The Conservative Rewrite of the Bible

Oct 08 2009 Published by under Chatter, fundamentalism

This is really off-topic for GM/BM, but I just can't resist
mocking the astonishing stupidity of the Conservapedia folks.

I'm sure you've heard by now that Andy Schafly and his pals are
working on a "new translation" of the bible. They say that they need to do this
in order to remove liberal bias, which is "the single biggest distortion in modern
Bible translations". You see, "translation bias in converting the original language
to the modern one" is the largest source of what they call translation errors, and it
"requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate".

Plenty of people have mocked the foolishness of this. So many, in fact, that
I can't decide which one to link to! But what's been left out of all of the mockings
that I've seen so far is one incredibly important point.

What the "Conservative Bible Project" is doing is not translating
the bible. It is rewriting the bible to make it say what they want it to
say, without regard for what it actually says. These people, who insist
that every word of their holy texts must be taken as absolute literal truth
without interpretation -- are rewriting their bibles to make it say
what they want it to say.

You might think that I'm just exaggerating, since I'm a flaky liberal
reconstructionist jew. But I'm really not. If you look at their explanation of
what they're doing, it's not translating. Translating is going to
the original text, which is written in some language X, and trying to
convert it to language Y without loss of meaning. They don't even
pretend that they're going back to the original sources. They're
taking existing translations of the original text into english,
and then re-writing them whenever they don't like what they say. They describe
looking back to at the original text as a last resort "exception" (their word!)
to their "translation" process.

What are they doing? They're taking the King James Version of the bible. Then
they're going to go through it, and whenever they find something that they don't like,
because it doesn't match their conservative principles, they're just going to change it.
Not because analyzing the original text shows that there was a translation error. They
don't even pretend to care about that. They're just combing through it and
changing anything that, from their perspective, must be wrong because it looks
too liberal.

A few examples, to get the unreality of this across:

  1. One of their goals is "identify pro-liberal terms used in existing bible
    translations, such as ``government'', and suggest more accurate substitutes".
    So any verse in the bible that mentions "government" is, automatically,
    incorrect, because the word "government" is pro-liberal. There's no discussion
    of whether "government" is an accurate translation of the original greek or
    hebrew; it must be wrong, because according to their supposedly
    "conservative" philosophy, government is always bad, and so any passage in the
    the text which says anything that might be remotely positive about government
    is, necessarily, wrong.
  2. One example they give of a "liberal falsehood" is a verse from the new
    testament: ``Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they
    are doing."''. That, they say, must be removed from the bible.
    Because, you see, that quote only appears in one book of the new testament,
    and it's just obviously wrong. Why is it obviously wrong? If you want to contribute to the Conservative Bible Project, you're not allowed to ask that question.
    It just is wrong, because they don't like it.
  3. In their early efforts at translation, they're trying to get rid of the
    word "Pharisees". "Pharisees" is a very specific term; it means a specific
    group of people. It's not a generic term for "bad people", or "liberal
    people", or anything like that. They were a group that was distinguished by,
    among other things, believing in (gasp!) the literal interpretation
    of the book of Exodus. They were also the grouping that included most of the
    high priests of the second temple. The conservapedia folks have been
    suggesting replacing "Pharisee" with "self-selected elite", "intellectual", or
    (cutting to the chase) "liberals". As a "translation", that's absolute
    garbage. It completely ignores the meaning of the original text, in order to
    create the appearance that their political beliefs have some sort of divine
    support, even though the original text can't support that interpretation.

It's astonishingly brazen on so many levels. But the one that kills me is that
there is no way that you can call what they're doing a "translation". They're not
translating. They can't read, write, speak, or comprehend the languages that they
claim to be "translating". They're not even looking at the original texts that
they say they're translating. So why, on earth, are people referring to this as
a conservative translation? It doesn't even deserve the miniscule amount
of credibility that comes from using the word!

No responses yet

  • Pocket Nerd says:

    I made the same point in a discussion on RPG.net (yes, I'm a nerd). I'd wager not one of the contributors to the project is fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Koine Greek. This isn't a translation, this is an outright redaction. they don't like what it says, so they're changing it.

  • mufi says:

    "Pharisees" is a very specific term; it means a specific group of people. It's not a generic term for "bad people", or "liberal people", or anything like that. They were a group that was distinguished by, among other things, believing in (gasp!) the literal interpretation of the book of Exodus. They were also the grouping that included most of the high priests of the second temple.
    You're thinking of the Sadducees. The Pharisees were distinguished for their "strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices, adherence to oral laws and traditions, and belief in an afterlife and the coming of a Messiah."
    In rabbinic Judaism, the P's are commonly deemed the forbears of normative (or Talmudic) Judaism (although the Hasmoneans from the Chanukah story were S's), and the New Testament is not much kinder to the the P's than it is to the S's (as some Christians deem responsible for Jesus's crucifixion).
    But I agree with your main point.

  • chris says:

    Thank you for noting this. I agree most of the other posts people made focused more on the stupidity of what they wanted to change rather than how they were going about it.

    They can't read, write, speak, or comprehend the languages that they claim to be "translating".

    I know you meant the languages they are "translating" from, but I would contend they have the same problems with the language they are "translating" to.

  • Nerd says:

    Early Christians redacted the writings of Josephus, parts of the new testament that they didn't like, parts of the gospels that didn't conform to the current theology. While this current effort is certainly a redaction, I think that it can be claimed that this is a tradition in Christianity that has survived nearly 2000 years.

  • eigenvector says:

    Is there any mention that they will rewrite 1Kings 7:23 such that the circumference to diameter is not 3? Coolest of all would be having god ask for the ratio to be the numerical result of an algorithm from the Borweins’s work or one of Ramanujan’s infinite series!

  • Crosspolytope says:

    but how do we know that they aren't vessels of god which god is using to clarify his true meaning. jk.

  • radio_babylon says:

    @4, i think its more accurate to say this is a human tradition, and its been going on for a lot longer than 2000 years.

  • qy3 says:

    They're doing it to the King James Version!? I mean, it would be marginally less unreasonable if they were worried about some modern translations showing some liberal bias, because it's at least conceivable that such a thing might happen. But how much "liberal bias" could there have been in the 17th century? Were there even "liberals" in the modern sense of the word then?

  • Flex says:

    #6 wrote,

    but how do we know that they aren't vessels of god which god is using to clarify his true meaning.

    Heh.
    I think it's far more likely they are qliphoth. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qliphoth)

  • John Fouhy says:

    According to Wikipedia, they don't like the "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" bit either, so that's got to go.
    Maybe they'll get rid of "turn the other cheek" too. I can see Jesus coming out of this a whole lot grumpier.

  • qy3 says:

    I also thought conservative Christians only trusted the King James Version, all other versions being Satanic plots.
    If they're serious about getting the authentic Bible, why don't they just learn biblical Hebrew? Isn't that what rather large numbers of Jews who are concerned with authenticity for religious purposes do? There can hardly be a shortage of available expertise and material for study of the Bible in the original Hebrew. The conservative Christians are largely home-schooled: they could easily add it to the curriculum.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    @11:
    The big problem with that is that if you go and actually look at the hebrew, a bunch of problems develop. It's a very different language, with a lot of what we modern types would call grammatical ambiguity (lack of any punctuation *at all*). It's damned hard to argue for the one true literalist interpretation when you're confronted with a text with no sentence breaks, and where as a result, meanings can be altered dramatically depending on where you put the periods.
    To make it worse, a bunch of standard x-tian dogma becomes a problem, because it makes no sense in terms of the hebrew. As a result, fundy christians don't go near the hebrew old testament with a 50 foot pole.

  • qy3 says:

    Ah, I see. The original text is too authentic.

  • rpsms says:

    If I were satan, I'd probably be doing exactly what they are doing.
    Then again, its really not much different than what the authors of the original source material did.

  • Data point confirming their lack of knowledge of Hebrew: Andrew included on the list of things to simplify the terminology for God rather than using multiple terms like "God" or "Lord God" or "Yahweh." He wasn't aware until I told him that the reason translations use multiple terms is that there are multiple terms in the Hebrew for God (such as the tetragrammatron and Elohim). After pointing this out, Andrew said that he still wasn't convinced there should be multiple terms in English, thanked me for the information and then appended a fairly offtopic rant about evolutionists not knowing their Bible (sorry if that breaks any irony meters). You can read the discussion on the talk page of the Conservapedia Bible project.

  • qy3 says:

    tetragrammatron
    I don't want to imagine what that machine does.
    Maybe it just prints four character legends on everything.

  • Vince Whirlwind says:

    Isn't this kind of revisionism the hallmark of communism?

  • Brian says:

    @17: this kind of revisionism is the hallmark of ANY kind of extremeism. Communism is just one example.

  • The irony is that what they are doing is neither a translation, nor conservative.
    Real conservatives would be, well, conserving. They'd be going back to the most original texts, translating from those with the profoundest possible understanding of the original languages (conserving the meanings of the original), and so on.
    Instead, it's more of the same debased version of pseudo-conservatism that the Schlaflies prefer -- whatever they like is 'conservative' and what they don't like is 'liberal'.
    The Roger and Andy show in talk.origins did presage what was to come. But, then, nothing has really changed in that family since Phyllis got going in the 1970s.

  • qy3 says:

    I guess Originalism is only for constitutions, not for scriptures.

  • qy3 says:

    Changing the Bible to something different from any reasonable translation, and billing it as a "Bible" rather than say "a rewritten Bible" (or something else that accurately portrays the manner in which it was derived i.e. 'what we wish the Bible actually was'), sounds like it's approaching, um, blasphemy.
    I'm just sayin', try it with a Koran and see if anyone considers it blasphemy.

  • qy3, should I pull a page from the Conservapedia paybook and assert that I didn't have a typo but rather am restoring the correct conservative spelling?

  • Well, it must be said that there is a long tradition in the religious world of doing precisely what they are setting out to do: namely, making sure that their God has all the preconceptions, prejudices and hatreds that they themselves possess. In my more skeptical moments, I view nearly all religion as an attempt to lend credibility to one's own (usually stupid) ideas by pretending that it's God that has 'em, and you are just following orders.
    Andrew Schlafly is quite possibly the stupidest person I've ever exchanged words with on the Internet, and believe me, that is saying something. Calling his writing drivel is an insult to drivel.

  • Aaron says:

    This mentality is really curious.
    They disagree with science, so they rewrite what science says and invent their own.
    They disagree with their own biblical text, so they rewrite it so it agrees with their own.
    Can these people become ANY more divorced from reality?

  • Hank Roberts says:

    > Can these people become ANY more divorced from reality?
    These people have never even been engaged to reality, let alone been married to, or in a domestic partnership of any kind with, reality.

  • passing through says:

    this can't possibly be real, can it? it has to be a parody. has anybody actually publicly claimed ownership of the project, or is it just a page on conservapedia?

  • Passing through, the Bible project was founded, and is being run by Andrew Schlafly who is the founder of Conservapedia.

  • Christopher Gwyn says:

    "there is no way that you can call what they're doing a "translation". They're not translating."
    I bet they think they are because 'the Bible is the Word of God'. They, mostly, don't have to go back to the original Hebrew, Greek, or Latin, because those texts were themselves 'translations' of 'the Word of God' into those languages. They are simply turning the English version of the Bible into a more direct 'translation' of 'the Word of God'. How do they know what changes to make? They know that God is Conservative and so they make the Bible more Conservative.
    This shows the dangers of amateurs attempting to use circular logic, low-grade sophistry.

  • Jake says:

    @passing through:
    You have just fallen into Poe's Law: "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."
    (Read both of these, it's enlightening.)
    http://www.conservapedia.com/Poe%27s_law
    http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Poe%27s_Law
    What's really interesting (to me at least) is that the conservapedia article actually presents some insight into Poe's law - that parody resembles forgery, and is _intended_ to resemble its subject. That's insightful, there.

  • Matthew Wilson says:

    According to Wikipedia, they don't like the "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" bit either, so that's got to go.

    That's generally considered to be a later addition to the original texts, I understand, so they might actually have a valid point here.

  • Lassi Hippeläinen says:

    If Aramaic was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for Xians. No need to translate to English.
    And also, get rid of that ultra-modern measurement system with stones, hogsheads and dollars. Get back to talents, homers, and minas of gold.

  • Zen says:

    Rewrite 1Kings 7:23 to get rid of the circumference to diameter ratio as 3? I always thought it nice that God does not abhor a truncated series expansion. But then, that would be the degenerate physicist in me talking.

  • Christophe Thill says:

    "I'd wager not one of the contributors to the project is fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Koine Greek."
    Fluent??? How many of them have simply heard of those languages?

  • JR says:

    "If they're serious about getting the authentic Bible, why don't they just learn biblical Hebrew?"
    Many evangelical theologians do. Occasionally they even make interesting contributions to mainstream Biblical scholarship, perhaps especially in textual criticism.
    I believe the vast majority of Christian denomiantions, liberal or conservative, make it a requirement for priests to know either Hebrew or Greek.
    "They were also the grouping that included most of the high priests of the second temple."
    Eh, no that was a different group as has been pointed out. An intersting note is that the Pharisees' judaism was the only one who survived the second Temple destruction. Thus the Hebrew Bible was preserved only by them.
    So the Old Testament found in all modern Western Christian translations is based on the text preserved by the hated pharisees, that Jesus spent som much time berating.

  • complex field says:

    If English was good enough for Jesus....

  • fusilier says:

    Andy Schlafly says he's Catholic.
    Why in the Name of the Great Spider Herself is he going with the KJV, and not the Douay-Reims? Is he going to ask for an imprimatur and a nihil obstat from Archbishop Carlson?
    fusilier
    James 2:24

  • Robert says:

    There is a prof. of theology in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, who just hit the newspapers by claiming that the first sentence of the bible has been mistranslated from the old Hebrew or Aramaic (the newspaper isn't very clear on the language.) Apparently god did NOT create the earth, he just seperated the earth from the heavens and they existed beforehand.
    I can't find an English version of the article, but if you can read Dutch:
    http://www.trouw.nl/religie-filosofie/nieuws/religie/article2882522.ece/_rsquo_God_schiep_niet___hij_scheidde_rsquo__.html
    If the bible rewriters were to actually learn the old languages, they might actually run into a lot stranger things than a few liberal statements.

  • Ben says:

    While it's wrong to call this a translation, I don't think what they are doing is out of order. Exegesis is the cornerstone of the evolution of the bible. This has literally been happening for millennia, since before the bible was even written down. People have always changed the content of the bible.

  • jen says:

    Have you heard about Stephen Colbert's challenge to his minions? He's asked them to write him into the Conservapaedia bible. He doesn't insist on being the big guy; he'd settle for being cast as Moses or an apostle ...

  • KeithB says:

    Mark wrote:
    "These people, who insist that every word of their holy texts must be taken as absolute literal truth without interpretation..."
    Actually, I don't think these are "these people", they sound much more Straussian Neo-Con.
    I doubt they are fundamentalist - or even evangelical - who are more likely to be "these people."

  • acı çehre says:

    I doubt they are fundamentalist - or even evangelical - who are more likely to be "these people."

  • acı çehre says:

    I don't think what they are doing is out of order.

  • Raging Bee says:

    This was inevitable, given that the whole purpose of Conservapedia was to create a whole 'nother alternative reality, free from any fact or opinion that threatened to contradict the authors' beliefs. Conservapedia was created by insane people for the purpose of reinforcing and protecting insanity; so it should surprise no one that they've now become completely disconnected from reality and are drifting off Gods-know-where.

  • passing through says:

    Jake: I had not heard of Poe's law before - that's a great concept.
    I was just suspicious it was a parody because almost all the discussion of this "translation" is from people making fun of it. That, and it's so unbelievably dumb.
    That said, it has to be real, or else it would have been deleted by now.
    Wow. I still have trouble believing that people are seriously doing this.

  • leukothea says:

    fusilier, you know of the Great Spider? My dad was involved in bringing knowledge of the Great Spider into the world, back in the 70s, or so he says. Somewhere I have a tiny golden coin with the image of the Great Spider on it, and the words "One Bribe." The religion was based upon paying bribes to the high priests (my father was one), whereupon the Great Spider would not devour your soul after death. 🙂

  • jre says:

    I was just suspicious it was a parody because almost all the discussion of this "translation" is from people making fun of it. That, and it's so unbelievably dumb.

    You are not alone. In order to understand how something like this could happen, you need to know a little bit about the personality and intellect (if that's the word) of Andrew Schlafly. Schlafly is hugely vain, ferociously belligerent and spectacularly stupid. The nearest parallel here may be Wilbur Glenn Voliva, a flat-earth prophet of the early 20th century, who Martin Gardner found remarkable[1] not for his zaniness of his views, but for the sheer dense-as-a-brick dumbness of the way he propounded them. And yet Voliva was able to convince 6000 people that he was not an idiot.

    Even so with Schlafly. It is impossible to cook up a conservative fundie project so harebrained that a good number of the faithful will not fall for it. That's the world we live in.

    [1] I'll see if I can find the exact quote when I get home.

  • qy3 says:

    The mindset is interesting. Schafly is clearly not of low intelligence (in the sense of "the quantity measured by intelligence tests, corresponding more or less to the ability to perform cognitively demanding to tasks").
    I conjecture that it involves 'emotional investment' in a position, to the point where it causes mental discomfort to have to abandon it, together with denial, and then you need denial about the denial. Orwellian double-think. Cognitive juggling, or dancing around, to avoid both cognitive dissonance or the pain of having to accept that a belief is incorrect. And it's become so automatic and effective that it's approaching a kind of solipsism.

  • SWT says:

    Wait ... the King James version is "too liberal"?
    At any rate, I blame Al Franken.

  • anonymous says:

    Read their relativity page and the associated talk page without blowing a gasket. Not possible!

  • Don Oban says:

    #6 said, "but how do we know that they aren't vessels of god which god is using to clarify his true meaning."
    If this is your attitude, then you have to be open to ANY hack trying any off-the-wall rewrite he personally feels is necessary. According to you, "angels" could be changed to "devils" and vice versa, "good" rewritten as "evil" and "evil" as "good", and #6 would accept this hack as "god's vessels clarifying the true meaning". Talk about living without conviction. Believing without believing. Or believing whatever is in front of you because it's in front of you. This is absurd. #6 comment makes absolutely no sense.

  • Doug says:

    "...to create the appearance that their political beliefs have some sort of divine support..."
    I'm pretty sure that's why the bible was compiled in the first place.

  • Quercus says:

    @12:
    This is not the only problem with the original version of the Bible.
    As a born Hebrew speaker, I can confidently say that the grammatical structure of the Hebrew language, as far as word structure is concerned, is VERY problematic.
    In many cases, a word can mean two very different things, which would both fit the context.
    Though this is quite rare in modern casual Hebrew, it is extremely common in the Bible.
    This is amplified due to the fact that the Bible contains no "Nikud", which are dots over, under and inside letters which act as vowels (strictly speaking, the Hebrew language has almost no use of vowels, especially when it comes to the ancient Hebrew used in the bible).
    This creates many new "opportunities" for the same word to mean many different things, when read with different Nikud.
    It would be similar to exchanging "cat" with "cut", for example.

  • Quercus says:

    @50:
    How ridiculous, you've fallen into the very same "Poe's law" trap that was mentioned in a few of the earlier comments.
    Only #6 added a "jk" (="just kidding") at the end of his statement, which to me is pretty much identical to a wink.
    Is this evidence of an even broader version of Poe's law: "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, OR EVEN WITH IT, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing."? 😛

  • jre says:

    qy3's point is well taken. My choice of the phrase "spectacularly stupid" was motivated by my perception of Schlafly not as someone with a low-level cognitive deficit but as someone who refuses absolutely to understand fairly simpla concepts.
    It's not that he can't, but that he won't.
    It probably needs a different term, but "stupid" will do for everyday use.

  • Ray Burleigh says:

    AS many have pointed out, the bible has been rewritten may times despite the claims of some literalists that it is eternal and unchanging. Scholars identify at least 4 major revisions to the old testament, each reflecting the social/policical concerns of the times. It is ironic that the conservapedia project is confirmation of the fact that the bible has constantly been adjusted to reflect entirely human concerns.
    I'd love to see a bible with version numbers, like software releases. So we'd have, say, Bible 6.4.2. The best part would be the release notes for each version, with "bugs fixed" and "new features" sections.

  • MPL says:

    @ Ben, #38

    While it's wrong to call this a translation, I don't think what they are doing is out of order. Exegesis is the cornerstone of the evolution of the bible. This has literally been happening for millennia, since before the bible was even written down. People have always changed the content of the bible.

    While this is absolutely true, the problem is that this attitude conflicts with their absolute-literal-truth-of-the-bible stance. Doing this isn't necessarily wrong if you don't think the Bible is always literally true. For instance, Thomas Jefferson redacted the New Testament to remove all the supernatural bits, leaving a morals text ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_Bible ), and of course, the Higher Criticism has been trying to tease out the interpolations and errors in the Bible for a bit more than two centuries now ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_criticism ).
    The point is, the authors of Conservapedia think these are hideous, evil things to do, and yet they are setting out to do the same (indeed, the comments about passages being added later is directly taken from Higher Criticism work).
    The term for this is hypocrisy.

  • Quercus says:

    @ 56, 38:
    I think what's even worse is the horrible circular logic of it all:
    They claim that the Bible is true, since it is the word of God (a ridiculous claim already in itself, but let's assume it's true, for sake of argument), and then they change the bits of the Bible they don't like, and make it fit their agenda.
    But then they STILL continue to claim that it is the word of god - that's just plain lying, by any standard I know.

  • qy3 says:

    @jre:
    True, "stupid" is a good everday equivalent.
    I wonder if there could be some other convenient phrases to capture the conecpt.
    "Willfully obtuse" -- that's not exactly this phenomenon, I don't think. Sstubborn", maybe ? "Trapped in a self-contained bubble of denial" ?
    But yes, it's definitely a can't-but-won't situation.
    I don't know how one can persuade such people who have painted themselves into such an ideological corner. I speculate that one method might involve trying to defuse the adversarial nature that debates tend to end up in (especially internet ones) to allow them to change their minds without loss of face, both internal and external.
    One problem is that such people can sometimes be very good at ensuring discussions take on an adversarial character no matter how much you try not to let them, and may perceive it to be present no matter what signals you send. Or they may just take it as a sign of weakness.

  • Meghan Baker says:

    Oh my where to start! Well being raised christian(and attending a very strict christian school), and then later being with a man who doesn't believe in any "devine being" has definitely shed some light on the whole God and christian thing for me. I am not an active christian now but any "christian" knows that these peolpe are doing is so wrong in many ways. But for just the fun of it I think I'm gonna rewrite a few laws i don't like. (joking,for those who don't know what jk means). This thing is no differrent, you can't just rewrite something because you don't like or agree with what it says. I am a strong believer in KARMA and you reap what you sow ( another Bible quote used everyday). These people will definitely get what is coming to them!!!!!

  • Cecil says:

    Maybe you should just stick to your area of expertise --Math--and leave the tiresome ranting about religion alone.

  • Stefan W. says:

    We, who don't believe in god, aren't shocked, because we don't see gods words changed.
    Instead of inventing a brand new religion they adopt what they need, and rewrite what's inopportune.
    Why not? I call it dumb design. 🙂 We see the genesis of a god in its whole dumbness.

  • Allen L says:

    "Rewrite 1Kings 7:23 to get rid of the circumference to diameter ratio as 3?"
    No way! That line will stay. 3 is a good, solid number. It’s not wishy-washy and there’s no hint of irrationality about it. To paraphrase a conservative: “Read my lips. No new digits!”
    Why did a certain Monty Python scene just flash through my head?

Leave a Reply