Translating vs. Rewriting the Bible: The Conservative Bible Project

Don’t get me wrong: “rewriting” the Bible has a long and illustrious heritage. Chronicles retelling the story in the Former Prophets (or Deuteronomistic History, if you prefer). One Gospel retelling the story found in another. Midrashes and commentaries and Diatessarons and Targums and all sorts of other things. The only thing that bothers me is when people set about to rewrite the Bible but call it translation, or deny that rewriting the Bible is what they are really doing.

So on to the news, reported by both Ann Fontaine and Deirdre Good, that there is a Conservative Bible Project underway to “translate” the Bible in a more conservative way that will prevent liberal “misinterpretations” or “misconstruals”. Or, to put it another way, the plan is to replace what the text says, which is open to other interpretations than their own, with a rendering that will say what they think the text means and really ought to have said. These “translators”, if they are serious, are exalting themselves above the Bible and, from the perspective of conservative Christianity, above God. How that shores up a conservative understanding of the Bible is hard to fathom.

I have to add that the jury is still out as to whether Conservapedia (the site that features this translation project) is an authentic conservative phenomenon, or a parody along the lines of The Colbert Report. Had I not in the past found more than once that my attempt to parody some extreme group simply resembled an even more extreme but equally real group, I would be certain it was parody.

One of the concerns that is expressed by the proponents of this project is the “emasculation” of the Bible. The irony is that the Bible itself speaks in favor of emasculation at a crucial moment (Galatians 5:12).

Finally, it must be noted that the “Conservapedia Version” isn’t what it claims to be in another important sense. It is not a translation. A translation involves rendering a text in one language into another, not rewriting existing translations so as to make them say what you want them to, without any knowledge of the languages in which the underlying texts are written.

So is the “Conservapedia Version” of the Bible a really funny parody or a really deceitful pseudoconservative pseudotranslation that leaves its users with a pseudobible? I’ll let the reader decide. I’m still not entirely sure, although if you read it as parody, it is actually quite hilarious, and laughter is probably a more constructive reaction than frustration and despair. But either way, I’m grateful for this illustration of the fact that “conservative” and “Bible-believing” are not the same thing, despite what you’ll often hear. The Bible, it turns out, is far from conservative enough for most of those who choose to wear that label.

On a tangentially-related note, if anyone reading this wants to start working on Hebrew, or teaches Hebrew to others, Boulders 2 Bits offers a good place to start, in a parody of Abbott and Costello’s famous skit “Who’s On First?” For Hebrew, of course, we might call it “Hu is He?”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18037406583478493064 Erp

    The founder of Conservapedia, Andrew Schlafly, is a right-wing conservative (his mother is Phyllis Schlafly) and no parodist. This is not to say certain parts of Conservapedia haven't been done by people intent on subverting it by parody. However judging by the history page for this particular item, Andrew is the major editor and so this is not parody. BTW always read the talk pages in Conservapedia and weep."Forgive them for they know not what they do" gets dropped.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05981782365985498038 Trevor

    Dropping "forgive them for they know not what they do" is probably a Very Bad Idea. I think these translators particularly need that verse to be in the bible!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17013303126358159635 Timo S. Paananen

    Nice! The Conservative Bible Project has dropped "Holy Ghost" and adopted, albeit tentatively, "Divine Guide" instead in its translation of the Gospel of Mark. My personal favourite from the talk page alternatives would have been "Holy Force". Think of the possibilities for some inter-religious dialogue:"The Holy Force will be with you . . . always.""My ally is the Holy Force, and a powerful ally it is."

  • http://christian4moses.wordpress.com/ christian4moses

    Ive got exactly that Chinese Bible and mine is dusty too:P

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03379103292621457026 Peter M. Head

    Surely this is a joke.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01000798494472742263 J. L. Watts

    I almost cursed when I read this. Guess I am heading back to the altar. This is stupid.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04262012749524758120 Eamon Knight

    That link to CP has gone 503 at the moment. Not sure if that means something beyond mundane network glitches.Re Andy Schlafly: I saw him in action on Usenet ~10 years ago, and he was pretty silly back then. Since, he seems to have gone completely batcrap insane.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17013303126358159635 Timo S. Paananen

    Things I learned today (from RationalWiki):Poe's Law states: “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing."Poe's Law makes the clear point that it is hard to tell parodies of fundamentalism from the real thing, since they both seem equally insane. Poe's law also functions in its converse: real fundamentalism can easily be mistaken for a parody of fundamentalism.More on Poe's lawSure, it doesn't answer the particular question if Conservapedia is really a parody or not, but explains nicely why the question gets raised in the first place…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07674489078935633842 Random Arrow

    ~ McGrath wrote, “One of the concerns that is expressed by the proponents of this project is the ‘emasculation’ of the Bible. The irony is that the Bible itself speaks in favor of emasculation at a crucial moment (Galatians 5:12).”I’m a pragmatist. Show me. “Critical moment,” critical path, emasculation-in-the-nick-of-time, just show me the proof.Since religion generally is entering into a generation of the most rigorous and relentless empirical study ever, I want to see the faintest evidence that cognitive theology based on this new bible makes any difference of any kind. Let them have their bible. Then do the necessary longitudinal empirical studies for effect. Some preliminary studies of the effects of reading absurdist-literature shows an improvement to intelligence. So maybe this bible will help! And since Lisa A. Keister at Duke is already queuing for research money to tie a stronger knot in the correlations between – “Conservative Protestants and Wealth: How Religion Perpetuates Asset Poverty” – we should up her pot by sending her contributions to study the “emasuclative” effects of this new conservative bible. Since I’m doing some post-pub peer review on her project, I think I’ll email Keister and propose she incorporate this focus in her study. And call any future findings the “Keister-Bobbit emasculation correlation.”Since Dawkins demands to know if theology is anywhere effective.Cheers,Jim

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04262012749524758120 Eamon Knight

    Got into the CP site: wow, there is some serious crazy going on there. We can pretty much conclude that Schlafly, his fellow CPians, and the "translators" of this Bible have given up any claim to be Christians, and substituted their own religion of "conservatism"[1] in its place. (Um, not that that part bothers me, as an atheist. And I'll let self-identified conservatives decide whether this bunch represent them in any fair way). The silliest aspect of this is the implication that the modern concepts of "liberal" and "conservative" have any meaning applicable to the period the source texts come from.Oh, and happy Blasphemy Day ;-).

  • John Wendt

    Their item number 8, "Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages", seems like Higher Criticism, which has always been anathema to conservatives. Although it sounds as though they might leave the Later Inserted Conservative Passages.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03709548876308820719 Olesha

    you should be put a watch list nuts like you are no better than terrorist that we are spend blood and treasure fighting

  • Anonymous

    Oh Olesha, stop with the comedy. You are TOO funny!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01000798494472742263 J. L. Watts

    Whew, glad some else said it. I was afraid he was being serious

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