Every once in a while, I find myself going through a phase where I become intensely interested in matters of theology and spirituality. To call it “a phase” is maybe not taking it seriously enough, but my point is that this feeling cycles in and out, and I appear to be entering another high-interest time. I’ve had a number of great conversations with a friend who has a similar religious background to mine, more great conversations with another friend who is studying to be a yoga teacher, and other great conversations with acquaintances who have an interest in the subject. This is happening at a time when I’ve been practicing yoga more regularly and loving the spiritual lessons that it has to offer and have also been reading more on the subject. As you may know if you have read this blog for a while, I grew up a serious Christian of the evangelical sort, but as an adult have become … I’m not sure what. I’ve become someone who is interested in “spirituality,” the sort of person I used to scoff at when I was much younger. It’s wonderful when life turns you into the sort of person you used to scoff at, isn’t it?
Anyway, I recently finished Neil Douglas-Klotz’s book Prayers of the Cosmos, which offers alternate translations of some of Jesus’s words: the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, and some other famous sayings. I’m not entirely sure of the merits of the argument Douglas-Klotz opens with, which is that we should look to Aramaic versions of the New Testament to understand what Jesus said, instead of Greek versions. But I’m not really concerned about arguments over which Biblical manuscripts are the earliest or most reliable. What interests me is that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and that Aramaic is a language where, according to Douglas-Klotz, words can have a range of meanings in a way they don’t in English. This means that the words Jesus spoke can be translated in a variety of ways, and each translation is there in the original words:
Furthermore, like its sister languages Hebrew and Arabic, Aramaic can express many layers of meaning. Words are organized and defined based on a poetic root-and-pattern system, so that each word may have several meanings, at first seemingly unrelated, but upon contemplation revealing an inner connection. The same word may be translated, for instance, as “name,” “light,” “sound,” or “experience.” Confronted with such variety, one needs to look at each word or phrase from several different points of view … Jesus showed a mastery of this use of transformative language, which survives even through inadequate translations.
What the book does is give a line that Jesus spoke and then analyze the Aramaic words and the possible translations of those words. So for example, the first line of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven,” could also be translated “Oh Birther, Father-Mother of the Cosmos,” because the roots of the Aramaic word “abwoon” point to a “divine parent” and also to a “cosmic birthing process.” The line “hallowed be thy name” becomes “focus your light within us,” and the line “Thy kingdom come” becomes “create your reign of unity now.” Douglas-Klotz’s translations point to a Jesus that is much more mystical and feminist than the one we are generally familiar with.
This book isn’t entirely scholarly, though; it could also be used as a devotional or a guide to meditation. Douglas-Klotz includes poetic responses to each of the lines he analyzes and also what he calls “body prayers,” which are ideas for how to meditate on each of the lines and how to use the prayers to help deal with life’s problems.
It’s a very short book, only about 90 pages, without a lot of text on each page, but it’s the kind of book you might want to read very slowly, since there is a lot to absorb and it seems appropriate to take the time to really soak up the language.
I liked this book because while I’m not all that invested in arguments about the reliability of manuscripts and how Jesus’s words got recorded, I do think the issue of translation is fascinating, and I like the idea that the version of Jesus I learned about in childhood isn’t necessarily the only version of him out there.