Saturday, February 20, 2016

Review of Ostler, Passwords to Paradise

I'M PRETTY SURE GOD IS MULTILINGUAL: What Language Does God Speak? Christianity’s move from Aramaic and Greek into Latin gave the Roman church its imperial bearing (BARTON SWAIM, WSJ).
Does an English-speaking Christian understand the gospel in ways that, simply as a consequence of language, differ significantly from the way, say, a Chinese Christian understands that same doctrine?

In a sense the answer is obvious: Of course. But how? Nicholas Ostler, a linguist and historian of languages, sets out in “Passwords to Paradise” to document the many and subtle ways in which the world’s three “missionary faiths”—Buddhism, Islam and Christianity—have altered as a result of moving from one language to another.

The book is at its strongest when recounting large-scale and long-term changes. When Buddhism moved northward into Gandhara (roughly, present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan) in the second century B.C., it moved also into a new dialect (Gandhari) and thus opened itself to influences from Iran and even Greece. Over time, the doctrine of the dharma became less a program for adepts and more a universalized program for human deliverance. Similarly, Christianity’s move from Aramaic and Greek into Latin—the language of the Roman empire—would eventually give the Roman church its imperial bearing. “The Roman Catholic Church as it developed,” Mr. Ostler writes, “is unthinkable without the precedent of the (western) Roman Empire.”

Read on. The Aramaic-speaking Eastern church is not neglected. And cross-file under Aramaic/Syriac Watch.