"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
So opens the Gospel of John, an ancient text translated into almost every language, at once a compelling and beguiling metaphor for the Christian story of the Beginning. To further complicate matters, the words we read now are in any number of languages that would have been unknown or unrecognizable at the time of their composition. The gospel may have been originally dictated or written in Aramaic, but our only written source for the story is in Greek. Today, as your average American reader of the New Testament picks up his or her Bible off the shelf, the phrase as it appears has been translated from various linguistic intermediaries before its current manifestation in modern English. How to understand these words then, when so many other translators, languages, and cultures have exercised some level of influence on them?
Christian tradition is not unique in facing this problem. All religionsif they have global aspirationshave to change in order to spread their influence, and often language has been the most powerful agent thereof. Passwords to Paradise explores the effects that language difference and language conversion have wrought on the world's great faiths, spanning more than two thousand years. It is an original and intriguing perspective on the history of religion by a master linguistic historian.
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About the Author
Nicholas Ostler is the author of The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel, Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin, and Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. He is chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages (www.ogmios.org), a charity that supports the efforts of small communities worldwide to better know and use their languages. A scholar with a working knowledge of eighteen languages, Ostler lives in Hungerford, England.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Great Bonds of Humanity-Languages and Faiths xiii
1 Scattered Jades-A Mexican Virgin Mary 1
2 On Ass's Lip, and a Great Conveyance-The Buddha Taken North 15
3 "Fine Words Are Not Trusty"-Aryan Vehicle on Road into Chinese 43
4 "To Deep of Lip and Heavy of Tongue"-From Galilee to the Gentile 60
5 "In This Sign You Will Conquer"-Chosen by Emperors 75
6 "Every Man Heard… His Own Language"-One Christ, Many Tongues? 92
7 "Proclaiming the Good News"-With Christ into Northern Europe 123
8 "Adze-Headed Across the Sea"-White Martyrdom 129
9 The Savior as Our Chieftain-The Gospel of the War Band 138
10 "Listen, All Ye Slavs"-Orthodoxy Rejects Trilingualism 164
11 Conversion by the Book-The Faith Enforced in Latin America 185
12 Gloria Tlatoani-Christian Literature among the Indios 217
13 Extirpación de Idiomas?-Asserting Monolingualism 235
14 "Back to the Sources"-God's Word and Translation 241
15 God and Language Beyond Imitation-One Enough 263
Conclusion: The Enduring Marks of Language Conversions 290