Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Murderous History of Bible Translations (Harry Freedman)

The Murderous History of Bible Translations by Harry Freedman is a concise, entertaining, and informative look at the history of Bible translations over time.  It covers both the butchering of language in translation and of those who dared translate the Bible in the past.  Freedman's work is a very solid read that highlights the ebb and flow of controversies that have arisen in translating the best-selling book of all time.

The author covers the chronological spectrum of Bible translations, starting before the time of Christ with what is now the Old Testament, continuing through the early era of Christianity, and then the subsequent violence that gradually arose as scholars tried to translate the Bible for the masses against the wishes of those who thought they knew better.  Bible burning became a noted pastime and "tradition" of sorts among those who either tried to suppress increased access to the book, or simply had an axe to grind against how a particular version was translated.

In addition, Freedman talks about lesser known translations and how they came about as a result of some form of discrimination or in a couple of cases, as a way for a particular culture to gain a better understanding...while leaving others confused as a result!

The combination of historical background, controversy, and the introduction of individuals that are rarely heard about makes for an informative story about humanity's struggle with and against the Bible.  If you have a background in history, religion, or sociology, this book is definitely for you.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ethics in the Real World (Peter Singer)

Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter is a collection of opinion columns and short essays written by Peter Singer, a professor at Princeton University.  The book bridges a wide array of topics, fusing the classical realm of philosophy and logic with the modern perspective, where philosophy acts to advocate for values and takes positions on social, political, and economic issues.

Singer brings wide-ranging and not always politically mainstream thoughts to issues that range from romance to sport, money to animal rights.  His thoughts can be challenging to more conservative points of view, and they are expressed in more of a structured opinion-editorial way as opposed to a research-intensive method.  Some footnotes and reference bullets are incorporated at points when the author cites another writer's work.

Ethics in the Real World is a relatively quick read given the wide range of topics that are covered; every essay is less than six pages in length.  You may not agree with what is articulated and you may find offense at some of Singer's points, but credit should certainly be given at the wide scope of topics and depth of thought that he has taken.  


Friday, October 7, 2016

Passwords to Paradise (Nicholas Ostler)

Passwords to Paradise: How Languages Have Re-Invented World Religions by Nicholas Ostler provides a thorough review of the relationship between languages and religions throughout the centuries.  Focusing on the world's major religions, Ostler offers a detailed look at the evolution of major faiths and the role that language played in each.

Ostler provides a chronological perspective to his work, starting with Buddhism and its spread from India to China.  Then he covers the development, spread, and subsequent denominational splits within Christianity before closing out with a look at Islam and its spread during the Middle Ages.  Within each, the author discusses the various adaptations of politics, religion, economics, and more in showing how these major faiths were shaped.  Substantial focus is given to Christianity, its origins in four languages, and how it adapted from its early beginnings to become the dominant force in European religion and political life for centuries.  Use of various languages and their English translations of numerous holy and scholarly works are provided to add additional context and value in showing the evolution of language in most of the primary world faiths.

Passwords to Paradise is very scholarly and was not a book one could breeze through -- such an approach did not appear to be the intent of Ostler, who is well-versed in over two dozen languages according to his bio.  It is a book that will make you think and will take some time to work through.  For those who are interested in learning the symbiotic relationship that religion and language have had over the centuries, this book is a great introductory tool.