Sunday, August 03, 2008

Religious words

Lee1941 has beenthinking about translations:
When reading July 30, 2008 Daily Bread Devotional, The Message Bible translation was quoted. I don’t think you’re aware that The Message does NOT use the phrase “Lord Jesus”, it has been replaced with “Master Jesus” a New Age phrase. The Message is a dangerous, mis-leading translation.

The New Agers believe Jesus was a prophet (Master), not the Son of God.

I remember reading, some 20 years ago, a book about the New Age Movement called "The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow," by Constance Cumbey. It was a Christian-perspective take on Marylin Furguson's "The Aquarian Conspiracy*," which explained from a New Age perspective how that movement, a confluence of messianic Leftism and nuevo-Hinduism, was molding itself into an open conspiracy that would force an evolutionary change in Mankind, making us all happy in the realization that we were God. The NAM even had a prophet, ironically named "Lord Maitreya," whom well-placed, full-page newspaper ads declared would be soon revealed to lead the world**.

And in my studies of the movement, which covered a few years, I learned a little bit about conspiracy, and of both those that promote them and those who decry them, settling into comfortable agreement with Machiavelli on the subject: "[T]he difficulties that conspirators have to face are infinite, and we know from experience that while there have been many conspiracies, few of them have succeeded." I suspect that that will remain the case throughout human history.

That said, I did learn that a very particular use of language plays a key role in conspiracy. Conspiracies have code words, words that mean one thing to the initiated and something completely different to those on the outside. I also came to understand that Christianity acts a lot like Conspiracy in this regard. We have a lot of words that mean one thing to us and something else (or nothing at all) to those who do not share our particular obsession, words designed to keep others safely outside the boundaries of our conversation. In worrying about the New Agers' use of code words, Lee1941 betrays our own such usage.

What, for instance, is a "lord"? Well, its origin is middle English and late medieval, and the word literally means "loaf keeper." It evolved from there into the head of a manor or a medieval fiefdom, the upper crust of English society which is today still represented in the House of Lords. Historically speaking, it is certain that Jesus' disciples did not call him "Lord" - the word is wholly English and is, or was, a fitting translation of a couple Greek words, despotes and kurios. Jesus' disciples, speaking mostly Aramaic, probably used some variation of rhabbi or as we would say today, rabbi. Wow, how Jewish***.

To non-Christians, when lord is used at all, it carries British, not biblical, connotations: Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Lord Curzon was Governor-General of India, and the like. But to most English-speaking Christians****,"Lord" is a religious word with (only) religious connotations, those which we, by our own experiences, have imparted to it. It has become a code word, a plumb line by which we measure the "straightness" of others' theology. Others are simply not of our own conspiracy - they are both "dangerous" and "mis-leading" - if they don't call Jesus their loaf-keeper.

This is really unfortunate, especially when applied to Bible versions like The Message, which is a very simple translation geared towards those whose eyes glaze over when they read sentences like, Thou sayest, Lo, thou hast smitten the Edomites; and thine heart lifteth thee up to boast: abide now at home; why shouldest thou meddle to thine hurt, that thou shouldest fall, even thou, and Judah with thee? In other words, it is written for those who speak 21st Century English.

So if one were to translate the word "lord" today, for the 21st Century reader who does not impart to the word a lifetime of KJV memorization and pulpit-pounding sermons, how would we do it? We could probably do no better than the dictionary's first definition: a person who has authority, control, or power over others; a master, chief, or ruler.

It might sound a little too familiar to call Jesus "Chief." I suggest "master" is a perfectly acceptable modern translation, whatever the New Age Movement has to say about him.

* you know, as in "This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius" and all that. Frisbee full of buds sold separately.

** If that happened, I missed it.

*** Spanish-speakers say "el Señor Jesús," in the same way they would talk about "el Señor Ortiz, the grocer." It's a simple title of respect.

**** And especially American ones, which is either very odd or completely understandable, depending how you look at it, as we have never had a true manor system here and so lord is a word without experiencial referent.

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