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Thursday, July 10, 2008

First Sue the Publishers, Next Sue the Church

posted by on July 10 at 11:48 AM

A man is suing two Bible publishers for printing what he claims to be a bad translation of the original text, which has resulted in institutional homophobia. The suit claims $70,000,000 in damages.

This is from a wonderful blogger’s summary of the case:

What is at issue is the meaning of the words μαλακοι and αρσενοκοιται The usual view is that they refer to men who engage in homosexual acts. μαλακοι are those taken to play the “feminine” role, αρσενοκοιται those taken to play the “masculine” role. That these refer to homosexuals of some sort is clear from the Latin translation, produced in the 5th century, which uses molles “soft ones” for μαλακοι and masculorum concubitores “those who sleep with men” for αρσενοκοιται.

As I understand Fowler’s complaints, he is not arguing that the New Testament, when translated correctly, discriminates against him as a gay man. Rather, he thinks that the publishers were negligent in publishing Bibles containing what in his view is an erroneous translation, one that, he thinks, falsely condemns homsexuality.

Of course, the right wing blogs, which I’m not going to link to, are having a field day with this, along the lines of : “Liberals are suing Jesus! Next, they’ll sue all of us for praying in the comfort of our own homes!” But, really, this is a pretty fascinating lawsuit about the nuances of translation, which is just the kind of nerdery that makes me tingle.

Via Maud.

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Look, I get that Christian doctrine hasn't always been very nice to gays. And suing to "revise" or "retranslate" the modern Bible so homosexuality isn't painted as THAT big a sin may be legal from a non-doctrial standpoint, but it's going to do nothing but make anyone right of the Christian left dig in harder. It does nothing but draw a line in the sand, and worse, demand that secular society have a right to infringe on what most Christians' see as their Constitutional-given right to Freedom of Religion.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason the crazy uber-Christians are gaining so much ground in the last few years because there has suddenly become such a dictomy of "us-them" in our society. I am a Christian who believes in gay rights, but occassions like this make even me very uneasy. It's not just that he's suing to make a point-he's suing for very vast sums of money. And maybe his point will stick with moderate Christians, but I have a feeling it will only inflame that seed of doubt that the "homosexual community" wishes the destruction of the Christian religion, which is not going to inspire a desire for open dialogue between the two opposing viewpoints.

Posted by Marty | July 10, 2008 12:09 PM

Mmmm...translation fight. Since I spent grad school studying Biblical Hebrew, this is near to my heart. Of course, it also leaves me educated enough to wonder why people are making political decisions on a translation of a translation of a story passed orally for a minimum of a century before being written down.

Posted by Giti | July 10, 2008 12:10 PM

This is interesting, if only because it will shed more light on the obvious "if you translate something a million different times, something isn't going to be correct" argument that many of us have been railing against the churches for so long.

But either way, it's all about faith...translation is way to "science-y" for the bible crowd.

Posted by Original Monique | July 10, 2008 12:15 PM

The "bible" is the (inspired) word of god. The translated bible is the inspired translated word of god. The translation may be poor but it's the way god wanted it so...

Oh, and it don't take no education to wonder why political decisions are are based in any way on bronze age (or later) fantasies.

Posted by umvue | July 10, 2008 1:11 PM

really marty? dialogue? look, maybe you legitimately believe in all this christianity stuff, but the christians on the far right do not. they have proven that time and again. i don't know what they really do believe in, but it sure isn't jesus or god or any of the parables in the bible. i mean, think about it, the bible mentions homosexuality a scant seven times, if the translations are even accurate. none of those mentions come from jesus himself, he didn't seem to think much about the gays. yet at the same time the bible mentions economic injustice hundreds of times, and even jesus got pissed about that issue. but today, when fundies are given a chance to get riled up about something, it's not the disparity between the rich and the poor, or anything real like that, its gay marriage. that's what they care about. fuck dude, do you really think they are interested in a real open dialogue?

Posted by douglas | July 10, 2008 1:18 PM

Most Bibles, particularly older translations like the King James, are replete (replete!) with outright translation *errors*. It is sometimes shocking to set two versions of the Bible side by side and read how very differently the translations turned out. But I'm not sure negligence played any role in any of these errors.

Posted by Simac | July 10, 2008 1:29 PM

well marty @1 it may seem that way, but if you've pent any time with fundamentalists, then you would know that they teach and believe that specific words are crcuailly important when it comes to formulating doctrine and policy, especially when it jibes with their personal beliefs.most don't really get the king's english and it's nuances even when translated by oxford scholars so fundies choose bibles that reflect this and the bibles they rely on are published by zondervan press in grand rapids, michigan. so the palintiff in the case..
..'Fowler says Zondervan Bibles published in 1982 and 1987 use the word homosexuals among a list of those who are "wicked" or "unrighteous" and won't inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Fowler says his family's pastor used that Zondervan Bible, and because of it his family considered him a sinner and he suffered...
...He claims the company is misinterpreting the Bible by specifically using the word homosexuals. Fowler admits that every Bible printed is a translation, interpreted in some way, but he says specifically using that word is not a translation but a change.
"These are opinions based on the publishers," he said. "And they are being embedded in the religious structure as a way of life."
...Zondervan Bibles published in the 1980s use the word homosexuals in the Corinthian passage in question, but earlier and later ones don't.'
a amall point to some but it's why ted haggard and his ilk gets to claim he wasn't involved in homosexual sin, but sexual impropriety resulting in a pass and a slap on the wrist from the fundamental elite.and the rest of us pudgefacking sockcukers get strung up on fences and our mouths stuffed with our freshly sliced wangs.

Posted by reverend dr dj riz | July 10, 2008 1:38 PM

..oh and being a bible nerd doesn't mean you can spell any better than anybody else..

Posted by reverend dr dj riz | July 10, 2008 1:44 PM

Why does the "all powerful God" need a bunch of ignorant baboons translating anything? Couldn't he just come out and say what he wants? Why does "He" always need scam artists, thieves, liars, hypocrits, child rapists and dolts telling the rest of us what "He" wants? Let him call me on my cel. Otherwise shut the fuck up about what "God" wants.

Posted by Vince | July 10, 2008 1:47 PM

He should sue the author instead.

Posted by J.R. | July 10, 2008 1:54 PM

"Nerdery" is my new favorite word.

Posted by Emily | July 10, 2008 2:03 PM

Marty @1, are the fundies gaining ground?
Gaining in numbers? Possibly, but I suspect not. Loud & noticeable and a veto-force to be reckoned with? Oh yeah.

I think Kevin Phillips is the author I heard interviewed on mighty broadcaster NP & R a few years ago, discussing his book about religion in the U.S., said that really, churchgoing keeps declining and general vague agnosticism is rising. Making the fundies very anxious.

And perhaps feeling like the persecuted minority they've wanted to claim they are, even when they're not, or even if at the end of the same breath they're implying that we're a majority Christian nation oppressed by a liberal egghead Hillary elite secular coven-cabal.

Oh, and once again, just like with King Ronnie around 1987, are they that powerful? Or are they finding out that they were ... used? Tools. Useful idiots. Shock troops. etc etc. The common clay of the New West. You know, morons.

Posted by CP | July 10, 2008 8:07 PM

"Misquoting Jesus," by Bart D. Ehrman. Fun discussion of some of the most significant translation errors ever made. Why they think one of St. Paul's nastier remarks against women was slipped in by a later scribe, for example, or how the followers of Paul in Asia Minor triumphed over the followers of Jesus's brother James in Jerusalem.

Speaking of anathema, does anyone know how Neal Stephenson's new book is coming along?

Posted by Amelia | July 10, 2008 11:11 PM

@ Douglas and reverend dr dj riz

Oh, heartily agree with you Douglas that the fundies are idiots who use and abuse the Bible for their own twisted political agendas. And Reverend, you hit the nail on the head-homosexuality in modern Christian doctrine is, I think, a red herring.
It's true, I'm not surrounded by fundies, only politically moderate to slight right Christians. However, a gay person suing to change the Bible-any part of the Bible-is going to make those moderate to slightly-right Christians reconsider whether the fundies are right, and possibly drive potential Gay Right supporters over to the idiot enemy. I cannot sum up a partcularly fitting example, but the best I can come up with is Germany before WW2. The average Germany citizen wasn't individually antagonitistic to the Jewish community. But when their way of life was threatened, they needed a scapegoat. Hitler gave them the Jews. If Christians feel their faith is under attack without probable reason, they may listen to enflamatory advice they would never consider before.

Posted by Marty | July 11, 2008 9:51 AM

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