The Bad Translation Gambit

The invention of the printing press and with it, the wide dissemination of versions of the bible translated into colloquial English, was a catastrophe from which the Catholic Church never recovered. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church maintained its power through conducting mass exclusively in Latin, leaving the largely illiterate serf class no recourse except to take the clerical class’s word for it what the bible actually said. The translation of the bible into English leveled the playing field to some extent, but it also gave rise to a proselytization method I call the Bad Translation Gambit.

Briefly, the Bad Translation Gambit goes like this: A disbelieving heathen points out that a verse in a holy text is horrifyingly evil, such as Qur’an (2:282) which quantifies a woman’s testimony as worth half that of a man’s. The believer responds by saying that this verse means something completely different in the original language of the text – a language that the disbeliever (and quite often, the believer) do not speak as a native tongue (and certainly don’t speak the version spoken when the text was written).

Here is an example, from the conversation with the Muslim woman:

Note that the “Religion of Peace” website deliberately cuts off sayings of the prophet and then continues the quotation in the citation at the bottom. Most of the commentary in all these websites no way reflected the actual meanings of the verses and sayings, but picked out the grammatically and linguistically worst translation of the verse or quote and then expounded on its vagueness in the most irrelevant way possible.

Now, I have a degree in linguistics. So this is generally not a very successful gambit with me, because as soon as I ask to see the original text and the believer’s translation notes, it becomes extremely apparently that the assertion was not based on anything more than the believer’s desire to believe. As you can see in the full text of the letter below, she does not actually explain what is wrong with the translation, or how the true meaning was “grammatically or linguistically” lost. Whereas if I were countering the supposed prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus found in Isaiah 7, I wouldn’t simply say the translation is bad. I would explain HOW it was bad – that it mistranslated maiden as virgin, and that we know this because in the very next chapter, Isaiah impregnates the maiden in question!

It’s a poor debate tactic for another reason, though, for it relies on the assumption that not only is almightly god a hopeless monoglot, he couldn’t be bothered to divinely guide the work of the translators.

Notice further the accusation of bad faith, as though atheists are conspiring to flood the market with bad quranic translations. In the chapter cited, it is hardly the vagueness that is upsetting. It is the extremely specific devaluing of the word of women! Her failure to engage with what her holy book actually says in every translation I have ever read shows that she is simply flailing around, throwing a bunch of counter-“arguments” at me to see what sticks.

If you want real, serious scholarship (or if you’d like to speak to an Islamic scholar in the flesh and ask them your questions), then let me know and I can hook it up.

Again she presents the preLutheran idea that the Koran can only truly be understood by so-called scholars, and that we as mere plebes cannot possibly fathom its truthiness. I am not allowed to go by the plain reading of the Koran – I must read her “serious scholarship,” to see why it’s not abhorrent that a woman automatically inherits less than her brother.

Then she says:

As a practicing Muslim with some small inkling of religious knowledge, I found them a little bit insulting to my intellect.

Well, I fully agree: any book that says her testimony is worth half of a man’s testimony is far more than a little bit insulting to her intellect. But that website did not write the Koran: her prophet did.


About Yakamoz

What do other people have to say? "I think Yakamoz is a case study in bad behavior. She has tried to bully, threaten, and otherwise coerce people to concede her position. Even if it's for a good reason, her behavior has been egregious. People, especially men, have been sympathetic with her position. In return, she has not expressed any gratitude for men listening and supporting her, and taken a hostile tone to any man--and only men--that disagree with her in the slightest way. They've been trying to show they care, she's been trying to show she doesn't. And you know what? It has poisoned the discussion. I'm sure men are scared to speak, less they feel the wrath of hurricane Yakamoz, and I doubt any women feel the same because of her behavior."
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