"Notoriously hard to follow"

by Thomas Brady in


Yes, I've come out of hiding, but don't get too excited until this happens a few times in the same month.

I've been sitting on this post for a week or so. Every time I remember reading "Putting The Talmud Online" (kottke.org), I chuckle.

A Washington Post article is linked, describing the lengths to which a group has gone to put the Talmud online. The Talmud, if you're not familiar, is a religious text created as part of the Jewish tradition. It's not technically considered scripture—not part of The Bible. It's a collection of the writings of rabbis and their students discussing the scriptures. Interpreting them. Arguing about their meaning. Introducing new ideas mean to build upon what's found in the scriptures.

So what cracked me up about this article was this pull quote that Tim Carmody chose:

The Talmud is notoriously hard to follow, even if you understand Aramaic. For most readers, a straight translation will not be useful, as additional, contextualizing information, based on expertise with the tradition and text, is necessary to follow the arguments.

I came from the Christian tradition. In that tradition (or at least the flavors of it that I grew up with), The Bible is read and interpreted with great fervor. People have favorite verses. They memorize lots of them. They quote them aloud during times of great joy or great pain. These scriptures are very important to them.

However, far too many of these people are unwilling to admit that they have no idea what the hell the Bible actually says. They like to frame it as though The Bible is a personal love letter written to them, individually, in contemporary English. They are uncomfortable with anyone having a different interpretation of what a scripture means to them, but they are flat out unwilling to admit that their interpretation is based on layers and layers of abstraction—translations of translations, completely devoid of cultural context.

I wish more Christians realized that "[The Bible] is notoriously hard to follow, even if you understand [Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek]. For most readers, a straight translation will not be useful, as additional, contextualizing information, based on expertise with the tradition and text, is necessary to follow the arguments."

Otherwise, I’m afraid, you end up with people believing that they are justified in owning slaves, in hating people who are different from them, in generally being deplorable assholes, because, they believe, “the Bible tells them so.”