February 20, 2007

God Inside

I’ve been searching for and have finally found a copy of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene at a used bookstore here in North Palm Beach. This Gnostic gospel with commentary by Jean-Yves LeLoup, and translated to English by Joseph Rowe is mostly commentary as Mary’s Gospel is missing 10 of 19 pages, and Leloup’s text with an additional forward by Jacob Needleman is 176 pages.

Mary’s partial Gospel is one of the books the fledgling Catholic Church decided to delete from the accepted canon in the 4th century AD, and is at the same time one of the earliest gospels to be written. Of course the big boys in the Church were trying to corner Jesus for themselves and leave the feminine out of it, so Mary got dumped. That’s putting it crudely perhaps, but honestly. Be that as it may, I’m enjoying the book tremendously, and I find it uplifting. I’ve always felt that the Gnostic approach to God as being deeply rooted inside all of us to be a difficult comfort because it suggests that God is not just far away out there in the universe, but that if we are willing to carefully sift down through and analyze the complex structures inside our own person we will find God. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene has reinforced that belief.

Leloup has used translations of the original Coptic/Semitic and ancient Greek, in his translation to French. Thus, when I read Mary’s Gospel in the English translation, I am reading it through at least 4 separate translations, as I do with the accepted canonical texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However, Leloup’s explanation of Greek terms sheds light on both Mary’s Gospel and the canon as well. For instance, Leloup translates the Greek in Mary, p8, line 23 as “Walk Forth!” He then goes on to explain that these words are the same in the Greek and its underlying Semitic terms as the language in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) which have been translated as “Blessed are you” instead. Leloup’s translation makes the Beatitudes active instead of passive. Instead of “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” we have, “Walk forth peacemakers, for you shall be called the children of God.” In Leloup’s translation Jesus does more than passively bless those who make peace. Rather, Jesus exhorts us to actively make peace in the world. Neither are the meek merely blessed, but they are called to walk forth into the world and inherit it. According to this translation, Jesus tells us to actively participate in our lives and the world around us.

At the same time Leloup claims that Mary’s Jesus asks us to reexamine the world through his eyes, and not those of the society around us, because the world in and of itself does not have meaning. Society makes meaning. Each of us makes meaning during our diurnal existence. And, each of us has the choice to accept the meaning we are given by those around us, or to look inside, find “the Teacher,” and return to the original creation. At that point, and only then, will we be able to walk forth, make peace, and inherit the earth.

As a thinking self-activated Christian I found Leloup’s translation and commentary comforting, but at the same time, I wondered how much of his interpretation was colored by a postmodern layer – that individual interpretation of the text is more important than the originator’s intent - in addition to the Gnostic percept that subjective introspection allows us to find God inside the self. That is the problem with being the kind of Christian that I am - the harder I look, the more questions I have. At the same time, it also means that Jesus lives and evolves in my thoughts daily.

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Blogger Anji said...

I've often wondered how much a translator’s personal view point could change the meaning of a text. In Worcester Cathedral (UK)I was fascinated to find the tomb of a scholar who should have worked (with others) on translating the Bible into English for the King James version. He died before he started the work. I wonder where we would be today if his version had been used?

11:33 AM  
Blogger Isaac said...

Hi anji,

In an alternate reality, one of the miriad other possible worlds, I'm sure his translation lives as part of the Bible.


10:41 AM  

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