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Son of God, brother of Jesus: Interpreting the theological claims of the Chinese revolutionary Hong Xiuquan

Kilcourse, Carl (2014) Son of God, brother of Jesus: Interpreting the theological claims of the Chinese revolutionary Hong Xiuquan. Studies in World Christianity, 20 (2). pp. 124-144. ISSN 1354-9901

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Abstract

This paper examines the theological claims of Hong Xiuquan (1814-64), the leader of the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64). Whilst various aspects of the Taipings' theology and religious culture were characterised by originality, the most unique-and, for many, shocking-feature of their new theological world-view was the belief that Hong was the second son of God and younger brother of Jesus. This belief, which was based on visions that Hong had experienced in 1837, provoked criticism and condemnation from Protestant missionaries who were in China at the time of the Taiping Rebellion. The first part of this paper discusses two particular interpretations of Hong's claims in the reports of those missionaries. The analysis reveals that the missionaries' orthodox lens caused them to misunderstand and misrepresent Hong's claim to be the second son of God. Moving beyond the critical interpretations of the missionaries, the second part of this paper examines the Taipings' specific discourses on the nature of the Heavenly Father and his relation to Jesus and Hong. By analysing Hong's claims within this wider (and previously ignored) theological framework, the paper supports a new interpretation that views the title second son of God not as evidence of the Taipings' heterodox character, but as an access point for understanding their localised doctrine of God. © Edinburgh University Press.

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