need a thorough treatment. It is beyond the scope of this paper to do that.
39. The Psalms of Lament as we noted earlier in our discussion are divided into two major types. While there are other sub-divisions and names proposed in this categories along with variety of suggestions for classification of individual number of Psalms. Without venturing into the complexities of the problem we shall propose to include the following list of Psalms. First Psalms of Lament of Community: 44, 74, 79, 80, 60, 124, 137, 144: Second: Psalms of Lament of Individual: 3, 5, 6, 7, 17, 22, 25-28, 35, 39, 41-43, 51, 54, 57, 59, 61, 63, 64, 69, 71, 86, 88, 102, 130, 140, 141, 143 also 32, 38, 11.
40. Claus Westermann thinks that generally there are two kinds of laments: the lament of the afflicted amid the lament of the dead. The former looks forward for future deliverance and the latter looks backward to mourn. See. “The Role of the Lament in the Theology of the Old Testament”, pp. 20-39.
41. Page H. Kelly, “Prayer’s of Troubled Saints”. Review and Expositor LXXXI: 3 (1984), pp. 377-383. Kelly argues that in, spite of the fact that Israelites pray to God for recompense and vengeance, were never accompanied by acts of violence against one’s enemies. On the contrary, such prayers were a renunciation of the principle of retaliation and a recognition that the authority to avenge wrongs vested only with their God. This is found in God’s affirmation: “vengeance is mine’’ (cf. Deut.32:25:Ps.94:1; Isa.63:4: Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30).This idea leads us to think that Psalms in particular never spelt out clearly the idea of retributive justice; moreover, it is not so mechanical in operation (unlike Deuteronomistic theology). Instead, there is a simple protest in the Psalms, especially in the book of Job, that any mechanistic doctrine of retribution that prosperous have earned God’s favor and suffering God’s wrath is heavily contested (cf. Job 11: P2-6; 22:4-11 and 42:7) and Psalm 38. See the Reflection, on Psalms 38 on this idea in J. Clinton McCann Jr. “The Book of Psalms” in New Interpreters Bible Vol. IV (Nashville: Abingdon. 1996). p. 835.
42. In fact this appropriation of biblical texts for Dalit liberative hermeneutics is inevitable and indispensable for a positive reconstruction of and interlacing between Biblical and Dalit worlds. This approach also serves as an interlocuter to impinge upon the continued dialogue between the two convergent worlds of our interpretation (Dalit and Biblical). For more details on this point see: A. Mania Arul Raja, ‘Reading the Bible from a Dalit Location”. pp. 79-81.
43. Patrick D. Miller, Interpreting the Psalms (Philadelphia: Fortress. 1986), pp.8,48-52. Also see J. Clinton McCann Jr., “Psalms”. New Interpreters Bible Vol. IV, p. 646. McCann argues that: “the really pertinent questions in approaching laments are not, what was wrong with the Psalmist? Who were her or his enemies? Rather, the crucial interpretative questions are these: What is wrong with us? Who or what are our enemies? This approach opens the way for an explicitly theological as well as historical understanding of the laments of an individual”.
44. Walter Brueggemann. The Psalms and the Life of Faith, pp. 101-102.
45. Norman K. Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1985), p.539.
46. Murray Joseph Haar. The God-Israel Relationship in the Community Lament Psalms, Ph.D. Dissertation (Richmond: Union Theological Seminary, 1985), pp.92-93 cited in Walter C. Bouzard Jr., We hare Heard with our Ears, O God, SBL Dissertation series, 159 (Atlanta: Scholars Press. 1997), M.H. Haar rightly opines that (p.144): “The Primary goal of community lament prayers appears to move Yahweh to act on Israel’s behalf commensurate with his relationship to his people. God is not so much asked to forgive or pardon Israel. . . . Rather he is urged to recognize that his relationship to Israel is greater than any sin that might have been committed. . . . The critical issue was not the forgiveness of sins but rather the fidelity of Yahweh to his people even, in the midst of sin.”
47. Walter Brueggemann, The Psalms and the Life of Faith. pp. 87-88.
48. Claus Westermann. Praise and Lament in the Psalms, (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), pp. 270-27 I.
49. W. Brueggemann, The Psalms and the Life of Faith. pp. 27-28. For some of the ideas mentioned here I am indebted to Walter Brueggemann. who, using Paul Ricoeur and others proposed this hermeneutics of “representation”. It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into the details of these works.
50. Hans-Joachim Kraus. Theology of the Psalms Trans. By Keith Crim (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986). pp. 165-166. Kraus argues that : “If death cuts a person off definitively from God, the condition of ‘relative death’ leads to the unknowable path of suffering that results from being forsaken by God (Ps. 22:1)”.
51. C.S. Song, Jesus the Crucified People, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996). p. 101f.
52. Samuel Amirtham, “To be near to and far away from Yahweh: The Witness of Individual Psalms of Lament to the Concept of the Presence of God”. BTF Vol. II (1968), pp. 31-55.
53. Some of the deities (local goddesses) in this line can be mentioned: Angalamma, Kuththandevar Kangaiamma. (mother of Ganges). Ellaiyamman etc. in Tamilnadu; Karaga from Karnataka, Pothuraju, Poleramma, Kali (different manifestations) and so on from Andhra Pradesh.
54. A. Maria Arul Raja. “Dialogue Between Dalits and Bible”. p.47. We may argue that this vulnerability of Dalit people should not be underestimated as a sign of their weakness and helplessness, rather Dalit religion mainly concentrates an morality which means compassion, caring for one’s fellow human being and for the natural world, feeling a sense of responsibility and actively committed to the well-being of the world. This is similar to Ambedkar’s Buddha Dhmamma. For details on this point see Timothy Fitzgerald, “Ambedkar, Buddhism and the Concept of Religion” in Dalits in Modern India: Visions and Values, ed.: S.M. Michael, (New Delhi; Vistar Publications, 1999). pp. 118-134.
55. M.C. Raj, Dalitology The Book of the Dalit People, (Tumkur: Ambedkar Resource Centre, 2001), pp. 77-78.
56. J. Clinton McCann, “The Psalms”, New Interpreters Bible, Vol. IV, pp. 705-706.
57. Walter Brueggemann, The Message of Psalms, p. 74 and Cf. J.L. Mays, Psalms, (Louisville: John Knox, 1994), p. 262.
58. Sathianathan Clarke. Dalits and Christianity: Subaltern Religion and Liberation Theology in India, (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 72.
59. A. Maria Arul Raja, “A Dialogue Between”, p. 46.
60. Sathianathan Clarke, Dalits and Christianity, pp. 71-90. Clarke concisely presents the five kinds of goddesses (the chosen deity, household deity, lineage deity, the hamlet deity and the village deity) who take part in all different occasions of joy, sorrow, celebration, prayer and petition of the worshipper.
61. A. Maria Arul Raja, “A Dialogue Between”, p. 45. See also James Theophilius Appavoo. “Dalit Religion” in Indigenous People.’ Dalits ed., James Massey, pp. 111-12 I. Appavoonlotices how Dalit religion is liberative and professes equality as against Sanskrit-Hindu religion which professes inequality. He writes:”The Dalit religion is a religion of equality. There is no priest-class or caste in this religion. In most of the places, the priestly office is rotated. Women are treated equally, they are allowed to do priestly work. In fact, they have precedence over men In some rituals. In Sanskrit religion,.. there is no equality. Women are to be treated as properties… The offerings are not shared equally among the worshippers”. (p. 120).
62. Walter Brueggemann, The PsaI,ns and the Life of Faitlm, pp. 101-102.
63. Richard Bauckham, The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically. (London: SPCK, 1989), p. 60.
64. Walter Brueggemann. “Psalm 109: Three times ‘Steadfast Love”’, Word and World. 5 (1985), p. 154.
65. J. Clinton McCann Jr., “Psalms”, pp. 1127-1128.
66. Norman K. Gottwald. The Hebrew Bible, p. 539. Although some of the issues raised by Gottwald are mainly related to the pre-exilic situation, they certainly have bearing on the post-exilic community (cf. Neh. 5).
67. M.C. Raj, Dalitology, p. 759. There are several instances of violence reported throughout India, almost everyday against Dalit communities. For some of the recent reports on Dalit violence see, Mohan P. Larbeer. “In the Name of Reconciliation: A Dalit Perspective”, in Peace At Hand: A Handbook of Bible Studies and Essays, (Chennai: CLS Synod, 2002), pp. 147-167.
68. Kancha Ilaiah, Why I am not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindu Philosophy Culture and Political Economy (Calcutta: Samya, 1996), p.91. Sec also Sathianathan Clarke’s Dalits and Christianity, p. 122. Clarke, while commenting on the service of Paraioyar goddess to Dalits writes: “She protects them from the colonizing tendency of the caste Hindus by her iconic resistance and provides them with the impetus to continually refigure their own framework of religio-cultural meaning through a process of remytholization.
69. A. Maria Arul Raja, “A Dialogue Between Dalits”, p.47. Raja rightly argues that one should not underestimate the culture of silence by Dalits as their weakness. They do have their own way of organized and unorganized protest both in mild or violent retaliation. However, Dalit World, by and large, does not believe in political game of domination through aggression. Rather, they are unwillingly dragged into the spiral of violence initiated by anti-Dalit forces.
70. Walter Brueggemann, In Man We Trust: The Neglected Side of Biblical Faith. (Atlanta: John Knox Press. 1972), p. 17.
71. Walter Brueggemann, Psalms of Life and Faith. p. 19.
72. Craig C. Broyles, The Conflict of Faith, pp. 67-76. The other verbs employed for the motif of rejection in the Psalms are: m’s (deject or despise), n‘r (to abhor or spurn). See Pss. 89:39, 40; Lam. 2:7. One other verb also carry the intense meaning of rejection: Ilk (Pss. 51: 13; 102:11 and also Gen. 21:15; Ezek. 16:5; Jer. 38:6.9) with ns_’ preceeding hslyk in Pss. 102:116. It means a lifting up or a throwing down. Broyles, The Conflict, p. 70. Comments: “This would imply not simply a casting away or rejection, a meaning which is clear from frequent use of this verb in rejection contexts, but also a casting down, in the sense of violent mistreatment.
73. Ellen F. Davis, “Exploding the Limits: Form and Function in Psalm 22” in The Poetic Books: A Sheffield Reader Biblical Seminar 41, ed. D.J.A. Clines (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), pp. 138, 140-41.
74. J. Clinton McCann Jr.. “Psalms”, p. 722.
75. Sathianathan Clarke, Dalits and Christianity, p. 9. Here I would like to state that the orality of biblical reading plays a very creative and constructive role in the process of Dalit interpretation of the Bible. For instance, my mother’s reading of Psalm 22 (an illiterate Christian Dalit woman) is interesting. Her interpretation immediately looked for the appropriation of this Psalm to the suffering of Jesus Christ and cross, although no indication is given in the Psalm itself. This is an indication of fluidity of the text and Dalit reading of it. In her own way of subjective reading of Dalit suffering and as a woman experiencing poverty, her appropriation of the text calls for a strong sense of Dalit.
76. A. Maria Selvam, “The Cry of the Dalits”, p. 138.
77. M.C. Raj, Dalitology. p. 187.
78. R. J. Raja, “Lord of the Universe: Lover of Humans (Universalism in the Psalms)”, in Indian Interpretation of the Bible, pp. 201-210. We may include some of the key Psalms which have a universal dimension: Pss: 8.22,47,67,87,96, 143 et al.
79. We need to briefly clarify at this point that by eschatological horizon we mean not something related to futurology but hope within the historical helm. God’s purpose being fulfilled within the history. As Walter Brueggmann puts it: “The problem is that even though hope yields victories. history precludes enduring times. Obviously such a split which yields both a historyless hope and a hopeless history is a betrayal of biblical faith It is precisely the wonder and burden of the biblical texts that hope is relentlessly historical and history is cunningly hope-filled.” See Walter Brueggmann, Hope Within History (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987) p. 3.
80. Ralph da Costa, “Ps. 7: Communicating with God in the Depths”, Vaiharai, Vol. 4: 2. 3,4 (1999), p. 166.
81. Richard Bauckham, The Bible in Politics. p.70.
82. H.J. Kraus. Theology of the Psalms. p. 158.
83. James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed. (New York: Seabury Press, 1975) p. 160. For a similar view see John C. B. Webster, Religion and Dalit Liberation. 2nd ed. (New Delhi: Manohar, 2002), pp. 114-116 We may argue that the theology of resurrection is ultimate hope of Christian Dalits to see their eschatological horizon of God working in and through the history as may be the ease with the Psalms of lament
84. This could be one of the reasons why Dalits are more akin towards the apocalyptic tradition of the Bible. Dalit epistemology is enriched with the symbols and imageries which found its closer affinity towards biblical apocalyptic traditions. The reason for such affinity is to find the symbolism of evil, the divine intervention in such ‘evil’ circumstances, dissatisfaction on the present order, the hope of historical consummation in the future age of equality and justice are some of the reasons why Dalits are more attracted to apocalyptic traditions. Dalits hope for a better tomorrow is nurtured by the eschatological horizons articulated in the apocalyptic traditions of the Bible. For more details on this point see: A. Maria Arul Raja, “Some Reflections on a Dalit reading of the Bible”, p. 253.
85. A. Maria Arul Raja, “Some Reflections on a Dalit Reading of the Bible”, p.255. As a Dalit participant in our village festival in Andhra Pradesh, I, myself have experienced joy and celebration mood in our relatives and other neighbors. Though they live under abject poverty and are subjected to the dehumanizing conditions by the landlords (Reddys and Kammas), during the festival and celebrations time they regain their strength to dance with utter illumination and faith that, at least. they are free to express their celebration quite apart from their suffering or even to forget their suffering for the time being.
86. M.C. Raj, Dalitology p.261.