Faithful Translation of Sacred Texts

Professor Tom Hickey

While the Bible in Hebrew continues to be the standard for the Orthodox Jewish world and the Qur'an in Arabic for the Muslim world, the Christian world is largely unaware of the original language and context of its teaching and only approaches this teaching through translation, as the Oriental world did Buddhism. It would seem that just as the early Buddhist translations in Chinese rendered the Sanskrit/Pali in terms of a largely Taoist language/context, giving both Buddhism outside of India a new cast, and Taoism also; so too the teachings of Jesus when rendered into Greek took on a Hellenistic and Neoplatonic flavor that has obscured their Semitic and, most probably, Kabbalistic roots.

History tends to overlook or minimize the fact that Jesus came forward not only as a Jewish prophet but also one linked to the prophetic  tradition through John. He is often pictured in the Christian world as bringing an entirely new teaching, whereas it would seem that this is a fiction of historical and linguistic circumstance, since when the  Jerusalem community was extirpated by the Romans, the Pauline Gentile Church came to prevail and their version came to be accepted as the true account whole and entire, in the form that the Hellenistic language and culture transmitted and interpreted it, as if that were the way the teaching was given. (Recently, there was a debate in the Texas legislature over eliminating bilingual education, and one of the proponents of English-only stated, "If English was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us too.")

Christainity and Buddhism have suffered similar lingusitic/translation fates. Buddhism was eventually exiled from its native India and its Tibetan and Oriental forms are taken today as the true Buddhism, even though, like Christianity, these forms were arrived at through several linguistic/contextual and historical/geographical permutations. Nevertheless, because the mystical basis of the Vedic tradition is rather an open book through the Upanishads, Vedanta and the Gita, for instance, one can still discover the Vedic basis of the Buddha's teaching and find that he was a reformer rather than an innovator. A number of scholars have also argued that the Vedic tradition was subsequently influenced by Buddhism, just as Taoism was also.

However, because Kabbalah has been rather tightly held until recently, the relation between the mystical teaching of Jesus and the previous Jewish mysticism has not been so obvious. While the Christian Cabala was an attempt of sorts at bridging this gap, the translations in use were deficient. Seems like more work is needed in this interesting area.

The Faithful Translation of Sacred Texts - Chinese
Faithful Translation of Sacred Texts: The Gospels

external linkTom Hickey

posted on the Donmeh mail list
Fri, 11 Jun 1999


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