Thursday, October 22, 2009

What Authority Do Translations of Sacred Texts Have?

Solange deSantis has a piece in RNS asking this question. She interviews Cheryl Peterson who has recently updated Christian Science's foundational text by Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,'' for a 21st century readership.

Christian Science headquarters, which is based in Boston, made no attempt to stop Petersen’s book, said Phil Davis, who manages media and legislative affairs for the church. “The copyright on `Science and Health’ lapsed many years ago, so certainly (the revision) is something someone can do if they wish,” he said.

Since “Science and Health” is regarded as a companion to the Bible, less a sacred text than a textbook, Petersen’s revision is not seen as blasphemous or as desecrating Eddy’s original writings, Davis said.

Still, Davis said he finds Petersen’s revision unnecessary. “The text as written by Mary Baker Eddy has had great import in my life. It has timeless impact and doesn’t need to be changed with the times,” he said.

Towards the end of the piece there's a quote:

Some believe a sacred text should be only studied in its original language, said Deirdre Good of General Theological Seminary in New York, and that translations are inevitably interpretations. But that view has limitations. “It looks as if Jesus spoke Aramaic. So should we learn Aramaic?” Good asked.

For a discussion of the authority of individual translations of the Bible, see my piece in Episcopal Cafe.

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