Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The blatant conservative bias of the Conservative Bible Project


Jewish date:  30 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Toledhoth).

Today’s holidays:  Ro’sh Ḥodhesh (Judaism), Saint Day of Elizabeth of Hungary (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of Jacob Boehme (Thelema).

Cover for a NIV BibleImage of the alleged embodiment of evil via Wikipedia
Today’s topic:  The Conservative Bible Project.  I have been sitting on this one for a while, trying to decide what to do with it.  The project asserts, among other things, that there is a “translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one”.  Fair enough.  All of us have biases, even if we try to be fair and objective.  But the weird thing is that the people behind this claim that the resulting error of this “requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate”, which should be a warning sign.  Accurate translation is not a conservative or liberal matter but rather a truth matter, and truth is not inherently conservative or liberal.  Their list of ten guidelines betrays the delusion that truth is conservative:
  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias”:  And what is done to avoid conservative bias?  The Word of God should be accepted as what it is, not what anyone wants it to be.
  2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other feminist distortions; preserve many references to the unborn child (the NIV deletes these)”:  Biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek have grammatical gender, like it or not.  Sometimes masculine terms denote males and sometimes they denote both males and females.  The question should be whether a 21st-century English translation makes the distinction properly, preferably noting when it is unclear.  Not sure what references to the unborn are being deleted by NIV.
  3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level”:  I am against dumbing down, though I have not been impressed with the Gospels intellectually, and so far this seems to have held true in my reading the New Testament in the original Koine Greek.
  4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent; Defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words that have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".”  I have nothing against reflecting the original intent, but these people do not impress me as understanding the original intent.  Objecting to “comrade” is reading too much into the word.
  5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots"; using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census”:  The point of translation is translation, not combating addiction, much as we all are against addiction.  Using specific terminology does nothing to combat addiction.  Casting lots is how people gambled back then, and using “gamble” would be a loss of precision.  And I have no clue how using “register” rather than “enroll” combats addiction.
  6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.”:  One does not need to believe at all in a text to translate it properly.  One needs to be honest about what it means.
  7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning”:  This is trying to read modern conservative values into a premodern text.  Let the parables mean what they mean without trying to impose another meaning on top of them.
  8. Exclude Later-Inserted Inauthentic Passages: excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, such as the adulteress story”:  Given the intellectual dishonesty displayed already, I have no trust that these people can distinguish between original and interpolated passages.  And one might even suggest that they might even leave in interpolated passages which conservatives commonly put their own spin on.
  9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels”:  Better to be honest and let Mark and John be as open-minded or as close-minded as they really were.
  10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God."”:  Wordiness is not distinctively liberal any more than conciseness is distinctively conservative.  And the example chosen is preferring a bad translation over something more accurate; “YHWH” better reflects the original Hebrew than “Lord” or any of the alternatives.
Given this project is founded on bad assumptions, I was not surprised by the results when I looked over their translation of Genesis 1.  It came off as a paraphrase rather than a translation, making YHWH come off as a mad general barking orders rather than a calm, composed deity.  The King James Version, despite its deficiencies, came off more accurate.  Furthermore, if these people really are so interested in everyone understanding the Christian Bible right, why are they wasting their time with yet another in a long series of English translations?  Why are they not cutting out the middleman (or to be “liberal”, middleperson) and pushing for everyone to learn Hebrew and Greek so they can read the Christian Bible in the original?  There is never going to be a translation which is going to be perfect.  Among Orthodox Jews, bypassing the need for relying on a translation of the Hebrew Bible by teaching children Hebrew starting very early on is routine.  Why Christians have yet to figure out to do the same is a mystery to me.

Peace, and happy new month.

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