Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Technicolor Dreamcoats

U.S. Catholic:
Did you know that Joseph's coat wasn't multicolored? The correct translation is "long-sleeved." Who knew?


Who knew indeed.

5 comments:

Hilarius Bookbinder said...

...and the word translated as 'virgin' in the NT refers to age and not sexual status, and 'cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree' depends on which set of vowels you take...

Robbo said...

Uh, oh. For Heaven's sake don't tell my daughter that! She's got the entire musical down by heart.

Andrew Stevens said...

Hilarius, the New Testament (Greek Bible) word translated as 'virgin' is the Greek word 'parthenos' which most assuredly does refer to sexual status, not age.

Hilarius Bookbinder said...

Sorry, that's another one of those Hebrew-to-Greek things, as best I recall...

Andrew Stevens said...

No worries. I hear nonsense about the virgin birth and mistranslations all the time. (By the way, I'm an atheist myself, but I do not countenance the sort of lying and misleading that Dawkins, for example, does in The God Delusion.) Here are the facts.

Isaiah 7:14 says, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The [disputed] will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." The Hebrew word used for [disputed] is almah, for which the best English translation is "maiden." I.e. it can mean "virgin," but it can also just mean "young woman." There is a Hebrew word, betulah, which unambiguously means "virgin," but this word wasn't used. When Isaiah was translated into Greek for the Septuagint, almah was translated as parthenos, which unambiguously means "virgin," so the translators took a view (not necessarily incorrectly, by the way) on what was meant by almah. This passage was then quoted in the Gospel of Matthew (written entirely in Greek and using the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible). Let us make no mistake, however. Both Matthew and Luke unquestionably claim that Jesus was born of a virgin. There are, for example, passages with Mary saying things like, "How can I have a child when I know not a man?" Only somebody who has never read the Gospel accounts of Jesus's birth could possibly claim that the Bible as a whole does not claim that Jesus was born of a virgin; it certainly does.

Also note that Matthew and Luke are usually thought, by biblical scholars, to both be based on Mark, but are otherwise independent of each other and the two accounts of Jesus's birth are very different from each other. This causes problems for any idea that Jesus's virgin birth was invented out of whole cloth in order to match the prophecy of Isaiah. And, by the way, if the story was invented purely to match the Isaiah prophecy, it really did an incredibly poor job. The prophecy goes on to say, "Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good." There is no reference to Jesus's eating butter and honey in either Matthew or Luke. It is a far simpler explanation to claim that Christians already had a legend that Jesus was born of a virgin and then Matthew discovered that this actually matched a prophecy in Isaiah, but it turns out, due to a mistranslation, that this match isn't really very good after all.

So you're allowed to say something like "The idea that there was a prophecy that the mother of the Messiah would be a virgin is the result of a mistranslation." That may or may not be true, but add a probably and a perhaps and nobody will argue with you.

However, what I often hear from Dawkinsian atheists is "The story of the virgin birth of Jesus is the result of a mistranslation." And, if you mean by that, "Look at those stupid Christians, believing that Matthew and Luke said that Mary was a virgin because they don't know their Greek," (and I have heard it more than a couple of times exactly like that) then that is provably false.

 
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