Mistranslation as False Witness

Western Civilization celebrates roots that extend to the Eastern Mediterranean, a body of water once surrounded by the Roman Empire. When that empire imploded, the power vacuum filled the remnant structure with fresh blood. One such pulsing corpus was Christianity — one authored by a former Roman citizen: Saul before his metamorphosis. There is no compelling historical evidence to suggest that Peter coauthored with Paul in Rome. I agree with Jewish scholar Hyam Maccoby: The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity for the argument that Peter had traveled to the east as far as Baghdad, but he had never ventured west of Palestine. The Roman Catholic Church relies upon an apostolic rock, but she freely admits that its reality anchors on Tradition and the Magisterium — historical facts notwithstanding.

The Eastern Mediterranean coastline describes the shortest path between Africa and Eurasia. An incomparable piece of real estate, not what I would call a swamp, though some have: Unfortunately, It Was Paradise. Palestine is sacred soil for the three monotheistic faiths that declare solemn roots at that Eastern confluence, that Holy Land, that stomping grounds of patriarch Ibrahim. Although Ishmael was Ibrahim’s eldest son, he was also the “illegitimate” son of a slave girl known by Ishmael’s father. Isaac was the “legitimate” son of non-enslaved Sara. Islam recognizes Ishmael as the elder son of Ibrahim.

You can read about it in a Qur’an near you. In fact, you may find any number of interpretations freely available online. However, I recommend that you consider an interpretation carefully. My personal copy is a translation by Abdel Haleem: The Qur’an.

abdel.haleem

I attended an interfaith program that included a local well respected and knowledgeable Imam. A seething attendee slammed his personal copy of “The Holy Koran” onto the table. His question: “Do you know what this book says?” The Imam responded: “It depends upon the translation.” Would you accept a Bible translation that recounts the poisoning of the loaves, the tainting of the wine?

judaism.christianity.islam.venn

Radical Google® Searches
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Native Americans, African Americans, and Palestinians share something that Northern Europeans do not: a skin too red, too black or too olive (a characteristic of humans from the sun-rich climate.

That’s an unforgivable crime if racism is your touchstone. Why are Biblical personalities depicted with impossibly Northern European features, such as blue eyes, fair skin, an athletic countenance? Who were the original authors of the Torah, the Bible, the Qur’an? Is that a loaded question? They were Semitic peoples who spoke Semitic languages.

 

jesus.computer.generated
Computer-generated depiction by BBC of the historic Jesus. Click image for details. 

 

 

Why does Islam honor Ishmael? What did he do to deserve exile? The Judeo-Christian tradition honors Isaac. What’s up with that? I’ll check that out and get back to you, I have to get to the dirty dishes first, they’re over there in the sink.

Nota bene: The wilder the spurious translation of the Qur’an, the wider is it circulated, the ever endless is it immortalized by false witnesses.

Making stuff up to stoke an agenda is dishonest. It weakens your credibility. Just saying.

 

 Thanks for reading.

 

Threading a Hawser Through the Eye of a Needle

“Those who know Arabic are jinn among humans, they can see what nobody else can.
Imam Shafii

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

— Matthew 19:24 (NIV)

You know this Bible quote. I am certain you’ve seen it countless times. It might be your favorite chapter and verse. But why a camel? Well, ‘camel’ is a misnomer — a mistranslation immortal. The intended object was ‘rope’, specifically a thick twisted rope: a hawser.

camel

Which is the more eloquent simile:
  1. it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…
  2. it is easier to thread a hawser through the eye of a needle…
Why is this obviousity never mentioned?
The Bible Hub, an online resource for Bible scholars, provides English language variants for every chapter and verse, among them Matthew 19:24. Click that link to compare 28 translations regarding a rich guy’s odds of entering the Kingdom of God.
Mistranslations are the coin of many a realm, perhaps this one most appropriately so. I am hardly the first to learn, two millennia after the coin was struck, that the writer intended something comparable to a thread.
What is the camel doing in the sewing kit with the needles and threads anyway? The original metaphor roots in Aramaic language, one of the Semitic languages that use consonantal roots to convey meaning:

 

Gamla-Peshitta bible
Source

https://billziegler1947.com/2017/02/04/arabic-what-gives/#lemon

I also discuss the root system in A Safari into the Sahara

An alternative scripture, The Qur’an, provides just such a footnote. Here is one from the well-respected translator  M.A.S. Abdel Haleem:

The gates of Heaven will not be open to those who rejected Our revelations and arrogantly spurned them; even if a thick rope a were to pass through the eye of a needle they would not enter the Garden.

— Quran “The Garden” 7:40 M.A.S. Abdel Haleem translation 2004

Haleem inserts this footnote for 7:40:

Not ‘camel’. The roots of the words for ‘camel’ and ‘thick twisted rope’ are the same in Arabic and ‘rope’ makes more sense here (Razi).

 

Thanks for reading.

Losing Rumi in the Translation

A couple years ago I attended an interfaith discussion at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati: “Welcoming the Stranger.” Their guest, Ismaeel Chartier of the Clifton Mosque, spoke to this theme. One attendee literally thumped a Qu’ran on a table and demanded an answer of Chartier:

“Do you know what is written in this book?”

He delivered this inquiry with a sharp accusatory tone. Then he gave the Qur’an interpretation another thump.

The Imam calmly replied:

“It depends on the translation.”

dua

Translation is a science, it’s an art, and there’s a lot at stake. Interpretations that serve a trenchant agenda may wish to cloud understanding, to close open minds. This is an odious breach of ethics and a declaration of cultural militance. An imperious position that lusts power. Most Muslims are not Arabs, but each adherent relies upon a faithful transmittal of the Word in Arabic language. It is in the marrow of Islam.

Simple answers to complex societal questions are wrong-headed and arrogant, but they are widely believed and have entered the body politic like a body-blow.

Yesterday I happened upon an article in the The New Yorker on the inescapably important Persian poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī . Coleman Barks is a decades-long lover of Rūmī, but it is unfortunate that his is an interpretation that informs his Christian upbringing. Barks is not disingenuous in working the poet through that innate filter, but the heart of Rūmī speaks to Islam — the faithful focus of his heart and being is integral.

rumi-calligraphic

From the article:

Rūmī is often called a mystic, a saint, an enlightened man. He is less frequently described as a Muslim.”

Source: The Erasure of Islam from the Poetry of Rumi – The New Yorker

Memes that attribute heartfelt insight through search-engine algorithms often misattribute, mistranslate, misinform. Truth becomes an early victim. Allow me to repeat the oft repeated:

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

This quote is attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a voice much worth hearing. But this very popular attribution adopted by innumerable memes is not sourced to Moynihan.

lies

To quote the late and astonishing John Ciardi: writer and world-class translator of Dante.

“Good Words to You.”

irvine-welsh
As an incurable pedant I assign vetting this quote as a reading assignment 🙂

Thanks for reading.