Revelatory Hermeneutics: How to Read a Gospel, in Light of Mīmāṃsā, India’s Greatest Interpretive Tradition
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This essay engages the relationship between revelation and hermeneutics by reflection on an influential Indian system of hermeneutics known as Mīmāṃsā, “intense investigation” of ancient Vedic Sanskrit texts of ritual practice. I take up six points in order. First, we can learn to think anew about hermeneutics and revelation by learning from Mīmāṃsā, which is interesting for the detailed rules of interpretation it proposes, and because it stands in a two-way relationship to Vedic revelation, namely: formed by revelation and formative of how revelation is identified and understood. Second, I introduce specific Mīmāṃsā hermeneutical practices, highlighting interpretive rules characteristic of Mīmāṃsā. Third, I note how this mode of reading offers a hermeneutics arising from a distinctive, older corpus of revelatory (oral) texts, hymns used in ritual performance, plus prescriptions about ritual performance (including those hymns). Fourth, Mīmāṃsā was instrumental in reshaping how revelation was understood and construed, as a reordering of ordinary life meanings and experiences, a revelation preferring instead immanence in the details. Fifth, granting that Mīmāṃsā was influential in many contexts, including the realm of religious and secular law, I note specifically how Vedānta, grounded in the late Vedic texts known as the Upaniṣads, has aptly been called the “latter Mīmāṃsā” (uttara mīmāṃsā), because it extends Mīmāṃsā hermeneutics to new texts in reflection on a transcendent reality beyond the texts. Sixth, I reflect on how we—modern scholars, writing in the contemporary West—can find in Mīmāṃsā an illumination of insights important to the Christian tradition, differences in culture, religion, and hermeneutics notwithstanding.