Mary was no Virgin

10 10 2006

So I’ve just started reading Richard Dawkins‘ new book, The God Delusion.  You’ll be hearing interesting tidbits from it now and again probably, so here we go.

From one of his footnotes:

A.N. Wilson, in his biography of Jesus, casts doubt on the story that Joseph was a carpenter at all.  The Greek word tekton does indeed mean carpenter, but it was translated from the Aramaic word naggar, which could mean craftsman or learned man.  This is one of several constructive mistranslations that bedevil the Bible, the most famous being the mistranslation of Isaiah’s Hebrew for young woman (almah) into the Greek for virgin (parthenos).  An easy mistake to make (think of the English words ‘maid’ and ‘maiden’ to see how it might have happened), this one translator’s slip was to be wildly inflated and give rise to the whole preposterous legend of Jesus’s mother being a virgin!

How do the catholic’s feel about this?  They place a lot of weight on Mary’s virginity – and now to find out that it was just a bad translation?  Eeesh.

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One response

11 10 2006
Kate

Yeah, you run into the translation problems like that all the time. That is why many Jews argue that the bible should be read in the original Hebrew (though there is a whole new can of worms when it comes to whether or not the Hebrew has been accurately passed down).

The answer to translation difficulties that many Christians and Jews give is that the translators of the texts were themselves divinely inspired. If they translated a word “incorrectly” that was in fact just God correcting, clarifying, or changing information. It is the infallibility of God transferred to the humans who recorded God’s words.

Not a very satisfying explanation, sure. Kinda like, “Because a wizard put it there.”

What I think is pretty obvious is that translations and versions shift through time, reflecting the desires and beliefs of each generation. If you want the story of Jesus’ birth to seem more special, make it a magical birth. Want God’s authority to be more absolute, make the Bible a literal description of the Earth just popping into existence one day. Want to make your faith the “one true faith” make it so that anyone who questions the translations a heretic. But the downside of my view is that means that you have to think about stuff all the stupid time, and you don’t just get to read one answer and move on. Dang.

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