Tuesday, July 16, 2013

#79- Language, Laymen, Lexicon, and Little Lies

Once upon a time I had thoughts of leaving my home church and joining another.  I visited an up-and-coming church called "Tabernacle of Glory" which was led by a young, energetic, multi-langual, and charismatic pastor named Gregory Toussaint.  It was there that I noticed something that caught my eye.  They had a Haitian Creole Bible on a table.

Happy members of Tabernacle of Glory
Pastor Gregory Toussaint and his wife
I picked up the Haitian Creole Bible and went to random verses of interest.  I found myself intrigued by the choice of words that the translators used.  Like most languages, a person may have a number of options when describing a certain thing.  I felt that certain liberties were carefully taken as to pacify some verses in the Bible.

Tabernacle of Glory (TG) is a diverse church
I remember feeling as if I could place the location from which the translator was from.  I pictured a White man or white people from the United States' South that had taken a liking to the plight of Haitians.  I imagined that they either took the trouble to learn Haitian Creole themselves or found a fellow Christian who was a speaker of Haitian Creole.  I think the former is more likely than the latter.

I did not appreciate the nuances of language and its effects on the Bible and religious books until then.  By that time I had already finished the entire New International Version (NIV) of the Protestant Bible.  Therefore, I was very familiar with the stories.  Although Haitian Creole was not taught to me formally as a child, I had little trouble reading the text.  What I discovered was that it was not easy to describe certain things to the target audience.  I read what I thought was a crude translation of things such as animals that some Haitians may not know exist and may not have a point of reference to work from. Using the NIV as my standard, I compared certain verses.

 The verse that caught my attention the most is Isaiah 45:7 which reads in some English versions as:
Haitian man steps around dead bodies after the 2010 earthquake

"I form the light, and create darkness:
I make peace, and create evil:
I the Lord do all these things."
-Authorized King James Version

Some English versions substitute the word "evil" for "calamity" or "disaster".  But the damage has been done.  The verse clearly displays a series of opposites and God says that he does all these things.
The Haitian Creole Version renders the same verse this way:
"7 Mwen mete limyè, mwen mete fènwa! Mwen bay kè poze, mwen bay kè sote. Se mwen menm Seyè a ki fè tou sa." 

The first part of the verse is a really good rendering of the key words "light" as "limyè" and "darkness" as "fènwa".  But then "peace" was rendered as "kè poze" and "evil" or "calamity" was carefully rendered as "kè sote".

So, what is the difference?  The better translation of "peace" would be "la paix" or "la pè".  The better translation of "evil" or "calamity" would be "malè" or "dezas".  Kè poze means "relaxed" while kè sote means "to be startled" or "fear".  I think this was done intentionally.

What would happen if the Christians in Haiti were to find out and acknowledge that evil and disasters came from their Lord?  I'm especially interested in them drawing a straight line of conclusion between the recent earthquake to the passage above.  As of now I have heard nothing about this.  I think that this is because very few believers actually read their bibles no matter what the language is.  Furthermore, some who are aware of these troublesome verses actually go out of their way to apologize in favor of the Jewish god while blaming the victims of disasters.

Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Virgins

The shift in words and meanings have had greater effects than people care to admit.  The book of Isaiah provides another example of a concept that has had a far reaching consequence.  This one is about the female found in Isaiah chapter 7.  The Jews maintain that the word in verse 14 should be "young woman" from the word "almah".  Christians turned that word into "virgin" from the word "bethulah".  This was then used as proof of a prophecy for the divine nature of Jesus who would go on to be elevated to the status of a god.

About 6 centuries later, the prophet of Islam Muhammad goes on to preach that Jesus was indeed born of a virgin Mary.  The Qur'an goes on to expand upon the story of Jesus' birth about events where the Christian Bibles are silent.

My claim is that if the Jews are correct, then Christianity suffers a blow to its credibility for forging a prophecy and Muhammad is also convicted of getting erroneous information from whatever sources Muslims claim he got his information from.

Since these books were translated and re-translated from a long list of languages it is not unlikely that mistakes and willful changes were made.  Bart Ehrman illustrated some of this things in his best selling book "Misquoting Jesus".

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