The Vulgate, Shakespeare, al-Quran and Hebrew

By tim05000, in 'General Latin Chat (English)', Dec 17, 2018.

  1. tim05000 Member

    I've been reading an interlinear translation of the Latin Vulgate, even though I don't believe in God. Its words and syntax are simple to follow, making it an enjoyable language learning tool. I tried reading Ovid afterwards and was completely lost even with the interlinear translation, so the Vulgate certainly seems a far easier read. What does this mean for the Vulgate spiritually?

    I thought of this because Muslims have a diametrically opposing view of their own holy book. The Qur'an's use of Arabic is considered extraordinarily complex, so grand it is impossible to imitate, and so grand is the language that it's a linguistic miracle. Muslims say it makes Shakespeare words look like a child's.

    A Shakespearean wrote that what makes English so wonderful compared to Hebrew is that English has many rich synonyms for a single idea, eg. for a 'loose woman' it has tart, harlot, slattern, strumpet, slut etc. Hebrew meanwhile has only one word for this, making Hebrew a simplistic and poor language. This reminds me of what a Greek person wrote about the Greek bible, which is that it's written in simple language.

    If everything I've read is correct, then the Vulgate, Greek bible and Jewish Tanakh are simply written and spiritually valued by their adherents. Muslims cherish their Qur'an with its incomprehensibly complex language.

    What are your thoughts on God's word being extremely difficult and inimitable, or fairly simple? What's better, spiritually-speaking?

    I feel Muslims risk setting their book up to failure when a sceptic probes beyond the grand claims. The controversial Surah 4:34 says a husband may 'da-ra-ba' his disobedient wife. This has been variously translated to English as hitting, scourging, scolding, spanking, separating, or some other word. Muslim fundamentalists have no qualms about what it means: hit her until she submits. But progressive Muslims write long essays explaining he can't even touch her, or that he can only touch her lightly, or more than lightly but not brutally (depending on the Muslim), because context and classical Arabic dictionaries offer so many interpretations of what 'da-ra-ba' means. I know languages can be hard to translate, but extreme ambiguity and confusion to me aren't the exemplar of a miracle; instead they're rather the opposite. If I were an omniscient god who didn't want wives to be hit by their husbands (as some currently are by their pious husbands), I'd perhaps say in Arabic "and do not hit or hurt them". But then that would be defeating the Qur'an's challenge to make a single sentence as brilliant as its own.
    Last edited by tim05000, Dec 17, 2018
  2. Etaoin Shrdlu Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    You know, I've always been sceptical about this, but as I don't know Arabic, it's not something I can judge. I'd be interested in the perspective of a native Arabic speaker who isn't a Muslim.

    As for Jewish and Christian religious texts being straightforward, that's bollocks, as can easily be seen by a glance at the widely differing interpretations of what exactly the Biblical text is supposed to mean. The elaborate rules about separating milk and meat practised by Jews are an extrapolation from a single line: Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk, which sounds rather simpler. Jesus talked about turning the other cheek, and the early Christians were pacifists, but when it became a state religion this was chucked as metaphorical, presumably. And though there are Christians who do would refuse to fight in a war, I suspect that even they wouldn't actually turn the other cheek if they were hit, but would get out as fast as they could, and possibly inform the police. I don't know this for a fact, as I haven't tried it out, but perhaps a more violent forum member might have more information.
    Pacifica likes this.
  3. tim05000 Member

    I'm speaking of these as works of literature, no different from any other book.

    So I know what you mean but I consider the language simple; a student wanting easy marks would rather translate the Vulgate than Metamorphoses. People complicate a religious text when they realise the text is unworkable. I'll give you another example: the 7th of the Ten Commandments is simply "non occides". That's all. A Latin novice can understand it. There's nothing poetic or complicated about those words or letters (it's a Latin mistranslation of the Hebrew "do not murder" anyway. I don't know if the Greeks made the same error).

    The Qur'an is certainly highly poetic, regardless of its meaning. Even without understanding a word you can notice poetic devices of assonance, alliteration and rhyme in every line of the book. Here's its shortest chapter, 111:

    1. Tab bat yadaa abee Lahabinw-wa tabb (I won't bother with the following lines)
    2. Maa aghna 'anhu maaluhu wa ma kasab
    3. Sa yas laa naran zaata lahab
    4. Wam ra-atuhu hamma latal-hatab
    5. Fee jeediha hab lum mim-masad
    English meaning:
    1. Perish the hands of the Father of Flame (Abu Lahab)! Perish he!
    2. No profit to him from all his wealth, and all his gains!
    3. Burnt soon will he be in a Fire of Blazing Flame!
    4. His wife shall carry the (crackling) wood - As fuel!-
    5. A twisted rope of palm-leaf fibre round her (own) neck!
  4. Callaina Feles Curiosissima

    • Civis Illustris

    Not much, since the Vulgate is a translation of the Bible into Latin (from Greek and Hebrew, its original languages) and therefore its complexity, or lack thereof, doesn't say much about the original texts (or questions like their "inspiredness", etc).

    To be fair, the Greek of the New Testament is also considered rather simple, as Greek goes. I can't speak for the Hebrew of the OT, though perhaps Etaoin Shrdlu could.
  5. Callaina Feles Curiosissima

    • Civis Illustris
    Who or what is the Father of Flame?
  6. Iohannes Aurum Technicus Auxiliarius

    • Technicus Auxiliarius
    Some of the interpretations of holy texts can be very vague.

    For example, the Qur'an states that Muslims are not allowed to consume Khamr under either certain circumstances or under any circumstance (this is often conflicted).

    What constitutes Khamr?

    In the strictest sense, Khamr refers to grape wine and date wine.

    Many common interpretations of Khamr include other alcoholic beverages such as mead, beer, sake, and spirits, as alcohol is a common intoxicant (and not recommended to consume in a desert environment, especially given that Islam originated in a desert).

    Some of the broadest interpretations of Khamr include caffeine (coffee, tea (not just kombucha, but regular hot teas such as green tea), and cola), tobacco, cannabis, and opium.

    Not just that, but some interpretations state that Muslims can consume alcohol outside of prayer (and not on Fridays).

    A fermented tea such as kombucha is considered either halal or haram depending on the individual imam. The same goes with using hand sanitizer in general (though it uses ethanol (i.e., drinking alcohol), hand sanitizer is hazardous when ingested).

    Even punishment for consuming Khamr is heavily debated among imams.

    See here:

    This is one of the many things I don't understand about Islam (and I'm not Muslim). To be fair though, Muhammad's way of weaning people of alcohol to sobriety is much more effective than a sudden prohibition (as was done in Canada and the United States with no success).
    Last edited by Iohannes Aurum, Dec 17, 2018
  7. tim05000 Member

    The Qur'an gives no explanation. So an enormous corpus of secondary sources had to be written to try explain what the Qur'an is saying. The secondary sources say Abu Lahab was Muhammad's uncle who refused to become Muslim and insulted him.

    I assumed that Catholics regard the Vulgate as the most authoritative bible. If not, then Christianity and Islam have very different perspective of what God's book- a book of words- ought to be. Muslims raise the Qur'an to a level of bibliolatry (women aren't allowed to touch it during their menses because their hands would be polluting it; the Taliban ban recycled paper because words of the Qur'an might have been in the original paper); Catholics are perhaps more relaxed about their official bible.
  8. Callaina Feles Curiosissima

    • Civis Illustris

    I don't know of any Catholics that follow such extreme measures in relation to the Vulgate (or any Bible translation). The Catholics that I do know (who are, granted, a highly educated subset, since I mostly know them through university) are quite well aware that the Bible was not originally written in Latin; and less well-educated Catholics probably can't read the Vulgate anyway.

    IMO, if any Christians can be accused of "bibliolatry", it's the Evangelical denominations, who tend to hold that every word of the Bible is "inspired" (which, for them, means something akin to "dictated by God") and is literally true, and that all one needs to know about spiritual matters is there in the Bible (i.e. the principle of sola scriptura, in contrast to the respect for church tradition and practice shown by the Catholic/Anglican/Orthodox branches of Christianity). I once attended a sermon in an Evangelical church where the pastor picked up the open Bible and placed it on his head, like a hat, to show that he was "under" (i.e. under the authority of) the Bible. A rather iconic image.
  9. Iohannes Aurum Technicus Auxiliarius

    • Technicus Auxiliarius
    Not just that, but during the inauguration of almost every American president, he (there are no female presidents yet, though HRC came close) would place his right hand on the Bible, have the front of his left hand facing away from him, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance often with eyes closed.

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