Monday, April 19, 2010

"Und leider auch Theologie[...]"

Hunter S Thompson once remarked that he thought he could've enjoyed being a full-time sportswriter, but that before he took up that line of work he would've had to put a big hatpin through his frontal lobes, and then get a thesaurus, to make sure he didn't use the same adjective a dozen times in the same paragraph.

It may surprise you to know that I have daydreamed about becoming a pastor or priest. I'd have to perform the do-it-yourself hatpin-lobotomy first, of course, like Thompson before the switch to sportswriting that never was.

The title of this blog entry is from Goethe's Faust which is not only the most highly critically regarded piece of German literature, but also to this day the most-seen play on German stages, with hundreds of productions in an average year. It means "And unfortunately theology, too." Faust is sitting in his study at the beginning of the play, complaining that he's enegetically studied philosophy, law and medicine, "und leider auch Theologie." He goes on, "Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor!/ Und bin so klug als wie zuvor." My translation: "Here I stand, a poor cuss!/No more clever than I ever wuz." Soon after that he swears he would sell his soul for some real wisdom, and the Devil appears and sez Okay then! and the fun begins. It's a great play. A lot of Germans dislike it because unfortunately they were forced to study it as children, just as many people in English-speaking schools are taught to hate Shakespeare.

Another very popular quote by Goethe, to judge by the number of Google hits it generates, is "Die Geschichte des guten Jesus habe ich nun so satt, dass ich sie von keinem, außer von ihm selbst, hören möchte." My translation: "I'm so tired of the story of sweet Jesus, I don't want to hear it again unless He tells it to me personally." (The originals are a lot better. Goethe was a great poet. I'm not.) Do I ever know how Goethe felt! Hence the aforementioned need for a do-it-yourself hatpin lobotomy.

Today I read a blog post by a very sincere young thing who's all excited about a project to "discover the words of Jesus" by studying Aramaic. The thinking goes that the Gospels were originally written in Aramaic. Never mind that the consensus of scholars is that the Greek versions we have are the originals. Never mind the well-known principle of something always being lost in translation. Never mind those incomprehensible owner's manuels which illustrate the perils of multiple tranlations of the same text. "News Radio" did an episode about this sort of thing: "I have skills. Monkey-strong skills.") Never mind that there have already been Aramaic translations of the Bible, going back to the days when people still spoke Aramaic! Never mind, never mind! Being religious means never having to make sense! Maybe it's this freedom which draws me to it.

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