Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Benedict's misquotes?

In his Regensburg Address, Pope Benedict quoted the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus as translated by Professor Theodore Khoury:

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
You know what happened next. However, it seems that Khoury's translation may have been a bit strong.

Sandro Magister at Settimo Cielo reproduces a letter to the Pope written by don Silvio Barbaglia of the diocese of Novara in which he seeks to correct the translation of the infamous phrase.

According to don Silvio, the context was one of comparison: the ancient Law of Moses and the newer Law of Mohammad, the fact that it was more recent being, according to the Persian in dispute with the emperor, what made it superior.

The emperor replies that whatever Mohammad brought that is new is ... Well, Khoury's version has 'mauvais', which is rendered into English as 'evil', and into Italian as 'cose cattive' (bad things). The original Greek, says don Silvio, uses a comparative, not an absolute adjective, which would best be translated as 'worse' or 'of less import'.

The second adjective, as well, should be understood as comparative, or rather, as a superlative and with its meaning as something like 'dehumanising'. This because he is approaching the main point of his argument: the use of violence in the diffusion of the faith.

So don Silvio would translate it like this:
Show me whatever Mohammad brought that was new, and you will find only worse things and the most dehumanising of all, the command to spread with the sword the faith that he preached.
SFW, I hear you mutter. Not a huge change, I'd agree, but a significant one. In Khoury's version, Mohammad's own additions to the Law of Moses are 'evil and inhuman', and that's it. In don Silvio's version, his contribution is only of less value than the original, not necessarily bad in itself. And the adjective 'dehumanising' applies only to the command about violence.

Mind you, the connection with violence is still made, if anything it is more explicit. So it's good to know that our enthusiastic friends were not shouting for nothing.

Unfortunately, the article is in Italian and doesn't appear on Sandro Magister's English-language blog.

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