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A Question About Judaism and Islam:

A commenter on the thread about The Odd Assumption of Islam as Monolith writes:

Yeah, that particular religion can't be compared to the other great religions, not straight up. I've listened to those who claim that you MUST read the holy book in arabic, for example, and other translations and usages are substandard.

I'm no expert on Judaism, but wouldn't many Orthodox Jews conclude that to fully understand the Torah you need to read it in Hebrew? I'm not sure they'd have the same theological explanation for this as Muslims would, but wouldn't they still insist (in a way that Christians generally do not) that translations of the Torah are in some measure "substandard"?

Aleks:
Even in formal Christian theological thought, only the Bible in its original languages is held to be canonical and truly authoritative.
6.14.2007 10:47pm
James M:
Some Christians do as well, albeit in a more piecemeal fashion. have yet to meet a devout Evangelical who couldn't discourse on the three Greek wods for 'love,' for example, and their significance in New Testament interpretation.
6.14.2007 10:47pm
y:
The traditional line is that because all translations inherently contain interpretation, the only way to understand the (least) filtered word of G-d is to read the Torah in its original language. A larger issue is understanding Rabbinic Judaism because the Talmud thrives on Hebrew-centric word play such as reversing letters and deriving meaning from homophones. There are also sharp distinctions made between synonyms that could be lost if those words are different in Hebrew but not in the translated language.
6.14.2007 10:51pm
great unknown (mail):
A great deal of biblical exegesis - at least in the Orthodox tradition - depends on subtleties of the Hebrew language. This is true in both the moral and legal fields. In talmudic literature gallons of ink have been expended on the significance of a particular word usage in the the legal writings of some ancient sage. Thus, expertise in both Hebrew and Aramaic - the latter in multiple flavors - is a prerequisite for a deep understanding of classical Jewish literature.
Ironically, many of Maimonedes' writings were in Arabic - and again, dispute has arisen as to the the actual meaning of some of his dicta based on uncertainty as to what particular dialect of Arabic he was using.
BTW, in the Orthodox tradition, there is more than just a semantic necessity to study the Bible in Hebrew: the language itself carries an intrinsic holiness.
Again, similar to Islam.
What, by the way, is the mother language of Christianity?
6.14.2007 10:53pm
Henry (mail):
A translation of ANYTHING is inferior to the original, because one language can never be translated literally into another. Actually, a translation, in theory at least, might be superior as a work of art than the original is, if the translator is a better artist than the writer of the original. But the translation would still be inferior in conveying exactly what is in the original.
6.14.2007 10:54pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
Indeed, one of the arguments put forth by the KJV Rules! crowd is that the King James Version is a divinely inspired translation, and therefore just as good as the original texts, but all others are inferior. I somehow doubt, though, that God works through committees.
6.14.2007 10:54pm
y:
I should add two amusing postscripts: the Talmud is largely written in Aramaic because that's what Jews spoke back then, and the oldest "commentary" on the Torah is an Aramaic translation that was read in synagogue (after the Torah reading) so the people could understand the Torah.
6.14.2007 10:55pm
plunge (mail):
The best description I've heard is that translations are like seeing something in black and white instead of in color.

The KJV translation, ironically, is based on what are probably some of the worst copies of the NT documents available.
6.14.2007 11:02pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
"Tradurre รจ tradire"

To translate is to betray.
6.14.2007 11:08pm
whackjobbbb:
Dang, the Volokh guy is quoting me, I must be moving up in the world.

I don't think you can compare scholarly study of the Bible or the Torah to practical use of those works, which to my understanding generally takes place in the native language of the user. It's where the rubber meets the road that counts, I would think. The Catholic church ditched the Latin mass years ago, to connect better presumably. Is Islam this liberal-minded? I'm not sure, so I'm asking.

Another piece to the linguistic angle as it relates to culture as well as religion, and some of the barriers we may be seeing these days, is the near absence of translations of written works into arabic. We here in this country are feverishly at work trying to translate arabic works into english, arguing over whether gay linguists should be broomed from the military and all, rapidly opening up programs and schools to enable this translation process... and in the Mideast, last I heard, you could count the number of books translated into arabic in a year's time onto the fingers of one hand (and yes, maybe it's just urban legend... but Mein Kampf is reportedly still one of the most popular of those translated works).

Are they interested in us... really? Do they care? That's what I question, do they have an essential curiousity in that part of the world, the home of Islam.
6.14.2007 11:09pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
In spite of the valid points made above about the role of the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the Tanak and the Talmud, I don't think that the role of Hebrew in Judaism is really comparable to that of Arabic in Islam. Among Jews, it is considered very important actually to understand the text. It is considered that the deepest understanding can only be had through knowledge of the original texts, but no value is attached to mere memorization of the original text without understanding. In contrast, many Muslims whose native language is not Arabic understand very little of the text of the Qur'an which they nonetheless memorize in Arabic.

Another difference in the traditions is that Jewish thought has accepted textual criticism, modern linguistics, and recourse to knowledge of other languages (e.g. the Greek of Hellenistic philosophy, terms from which turn up in the Talmud) to a far greater extent than in Islam. To the extent that such work is done on the Qur'an, it is almost entirely by non-Muslims and is perceived by Muslims as hostile.
6.14.2007 11:11pm
Freddy Hill:
plunge: Or as Cervantes said, a translation is like the other side of a tapestry. You can discern the art, but it is flat and colorless.
6.14.2007 11:14pm
trotsky (mail):
Bill Poser,

I learned the Havdallah for my bar mitvah without understanding a word of it -- from a Hebrew teacher who could make out the letters but didn't know the language beyond that. (Hey, it was a small town out West; we took our religion as we could get it.)

Later, hanging out in Israel among an Orthodox crowd, I picked up lots of the long brachas and common davening prayers while only pell-mell picking up the meaning.

Certainly the more Orthodox put greater emphasis -- rightly so -- on understanding the words, but a lot of people just like to throw in some Hebrew for Hebrew's sake. Otherwise, why would we have the transliterations?
6.14.2007 11:20pm
jvarisco (www):
If one believes a holy book is the literal word of god, then translations become more problematic. Do Jews and Christians believe this too?
6.14.2007 11:25pm
justbrowsing:
I believe the original Christian bible was written in aramaic, nit Greek.
6.14.2007 11:32pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
whackjobbbb: My understanding is that in the more Orthodox branches of Judaism, the services are in Hebrew, and Jewish men of those branches learn Hebrew and are expected to study the Torah seriously in Hebrew.
6.14.2007 11:36pm
Moshe (mail):
The answer to Eugene's question is simply, yes. Not that I am an official spokesperson, but in general Orthodox Jews do indeed believe that translations of the Torah are substandard, as every translation is an act of interpretation.

Moreover, it is presumptuous of those who do not participate in a religion to tell members of that religion what they ought to believe, as members of that religion. It is certainly problematic in all but a very few cases to assert that the law ought to be decided based on an outside determination of what the religion actually prescribes.
6.14.2007 11:37pm
M (mail):
Christians should read the bible in English, just like Jesus spoke it.
6.14.2007 11:43pm
Ben Pollitzer (mail):

If one believes a holy book is the literal word of god, then translations become more problematic. Do Jews and Christians believe this too?


Yes, depending on the particular group.

Many denominations do base their particular beliefs on nuanced definitions in the Hebrew or greek, but those are more often the province of theological scholars than sunday schools.

But even if we assume for the sake of the argument a "literal word" set of beliefs, those problems don't go away.

Consider, for example the word "apple." Picture one in your head.

I'm also picturing an apple in my head, but I could very legitiamately be picturing an apple that's quite different from the one you're picturing.

This is a fundamental weakness of human language, that by assigning an idea into a word, that idea loses some of it's descriptive power.

Even if we assume the Islam set of facts, where the Koran was directly dictated. The infallibility of a particular interpretation still relies on the concept that Mohammed thought exactly the same thing as what God was thinking when he dictated that particular word. And god forbid Mohammed didn't explicitly state the interpretation of something.
6.14.2007 11:50pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Whackjob,

You're probably right about the lack of translations into Arabic. But we also have to take into account the large segment of the population that reads English. They are very interested in us and have a wide selection of sources. I suspect the average Saudi knows more about the US than the average American knows about Saudi Arabia.
6.14.2007 11:56pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
So an usher at a Broadway production of Henry V sees an old lady leaving the theater before the intermission with a disgusted look on her face.

"What's the matter?" he asks, "Didn't you like the show?"

She replies, "No. I saw this play in Tel Aviv in Hebrew and frankly it loses something in the translation."
6.14.2007 11:56pm
neurodoc:
Christians should read the bible in English, just like Jesus spoke it.
True or apocryphal, there is that story from ancient times of the king who tried to settle the question of what language Jesus did in fact speak. He commanded that an infant be raised with no words ever spoken to him, so it might be seen what language he spoke when he finally learned to speak on his own, and that presumably would have been the language spoken by Jesus. (I imagine that a child raised in that fashion would never produce recognizable language, and if spoken to when he reached a more advanced age, he would never become too fluent in any language. At least that seems to have been the case with Truffuat's version of the wolf boy story.)

BTW, in what language were the holy texts written that Joseph Smith discovered?
6.14.2007 11:56pm
whackjobbbb:

Christians should read the bible in English, just like Jesus spoke it.


Now you're talkin'. And no amnesty for those Galileans, either. Disciples my @$$... get in line, holymen!
6.14.2007 11:58pm
(I am) Respondent (mail):
JustBrowsing,
Except for Assyrian Christians who insist that their Aramaic version of the New Testament is the original, it is universally accepted that all books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek.
6.14.2007 11:58pm
whackjobbbb:
Are you sure, Elliott? Do the Saudis know our literature, our culture, or do they just know Paris is missing her medication today, and whatever Hollywood and the open sewer of cable pop sends them? Sorta like we all know that they wear robes and live in tents?
6.15.2007 12:04am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
The Bible is inspired by God but not dictated. "The Word of God in the words of men". On the other hand, the Koran (I prefer the traditional transliteration of Arabic) was the actual word of Allah dictated by the angel Gabriel to the Prophet while he was in a cave having quite an experience. I don't know how we can be sure that Gabriel was an efficient secretary.

One of the problems with the Religion of Submission is that it has a single human source (point failure) while Judaism and Christianity have much more robust foundations consisting of hundreds of thousands of people over millenia.
6.15.2007 12:07am
Anderson (mail) (www):
I believe the original Christian bible was written in aramaic, nit Greek.

That's what Jesus spoke, apparently, but I've never heard of any Aramaic manuscripts.

Christians should read the bible in English, just like Jesus spoke it.

The classic statement being, "If the English language was good enough for Our Lord Jesus Christ, then it's good enough for the schoolchildren of Texas." Gov. "Ma" Ferguson. I'd imagine Michelle Malkin is quoting that approvingly these days.

And Sean beat me to the KJV-is-infallible crowd ... weirdness on stilts, that.
6.15.2007 12:19am
trotsky (mail):
Philosophical question here:

Can a native speaker of English -- or even modern Hebrew -- truly understand biblical Hebrew as it was understood by its authors?

To read the original text demands at least an in-your-head translation. There are probably a few Yeshiva buchers out there who think in classical Hebrew (or, more likely, Aramaic), but the rest of us can only read and puzzle out the meaning as we go.

And is that a bad thing? Yes, subtle puns and poetry translate badly if at all, and Hebrew might have three words for wisdom where English has only one -- but the latter is almost a matter of academic jargon. You don't really need to know Hebrew to get the difference between Chachmah, Binah and Daas, any more than you need to know ancient Greek to ponder the subtleties of eros, philia and agape.

And isn't a fully understanding a good translation better than misinterpreting half of what you read in the original?
6.15.2007 12:23am
Informant (mail):
"True or apocryphal, there is that story from ancient times of the king who tried to settle the question of what language Jesus did in fact speak."

I believe you're thinking of the experiment allegedly carried out by an Egyptian pharoah, as reported by Herodotus, which suggested that Phrygian was the original language:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_language#Mythology
6.15.2007 12:24am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Trotsky,

What you describe is true only of non-Orthodox Jews, who generally are not very religious and do not engage in any sort of serious study of the Law. Even there, you memorized just one Torah portion, for one occasion. Nobody wanted you to memorize the entire Torah. Memorizing the entire Qur'an is considered laudable for Muslims, even for those who understand not a word of it.
6.15.2007 12:27am
miriam:
"[in Judaism] no value is attached to mere memorization of the original text without understanding."

this is not entirely true, either from the pov of the many generations of "simple jews" who recited liturgy they hardly understood, or from the POV of the various laws that imply that no comprehension of the words of the written torah (as distinct from the "oral" one) is necessary to fulfill various commandments involving it (public reading. perhaps even "study.")
hebrew is "the holy tongue," allegedly the original language of humankind. it's letters and words are thought by some to have mystical significance.
that said, i think many orthodox jews would say reading a translation of the torah doesn't get you so far in understanding the word of God (as distinct from fulfilling some commandment to study or read said word), but neither does reading the original unless you read it along with an authoritative commentary that can tell you the tradition of what it "really" means. (true, this tradition makes more sense in relation to the original hebrew, for the reasons others have pointed out, but it's ultimately about the content of the oral tradition, not the written words themselves...)
6.15.2007 12:34am
tembrina:
While there were plenty of reasons that Salman Rushdie's book Satanic Verses caused the furor it did (fatwah, going into hiding for many years) probably the largest reason was because he played around (in extremely humous but extremely heretical ways) with the whole concept of the dictation of the Koran--challenging whether some parts of it, the so-called "satanic verses", were inspired by God or by the Devil. Great book.

I also may be wrong on this, but I think that both Arabic and Hebrew indicate vowels and consonants differently--a word will be written with the base consonants and then vowel signs will be added to this base. The possibilities for multiple meanings or different tones in the written word is thus much more prominent than it would be for the Christian languages, Greek, Latin, English (and yes, Jesus spoke Aramaic and maybe knew Hebrew).
6.15.2007 12:39am
ys:

Can a native speaker of English -- or even modern Hebrew -- truly understand biblical Hebrew as it was understood by its authors?

Can the Founding Fathers' English be understood by today's Americans? Even if yes, can the real contextual meaning be understood? Why then the whole constitutional scholarship - and we are talking about people almost every day of whose lives has been dissected in countless books. If any crowd would know this, it's the VC crowd.
6.15.2007 1:09am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
From what I understand, from my late father in law:

Translation isn't easy. A good translator must be as fluent in both languages as the author was in his.

The new testament was, it is pretty well accepted, spoken in aramaic but written in greek, a translation problem at the outset. And it was a greek dialect which was very much the popular rather than the formal usage. In fact, scholars thought it rather peculiar until they recently discovered a number of roman soldiers' letters home, in Egypt, which followed just those patterns.

Just the translation of the Our Father is a major task. For example, "give us this day our daily bread" presents the problem of a Greek tense that is used for "please do this, BUT in the near future, and only once, any other use of this verb is probably inappropriate" with a noun that is assumed to be the vernacular for "bread" because it resembles it, but is not entirely certain.

I think this presents problems a lot beyond trying to determine the meaning of late 18th century English.
6.15.2007 1:37am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
From what I understand, from my late father in law:

Translation isn't easy. A good translator must be as fluent in both languages as the author was in his.

The new testament was, it is pretty well accepted, spoken in aramaic but written in greek, a translation problem at the outset. And it was a greek dialect which was very much the popular rather than the formal usage. In fact, scholars thought it rather peculiar until they recently discovered a number of roman soldiers' letters home, in Egypt, which followed just those patterns.

Just the translation of the Our Father is a major task. For example, "give us this day our daily bread" presents the problem of a Greek tense that is used for "please do this, BUT in the near future, and only once, any other use of this verb is probably inappropriate" with a noun that is assumed to be the vernacular for "bread" because it resembles it, but is not entirely certain.

I think this presents problems a lot beyond trying to determine the meaning of late 18th century English.
6.15.2007 1:37am
Milhouse (www):
Duncan Frissell:
The Bible is inspired by God but not dictated. "The Word of God in the words of men".
This may be an accurate statement of some or all Christian beliefs, but the Orthodox Jewish view is that the first five books (the Torah) were dictated by God to Moses, word for word and letter for letter. This is in fact the defining belief of Orthodox Judaism, the main criterion that distinguishes it from the other Jewish movements.

(The Talmud discusses whether this applies as well to the last eight verses, which take place after Moses' death; the problem here is not that Moses couldn't have known what would happen after his death – after all, God Himself was dictating the words – but that they're written in the past tense, and if they hadn't happened yet then they'd be a lie until they did.)
6.15.2007 1:58am
CrazyTrain (mail):
"What you describe is true only of non-Orthodox Jews, who generally are not very religious and do not engage in any sort of serious study of the Law."

That's offensive, and completely untrue.

What is "religious' and "serious study of the law" to conservative Jews like me is much different than it is to Orthodox Jews.

As to the guy upstream who said that the Koran has never been subject to interpretation like the Torah (and the rest of the Hebrew Bible; as Eugene appears to imply incorrectly but probably unintentionally, the Torah is only a small subset of the Hebrew Bible, but the most important part), he is wrong. The Koran has been and still is interpreted in a myriad of ways much like Jews throughout history and the Torah. However, Wahhabism and other sects of Islam reject this -- they used to be seen as nuts (sort of llike Orthodox view Karaites -- no offense to Karaites; as you see above, I disagree quite a bit with the Orthodox), but now they are the predominant (at least to us in the West) stream of Islam. Contrary to what the Malkinites/LGFers in this comment thread imply, Islam historically has been quite self-critical. It was only when oil money made a bunch of backwards religious lunatics in the Saudi peninsula rich beyond their dreams that the brand of Islam that we see in the West became predominant.
6.15.2007 2:08am
scote (mail):

Can a native speaker of English -- or even modern Hebrew -- truly understand biblical Hebrew as it was understood by its authors?

One would have to wonder why God would write his perfect Holy text in a language He knew would be unreadable by the majority of the world's population both then and now.
6.15.2007 2:10am
K Parker (mail):
justbrowsing,
I believe the original Christian bible was written in aramaic, not Greek.
Your belief needs to get a lot more nuanced.

Parts of the Gospels or their predecessor materials were almost certainly written in Aramaic. However, the actual composition of Luke/Acts, as well as all the epistles, was in Greek.

tembrina,
think that both Arabic and Hebrew indicate vowels and consonants differently
Indeed, and at least for older Hebrew materials no vowels were written at all. This causes less confusion than you might think, as in Semitic languages there's a tendency for the word root to be just the consonants (the vowels altering with word inflection.)

Dave Hardy, will all due respect to your late father-in-law (and I mean that seriously, clearly quite a lot is due), he was clearly more of the philology / classics school, and modern linguitics gives a very different account of how verb tense/aspect works. This whole field of endeavor underwent a very classic case of old guard/young turks from the 1930s or '40s on up to the 80s or so.

I have a friend who got his PhD in Semitics at UCLA in the 80s, and he almost got caught in some of this crossfire. He wanted to do his thesis on some aspect of word order in Hebrew, but the Semitics guys on his committee didn't want to accept his proposal because "there was nothing interesting about word order". Fortunately, my friend had gotten several Linguistics profs on his committee (I think he had an MA in Linguistics, or something) and they responded, "Of course he can do his dissertation on that--we linguists talk about word order all the time!" And it turns out (at least if you buy the thesis of his dissertation) that some formerly-sticky problems in Hebrew grammar are easily explained by reference to word order.
6.15.2007 2:47am
hey (mail):
CrazyTrain: I'm sure you think I'm a bigot for saying this, but the comments re non-Orthodox Jews is broadly true from my understanding and experience. You'll notice that it doesn't say that non-Orthodox can't be religious or engage in serious study of the Law, but that they generally don't. My Conservative and Reform friends tend towards the secular while the Orthodox I know are much more engaged in their religion.

Comparing smaller, intense Christian sects with mainline protestant denominations or general Catholics would also be true. Opus Dei types are more religious than your average Catholic. This doesn't say anything about who's right, just who is more fervent in their belief.

On average, any group that has modified its tenets to better adapt to the current modernity is going to be less religious, since the pressure to adapt the religion comes from the members being engaged in the wider world. I think the Amish and Mennonites are nuts, but I would not dispute that they are in general more religious and more Bible focused than typical Lutherans and German Catholics. As to the accuracy of their interpretations...

You are absolutely right about the jurisprudential traditions in Islam - very Talmudic. However, much of that is out the window (or off the rooftop, given current events in Gaza) and the only traditions that matter are Wahhabism and Khomeinism aka Wahab for Shiites. The Salafists are destroying shrines in Mecca left and right and have effaced the religious traditions of centuries in Bosnia by destroying cemeteries, mosques, and other public artifacts simply because it doesn't comform to their ideas. But they are the ones animating the action and are what we need to deal with, not the cultivated, learned scholars of yore who they are killing in the present and erasing from history.
6.15.2007 2:54am
trotsky (mail):
Is it really possible, as a commenter mentioned upthread, to memorize the entire Quran (or any book) without at least arriving at a decent understanding of the words' meaning. I wouldn't think brains could organize the information otherwise.

I mean, a few minutes of regularly recited prayer is one thing, but the Quran is long.
6.15.2007 2:56am
Crunchy Frog:
Christianity has no mother tongue. Or should I say, all languages are the mother tongue.

As told in Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles (like tongues of flame) and they began to preach the Gospel in the languages of all the different peoples that were gathered in Jerusalem, even though they were all Galileans and probably were only fluent in Aramaic and maybe Greek.

The people were amazed and thought the apostles were drunk on new wine. Now that would be a nice trick. I'd like to be able to take a drink and then suddenly become fluent in say, Chinese. Sounds like a neat investment opportunity.
6.15.2007 3:25am
Harry Eagar (mail):
trotsky, yes, possible. Ibn Warriq contends that around a third of the Koran is gibberish anyway, so comprehension doesn't even enter into it.

It is, after all, poetry and no harder to memorize than the lyrics of a punk band, which many 13-year-old girls do without even trying.
6.15.2007 4:07am
scote (mail):

Holy Spirit came upon the apostles (like tongues of flame) and they began to preach the Gospel in the languages of all the different peoples that were gathered in Jerusalem

Too bad they didn't write it down. Could have save a whole lot of trouble down the road...
6.15.2007 6:31am
Aleks:
Re: That's what Jesus spoke, apparently, but I've never heard of any Aramaic manuscripts.

There was a claim by the early Church Fathers that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Aramaic, but we donkt have those manuscripts, and all the other NT books were first written in Greek.

Most of the OT was composed in Hebrew (althiough I think Esther may have been written in Aramaic)
6.15.2007 7:33am
dearieme:
The Authorised Version (KJV to youse guys) surely earns extra respect because so much of its English is elegant? More recent versions may be theologically sounder but they tend to read like the minutes of the Planning Committee of the Town Council.
6.15.2007 8:40am
AppSocRes (mail):
With regards to interpreting the Torah and other parts of the Tanak: These texts are written in a language that was archaic even when it was redacted sometime prior to 400 BC. Hundreds of the words in the Tanak have a meaning that is entirely unknown today and can only be speculated. (A friend provided an amusing instance: There are certain laws regarding when locusts may be eaten whose meaning was completely lost to Ashkenazi Jews, who therefore declared locusts entirely tref. This caused major problems in Israel when oriental Jews claimed to know when locusts were kosher and when they were tref.)

Besides theses issues, Tanak texts were transliterated at some point from Cananite script(s) into the Aramaic alphabet (what we think of as the Hebrew alphabet today). Such transliteration almost certainly introduced errors. In addition, Hebrew phonology has changed significantly over time. For example, there are pronunciation distinctions in the Aramaic/Hebrew alphabet , e.g., sounded vs unsounded consonants, that do not exist today. Finally, the absence of any vowels, word breaks, or punctuation poses major problems to contemporary readers and translators. Contrary to the assertions of an earlier poster the standard three-consonant roots of semitic languages place an unusual importance on the vowels that distinguish the meaning of words built from the same three consonant stems, e.g., malech-king, moloch-king of the gods; dag-a fish, dayag-a fisherman, dagon-a fish god. Comparisons of the Samaritan Torah with the Hebrew show that rabinic tradition, e.g., the Masoretic vowelization, has been a good, but not perfect, guide to where word and sentence breaks occur and what vowels should be placed where.

Christianity has two official languages - Greek which is the language in which the New Testament was originally written (although there is some evidence there may have been Aramaic ur-texts) and Latin, which was the official language of the Western church for over 1,000 years and in which many fundamental patristic texts, e.g., the Nicean Creed, were written.

My understanding is that the orthodox Islamic theology of the Q'uran gives that book an extraordinarily special status that no other scriptural writing has: The orthodox position is that the Q'uran is eternal and without beginning. In some ontological sense it may exceed Allah. It was not dictated to Muhamed, it was revealed to him. The Q'uran has existed eternally as written Arabic just as it is published today. Translations cannot capture the true Q'uran. This also makes it blasphemy to subject the Q'uran to the kind of critical historical analysis that other religious texts have received. In fact, even to suggest such analyses would be heresy to Muslim orthodoxy.
6.15.2007 9:45am
TDPerkins (mail):
BTW, in what language were the holy texts written that Joseph Smith discovered?


Since they were revealed by the angel Moroni, wouldn't that make their language Moronic?


I know, that temptation should have been resisted.

Sadly, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
6.15.2007 9:53am
justbrowsing:
For a Aramaic translation of the Bible, see: George M. Lamsa, Holy Bible: From the Ancient Eastern Text.
6.15.2007 10:08am
Smiley (mail):
AppSocRes:

I'm a Muslim who came to this country as a teenager. You're simply incorrect in saying that "This also makes it blasphemy to subject the Q'uran to the kind of critical historical analysis that other religious texts have received. In fact, even to suggest such analyses would be heresy to Muslim orthodoxy."

The meaning and context of different words and phrases is hotly debated, and has been since the very beginning of Islam. Indeed major schools of thought diverge precisely because they read the same phrase in different lights.
6.15.2007 10:50am
trotsky (mail):
Ys,

Of course scholars who devote their lives to studying the texts -- which is considered a most high calling among Orthodox Jews -- have a serious edge, but even they often will disagree about the meaning of an old word. What chance does a layman have to understand what he's reading?

Nonetheless, the answer to EV's original question is yes.
6.15.2007 10:51am
kehrsam (mail):
The golden plates found by Mr. Smith were written in "Old Egyptian." Whatever that may be.
6.15.2007 11:03am
Houston Lawyer:
I believe most seminarians are required to learn Greek in order to get a better understanding of the original new testament text. A minister I know stated that Greek was the perfect language for the text, since its meaning is much more clear than other languages.

I was wandering why my current pastor, who is in his mid-70s, was reading his new testament in such a repetitive and halting manner in Sunday school. That was before I figured out that he was reading from his Greek version.

Translation can lead to all kinds of problems since so many people have a lot of theological positions based upon one translation. Christians have been put to death for unauthorized translations.
6.15.2007 11:16am
Larry Rothenberg:
The Torah contains what would appear to be spelling and grammatical errors, as well as seemingly superfluous words, that, in their interpretation by the Sages of the Talmud, carry both homeletical and legal consequences. Such features disappear in translation and thus, necessarily, the full scope of the Torah cannot be comprehended in translation.
6.15.2007 11:24am
AppSocRes (mail):
Smiley: Of course Muslim theologians debate the meaning of words within the Q'uran. What they do not and cannot orthodoxly do is analyze the historical origin of these words. As an example of the forbidden, I cite some work done by non-Muslims into the origins of the Q'uran: These researchers showed that an extensive passage in the Q'uran was in fact taken almost verbatim from an Arab Christian hymn describing Paradise that predated Muhamed by decades. They also showed how an obvious error in the transcription of this hymn changed a reference to " white grapes" in the original to a reference to "virgins" in the Q'uran. The corrected text makes more sense than the orthodox reading. This kind of research would lead to an automatic death sentence in any Muslim country. First, it suggests an other than divine origin for the Q'uran and calls into question its eternal existence. Secondly, it suggests that the Q'uran needs correction. This kind of textual and historical analysis has been applied to Jewish and Christian texts since before Maimonides. All but the most benighted believers accept its relevance. Nothing like this goes on within Islam. As a result, the religion as it is currently practiced is an intellectual shell, subject to destruction by any sustained, open, intellectual analysis.
6.15.2007 11:25am
plunge (mail):
A fun book to read on this subject is Misquoting Jesus, by Bart Ehrman. It isn't just translation that changes the meaning of texts: it's the endless copying that was necessary in those days. Why and how those texts changed, and why there is no known "original" or "authoritative" version is a whole story in itself.
6.15.2007 11:31am
Milhouse (www):
(A friend provided an amusing instance: There are certain laws regarding when locusts may be eaten whose meaning was completely lost to Ashkenazi Jews, who therefore declared locusts entirely tref. This caused major problems in Israel when oriental Jews claimed to know when locusts were kosher and when they were tref.)
Not a good example. The meaning of these four words was never lost; if you asked any cheder boy in Poland 200 years ago what sol'om meant, he'd tell you that it was a kind of grasshopper which was kosher. Now if you gave him a collection of specimens and asked him to point out which one was the sol'om he wouldn't have a clue; but then I'd have the same reaction if you showed me a collection of dogs and asked me to point out a corgi. Just because I don't know what a corgi looks like doesn't mean I don't know what it is. For that matter, I know who Eugene Volokh is, but if I were to pass him in the street I wouldn't recognise him.

The identification of the kosher locusts was lost among European Jews because there weren't any where they lived, so they couldn't pass down the precise identification. All they could pass down was "a kind of grasshopper, but not any of the kinds that are found around here".

Also, there were no problems at all in Israel when those who could identify the kosher species met those who couldn't. The Ashkenazim just said "that's nice, but we're not interested". I don't believe any Ashkenazi rabbi ever suggested that Temanim could not eat the locusts that their parents and grandparents had eaten; not that the Temanim would have listened anyway.
6.15.2007 11:42am
Smiley (mail):
AppSocRes

I hardly find that surprising - if you dont believe in the divine origin of the Quran, you'd be a non-Muslim, almost be definition. So its hardly earth shattering that those who claim that the Quran is essentially a mismash of plagiarism are non-Muslims, or "ex-Muslims" like Ibn Warraq, Hirsi Ali, et al, who make their living tearing down Islam.

What I cannot agree with you is the assumption that the analysis you advocate for Islam is an inherent part of every other religion. I can't speak for Judaism, but I have some knowledge of Christian theological history, having been required to take some courses in college. No mainstream Christian would challenge, for instance, the divinity of Jesus, the Resurrection, etc.

Undoubtedly some do, they are viewed as either oddballs or splinter sects, but not "Christian" in the way that thats understood by the general public. Islam is no different - if it comes to "Islamic" theology that diverges significantly from the mainstream, such as the Mughal Emperor Akbar's "Deen - Ilahi", they have certainly existed. They just failed to gain any prolonged traction - no big surprise. The analogue elsewhere for example would be the early Gnostics.
6.15.2007 11:53am
Elliot123 (mail):
Whackjob,

Yes, I'm sure the average Saudi knows more about the US than the average American knows about Saudi Arabia. We have to understand they start learning English in fourth grade, and if they graduate from college, they have had twelve years of English courses. (Yes, I relize everyone doesn't graduate from college, but most get throgh at least seven years of English.

There are English magazines readily vailable all over the country - Time, Newsweek, Economist, People, etc. Satellite TV beams a full compliment of English TV to any of the millions who have installed "illegal" satellite dishes on their rooftops. Kids grow up with Sesame street and are just as familiar with Big Bird as any American kid. There are private schools that are staffed by American and British teachers, and the entire curriculum is in English. One problem these kids encounter is they can read English better than they can read Arabic. (These schools are the exception, but their existence is worth noting.)

Book stores have a larger collection of books and magazines in English than in Arabic. Since there are very few books published in Arabic, the people have simply voted with their feet and moved to English publications.

This certainly doesn't mean they are American clones since their own culture is very strong. However, they have both the means and the will to learn about us.

As for Hollywood productions? There are no movie theaters because the Ulema deems them immoral, hence there is a flourishing video market, some legal, some illegal. Any movie is available.

There are also about 25,000 American civilians working in the country, 500,000 Filipinos, and about five million Indians. The common language is English. The official language of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company is English. That means everything the company does is in English. One cannot even order an Arabic word processing program without the approval of a vice president.

I assure you, they know us very well, far better than we know them.
6.15.2007 12:26pm
trotsky (mail):
AppSocRes,

Nobody gets stoned to death in Israel these days, but Haredi Jews, in my experience, certainly find the idea that every letter of the Torah is anything but the perfect word of G-d to be blasphemous.

Elaborately parsing the meaning of words is embraced lovingly, but questioning the divine origin of those words ain't -- among the most strict of the Orthodox, at least.
6.15.2007 12:33pm
TaxLawyer:
Many of the above posters are correct that the Hebrew text of the bible is, in Judaism, considered superior to translations. Also correct are those who point out that actual understanding of text is, in Judaism, of paramount importance. Which value prevails in the unfortunate (and unfortunately commonplace) circumstance where a Jew hasn't the requisite knowledge to read the text in the original?

I don't have a complete answer, but a partial answer is this: There are certain prayers that, in Jewish Law, are obligatory to say 3 (sometimes two) times per day (as compared with the Muslim 5). The Law holds that while prayer in "lashon kodesh" (the holy language, Hebrew) is preferable, one has fulfilled his legal obligation if he says the prayer in any language he understands. Indeed he must underrstand his prayer to fulfill his obligation.

So perhaps the best answer is that Hebrew is preferable, but not mandatory.

How that compared with the status of non-Arabic prayer or texts in Islam I'm not qualified to say.
6.15.2007 12:41pm
rc:
As I recall, there's an added compnonent to Islam that is not included in Judaism or Christianity.

I seem to recall a passage in the Koran that says something to the tune of 'see that I am speaking to you in Arabic? Just furhter proof that I am divine.' Something about Arabic being the language of Allah or his angels or messengers...

So translating the Koran from Arabic to another language is not just a shift from the original language to another, it's a shift from Alaah's perfect language to something inferior.

I don't know if this is a prominant belief among muslims, but it is backed by the Koran and their traditions...
6.15.2007 12:41pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Smiley:

You confirm my point by suggesting that anyone who does not accept the divine origin of the Q'uran cannot be a Muslim. This means that any Muslim who denies this is a heretic and, as I understand it, heresy by a Muslim is punishable by death.

Only a small proportion of practicing Jews and Christians today believe in the entirely divine origin of the Old and New Testaments. Most recognize that these texts derive from complex historical processes that a majority believe reflect the Divine plan working itself out through the instrument of fallible human beings.

As elementary examples of the types of textual criticism within the mainstream of Jewish and Christian theology that have not existed within Islam:

Maimonides was only one of many orthodox Jewish scholars who pointed out that Moses could not have written the "Five Books of Moses", i.e., the Torah, the foundation of Jewish religion.

Mainstream Christian scholarship has established that:

(1) the Gospels were almost certainly not authored by the apostles whom tradition claimed were the authors,

(2) many of the sayings attributed to Jesus within the Gospels were almost certainly not said by him, e.g., predictions of the destruction of Herod's temple

(3) some Epistles of Paul were almost certainly not written by him

(4) some passages supporting the trinity in the Gospel of John were almost certainly later interpolations

In addition, analysis of the Epistles of Paul has called into question doctrines about the Last Supper and communion. Many mainstream Christian theologians have used and are using textual and historical analysis to call into question
such basic Christian doctrines as the virgin birth, the bodily ressurection, and even the divinity of Jesus.

Many Protestant sects of Christianity do in fact deny some of the very things you suggest are sine qua nons for being Christian. These rejections of once orthodox doctrines come from the kinds of research I mention. These kinds of research have been part of Christian theology since the Rennaissance. The resulting intellectual discourse has strengthened the intellectual foundations of Judaism and Christianity and the basic fabric of Jewish and Christian belief. I'm surprised that you have taken university level courses involving the study of Christianity and have not discussed, e.g., German Enlightenment theology.
6.15.2007 12:55pm
whackjobbbb:
Elliott,

Interesting, it sorta sounds like they choose to "engage the world" in somebody ELSE'S language, and not their own, and any potential "intrusion" into their own language...the illicit purchase of an arabic word processor, for example is discouraged (to preserve the static state of affairs?). And also note that Google's arabic translator is a beta version whose existence can be measured in months... not years as might be expected if that process had been driven by a curious bunch of intellectuals on the other end, who in fact may not be so curious... or willing to risk being confronted by outside thought. I don't know, I guess, but it's sorta metaphorical of the thing that first troubled me about Volokh's first post... that there just isn't the type of exchange required to promote real understanding... and yes, that it originates with a certain whiff of monolithism.

I do note that we've had a lively and cacaphonous discussion in here, and yet only 1 person has jumped in to claim that Islam is broadly open to any sorta scholarly interpretative efforts, while others have dissected the efforts long underway in one or more of the world's great faiths. Anecdotally, I'd call that about as close to "monolithic" as you're gonna get, Mr. Volokh. Is there a Salman Rushdie effect here? And for Smiley, perhaps it's true that such theological scholarship "...just failed to gain any prolonged traction - no big surprise.", but tell me, how much "traction" are they gonna gain, flailing in the air after they've been thrown from that rooftop in Gaza?

Now, that's a pretty cheap shot, I realize, and I hardly think Mohammed Six-Pack is about the business of throwing people off the roof on a regular basis. But I'm gonna have to see another 10-20 others posting in here, supporting the intellectual curiousity of this religion, before I can at least have the anecdotal evidence that there's a sense of engagement and introspection in place within Islam.
6.15.2007 1:09pm
miriam:
"Maimonides was only one of many orthodox Jewish scholars who pointed out that Moses could not have written the "Five Books of Moses", i.e., the Torah, the foundation of Jewish religion."

i don't know what you are refering to. (please cite if you can.) I do know that Maimonides in fact spend s a lot of time talking about how important it is that the Torah came from moses, whose prophecy was at a higher level than that of anyone else, etc... IT is true that there are some orthodox writers who recognize that certain passages, or perhaps even scribal errors, were not from Moses (from God via moses). It is alo quite a maintream belief (stated without opposition in the gemara somehwere, if i recall correctly) that there are spelling errors in the current text. (specifically, some vowels can be either represented by letters in the word or not, without changing the plain menaing, and it it contended that we are no longer experts in when such words are spelled what way.) In this context, however, "orthodox" is misleading since these ideas have been around since hbefore "orthodoxy" as such existed. that said, basically all "orthodx" jews (and the pre-orthodox scholars whome they respect) view the torah as essentially the divine word as trasmitted from moses.
what are your sources here?
6.15.2007 1:36pm
miriam:
"There are certain prayers ... Hebre) is preferable, [but] one has fulfilled his legal obligation if he says the prayer in any language he understands. ...
So perhaps the best answer is that Hebrew is preferable, but not mandatory. "

This is true of prayers but not of the written torah, which is what is at issue. one can fulfill certain obligations having to do with the written torah without understanding, and hebrew is preferable to the vernacular for public torah reading even if one does not understand.
6.15.2007 1:40pm
BobH (mail):
"[W]ouldn't many Orthodox Jews conclude that to fully understand the Torah you need to read it in Hebrew?"

Many (if not all) Orthodox Jews also insist that one pray in Hebrew, on the apparent premise that God doesn't understand English.
6.15.2007 1:47pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
smiley sez: 'I'm a Muslim who came to this country as a teenager. You're simply incorrect in saying that "This also makes it blasphemy to subject the Q'uran to the kind of critical historical analysis that other religious texts have received. In fact, even to suggest such analyses would be heresy to Muslim orthodoxy." '

I believe you are wrong. For example, it is my understanding that the Koran is claimed to be pure Arabic with, explicitly, no loan words.

Yet, it can be easily demonstrated that loans from, eg, Persian are in the text.

The limits to criticism that Muslims have put around their text do not exist even in most Christian seminaries, still less in academic studies of Christian (or any other) texts.

It is significant that born-and-raised Muslims who do want to publish critiques of the Koran live in exile, use pseudonyms and fear for their lives.

Warrig and Hirsi Ali do not have to lift a finger to 'tear down Islam.' The Islamic clerics do a fine job without any assistance.
6.15.2007 1:49pm
Yankev (mail):
Tax Lawyer

Which value prevails in the unfortunate (and unfortunately commonplace) circumstance where a Jew hasn't the requisite knowledge to read the text in the original?

Having been in that situtation, and being still there in many respects, I will pass along the advice I was given. 1)Get a GOOD authorative translation that has the Hebrew text on the facing page and that explains in English the different choices and possibile meanings of the text -- such as The Living Torah or the Artscroll Stone Chumash, 2) find a good teacher and go to some classes, realizing that any conclusions you reach based on the English or on weak knowledge of the Hebrew are likely to be flawed, and 3) do your best to learn Hebrew.

Your comments about prayer are right on the mark, but the commandment of prayer and the commandment to learn Torah are not the same, and it is dangerous to draw analogies from one to the other.

BTW, this past Wednesday night my chavrusa and I came on the Gemara's dictum in Tractate Kiddushin that "anyone who translates [the Torah] word for word [i.e. literally] is a liar, and anyone who translates it according to his own whim [i.e. contrary to the traditional understanding, as embodied in e.g. the translation of Onkelos] denies G-d."
6.15.2007 2:10pm
Milhouse (www):
AppSocRes:
Maimonides was only one of many orthodox Jewish scholars who pointed out that Moses could not have written the "Five Books of Moses", i.e., the Torah, the foundation of Jewish religion.
I don't know where you read this, but it doesn't mean what you seem to think it means. Yes, Maimonides insisted that the Torah was not the work of Moses, but rather the work of God Himself, and Moses' role was no more than that of a secretary taking dictation. Of course this view was hardly Maimonides's invention; he was simply stating the orthodox view as it had been for centuries. If you think the quote means that he acknowledged that the five books were the work of men who postdated Moses, you couldn't be more wrong.
6.15.2007 2:15pm
Aleks:
Re: Greek which is the language in which the New Testament was originally written (although there is some evidence there may have been Aramaic ur-texts) and Latin, which was the official language of the Western church for over 1,000 years and in which many fundamental patristic texts, e.g., the Nicean Creed, were written.

The Nicene Creed was composed originally in Greek (Nicaea is in the Eastern half of the old Empire, in modern Turkey in fact). Notably, the Bible was not formally translated into Latin until the 5th century, at a time when even well-educated western Romans were no longer fluent in Greek.

Re: it's a shift from Alaah's perfect language to something inferior.

Among Christians there was once a belief that Hebrew was the original language, from which all others have diverged at Babel.
6.15.2007 2:21pm
tom@office:

The golden plates found by Mr. Smith were written in "Old Egyptian." Whatever that may be.


I know this was all in jest, but in case anyone is interested...In the book of Mormon, one of the writers suggests it was a mix of Egyptian and Hebrew. The progenitors of the authors of that book spoke both Egyptian and Hebrew, and over the generations, this mix of the two languages came into use. They preferred the clarity of Hebrew, but used this other thing 'reformed Egyptian' for economy of space purposes. The guy who was abridging all the writings actually apologizes for using reformed Egyptian instead of Hebrew, and says if they had more space on the metal plates they were writing on, they would have used Hebrew. For what it's worth.
6.15.2007 2:31pm
Yankev (mail):

Among Christians there was once a belief that Hebrew was the original language, from which all others have diverged at Babel.

Fascinating. that's a Jewish belief. Where do you suppose that Christians picked it up?
6.15.2007 2:43pm
jimbino (mail):
Maimonides was right, of course. Moses could not have been the author of the whole of the Pentateuch, since Deuteronomy 34 describes his death and burial as well as events more than 30 days thereafter.

But if you believe Adam and Eve were created with belly buttons in 4004 BC, you can believe anything, even that Moses wrote about his death and burial while still alive. Hell, he probably wrote the Book of Revelations, too!

"Religion poisons everything."
6.15.2007 3:15pm
Larry Rothenberg:
just to add:

The Gemmarah in Mesechet Megillah says that one of the reasons for fasting on the 10th of Tevet was the translation of the Torah into Greek.
6.15.2007 3:25pm
Smiley (mail):
***The limits to criticism that Muslims have put around their text do not exist even in most Christian seminaries, still less in academic studies of Christian (or any other) texts***

If, by "limits to criticism" you mean that Muslims dont warm to those who suggest that our religion is the spawn of Satan, then you're entirely correct. But I would be intrigued to see if any religion warmly embraces "scholars" studying it if all the said scholars have to contribute is the kind of spiteful (and inaccurate) invective directed at Islam by Ibn Warraq et al.

I also don't know about any claim to "pure" Arabic, and why any Persian would somehow sully it.

> whackjobbbb:

The tradition of introspection and development in Islam is old enough to have a name from the time of the Four Caliphs - ijtihad. Yes, there are schools that claim that the doors of ijtihad are now closed. They are a distinct minority.

And the reason that "all but 1" poster seem to believe there is no intellectual discourse in Islam is because virtually none of them have any direct knowledge of Islam outside the LGF/Malkin/Fox News world.

I have a feeling that a discussion of the virtues of the free market in the Stalinist Soviet Union would have been achieved similar "all but 1" consensus - and for the same reasons.
6.15.2007 3:36pm
whackjobbbb:
Ahhhh yes, Smiley, it's all a grand conspiracy. We'll just have to wait for the truth to shine on all this... and those truth tellers should be showing up here any minute now... any minute...

By the way, scroll down a few discussions, and you'll find some of the socialists in here cheerleading for the old Soviet Union... so even THAT viewpoint is more well-represented than the one you're advocating. Think about that, and spread the word around. Seriously.

This site is a conspiracy, and that's why I like it!
6.15.2007 4:28pm
plunge (mail):
Um, whack, he didn't say anything about conspiracy. He said that this blog has very few people on it that have much direct experience with Islam, which as far as I can tell is true.
6.15.2007 4:35pm
rc:
AppSocRes: "Many mainstream Christian theologians have used and are using textual and historical analysis to call into question such basic Christian doctrines as the virgin birth, the bodily ressurection, and even the divinity of Jesus."

The resurrection and deity of Jesus are two of the foundational elements of Christianity. We can argue semantics as much as you want, but by the way you use the term 'MAINSTREAM Christian theologians,' I would guess that all your wide interpretations of words would strongly favor your own perspective.

If 'Christianity' as a word has any value at all, then it can't include those who do not believe in the resurrection or deity of Christ. These are necessary conditions. This is way before we even get to the word 'mainstream,' whose meaning is fully and completely lost in your post.

Why do we argue about translations when we all refuse to even use _English_ properly?
6.15.2007 5:07pm
rc:
Aleks: "Among Christians there was once a belief that Hebrew was the original language, from which all others have diverged at Babel."

Key words being 'once' and 'belief.' That notion is no longer held by anyone important, and the belief was at most a tradition... definitely not stated so in the bible like Arabic is lifted up in the Koran. (fair notice- I'm no expert in the Koran)
6.15.2007 5:12pm
BenHall (mail):
It seems that a fundamental error is being made here: as I understand it, for many Muslims, a Koran that is not in Arabic is not a "worse" Koran, or one with problems, it is not a Koran at all. Thus the choice is all or nothing--no arguments can be made about the Koran without reference to the Arabic text. Translations are wholly invalid.

For most Christians, we would prefer to read and understand from the original, but translations are still valid if properly done. The value is in the ideas expressed, not necessarily in the mode in which they are expressed.
6.15.2007 6:03pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
plunge sez, channeling smiley: 'very few people on it that have much direct experience with Islam, which as far as I can tell is true'

Even if that's true -- which is not a given -- you don't have to know ANYTHING about Islam to know that scholars who apply the techinques (once called the 'higher criticism'), used every day on the Bible, to the Koran fear for their lives, cannot publish or even visit Islamic countries.

That's a difference.

I have on my desk a book by Michael Jordan (no, not THAT Michael Jordan) called 'The Historical Mary' which alleges that Jesus had sexual relations with his mother. No Christian government and no Christian church has declared a fatwa against Jordan, who continues to publish other books.

We may recall the reaction in many places to milder statements about Muhammad.

That's a difference.

If smiley doesn't know about the explicit disavowal that the Holy Koran is pure Arabic, maybe he should be included among the posters here with not much direct knowledge of Islam.

Anyhow, the idea that the critical tools that westerners routinely apply to any text, no matter how holy, also are used in Islamic critical theory is nonsense.
6.15.2007 6:06pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Is it even reasonable to characterize a religion as tolerating an examination of its basic ideas? Today, Christianity tolerates such examination. For most of its history it did not. It was quite likely the author of Historical Mary would have fared quite poorly in most Christian countries for most of Christian history.

Do those who criticize the Muslim reaction to objective anaysis also condemn the large part of Christian history for its intolerance of objective analysis? Taken as a whole, over the entire life of the two religions, do we see much difference in reaction to criticism?

I suggest the current tolerance of criticism by Christianity has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with the fact that liberal government and culture has curbed religion. Given the chance, would Christianity once again asert itself by quashing dissent?

Christianity is weak. Islam is strong. Maybe that's why the two appear to have different reactions to criticism.
6.15.2007 6:57pm
whackjobbbb:

Do those who criticize the Muslim reaction to objective anaysis also condemn the large part of Christian history for its intolerance of objective analysis? Taken as a whole, over the entire life of the two religions, do we see much difference in reaction to criticism?


Perhaps not, Eliot, but even if we somehow assume and accept equivalence throughout history (and I'm no philosopher, but pre-enlightenment, in my uninformed opinion, you could probably throw everybody in every place and every religion into a pot, close your eyes and pull out whichever rabbit you wanted and they'd all be about the same... so "equivalence" works for me for sure), what about the "here and now", when the "objective analysts" of Islam are sometimes seeking traction in midair?

The Catholic church for one has at least taken some steps to acknowledge their role in the Spanish Inquisition, at least attempting to acknowledge their historical culpability as an institution. There is some introspection demonstrated there, both in terms of their past actions... AND the here and now as to how their actions of today are accepted. The Pope visits around... goes over to see the Eastern Orthodox guy and chats him up... visits with his Hebrew ("elder")brothers... visits a couple mosques... he networks pretty well, I'd say. And even more than a few starched clerics, what about all the scholars... and all the work that they do today... in the here and now... and the laymen? Can we say all this about Islam in the here and now? (to say nothing about the past, which it appears some of the hardcores not only refuse to examine critically, but would rather RETURN to for crisakes)

You think Sistani is ready to go over and have lunch with his "elder Hebrew brothers" this afternoon?

No, I think we'll have to move past the equivalency thing right quick here. That dog won't hunt.. not in the hot sun anyways. Yeah, we can talk, and discuss, and all that, but at some point, I think the discussion has to be a bit fuller than just that.
6.15.2007 8:20pm
whackjobbbb:

Christianity is weak. Islam is strong. Maybe that's why the two appear to have different reactions to criticism.


A provocative statement, Elliot. I'll work something up in response, perhaps not entirely rooted in a cultural/religious clash sorta deal. I think you're on to something here, I just don't know what right now.
6.15.2007 8:23pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Elliott sez: 'Taken as a whole, over the entire life of the two religions, do we see much difference in reaction to criticism?

'I suggest the current tolerance of criticism by Christianity has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with the fact that liberal government and culture has curbed religion'

Yes, of course, absolutely. I prefer to say 'tamed' rather than 'curbed,' but yes.

As an atheist, nothing interests me less than theology, but as a living human, nothing interests me more than somebody who wants to kill me because of theology.

I don't give a hoot whether Muhammad murdered Jews, but I care very much whether his followers want to.

We have argued back and forth about ways to distinguish 'real' beliefs from some other kind. I suggest that the fact we can have this dispute ought to suggest to Muslims that they need to do something to make it very clear to us infidels which are the good ones and which are the bad.

A bright line test, I believe you lawyers call it.

It may be, based on several thoughful comments here, such as by David Nieporent in the related thread, that such a bright line test is not really possible.

I'm sure not possible for infidels to devise one.
6.15.2007 10:32pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Elliott sez: 'Taken as a whole, over the entire life of the two religions, do we see much difference in reaction to criticism?

'I suggest the current tolerance of criticism by Christianity has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with the fact that liberal government and culture has curbed religion'

Yes, of course, absolutely. I prefer to say 'tamed' rather than 'curbed,' but yes.

As an atheist, nothing interests me less than theology, but as a living human, nothing interests me more than somebody who wants to kill me because of theology.

I don't give a hoot whether Muhammad murdered Jews, but I care very much whether his followers want to.

We have argued back and forth about ways to distinguish 'real' beliefs from some other kind. I suggest that the fact we can have this dispute ought to suggest to Muslims that they need to do something to make it very clear to us infidels which are the good ones and which are the bad.

A bright line test, I believe you lawyers call it.

It may be, based on several thoughful comments here, such as by David Nieporent in the related thread, that such a bright line test is not really possible.

I'm sure it's not possible for infidels to devise one.
6.15.2007 10:33pm
BladeDoc (mail):
Trotsky I know I'm WAY down link but the NYT had this article about memorizing the Koran w/o learning Arabic. But I can't link it for some reason. The title so you can Google it if you want is "Memorizing the Way to Heaven"
6.15.2007 11:14pm
Aleks:
Re: that's a Jewish belief. Where do you suppose that Christians picked it up?

I didn't know it was a Jewish belief, but then I assume it must have entered into Christianity right at the beginning with the Jews who became followers of Jesus and the Apostles.

Re: Christianity is weak. Islam is strong.

Maybe it's the other way around. Those who are weak (or fear that they are) are more likely to take severe offense at even minor criticism than those who are confident of their existence and rectitude.

Re: 'I suggest the current tolerance of criticism by Christianity has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with the fact that liberal government and culture has curbed religion'

A bit of an overstatement I think. There's some truth in this, but also I think Christianity itself had a bit of a guilty conscience by the late 1600s, having so thoroughly and brazenly betrayed its core moral teachings with so much religious violence. After all, those liberal governments were initially (and for long) headed by Christians. The major example of a non Christian government in Europe before the 20th century involves guillotines and some rather vicious wars.
6.15.2007 11:19pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Whackjob,

If we restrict ourselves to the hear and now we see that tolerance by Muslims is a function of the culture and government in which they operate. The Saudis have one standard, the Indonesians another, the Turks another, and Muslims in the USA have another. All are Muslims, yet the standards of tolerance vary widely.

So, I have a hypothesis. Both Islam and Christianity are intolerant of criticism of their core beliefs. Both act on that intolerance to the limit allowed by the culture and government. Each will go to the extreme of employing violence and force to quash dissent.
6.15.2007 11:38pm
rc:
Eliott123: "Taken as a whole, over the entire life of the two religions, do we see much difference in reaction to criticism?"

Any intelligent human being must say 'yes.' Don't make excuses for twenty-first century muslims using tenth century Christians. Modern-day Christians can't justify a hypothetical horror by saying 'well, the Inquisition used to work that way...'

"Christianity is weak. Islam is strong. Maybe that's why the two appear to have different reactions to criticism."

That's a good point. Christianity is limited (render unto caeser), while Islam is far-reaching (worlwide caliphate, sharia, Arabic is supreme). Eliott, you obviously recognize these differences, so why do you continue to pretend that Christian and Muslim politics are the same?

"Both Islam and Christianity... will go to the extreme of employing violence and force to quash dissent."

Within current cultures, that statement is demonstrably and obviously false. Unless, of course, the word 'extreme' is redefined to mean exactly nothing.

One big difference with Islam is that its holy text clearly supports world domination and Islamic supremacy. Part of this supremacy is the superiority of the Arabic language. That is the undeniable and critical difference that is germane to this discussion.
6.16.2007 1:25am
Elliot123 (mail):
rc,

1. If we look at the two religions as a whole over the course of their life, we are not restricetd to the 21st century. If we look at them in various slices of time over their history, we will see tolerance shifting. Analysis of such things does not imply excuses are being made, and can shed light on factors other than religion which may have a strong effect on tolerance.

2. I have no reason to think Christian politics are the same as Mulsim politics. I don't even know what that means. Christians are spread over a huge area in various cultures and nations. Their politics have correspondingly large differences. The long history of wars among Christians attests to that. Likewise, Muslims are sperad over a huge area in various cultures and nations, and their politics also have many variations.

3. I agree that within current cultures, Christianity cannot go to the extremes of violent intolerance because it is retrained by culture and liberal government. I said it would go to the limit allowed by government, and as you imply, there are limits in current cultures.

4. Holy texts tell us many things, and religion picks and chooses from the texts as it sees fit. One of the more interesting things we see is the insistence by representatives of each religion that they are most qualified to tell the other religion what it's holy books mean and how they are interpreted by the other religion.

5. I doubt language really matters much. There is a campaign by some Muslims to have Arabic taught to non-Arab Muslims as a second language, but Arabic is consistently rejected by these folks who favor of English as a second language. Seventy-five percent of Muslims are not Arabs, and they are not exhibiting any burning desire to learn Arabic.
6.16.2007 2:08am
rc:
Elliot: "I doubt language really matters much. There is a campaign by some Muslims to have Arabic taught to non-Arab Muslims as a second language..."

You say 'some...' I would say 'many.' In California, New Jersey, and Singapore (the few places I've inquired about specific mosques), Arabic lessons were their prime tool for 'evangelism.' Folks in the know say that this is common worldwide, over many cultures.

Even if _you_ think language doesn't matter much, it certainly seems to matter to many Muslims, particularly Arab Muslims. And this is an important point: this belief is backed up by their holy texts and traditions. Though it's not a belief adopted and shared by every single Muslim, it remains that the prevailing take on Islam includes a much higher value on the mother language. This emphasis on language is significantly more pervasive than Hebrew for Jews or Greek for Christians.

Elliot: "Holy texts tell us many things, and religion picks and chooses from the texts as it sees fit."

And those choices inform us of the religion's values and priorities. For example, if the Koran contains verses extolling the virtues of its mother language, and the Torah and New Testament do not, we have a useful measuring stick for evaluating the priority of language between the three religions.

Elliot: "I agree that within current cultures, Christianity cannot go to the extremes of violent intolerance because it is restrained by culture and liberal government."

It sounds like you believe that various religions are equally capable of depraved acts, given the right opportunity. Yet, you give western culture and liberal government credit for being able to restrain Christianity. As an aside, I wonder why you think that western culture and liberal government are capable of distinctions from their contemporaties, yet Christianity and Islam must be viewed as indistinguishable in critical ways.

Islam is an absolutist religion (sharia, caliphate, etc) that makes claims about language. Chrisitanity and Judaism are not. These are distinct, observable, pervasive differences.
6.16.2007 12:21pm
Elliot123 (mail):
rc,

1. I agree Arabic is important to Arabs. They make up less than 25% of Mulsims. I disagree that Arabic is important to non-Arab Muslims because they reject the study of Arabic in favor of English in overwhelming numbers. Of course there are some non-Arab Mslims who study Arabic, but as a social phenomenon their acceptance of the language is dwarfed by those who reject it.

2. I would agree a religion itself has certain values, its leaders look through their holy texts for passages which conform to their values, and select those passages as important. This is what I mean by picking and choosing from the holy texts. Those passages that do not conform to the values are ignored or excused.

3. All governments are capable of restraining religion. We see restraint of religion to various degrees in Islamic societies today and in the past. The attitude of the government determines what the religion can get away with. We see Western governments restrainng religion in a more consistent today manner than we see in islamic societies. However, history repeatedly shows both religions are capable of depraved acts given the opportunity.

4. Both religions make absolutist claims. Muslims say there is no god but god, Mohamed is his prophet, Jesus was a prophet, etc. Christianity says Jesus is God, he died for man's sins, his mother was a virgin, he rose from the dead, etc. There are certainly observable differences in the absolute claims, but both make absolute claims.
6.16.2007 1:14pm
plunge (mail):
One major difference with Christianity is that it began and continued in perpetual anticipation of apocalypse, and so is inherently off-foot in regards to issues of politics. Most of the early Christians never expected the current world to last long enough to care much about how best to live in it. So given that the messianic promise failed to arrive and yet was expected to, Christianity is pretty flexible and fundamentally compatible with a wide range of political situations.

Islam, on the other hand, is explicitly defined as a social and political movement. The whole basis of the religion is that by restraining various claimed corrupting influences in society and getting everyone to follow a certain law and ritual, God will provide peace in exchange.

There has been a lot of good work done on whether that framework is still compatible, in a fundamental way, with things like democracy, but it certainly seems like a lot more of a problem than Christianity, which at base has nothing much to say about worldly politics and laws because it never anticipated much need for them.
6.16.2007 1:50pm
rc:
Elliot,
In most influential circles, the study of Islam means the study of Arabic. Yet many Muslims may not value the intense study of Islam, and so would not feel the need to learn Arabic. But while you can become a quite learned Christian without knowing ancient Greek, and while you can become an educated Jew without knowing ancient Hebrew, there isn't a respected imam around who doesn't know arabic, or admit that he should know more arabic.

I gave examples from my visits in three places where english is far more valuable than Arabic. Regardless the utility of english, one of the main services and aims of the mosques was to teach Arabic. Teaching Arabic to these mosques in non-arab lands is still synonymous with teaching Islam.

Regarding scriptures, it is true that religions pick and choose passages to fit their beliefs. But Christians and Jews have no scripture to pick or choose when it comes to language. Muslims do.
6.16.2007 2:49pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'Islam is an absolutist religion (sharia, caliphate, etc) that makes claims about language. Chrisitanity and Judaism are not. These are distinct, observable, pervasive differences.'

Islam has always had a political program, while Christianity did not adopt one until later.

However, given their similar starting point -- each is a universalizing, salvationist monotheism -- it is inevitable that each would end up with a totalitarian political bent.

That Christianity is now enfeebled politically seems more a matter of historical accident than anything in its internals. And it is not true that Christianity is toothless everywhere. Think Serbia and Croatia. Though it is toothless in civilized places. (In 1919, the archbishop of Canterbury proposed reconsecrating Hagia Sophia as a Christian church; he was overruled by the civil government of the UK. Try to imagine Rowan Williams given the same opportunity.)

But it may well be that Islam has an internal dynamic (regarding its relation to text, statements in the text itself etc.) that will make it harder to tame than Christianity was.

God/allah knows it was hard enough to tame Christianity.

Historically, Islam's moderates have been helpless against their religion's purifiers. The various Almohads have never, I believe, been rejected by believers as a result of adjustment of religious preference but suppressed (more or less) by civil governments.
6.16.2007 3:07pm
rc:
Plunge, I don't believe it's accurate to say that the only reason Christianity does not share the same goals as Islam is because Jesus and the apostles were in a hurry. And I know that that's not really what you claimed, but it gives me devious pleasure to frame it that way.

Paul, the church's greatest evangelist, became like a Jew to relate to Jews, and like a Greek to relate to Greeks. Jesus also used culture and tradition for his own purposes, and commissioned his followers to go _into_ all nations, not to conquer all nations to create an all-encompassing caliphate. Examples abound where Old Testament and New Testament figures submitted to worldly authority, even when those authorities were wrong (whether truth or myth, these are the Scriptures). David and Saul, Nehemiah and Artaxerxes, Jesus and the Sanhedrin, Philemon and his slave master... and that's just off the top of my head. Examples abound, over the course of thousands of years.

In fact, from Daniel and the lions den, to rack shack and benny, to the early Christian church called to task in Jerusalem, the only time God's people directly rebelled was when they were commanded to do something in _direct_ rebellion to God.

As Elliot says, people can pick and interpret to make scriptures say what they want, but the raw material for Christians is far different than the raw material for Muslims. This isn't because Christians were just in a hurry, or had different traditions, or began a whole four hundred years before the Muslims.

Major religions have big, major, fundamental differences for big, major, fundamental reasons. It is demonstrable and not surprising that the preeminance of Arabic in Islam is not shared in a similar manner by Christianity or Judaism.
6.16.2007 3:49pm
Elliot123 (mail):
rc,

I completely agree that serious study of Islam demands study of Arabic. Many of the essential texts and scholarship are available only in Arabic, and this is important to the serious student. But I observe there are very few Muslims who are serious students of Islam, so the prominence of the language in serious religious study has little social impact.

For hundreds of years, serious study of Christianity demanded the study of Latin. But, as with Islam, there were few Christians who were serious students. Up until Vatican II the Catholic Church had enshrined Latin as the official langauge of Catholic rites and services. Now, I think it's use outlawed without special permission.

Perhaps someone can comment on whether serious study of Christianity today demands a study of Latin and Greek? Are Latin and Greek required at the PhD level in major divinity schools? If so, why? I don't know.
6.16.2007 3:52pm
rc:
Harry: "Historically, Islam's moderates have been helpless against their religion's purifiers."

Folks always try to come up with cultural or circumstantial reasons for this. Though I believe that these are factors, it also seems that there are internal reasons why it's harder for Islam to shake its radicals.

"However, given their similar starting point it is inevitable that each would end up with a totalitarian political bent."

But inevitability is not the same as, er, identicalibility. Entropy inevitably turns every system into disorder, but a bunch or yay-hoos tends to reduce to disorder a lot slower than a bunch of yay-hoos with a bomb belt. It's not appropriate to say these systems are identical, even if they both will, eventually, degrade into chaos.

And this is the place where I point out that veganism and radical environmentalism, given the right circumstances, would also eventually end up with a 'totalitarian political bent.' So would fantasy football and antiquing, for that matter. Ha! How do you like _that_ moral equivalence?

"That Christianity is now enfeebled politically seems more a matter of historical accident than anything in its internals."

I agree. It seems that radicalism often has to be confronted from outside. But Christianity has revealed itself to be somewhat resilient and adaptable in the face of those checks, precisely because scriptur does not frown on this sort of situation.

But it's no surprise that the Koran's conquering history and 'arab pride' seem to go hand in hand. And it's also no surprise that these issues cause problems for arab culture and Islam to take any sort of submissive role.

Views and writings touting the preiminence of Arabic are a perfect example of this.
6.16.2007 4:05pm
rc:
I think Elliot and I have common ground here. But my conclusion is that Muslim writings and traditions put Arab culture in a dominant light that is not paralleled in Judaism or Christianity. Sacred writings, past and present culture, and my personal experience all indicate that Arabic for Islam is much different than Greek for Christians or Hebrew for Judaism.

From people I've spoken to who've attended seminary, the study of ancient greek is important when you're digging deep into the meaning of the scriptures. It's all about meaning, and it's tough to get the clearest notion of meaning without knowing the language.

However, Islam includes an extra belief, that Arabic, the very language is _part_ of the meaning. That the Koran was dictated in Arabic is somehow very important. Greek, on the other hand, just happened to be the language the early literate Christians used to write (and speak, I guess?).
6.16.2007 4:13pm
whackjobbbb:

If we restrict ourselves to the hear and now we see that tolerance by Muslims is a function of the culture and government in which they operate. The Saudis have one standard, the Indonesians another, the Turks another, and Muslims in the USA have another. All are Muslims, yet the standards of tolerance vary widely.

So, I have a hypothesis. Both Islam and Christianity are intolerant of criticism of their core beliefs. Both act on that intolerance to the limit allowed by the culture and government. Each will go to the extreme of employing violence and force to quash dissent.



Elliot, this is a disarming argument, and I find myself wanting to embrace, even though I'm not sure I fully believe it. My above snark notwithstanding, I don't accept anecdotal analyis as proof of "monolith", and I really want to embrace something other than a monolith, anyways.

Some questions remain. Who's pushing in each of those countries to expand the limits of tolerated dissent? Do you really think contemporary "Christians" (however we manage to lump them together) will use "violence and force" to quash dissent and criticism of their core beliefs?
6.16.2007 4:32pm
Aleks:
Re: One big difference with Islam is that its holy text clearly supports world domination and Islamic supremacy.

Christianity has similar universalist foundations (as Judaism, for example, does not). "Preach ye the Gospel to all nations" and "At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow". And Christianity has had far more success at spreading itself around the globe: every inhabited continent contains large Christian populations whereas Islam is a tiny minority religion outside its historical core areas (to which of course Indonesia and Malaysia, and some territories in Africa and the Balkans, were later added). If you look at a map of the world shaded for religion in the year 1500 and another for today, you will quickly see that Islam has spread few places since 1500, while Christianity spread around the whole planet. Which culture therefore is the more aggressive and imperialistic?

Re: One big difference with Islam is that its holy text clearly supports world domination and Islamic supremacy.

Both religions adopted a political program as soon as the levers of power fell into their hands. With Islam this was very early on, after Mohammed gained temporal power in Mecca. Christianity had to wait three centuries for Constantine and his successors to open up the storehouse of state power to the bishops.

Re: Think Serbia and Croatia.

Given that only a small, European-sized minority of people in either country are actual practicing Christians, I don't think religion qua religion had much to do with the recent Balkan upheavals. They were not, for example, fighting over the dual procession of the Holy Spirit or the Immaculate Conception (to name two points of doctrinal divergence between Rome and the East). At most religion was used as a tribal marker: Serbs are "Orthodox" and Croats are "Catholics", whether they have set foot in a church in years or not. Indeed, most of the leadership were no more than (barely) ex-Communist goons with less religion than a horse.

Re: Now, I think it's use outlawed without special permission.

Latin is still the official tongue of the Vatican. All formal Papal documents are issued in Latin.
6.16.2007 8:42pm
rc:
Aleks: "Latin is still the official tongue of the Vatican. All formal Papal documents are issued in Latin."

Which is intersting, because none of the Bible or early christian writings were in Latin. This reinforces the difference between Christianity and Islam, as far as it concerns the emphasis on a specific language.

"And Christianity has had far more success at spreading itself around the globe..." And I would argue that this is because Christianity is able, at its core, to be adapted to different cultures.

"Preach ye the Gospel to all nations" Which is different than 'take over and subjugate all nations.'

"At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow". Which, as the Bible has it, is to be accomplished by God himself at the end of the world. I think. Lots different than Arabic-speaking angels commanding the faithful to conquer the nations of the world.
6.16.2007 9:02pm
Milhouse (www):
rc:
while you can become an educated Jew without knowing ancient Hebrew,
You really can't. That is to say, it's easy to become "a Jew who is educated" without knowing any Hebrew at all, but someone who cannot read fluently in several flavours of Hebrew, as well as having some facility with Babylonian Aramaic, cannot become "an educated Jew". It's just not possible.
6.17.2007 12:38am
Harry Eagar (mail):
How quickly you forget, Aleks. Not 65 years ago, Croats were slaughtering Jews, led to the killing fields by priests carrying crosses and singing hymns of praise.

Although Christianity and Islam ended up with aggressive political programs, there does seem to be a significant difference that probably accounts for the fact that Christianity no longer has an aggressive forced conversion program, while Islam does:

The NT specifically provides for people who refuse to accept Jesus. The Koran explicitly denies the possibility of ultimately rejecting Mohammad. Allah has promised that the house of Islam will prevail of the rest of the world.

Thus, the most violent contemporary Christian preachers threaten people like with hell after I die. The most violent (and even some of less violent) Muslim preachers promise to kill me.

It's a real difference.
6.17.2007 12:52am
ReaderY:
Biblical Hebrew has fewer than 10,000 root words and a very large number of grammatical forms, and as a result there is an intricate network of relationships among words in the same root which is essentially impossible to translate. Hebrew's multiple interconnected meanings simply make it much richer than English. English has no means of conveying that, for examply the word for a "mikvah" -- a ritual bath -- is merely a different grammatical form, a different cloaking, of the same underlying root as the word for "hope"? How can English convey the way that Jeremiah interleaves and double-loads the various meanings involved when he uses water symbolism?
6.17.2007 1:02am
plunge (mail):
"Plunge, I don't believe it's accurate to say that the only reason Christianity does not share the same goals as Islam is because Jesus and the apostles were in a hurry. And I know that that's not really what you claimed, but it gives me devious pleasure to frame it that way. "

Oh, but I think that's as fair a summary as any. I don't think early Christians quote knew what to think about worldly politics. What I do know is that most of them, and the teachings of Jesus they seem to have cared about, believed that they wouldn't have to worry about the problem for very long because the world wouldn't be around much longer.

Christianity also began as a tiny end of the world cult with 0 hope of conquest (well, frankly, they may have hoped for all we know, since that was the traditional Jewish hope, but that hope was dashed when Christ was executed and they had to rethink things), whereas Islam's major story IS that of conquest and the pacification of society.
6.17.2007 10:48am
rc:
Plunge, I figure we are mostly on the same page, though I give Christianity a little more credit for good viewpoints. But as far as this thread is concerned, Islam and JudeoChristian thought are different enough that their mother languages are held in different regard.

As an aside, it's probably a pragmatic stance to assume that any religion will want to take over (in a dictatorship sense), given half a chance... and any religion who hasn't simply doesn't have enough power yet. There's a great deal of truth in that.

But I think religious values and priorities come into play. While Paul was either in prison or persecuted, he was telling the Romans in Romans that God's followers are more than conquerers... as in they persued something better than worldly rule. Also, when Paul was praising the faithful to the Hebrews in Hebrews, he listed bunches of people who went through hardship, suffering, persecution, imprisonment, etc. Not conquering kings. He held up as an example those who remained in the hard place, in order to gain a better inheritance.

Perhaps some would see this all as 'consolation prize,' as in, 'Paul sure wouldn't be spouting all this sacrifice crap if he had an army of a million behind him.' But the bible says that Jesus had the entire heavenly army behind him, but that worldly conquest wasn't the plan.

This makes an interesting comparison with 'Alahu Ackbar,' which in the two most common religious Arab words spells out the conquering intent of Islam.

Regarding Hebrew and its role in Jewish education (Milhouse)- I stand corrected. I know less about Jewish tradition and thought than I do about Islam. But I do know that the Jewish holy texts do not single Hebrew out as the language God speaks, by virtue of its superiority or etc.
6.17.2007 11:48am
Elliot123 (mail):
One thing we have to keep in mind when speaking about religion and its attitudes is the dual nature of any religion.

A religion ususlly has a formal body of doctrine which defines its beliefs and ideas. At the same time, it has adherents who have their own beliefs and ideas. There is no reason to presume the two are the same on any single issue.
6.17.2007 2:26pm
whackjobbbb:

it's probably a pragmatic stance to assume that any religion will want to take over (in a dictatorship sense), given half a chance... and any religion who hasn't simply doesn't have enough power yet. There's a great deal of truth in that.


It does seem that Christianity "took over" with ideas, if you consider that it arose (some say as part of the Big Guy's plan) when the Romans ringed the Meditaranean and even North and West too, and this awesome Christian takeover began with them skulking about the catacombs with fishes painted on their chests. Sure, Rome may have evolved into a Holy Roman Empire, but did that come about by the sword?
6.17.2007 2:35pm
Yankev (mail):

That notion is no longer held by anyone important, and the belief was at most a tradition...

rc, That's a puzzling statement. Perhaps you mean that it is no longer held by any important Christian thinkers. Let me assure you that it is still held by Orthodox Jews. We may not be important to you, but I assure you the belief is still held by scholars and thinkers whose views are very important to us.

I was also puzzled by your citing the Sanhedrin as an example of wordly authority. The Sanhedrin was the primary RELIGIOUS body of Rabbinic Judaism. In fact, the Romans had stripped it of most political authority, including the power to impose the death penalty. By the time of the supposed trial of J.C. as depicted in Christian Scripture, the Sanhedrin had zero power to try capital cases or impose the death penalty. While we're at it, Jewish law prohbits the trial of cases at night, and in general prohibits turning over Jews to a non-Jewish government for execution or punishment, and especially for such a form of execution as crucifixion, which is strictly prohibited in all cases by Jewish law.
6.17.2007 3:04pm
rc:
Yankev, I was referring to 'among Christians.' I wasn't thinking of Orthodox Jews, and I didn't mean to minimize anyone.

This is the second time that I've shown my lack of knowledge on Jewish culture... I'd do good by others and myself by not overextending.

Also, I would like to clarify what I mentioned about the Sanhedrin and Jesus, but this is such a touchy subject that I'm pretty much guaranteed to mess it up. I shouldn't have mentioned it in the first place. But taking one quick stab at the issue, when I used the term 'worldly authority,' I was referring to any man-governed decisions, which includes everything save the giving of tablets from heaven or the voice from the burning bush.

But even that issue aside, talk of Jesus and the Sanhedrin is often used by Christian miscreants to pick a fight with Jews. If I was wise, I wouldn't have even gone close to this issue... but as my previous posts can attest, I'm not wise.
6.17.2007 4:22pm
rc:
Yankev, I was referring to 'among Christians.' I wasn't thinking of Orthodox Jews, and I didn't mean to minimize anyone.

This is the second time that I've shown my lack of knowledge on Jewish culture... I'd do good by others and myself by not overextending.

Also, I would like to clarify what I mentioned about the Sanhedrin and Jesus, but this is such a touchy subject that I'm pretty much guaranteed to mess it up. I shouldn't have mentioned it in the first place. But taking one quick stab at the issue, when I used the term 'worldly authority,' I was referring to any man-governed decisions, which includes everything save the giving of tablets from heaven or the voice from the burning bush.

But even that issue aside, talk of Jesus and the Sanhedrin is often used by Christian miscreants to pick a fight with Jews. If I was wise, I wouldn't have even gone close to this issue... but as my previous posts can attest, I'm not wise.
6.17.2007 4:22pm
Yankev (mail):
rc, I was pretty sure you meant among Christians but did want to clarify it. Thank you for doing so.


I used the term 'worldly authority,' I was referring to any man-governed decisions, which includes everything save the giving of tablets from heaven or the voice from the burning bush.

Okay, now I understand. You may be interested to know that in traditional Jewish belief, all of the decisions in the Talmud (among other things) were taught to Moses by G-d during the 40 days Moses spent on Sinai, as well as the text of the written Torah (i.e, the first 5 books of the Hebrew bible, which hold a much more authorative position in Judaism than the rest of the Heb. bible) and their various explanations and interpretations. Much of the discussion in the Talmud is the efforts of the Sages to ascertain which of varying oral teachings is tthe accurate transmission of those laws. The decision of the majority of the Sages is the authorative law, again making the Sanhedrin a very non-worldly authority. The belief that the Sages got it right is a basic principle of Jewish belief, known as "emunas chachamim" -- faith in the wise (i.e. the Sages) and is one of the beliefs that distinguishes traditional (aka Rabbinic, Torah, or Orthodox) Judaism (also known as Pharasaic Judaism) from the various heterdox strains that emerged from the early 19th Century Reform movement.

Interestingly enough, the REform movement adapted its rejection of emunas chachamim and indeed of the whole idea of Oral Law from Christianity, and would also view the Sanhedrin as being man-governed decisions.
6.17.2007 4:47pm
Aleks:
Re: Lots different than Arabic-speaking angels commanding the faithful to conquer the nations of the world.

Historically, mass conversion to either Christianity or Islam happened by pretty much the same process: first, Christian/Islamic rulers conquered a non-Christian/non-Islamic territory (or alternatively, the ruler of such a territory converted to Christianity/Islam), then increasingly strong social and eventually legal sanctions made it profitable and perhaps finally necessary for the great mass of people to convert. The principle exceptions have been: the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans where the great mass of people did not convert (although some did, hence Albanian and Bosnian Islam); The Mughal Empire in India, where the great mass of people remained Hindu (although there were many conversions); and 19th/20th century European imperialism in Asia (but not Africa or the Pacific) under which Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism remained the majority religion of the conquered territories despite some conversions. All in all, there is little historical distinction in how either religion gained its territorial expansion.

Re: Not 65 years ago, Croats were slaughtering Jews, led to the killing fields by priests carrying crosses and singing hymns of praise.

I am rather skeptical about this. Yes, I've heard that some Catholic clergy participated enthusisastically in Croatian Ustasche atrocities in WWII (against the Serbs, not the Jews though). However your description is certainly a florid exagerration. And in any event we are talking about the grim events of the 1990s, which followed 40 years of atheistic governance which had rendered the bulk of the population of the former Yugoslavia very thoroughly secularized.
6.18.2007 3:05pm