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The offensiveness of the gospel in the language of the street April 30, 2019

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I used to have a print copy of “Gods Brainwave: The Story of Jesus doing the job his old dad sent him to do”, a retelling of the gospel in the language of the Chiltern Hills, and originally commissioned by the BBC’s Religious Broadcasting department as a series of radio slots and released as an LP in the UK, Canada and Australia in 1970.God's Brainwave

The sleeve notes explain that the producer had wondered “how the New Testament might be broadcast in a form that would be contemporary, startling, compulsive and offensive only in the sense that when the worlds of Jesus really come home they are so often offensive”.

The result was very much a paraphrase, not only using colloquial language to tell the story but also mixing in the ideas of the writer and performer without  the level of checking that would lead anyone to call it an accurate translation.

It was after all intended to be a piece of theatre rather than a piece of theology, and like much of Jesus own preaching it was meant to provoke reaction and discussion.

Other retellings, paraphrases and translations have been released in regional dialects over the years and each has faced the same challenges both of how to use local expressions and forms of speech and of how ‘free’ to be in their interpretation of the scripture.

Theatre or Theology?

The use of theatre is not new and includes periods of history when literacy was low and key stories where remembered and celebrated in ‘mystery plays’.

A similar thing happens in movie versions of scripture, some try and stay close to the script(ure) filling in gaps or abridging things to convey what the producer, director and a team of writers and advisors feel is an accurate retelling, others put a fresh interpretation or simply use the familiar story for their own narrative.

The language of the street or the language of the church?

Meanwhile in Scotland here’s a couple of reviews on Amazon of the 2012 translation of the New Testament in Doric, the Scots dialect spoken in North East Scotland (Not to be confused with Scots Gaelic which has nine versions readily availabe via YouVersion)

“Opened ma een ti reedin’ i’ Bible. Canna be beaten – nithin like it oan i’ market onwye… recommend to a’ Doric spikers I warl’ ower…” – Mattha, Mark, Luke and Jock

“This is nae fer abody. Ye’ll need help tae understaun it. Bit it dis add something tae the text yer used tae. It reminds ye thit the original wis fer ordinary folk. If ye hinnae read the Bible afore in ye have the Doric – this might be a guid place tae start.”- Robert F

Google can’t quite understand it well enough to translate what it says, but for me the key line is, “it reminds you that the original was for ordinary people”.

There is now a North-East Scots Language Board. Dr Thomas McKean said of it in a BBC interview:

“It’s important that young people see themselves – and the language they speak – reflected back at them in public life. Just as children need to see diverse gender and race role models, they need to know that someone who speaks their native language can be a success in any walk of life.”

and added in Doric, “Through wirk wi scuils we’ll mak the tongue mair accessible tae bairns, an through media, tourism an signage we’ll mak Scots mair visible tae aabdy that bides here.”

As part of my MA I’m exploring attitudes to language within the UK church. Standard national language are useful but if you also speak a local language, regional dialect, or one or more languages from your or your parents country of origin its good to be reassured that they not only matter to you, they also matter to God.

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#is_this_a_real_Bible March 11, 2019

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I’ve found a site that has over 11,000 different Bibles for sale. They have Bibles in over 30 languages but most of the ones listed are in English in a choice of covers, versions, and sizes, for a range of audiences and special occasions. Can you guess which one I made up?

The busy dad’s Bible Daily Inspiration Even If You Only Have One Minute

NIV Sequin Bible Hot Pink Hearts – Slightly Imperfect – What girl doesn’t like a little sparkle and shine? the Sequin Bible helps you express your style wherever you go.

The Competitor’s Bible 365 devotions written by participants of all sports that to equip athletes for their own walk with God.

KJV Waterproof Bible, Camouflage with worry free confidence that your Bible will withstand the test of time

I may add more later. You could also add some on social media and tag them #isthisarealbible …but there is a point to the post.

The many different editions exist because there is believed to be a market for them, some even exist because there is clearly felt to be a need for them.

I’ve worked for over 20 years in an organisation which helps to translate the Bible into languages where it has (usually) never been written before.
I help Wycliffe provide number on languages that have Bibles, New Testaments, or just portions and stories and I also help explain the number of languages in which work needs to begin. But the beginning is not the end. Often the message accompanying the numbers suggests that people can’t understand the Bible unless it is in their language.
Often that is true but even when people can understand reasonably well in another language there is still a need for something that connects and doesn’t look or sound like it was meant for someone else. While that doesn’t normally mean there is a need for a thousand variations it does mean that you can’t just tick of a language and say nothing else is needed.

Meanwhile it is time to tell you that none of the Bibles above are made up. The products below are real too and found elsewhere in this blog. (can you spot which picture I made a playful addition to?)

  • no, the original artwork did not combine Jesus and Tin Tin



An apple a day… February 28, 2019

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Truth without understanding is like… throwing apples at physicians

An apple a day will keep anyone away, if thrown hard enough

image : pixabay.com/illustrations/wisdom-apple-throw-a-most-day-1501263/

Here is both a fun game and an exercise in interpretation.

What are possible meanings of the phrase “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”?

  1. ‘Doctors’ are people who will harm us, but fruit from a particular tree can be used to ward off their magic.
  2. Traditional remedies are better than expensive medicine.
  3. Fruit is good for you and promotes health.
  4. Small changes can have positive effects.
  5. Paying for ‘protection’ is worth it.
  6. An adequate supply of Vitamin C prevents scurvy, fruit sugars provide energy, and the fibre within an application promotes intestinal wellbeing, not to mention the flavenoids

Can you come up with other possible meanings?

I tried this in a group and got a couple of options I’d not thought of such as it being a phrase to promote veganism, anti-vaxers, or development of IOS rather than Android

Do you know what the phrase really means?

How much of the understanding is influenced by your culture?

Do you know where the phrase comes from and whether people would have had other ideas about it at the time?

I’m not providing the answers (or my answers) to those questions. The ‘fun’ bit is to try and answer them …and then perhaps wonder why.

The same game can be played with other ‘wise’ sayings from your own or other cultures, and with verses from the Bible.

Questions for reflection and discussion

…and the ‘game’ itself can be interpreted in a number of ways

Am I suggesting

…that one needs special knowledge to unpack intended meaning?

…that meaning is individual or culture specific?

…that it’s okay to have multiple meanings?

…that a diverse group can draw out fresh perspectives?

…that apples are good for you?

and who decides what I am suggesting? Does the meaning belong to me as author or you reader? Is there one truth, no truth, many truths?

Answers are welcome in the comments. As are further questions.

Happy Mother Language Day (2019) February 21, 2019

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The poster for #MotherLanguageDay shows the word for peace in many languages along with symbol for peace that is known in many more.

Poster available at https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/motherlanguageday

You can search for some quotes about peace in 1280 languages at https://www.bible.com/en-GB/search/bible?q=peace

Here are a couple in just English and Russian.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9 (NIV)

Послание Иакова 3:18 (SYNO)
Плод же правды в мире сеется у тех, которые хранят мир.

True peace between people doesn’t just involve finding the right words and understanding them (though that helps). It involves the acknowledgement of the pain we have felt and the pain we have caused. It involves a desire for reconciliation and it involves healing and restoration to a level that would sometimes require a miracle.

Fortunately the God of peace, is also a God of healing and of miracles.

Christians and DC Comics delay the Second Coming February 20, 2019

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Okay so the headline is a deliberate attempt to get your attention. This is about a controversial comic in which an inaccurate portrayal of Jesus gets to be room-mates with an imaginary superhero …and whether or not that’s really a good idea for a comic.

Not the Real Jesus

Several thousand Christians were outraged and DC comics backed down. Or at least that’s one version of the story. Another version is that DC comics wanted to remove some of the profanity and depiction of a nude Adam in the garden of Eden (requests they were already making before the petition got going) but the writer wanted to stay true to his vision and asked for the rights back.

Different commentators are going to have different views as to whether this is censorship of artistic expression or a victory over a blasphemous presentation of Christ.

Gregory Merz of Citizen Go states:


“Most children grow up reading about iconic DC superheroes like Batman, Superman, or Wonder Women.  It would be a shame to market this false view of Jesus as an equal read to these figures. I wouldn’t want children to read this comic book and believe it as truth. ”


Gregory Merz , quoted in SyFy.com

It would indeed be a shame, but it’s also a shame if they just encounter comic book superheroes and never read anything about Jesus. Does a knowingly flawed portrayal of Jesus point people to look for the real deal or just push them further away?

Mark Russel, who describes himself as more of a fan than a follower of Jesus maintains that his comic is actually pro-Christ:


“Superheroes tend to lean on violence as a solution because it’s what they’re good at. But drop-kicking someone into a volcano or throwing them through a plate-glass window only works for solving a very small percentage of human problems. The other 99.9% of problems require empathy and that’s the superpower that Christ brings to the table.”

Mark Russel, quoted in SyFy.com

Russel also says of his critics:


“They probably (correctly) suspect that it’s not Christ who’s being parodied, but themselves and how they’ve twisted his teachings of mercy for the powerless into a self-serving tool of the powerful.”

This reminds me of a 1979 interview between the Monty Python team and some less than sympathetic opponents of their film “The Life of Brian”, which though set at the time of Jesus was about someone mistaken for the messiah. It was a film that wouldn’t have inspired anyone to real faith but written by men who had not been inspired by the church as they had encountered it.

This is not to meant to suggest Russel has the right approach. There are definitely better portrayals of Christ in comic book form but many struggle to get the balance of making Jesus attractive to a comic book audience without turning him into a musclebound, all American, hero.

Amongst those I’d recommend taking a look at are the Jesus Messiah Comic bookwhich is now available in over 130 languages.

Others have tried a different approach. On one of my first visits to the United States I attended a large mega church where there were armed guards and a bookshop which sold BibleMan action figures.

Bible man has been around since the mid 90’s. The earliest versions definitely look dated and almost a parody in itself so if you want to be gracious start off with a minute from the latest cartoon version.

Then enjoy the epilogue from an episode in the original series…

You may choose to watch the rest of the episode. If you were brought up on Bibleman you may have some nostalgia or it may make you cringe. It contains some truth and some of the bits of a subculture that Mark Russel dislikes. Even in it’s cringeworthyness (is that a word?) teens and twenty-somethings who were bought up on it are apparently sharing gifs of Bibleman to encourage one another.

In the Bible there are people who spoke out against the culture and religion of their own day. Those that did so under God’s direction were called prophets, but not every critic is a prophet.

2019 Year of the Periodic Table in Indigenous Languages January 29, 2019

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The UN is celebrating 2019 as both the International year of Indigenous languages and the International year of the Periodic Table (and if that wasn’t enough it is also apparently the International year of Moderation).

I wondered if anyone has thought of combining the celebrations and marking “the year of the Periodic Table in Indigenous Languages”. I just googled and apparently I’m the first. I’m not sure it will catch on but it illustrates a challenge which I’ll get to after the song…

Published by AsapScience Feb 6 2018,
8,658,369 views by Jan 29, 2019

Tom Lehrer was the first to write and perform the elements song a mere 60 years ago but he messed with the order and sang Aluminum instead of Aluminium. This new version of the song gets it right (to British ears) and adds elements that hadn’t been discovered in Harvard in 1959.

(The last line of Lehrer’s version rhymes “Harvard” and “discovered”.

…And here’s where we get to the language bit.

Even between British English and American English there are differences in what we call one of the elements. Should it be called “aluminum” or “aluminium”?

The French and Germans agree that it is called aluminium but in Spanish and Italian it is apparently called “alluminio”. In other words, there are other words to describe the elements just as there are other words to describe the names of countries and languages.

If you are so inclined you can check out the Periodic table in English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese and Klingon at https://sciencenotes.org/periodic-tables-different-languages/

The Bible mentions gold, silver, iron, lead and sulphur in the Old and New Testaments and tin on the Old Testament. So at least five elements can be found written in over 2000 languages and ‘tin’ in nearly 700. I haven’t checked how much the names vary or whether words used referred to elements or alloys. (also note I learned Chemistry before 1992 and didn’t know until today that many people now spell sulphur as sulfur in English).

You can check out the names and various classifications of 7,097 known living languages at ethnologue.com (Update coming in February in time for the annual International Mother Language Day).

The Ethnologue includes a lot of alternate names for each language but still can’t quite manage to list all the possible names, and ways of writing them.

A similar problem exists when it comes to people trying to find Bibles in other languages. It can be hard to find what you are looking for in an alphabetical list of 1,278 languages at YouVersion’s Bible.com especially when that list includes names written in over 20 different alphabets. For people like me who compare various lists the inclusion of standard three letter ISO codes function a bit like the unique atomic weights in the Periodic table allowing us to know when we are talking about the same thing even if they have different names.

Faith Comes By Hearing also has a list of over 1,200 languages. I’ve been able to compare lists and see that while there is a large overlap, between them they have have text and/or recordings of Scripture in over 1600 languages.

In addition to these two huge distributors of online scriptures there are at least 1-200 available through other sites, apps and sources. Many (but still not all) are linked to from find.bible which exists to help people do just that. By the end of the list of scriptures available digitally will be even longer.

Now that’s something to sing about!
 

What isn’t wrong with DC Comics Jesus? January 18, 2019

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DC comics is turning Jesus into a superhero. Has the writer even read the Bible? Yes, he has – but he’s often wondered if some of the people complaining have.

image twitter.com/rpace

The first I head about DC Vertigo’s “Second Coming” was from people who don’t like the idea. So far over 72,000 people have signed a petition. (I’ll give you the link later but first read a little more and maybe even pray about it). Here’s the letter you can send without knowing anything more than what is in the petition…

Dear DC Comics Board and Management,
I am appalled by your decision to publish “Second Coming,” a comic that features Jesus Christ as a clueless superhero sidekick.
In a recent interview with Bleeding Cool, author Mark Russell described the concept behind his upcoming comic. He explained, “God was so upset with Jesus’s performance the first time he came to Earth, since he was arrested so soon and crucified shortly after, that he has kept him locked-up since then.” In Russell’s comic series, Jesus comes back to earth as the roommate of “an all-powerful superhero, named Sun-Man.”
Would DC Comics publish similar content about other religious leaders, such as Mohammed or Buddha? 

This content is inappropriate and blasphemous. It should be immediately pulled from your publishing schedule.
Sincerely,
[Your Name]

Citizon Go Campaign, Stop Release of “Second Coming”

“What isn’t wrong with DC Comics Jesus?” was more than a rhetorical question. I genuinely wondered if there might be some good coming out of it? After all Jesus didn’t always respond to opposition as his disciples expected (Luke 9:49-56) and Paul one said, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.” (see Phil 1:15-18).

An article in the Christian Post digs a little deeper into Russell’s motivation

The theme of the comic is noticeably birthed from Russel’s own idea of Christianity, shared in the books he authored, God Is Disappointed in You and Apocrypha Now. Both revealed that he believes people have “really misunderstood” the Bible and the Christian faith “doesn’t really base itself on what [Jesus] taught, particularly in the modern Evangelical megachurches.”

Christian Post, DC Comics to introduce Jesus Christ as new superhero with a distorted telling of the Savior

…and the preface of his earlier book is worth reading for its challenge to us to actually read and understand the Bible for ourselves and not just the bits we get in Sunday School.

Among other things Mark Russel says, “The Bible may be the single most important book in human history”. He also says, “it’s my guess that of more than a billion people who claim to live according to the teaching of the Bible, not too many of them know what the Bible actually says. They, like me prior to writing this book, probably only know the tiny morsel of the Bible that was spoon-fed to them in Sunday School”.

How much of the Bible do Church-going Christians know? How much less do those outside the church know?

I do think the Bible is worth reading and have a different approach to encouraging people to engage with the text. Russel’s summaries cross the line much of the time, (one reviewer talked about there being a place for a sanctified irreverence), but should at least lead people to saying, wait, does the Bible really say that?

As for the comic? In Russel’s own words

What can readers expect from Second Coming?
Mark Russell: An all-powerful superhero, named Sun-Man, has to share a two bedroom apartment with Jesus Christ. The conceit is that God was so upset with Jesus’s performance the first time he came to Earth, since he was arrested so soon and crucified shortly after, that he has kept him locked-up since then.
God then sees this superhero on Earth a few thousand years later and says “that’s what I wanted for you!” He sends Jesus down to learn from this superhero and they end up learning from each other. They learn the limitations of each other’s approach to the world and its problems.

https://www.bleedingcool.com/2018/08/25/jesus-superhero-mark-russell/

Note that Russel refers to the plot device as a conceit. He’s not claiming this to be the truth just a fanciful device to explore his own ideas.

(I googled a definition of ‘conceit’)

Wikipedia also has an article on ‘conceit’ in which it says “In modern literary criticism, more common with genre fiction, conceit often means an extended rhetorical device, summed up in a short phrase, that refers to a situation which either does not exist, or exists rarely, but is needed for the plot.”

In other words this work of fiction might not be intended to be a false gospel, it might be a parable intended to make readers think. There’s usually a lot of thought provoking stuff in comics for those that stop to think about them.

Sun-Man is not as far as I know based on a real character unless Russel chose to model him on that angel of light known as Lucifer, or perhaps the kind of superhero the devil tempted Jesus to be at the start of his ministry. And in the Biblical narrative the crucifixion was not a mistake. The DC JC may appear naive and misguided. The real Jesus was no such thing. He chose not to avoid his arrest, beating and crucifixion. He chose not to heal himself at every lash of the whip, or come down from the cross but to endure his suffering and humiliation despite Pilate giving the people opportunity to petition against it.

That bit in comic books were the hero seems to die but then comes back to life again. Jesus did that first!

I’m not urging people to rush and buy the comic book but I’m not sure it’s going to lead readers of DC’s Vertigo series any further from the truth than the other titles. It is going to be a distorted picture of Jesus and it may or may not inspire a few people to search out a clearer picture.

If you want to sign that petition after reading a bit more the link is here.

The Preface (and others bits) from God Is Disappointed in You is available on Google books or Amazon (with audio sample). Some of the book is quite clever and funny, some bits will make you feel a bit uncomfortable (much like the original).

If you want more uplifting overviews of the Bible I recommend the Bible Project. You can even read or listen to the Bible at Bible.com , Bible.is and many other sites.

scene from the Bible Project overview of the New Testament

To be continued….

From Dr Who to the Bechdel test of the Bible January 15, 2019

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I love how quickly the web can lead you from one interesting thing to another. My son binge watched a lot Dr Who over Christmas, and I admit it I joined him in viewing many of the episodes. Recently I clicked on an article asking why the latest Doctor doesn’t seem to be the lead character in her own show.

That article mentioned the Bechdel test, a simple formula for evaluating how well women are represented in film and TV (must have at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man). Its a fairly low bar so disappointing the number of films that don’t reach it. From there I wondered whether anyone had applied the Bechdel test to the Bible. (Yes, well done Paidiske).

My curiosity now is which of the three links in this blog get the most clicks?

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