Conservative Bible Project? Ye gods.
Inerrancy – ye olde dog. The hallmark facet of today’s most conservative christians is their dubious claim that our bible is inerrant, an exact, precise and perfect expression of God’s ideas. Lest people complain that this is not a political topic, I suggest that you review the most recent ramblings of our most famous Teabaggers. As Teabaggers’ national organization continues to prune away anyone suffering from the sin of liberal thought, they are pushing a brand of christianity that presumes that all learning that is needed exists in their bible. An INERRANT bible.
So, let’s take a gander at their good book, starting with the olde stuff, something that should have been the easiest to translate. (Council of Nicea and Council of Trent notwithstanding)
The first problem your ancient honest translator faced was that ancient alphabets contained letters that were written, or graphed, in similar ways, especially when dealing with paleo-Hebrew or Aramaic characters. Unfortunately, they had very different meanings. For example, the prepositions kaf (“like”) and bet (“in”) are interchanged in the Masoretic and Dead Sea Scroll versions of Isaiah.
Another serious problem was the lack of punctuation in both ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. Take the words, “I copulate with women hating cats at night.” Simply placing periods or commas in different places radically changes the meaning. Did I mean to write that I am screwing cats, women, or that I dislike excess felines after the sun sets? Or worse, is this group of words supposed to go with other words in front and behind this grouping and not with each other? Did they alternate right to left and left to right, as the Egyptian hieroglyphs sometimes do?
Translation between any languages is no easy business. Personal bias and misunderstanding played a huge role in the final choices. Dictionaries were unheard of and dialects varied almost as much as languages themselves. Everything had to be hand copied, causing even greater errors. Worst of all, grammar rules changed from language to language.
Another problem was that not all languages contained identical words. Some words simply do not exist in other languages. This was particularly true when moving from Hebrew to Aramaic, and then to Attic Greek and Latin.
Aramaic’s own rudimentary beginnings created other problems. It had 22 consonants, and contained no vowels. In Aramaic, Dick Cheney’s famous suggestion that an opposing Senator beget himself, would read “gfkrslf.” It is easy to see how differences and errors arose when translating anything from Aramaic to more modern languages.
The Aramaic Targums were pieced together, revised and edited from around 900 BCE. Scholars today admit that these contained major errors.
The Septuagint consists of several efforts to translate the Aramaic text into old Greek, dating back to about 300 BCE.
In 130 BCE, Aquila was an effort to translate the Jewish Torah, (our Old Testament), from Hebrew into Greek. Theodotion’s Greek version came some 300 years later. Although much effort was made to be more accurate than the prior translations, problems cropped up and transliteration was required because of so many missing or nonexistent words.
Symmachus’ Greek translation relied on various older works. Although not many Greeks knew of it, Saint Jerome later relied on it for his famous Vulgate bible. (The Vulgate, with all its widely divergent versions and serious flaws, would later become the gold standard of bible translations until the 1500s.)
Because the many different versions were sowing confusion and causing serious dispute among members and leaders of the christian cult, Origen of Alexandria tried to fix the problem with his Hexapla. He created a novel approach by placing the Hebrew and Greek texts, and the Septuagint, Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion versions in parallel columns. Missing texts, interpretation issues and changed meanings became obvious. Origen also created marks to highlight words that existed in the Greek but not in the Hebrew and vice versa. With the help of this Religious Rosetta stone, translations improved somewhat.
The Coptic version of the bible was translated from both Old Latin and Old Greek into the Coptic language. By this time, many parts of their bible were at least 3 languages away from the original Aramaic text.
The Armenian version (400 CE) was translated only partly from Syriac, (a counterpart in time to Aramaic). It also required the invention of a whole new alphabet. Missing words were still a problem. Some decades later, the Georgians came out with their version, based partly on the Armenian and even older Greek versions.
In the early and mid 400s, the Gothic and Old Latin versions came to be before we finally get to the famous Vulgate text created by Saint Jerome. Despite his hard labors, his work solved nothing. Old Latin and Vulgate texts were soon mixed, matched and often contradicted one another. Because more than 8,000 versions of the Vulgate and Old Latin eventually came into existence and have lasted through the ages, their differences, writing and translation errors are easy to spot. Still, because of his Faith, reputation, and probably more than just a bit of successful self-promotion, various parts of Jerome’s Vulgate had an impact for over a thousand years. Unfortunately, its existing errors were compounded over time with even more changes as many unnamed scholars did their own revising. Some of these changes were based on scholarship; many others were based on politics. Think back to Greed and Fear.
After the 11th century, even the top Christian leaders were eventually forced to admit that they had a serious translation-based problem on their hands. In 1546, they gathered together in the Council of Trent so they could finally decide which texts and versions they would follow. Other versions were drafted in 1590. More on this important meeting shortly.
Pope Clement’s personal effort came out in 1592. The Roman Catholic Church eventually adopted this 1592 version, although they began to correct its many errors in the early 20th century.
Let’s skip ahead to the problems with the English versions.(although we will ignore King Henry’s Gross Bible and other notable versions)
In 1604, King James commissioned a group of scholars to translate, once and for all, the entire bible into English. Unfortunately, they had no scholars who could read Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac or Attic Greek. Still, their KJ1 was a resounding success.
In 1870, scholars started a major revision on King James I. Eleven years later, they had made over 30,000 corrections to the New Testament alone. The Old Testament also underwent significant changes. This revision was published in the US, after undergoing even more serious revisions to “Americanize” the language.
Because the Roman Catholic Church refused to soil its pristine, jewel encrusted, greedy fingers on any of the James’ “filthy” efforts, in 1907, even they admitted that their old translations were fatally flawed. They assigned their own rewriting tasks to their Benedictine cult. By 1969, only the Prophets was still unfinished. Even after 62 years of rewriting, there were still problems and major issues.
Some of these problems are potentially explosive and are not limited to any particular Christian cult. Recent gains in translation, computer analysis and newly found materials continue to change scholars’ views and understanding. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls continue to create major waves inside most Christian cults. In some cases, the very foundations of their cults are at risk.
IMPLICATIONS ON INERRANCY
It should be clear by now, to even the densest, closed-minded, willfully ignorant, religious, christian bigot, that any resemblance that today’s Americanized Old Testament text has to the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts probably accidental, not intentional. While much work has gone into correcting the many obvious errors, still others ones remained hidden until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Assuming the Scrolls to be real, not fiction, they require even more changes and new approaches to biblical history and translation.
When one considers just how much political wrangling went into many of the translations, today’s most popular texts have very little to do with the original Old Testament. The idea that some baptist preacher will be burn competing biblical texts to eradicate their heathen beliefs should amuse us to no end. Still, the burning of any book should be viewed as an unforgivable sin, even to a pushy agnostic asshole like mois.
NOTE: I have been rewriting my study of christianity and this is just part of the effort. Other parts include faith healing (My Favorite) Christian Science, and the power of prayer. Luckily, I found that 1963 study which suggested that those who self-reported the strongest levels of religious beliefs, also suffered from the highest levels of mental illness