Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What the Pope didn't quote...

(Image from Wikipedia)

It has been widely reported that the Pope quoted the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus as stating the following:
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
Actually, the Pope quoted this:
"Zeig mir doch, was Mohammed Neues gebracht hat, und da wirst du nur Schlechtes und Inhumanes finden wie dies, da├č er vorgeschrieben hat, den Glauben, den er predigte, durch das Schwert zu verbreiten."
The crucial, 'insulting' words in the quote are "evil and inhuman," which in the original German text of the Pope's speech are "Schlechtes und Inhumanes."

Now, I don't have at hand the Greek text of the Byzantine emperor's dialogue (though it's probably online somewhere), so I don't know his exact words, but they would be irrelevant anyway since the Pope didn't quote them directly in Greek.

What the Pope quoted in his original German text was "Schlechtes und Inhumanes," which rather than "evil and inhuman" could perhaps better be quoted as "bad and inhumane." The English text then might better read as follows:
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only bad and inhumane, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
I don't have any illusion that Muslims would be greatly mollified by this restatement, for it's still critical of Muhammad (though the Pope is merely quoting, not explicitly affirming), but to my ear it has a different connotation. The word "bad" doesn't raise the suspicion of "Satanic" that the word "evil" does, and "inhumane" doesn't sound quite so brutal as 'inhuman."

So ... I offer to the Vatican this translation and urge them to alter the English in their official text in accordance with my suggestion -- as they apparently did with the English translation that I proposed yesterday. You will recall this passage in the official English text:
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general.
I suggested a different English rendering of the German:
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with an astonishing brusqueness, for us an astounding brusqueness, bluntly on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general.
And what do we find in today's slightly revised version of the Vatican's official English text? This:
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general.
They didn't use my exact words, but they seem to have liked my suggestion that "├╝berraschend" be translated here as "astounding," though they used the past rather than present participle.

I think that I deserve at least a footnote. Whether I get one or not, I'm gratified to discover that the Vicar of Christ reads Gypsy Scholar. And if he's willing to learn from a Protestant's correction, then I'd say that this Pope is ready for ecumenical dialogue.

Despite my original doubts...

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10 Comments:

At 9:01 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Regarding the translation of "Schlechtes," I'd want to see the Greek original. It's possible that Vatican translators rendered the English straight from a Greek word that better expresses the sense of "evil," thus bypassing the German, or it may have been excerpted from an existing English translation. I may be heading down a very short dead end by asking such a question, but I'd certainly be curious to know one way or the other.

 
At 9:07 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Bravo, HJH. Sainthood can't be far off now. You might start thinking about what miracles you want to specialize in.

 
At 9:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeff, I'm also curious about the Greek text, but I suspect that the Vatican might have used an already existing English translation.

Either way, this hardly matters in the controversy, for the Pope's words were in German, not Greek or English.

But I remain just as curious as you are, and I tried to find the original Greek text online ... without success.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

CIV, doesn't one have to die first to be declared a saint?

I rather hope that my death is still far off! But as for miracles, I've already worked one with my translation, which was effective at a distance of many thousand miles.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:23 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

I can see it now: Horace Jeffery Hodges, patron saint of translators.

 
At 11:27 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

CIV, that would be a miracle.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:28 PM, Blogger Jessica said...

This gives me hope that there is humility in the Vatican yet.

 
At 2:16 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, there's always hope.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Nathan B. said...

This all reminds me of the story about Bob and Bill. Bob was a habitual name-dropper, forever going on about famous people he knew or had met. This drove Bill, his friend, crazy.

Over a beer one day, Bill got a bit irate at this, and said "Bob, stop it! It's not as though you know even your local Senator." Quick as a wink, Bob phoned up his local Senator, and had a nice little five minute chat with him.

Bill was a little shocked at this, but then said, "Well, I suppose anyone can get to know their local Senator. But I'm sure you've never met the President!" Bob got out his phone and proceeded past all the operators necessary to reach the President, who inquired as to Bob's recent doings. Bill was astonished and put out. "You're lucky!" he said, "but you don't know the Pope!"

The next week, Bob showed Bill an invitation to a papal audience, all expenses paid, for the two of them. Bill was game to go, and off they went to Rome. Just prior to their audience, they attended Mass in St. Peter's. They became separated in the crowd, and the next thing Bob, who was standing next to the Pope, knew, Bill was lying down on the ground. He had fainted. When he came to, he gasped, "I give up! It all became clear when the lady next to me said, "I know that's Bob up there at the front, but who's the guy next to him in the white robes with that big gold stick?

(Paraphrased from memory--I got that one out of a joke book as a child.)

And for the record, if the Vatican isn't reading Gypsy Scholar, it certainly should be!

 
At 9:54 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nathan, I heard that joke from a Mexican-American friend back in 1975, and I was just thinking about it these days, myself.

Glad I'm not alone in such musings...

Jeffery Hodges

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