Some vague and open-ended musings on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

Related Post Roulette

84 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    Jewish prayer works the same way that Catholic prayer does. There is a specific or bunch of specific prayers for any given situation, service, or holiday. The Orthodox tend to be more precise with this than the non-Orthodox.

    A lot of Orthodox prayers consist of reading the portions of the Torah dealing with sacrifices. The idea is that even if we can not perform the mandated sacrifices, we can at least do it vicariously by reading the instructions out loud.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:


      Lemme add it real quick.Report

      • zic in reply to Jaybird says:

        But if you don’t add it, aren’t you sacrificing it? Vicariously?

        (really thought provoking post, @jaybird and as soon as my provoked thoughts settle down, I’ll try to add something serious to go with something silly; but it takes some chewing.)Report

    • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Okay, here’s my thoughts on Jewish Prayer (again):

      My experiences with Jewish Prayer for many years came from Fiddler on the Roof. There were two kinds of prayers: the official ones that were highly ritualized (as seen in the scene where Tevye was praying while his wife wanted to talk to him and he kept signalling “one moment” as he took his sweet time as she knew that she really wanted to have a conversation with him but she also knew that he had standing to make her wait as he was going through his prayer ritual) and the highly personal ones in which Tevye was talking to God on a very personal level and kept talking to God throughout the day. (Exemplified in the wonderful little scene where Tevye says “Dear God. Was that necessary? Did you have to make him lame just before the Sabbath? That wasn’t nice. It’s enough you pick on me. Bless me with five daughters, a life of poverty, that’s all right. But what have you got against my horse? Really, sometimes I think, when things are too quiet up there, you say to yourself, ‘Let’s see. What kind of mischief can I play on my friend, Tevye?’” And his conversation is interrupted by his wife and Tevye says up to God “I’ll talk to you later.”)

      LeeEsq pointed out recently that Christians worship God, Jews argue with God. I’m wondering how this relationship differs among the Orthodox, the Conservative, the Reform, and so on and how their sub-cultures have evolved in their relationship to God based on having both these kinds of prayers.

      Assuming, of course, that I can use Fiddler as a template here. If I can’t I’m pretty much going to have to re-write my entire concept of Jewish prayer.

      Now: how much of that did I get wrong?Report

      • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’m fondly remembering the discussion of whether and why G-d created airplane food (this with the rabbi as well).

        The Orthodox are breeding themselves out of cognitive flexibility (so what you hear of Chelm is not what they’re like now).

        Jews are a surprisingly humorous people, and they carry that to their relationships with both clergy and G-d.

        I was raised conservative — You have “standard prayers” that you’re supposed to say, nearly at all times (there’s the classic “new season” prayer that you say whenever you do something for the first time in a year). You pray before you go to sleep, and when you wake again.

        Jews don’t have the idea of grace, and forgiveness (from G-d) is something sought after once a year. No confessions (except on Yom Kippur when we stand up and say we’ve murdered someone, and that’s so that the real murderers ought not to feel embarrassed), no debts to fix.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

          Was there a tradition of conversational prayers within your circle? (Or, if not a tradition, a habit?)Report

          • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

            Aloud? No.

            You must understand that much of Judaism’s relationship with G-d has changed because of the Holocaust.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

              Hrm. I suppose that Fiddler has to be seen as a post-Holocaust movie even as it discusses Pogroms.

              Not that I should be getting my info on the relationship between Jews and their God from pop culture anyway, of course.Report

              • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

                It’s as good a place as any. Lots of humorists are Jews.

                Scream at G-d, howl at him, doubt him even being there.

                That’s all part of Judaism. It’s not praying, precisely — but it is opening up to the Lord on High, even if all you’ve got to give is rage.

                It’s Christianity that says you must have faith that G-d is good and loving and merciful. Judaism says “G-d’s there, we’re pretty sure, most of the time at any rate. Don’t believe if you can’t, but don’t torture others with your doubt.”

                Not for Nothing Nietzsche claimed that Christians had killed G-d. The Jewish G-d is bigger than the universe, and close enough to talk to without feeling totally silly.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

        Most actual Jewish prayers found in Jewish prayer books are just as reverential towards God as Christian and Muslim prayers. Jews do not actually argue with God during synagogue services. The thing about arguing with God is that most forms of Judaism are much more comfortable with people being angry at God than Christianity and Islam officially seem to be. It isn’t an official teaching but it is an unofficial one. I think part of this is because the idea of God is a lot more abstract even in Orthodox Judaism than it is in Christianity or Islam.

        There is a poem by a Jew, I can’t find it right now, whose opening line is something like “When you see my stars, sing of my graces said God. Sing of my graces or revile. Revile is a type of praise.” The point of the poem that the worse thing humans can be is apathetic towards their surrounding and that any positive or negative reaction is better.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Well, even the Evangelicals have prayer books with formal prayers and the ritualized stuff that happens in the group on Sunday is also ritualized and formalized.

          But church is seen as a “getting your bearings back” after spending the week in The World. After you get your bearings back, you have to go out there and into production/in the field and that’s where things change… but the “unofficial” stuff was seen as just as important as the official stuff.

          It was *REAL* in a way that the ritualized stuff was not real.

          To go back to Fiddler, the conversations between Tevye and God were seen as evidence of his exemplary devotion rather than the stuff he talked about around the Tradition song… and so the implication was that we should be like Tevye not because of how he handled his Traditions but because of the things he did in between his Traditions.Report

          • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

            Deeds are indeed more important than words. Judaism just puts that in writing a lot more than christians do.

            The only Christians that were freeform about worship were the Quakers and the Shakers, and half of that was because they were hatters (the speaking in tongues declined in proportion to the removal of mercury from their diet).Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

            @jaybird, I found the poem, its by Aaron Zeitlin. It goes “Praise me, says God, and I know that I will know that you love Me. Curse me, says God, and I will know that you love Me…Sing out My graces, says God, raise your fist against me and revile, says God, reviling is also a kind of praise…But if you sit fenced off in apathy, if you look at the stars and yawn, if you see suffering and don’t cry out, if you don’t praise and don’t revile, then I created you in vain.”


            The full poem:

            Judaism is more comfortable with anger at God than the other monotheistic religions because Judaism is more focused on this world than the after life. Railing against God is seen as being part of this world and caring and that makes it better than not feeling anything at all.Report

  2. zic says:

    On the Koran: hearing it read in English seems like Picard and Dathon on El-Adrel. It’s so metaphorical as to be poetry, and to mean all things to all readers without the grounding of the original language, or so I guess.

    Language, we’ve long understood, definitely shapes how we think. Less scientifically understood, but long understood via culture, prayer also shapes how we respond, I think. The habit of prayer gives you a moment to recover from you first thoughts and impressions, and reseats you back into your cultural mores. The more structured and specific the prayer, the more organized the religion, or so I’d guess, and the greater deference to authority (with the possible exception of Judaism, where questioning authority is part of the process).

    It sort of seems important to recognize that everyone prays in some way, be it the mental call-out for aid and comfort in a moment of tragedy or the focus to find the resolve through, or the heartfelt well-wishing of another. Even atheist pray.*

    But I do think that the further from the original language, the further from a practiced response, the more the prayer is an improvisation to situation, and not a practiced cultural habit, which creates room for new organized prayer and new organized cultural norms.

    *these are my thoughts as a hedge-witch, and in no way should they be construed as grounded in anything but my own observations of the human condition.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to zic says:

      One of the things I noticed while listening to the religious programming over there was the huge difference in assumptions about that audience.

      In the Southern Babtist tradition, we were taught all about apologetics. Well, the attempt was there, anyway. We were taught that we would be having arguments and we needed to learn counter-arguments. And counter-counter-counter-arguments to the counter-counter-arguments. And on and on and on. We were taught about the importance of putting on our Armor and making sure that we had our Sword handy. (That was one of the things that always made me giggle a little inside. “Bob, let me see your Sword real quick” as he was asking for Bob’s Bible.)

      We would be having arguments about this, we were told. We had to be prepared.

      When listening to the Muslim stuff, I found myself perplexed. They talked about that one guy I linked to in the other post and how he read a verse and he saw that it was true and he converted… and they said that they would read a translation of the verse to us, but we should really read it in the original, and then the verse said something like “Allah is the most merciful.”

      I was on the edge of my seat. “AND???” I yelled at the radio.

      The guy read that Allah is the most merciful and then he saw that it was true and then he converted.

      And I was sitting there wondering what the arguments would be and thus what the counter-arguments would be and thus the counter-counter-arguments… and I got a short declarative statement.

      My thought then was “If there is no argument, there can be no counter-argument”.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to zic says:

      On the Koran: hearing it read in English seems like Picard and Dathon on El-Adrel. It’s so metaphorical as to be poetry, and to mean all things to all readers without the grounding of the original language, or so I guess.

      Language, we’ve long understood, definitely shapes how we think. Less scientifically understood, but long understood via culture, prayer also shapes how we respond, I think.

      An here, we see that Zic is a true Trek fan. After spending the first paragraph discussing Picard, she then immidiately makes an implicit reference to WorfReport

      • zic in reply to Alan Scott says:

        hahahahahahaha, best, most joyous laugh I’ve had all day!

        Thank for that link, too, that’s exactly what I was striving for by intuition but without words (lack of education and migraine to prevent educating myself,) to make it so.Report

  3. Stillwater says:

    I wonder how useful the following distinctions would be to clarify some of these issues. One would be the type of relationship which holds between an individual/church/culture and God: subservience to, worship of, arguing with. A second one would be the specificity of The Word/Rules regarding what that relationship is comprised of. Obviously, there’s an interplay between the two concepts and, of course, and certain psychological properties of believers come into play. But it seems to me that the greatest strength of judaism is that the relationship with God (individually as well as collectively) is dynamic rather than static (sorta generally) whereas in Islam (or parts of Islamict worship) it’s much more fixed. Christians fall somewhere in the middle. And because of that (and this is what I’d really like to talk about but don’t exactly know how!) certain relationships with God accord more power to (ie, are more empowering of) the individual than others without that potency creating fissures within the broader collective identity from which it emerges. Or that out on one edge, the relationship between a particular relationship with god and an affirmation of individual power is (somehow!) a positive feedback loop which strengthens both religious identity as well as that particular relationship with God. Maybe these distinctions manifest in prayer (I’m sure they do) in the ways you outline or are wondering about. Maybe not, a course.Report

    • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

      Consider the Maya, where individual people are not unique (with the exception of the Jaguar, Xbalanque); each person is reborn; you Stillwater might be your grandfather and he might be his uncle going back to creation. Each person living the rebirth of an ancestor; a do-over, without the imperative to improve over previous lives associated with reincarnation.

      It leads to a perspective where similar things can be interchanged; so the Virgin Mary and Blood Woman (both had virgin births,) one pure, one a temptress. Or Jesus and a local demi-God; both worshipped by people, their alters switched in and out of the place of honor in the home through the year.

      It’s a world view where things are interchangeable objects, like lego. It’s taken advanced engineering and object-oriented programming to get us Westerners there.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to zic says:


        I’m not sure I understand that comment in relation to what I wrote. I was going in what seems to be a different direction: that within the normative/ritualistic restrictions which comprise membership in a particular religion certain types of relationships with god can empower individuals to not only act more freely but might compel (or at least incline) them to do so, and that those defining characteristics may manifest in the types of prayers people engage in. I’m supposing that there actually are stark contrasts between religions wrt the above mentioned properties (which are really just an extension of the distinction Jaybird cites Lee Esq as making). So I’m not quite sure how reincarnation factors in, actually.Report

        • zic in reply to Stillwater says:


          I’m challenged today, I apologize. I thought what you wrote very good, but lacking the third component of how religion/language shape the thought patterns of a whole people in ways that are not easy to recognize outside that group, and I gave the Maya as an example because the difference is pretty profound.

          It’s not reincarnation, it’s that Bob is reborn in his son or grandson; each a separate person but each part of the whole; hence the analogy to object-oriented programming; All future Bob’s are like calling up this original comment box called Bob, but each filled new comments that are Bob2, Bob3, Bob4, etc. It creates a way of thinking that looks for parallel processes, that intuitively makes things interchangeable (so Jesus and a local icon, for instance, will each get swapped out one for the other, and worshipped for a portion of the calendar.) Even calendars; remember the brohaha over the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar? It’s one of many they use; each with its own logic; each marking some different cyclical event that may or may not be related to our concept of calendar as marking revolutions around the sun.

          So a third influence is the very perception of logic that’s underlaid by language and religion. The K’iche words for ‘calendar’ holds meanings of how to think about counting time that the English words will never hint at, and most people with English as a primary language will never consider.

          Another example might be the Aborigine directional speaking, which uses cardinal compass points; he was south of me, for instance, instead of left and right, front and back.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

      Well, one of the things I was thinking about was how much more fluid Christianity seems than either Judaism or Islam. I wonder if the translation of a translation of a translation thing has a lot to do with that.

      I’d like to know how much of a tradition of conversational prayer with Allah there is in Islam, if there is one at all.

      One of the stories I’ve heard about Islam’s pillar of praying five times a day involves Mohammed, Moses, and Allah.

      Mohammed goes to Heaven to talk to Allah about prayer and he comes out and talks to Moses and says “Allah and I agreed that Muslims should pray 100 times a day.”

      Moses snorts and says “that’s way too many times. Nobody could ever pull that off. Go back and bargain down.”

      Depending on the storyteller, you have a chunk of numbers after that and different responses of Moses saying “Nope, still too many. Go back again and bargain down.” 75, 50, 40, 30, 25, 20, 15, 12, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6…

      Mohammed comes out and says “Allah and I have agreed that Muslims should pray five times a day.” Moses wrinkles his nose and says “that’s still too many times. Go back and bargain down.” Mohammed then yells at Moses. “I have bargained with God too many times! I am ashamed! Muslims will pray five times a day!”

      Good story, right?

      Well, Paul told the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing”. We see the example of that in Fiddler, I have read koans that talk about the end state of prayer to be where the monk prays without noticing that he is praying, and that sort of thing.

      If you are “only” praying five times a day, it is possible to keep it somewhat ritualized. If you pray without ceasing, all times, without even noticing that you are praying? You’ve pretty much resigned yourself to ad hoc prayer.

      And teaching the next generation to pray will be easy if you have a formula and downright difficult if you teach that each prayer is done using a basic template but, hey, make it your own because the important thing is to make it your own.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to Jaybird says:

        “I wonder if the translation of a translation of a translation thing has a lot to do with that.”

        In fairness, any decent modern translation of the Christian Bible starts from the earliest sources. There are issues with those, but that is a different discussion. On the other hand, there are some terrible modern translations, some intentionally so.Report

        • I believe all of the revisions to the ASV have been direct translations of the Novum Testamentum Graece and the Hebrew scripture. Same for the NIV.

          But of course, plenty still swear by the ol’ KJV.Report

        • “Decent” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there.

          The two biggest translations are the King James and the NIV. The NIV is a perennial best-seller and the KJV is arguably the all-time #1.

          Now, I’m an RSV man, myself… but if we’re talking about culture, we pretty much have to talk about the stuff that is most likely to be found in any given nook/cranny rather than the stuff that appeals to the scholarly types.Report

          • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

            Looking at Wikipedia, it looks like the RSV and later versions of it even use the Dead Sea Scrolls.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

              Honestly, the best stuff I’ve encountered are the attempts to translate JUST ONE THING rather than a collection of a whole bunch of things.

              I mean, I’d recommend Fox’s translation of The Five Books Of Moses over, above, and beyond any translation I’ve found in any Bible. The recent Paul Seminar came out with a version of Paul’s Letters that I prefer to the RSV.

              But there’s only so much time in the day. The RSV is good enough to argue with the Jehovah’s Witnesses when they come over.Report

              • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                I am not even remotely qualified to evaluate Biblical translations, so I just have to hope that the scholars who used the original texts did a reasonably good job of it.Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                Well this is really interesting. “Righteousness” vs. “reliability” changes the entire text.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

                Oh, yeah. It helps the reader to realize that Paul was a guy, talking about theology, with his peeps when you read those words rather than being all caught up in how this was Saint Paul Providing The Finishing Touches On The KJV.Report

              • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, now I might have to read that.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Fox’s translation of The Five Books Of Moses

                Is that the one that cut all of Leviticus besides 20:13?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                The Five Books of Moses. Seriously. You’ll love it. It takes the cadence of the Hebrew language along with a more functional translation to give a better idea of what the books sound like to people who know the original language.

                Here’s the KJV version of the opening of Genesis:

                In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

                And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

                And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

                Here’s Rabbi Fox’s:

                At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth,

                when the earth was wild and waste,

                darkness over the face of Ocean,

                rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters—

                God said: Let there be light! And there was light.

                What a difference!

                You need a copy of this. Seriously.Report

              • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters

                That’s interesting.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

                Why do you say that?

                Also, Fox appears to be two short.


              • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

                “Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” is very vague, amophic, but “rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters” feels very much like a spirit extended into the world just above the water.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

                I have no idea who did this translation of the opening lines of Genesis, from Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews, is this:

                “At first God crafted the skies and the land, but the land was tumble-bumble, dark hid the deep, and God’s wind hissed at the face of the waters. But God said “Light will be,” and it was light. So it was dusk and it was dawn, Day One…”Report

            • Richard Hershberger in reply to Chris says:

              As for the NIV, to quote the Font of All Knowledge (i.e. Wikipedia) “The core translation group consisted of fifteen Biblical scholars using Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts…”Report

          • Richard Hershberger in reply to Jaybird says:

            ““Decent” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there.”

            I would characterize the use of the earliest available sources as part of the definition of a “decent” translation: necessary but not sufficient.Report

          • Richard Hershberger in reply to Jaybird says:

            Sure, the King James is a big all-time seller. It has been around quite a bit longer than the others (excluding earlier translations long out of print).

            There are some corners of American Protestantism that insist on the King James. Even conservative Evangelicals mostly think those guys are weird. (If you are going to do it right, insist on the inspired 1611 edition: not one of those degenerate later editions.) (Though there is something to be said for the Barker/Lucas edition of 1631, but it is hard to find copies.)Report

  4. Kazzy says:

    I’ve been told that the Koran is not meant to be read in any language other than the original Arabic. This was said by a Muslim woman but who knows how representative she was or how universal what she was taught was.

    That said, I’ve thought generally about the issues with translation and how so many words don’t really translate, not without something being lost. Especially when you consider words whose etymology lies in other languages or which have evolved within the language over time.

    For instance, if someone translated the original name of this site and landed on something akin to “Group of Regular Men”, would that be accurate? What if they arrived at “Team of Normal People”? Are we closer or further? Do those differences matter? They really can, quite dramatically, depending on the languages being discussed.

    Obviously, we NEED to translate, but the further we get from the source material, the worse off we are.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

      For what it’s worth, the only people I’ve seen argue that the Koran ought to be translated into English are atheists, Judeo-Christian religious scholars, and otherwise American English speakers.

      I have *NEVER* encountered a Muslim who told me that a Koran can be read in English just as well as in Arabic.

      On top of that admittedly small but still non-zero number, every translation of the Koran I’ve read has a preface that talked about how this is just a pale reflection of the grace and beauty to be found in the Koran in Arabic and so I need to learn Arabic but, in the meantime, here’s an English translation.Report

    • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

      Puns and references take longer to translate, but they don’t corrupt.

      the King James version of the bible needs to be translated to english, anyway. (Thou Shalt Not Murder is the words in the original hebrew. Killing’s fine).

      Who remembers what the word Merry is supposed to mean, anyway? (Here’s the thing: it’s not happy)Report

  5. ktward says:

    Which got me thinking about Muslim prayer. Was it of the hyper-evangelical Protestant tradition? Was it of the traditional Catholic tradition?

    So basically, you’re taking what has long been a ubiquitous ritual among ALL Muslims and, via analogy, trying to squeeze it into some form of Catholic v. Protestant cage match.

    Thing is, it’s not an instructive exercise. Comparing Jews and Christians and Muslims.

    Yes, they’re all Abrahamic religions. With various factions. But these religions are different enough from one another, in terms of culture and history and dogma, that their similarities don’t actually matter sociologically unless we mean them to.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to ktward says:

      No, not really. I’m trying to understand the culture and its relationship to its faith traditions.

      I mean, I’m pretty sure that the Sunni and the Shi’ia have differentish prayer traditions and those guys have different traditions yet from the Wahabbi and god only knows what the Sufi are thinking but, for the most part, there is a continuum between the personal/conversational and the traditional and it seems like the Islamic traditions put a lot more emphasis on the traditional.

      And I’m wondering what that means.

      No cage matches.Report

      • ktward in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’m sure that the Sunni and the Shia have differentish prayer traditions …

        What makes you think that? Are you an authority on the distinctions between Shia and Sunni?

        Here’s what I know.
        That greater Islam’s faith traditions are inevitably as malleable as Christianity’s and Judaism’s. And really, we better hope so.

        Look. I’m an atheist. I’ve no dog in this hunt.
        But I’m not blind. Religion matters to most folks. As a humanist, I’m generally more interested in bridging gaps between humans, rather than drawing distinctions between us.

        That said, I’m curious why you spend energy drawing distinction here. I mean, sure, ritual prayer is still very much a constant for all Muslims. Five times a day. Shia or Sunni.

        Is prayer a metric that matters?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to ktward says:

          What makes you think that? Are you an authority on the distinctions between Shia and Sunni?

          Not at all. I do think, from my experience with the Babtists, is that stuff like “debts” vs. “trespasses” is sufficient to split the church and so I’m assuming that the big splits in Islam (the biggest being the Sunni/Shi’ia) would similarly have similarly trivial differences.

          Now, of course, if I have reason to believe that Islam is alien, I will be happy to conclude that Islam is alien. From here, though, it seems a better assumption that it’s not *THAT* different, people being people and all.

          Is prayer a metric that matters?

          Given that it is very different (though still exceptionally important) between groups of Protestants and Catholics and those prayers are enough for people to say that they don’t want to worship together, it seems like an interesting enough place to probe for some indicators as to how prayers likely reflect cultures and relationships to God.

          I, too, am an atheist but I find that, like it or not, I have dogs in the fight.

          I’d like to understand their dogs and figure out how the dogs are significantly different and how their dogs are significantly similar.

          Hund ist lebendig. We should do our best to understand what that means.Report

      • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        I don’t think the Sunni and Shia have very different prayer services, actually. Sufis are weird and use snakes and all…Report

  6. Saul Degraw says:

    The glib joke I know about Judaism is based on the phrase shit happens. Judaism asks of God “Why does shit keep happening to us?”

    Lee knows this better than I do and covered the basics above. Jewish prayers are just as reverential as Christian or Islamic ones. The big thing about Judaism is that I think we interpret stuff differently. Judaism stresses the anger of Job a lot. Job does not take his woes lightly. He does not go silently into the good night to borrow from Dylan Thomas. Neither does Abraham take the sacrifice of Isaac with easy heart and no sadness, resignation.

    What did you learn about the emotional/psychological states of Job and Abraham? I don’t think a lot of people get the rage of Judaism. As Lee said it is arguing with God or Wrestling with the Angel. This is not a religion that teaches serenity.

    I think another issue is that Christianity preaches an after life. Judaism has an afterlife (maybe) but it is much more vague and ambiguous than the Christian version. There is none of the fire and brimstone hell. I don’t remember any Hebrew school lesson or service sermon that talked about Heaven and Hell. The only thing I remember about the afterlife from attending services and Hebrew School is the line “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed”. Meaning that God makes a list of who is going to die that year on Rosh Hashanah and you have ten days to convince him that you deserve to live before the list is finalized on Yom Kippur. You don’t know what list you are on and you have to show your deserve to live not by prayers and words alone but by actions. You have to be a good person who is kind and compassionate to others.

    I think Lee hits the nail on the head with how indifference is the worst thing I person can show in Judaism. There is nothing more cutting than the Yiddish “meh”.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I’ve never heard that about “Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur”. Thank you for that.

      What did you learn about the emotional/psychological states of Job and Abraham?

      My corner of Evangelical Protestantism didn’t really get into that. We paid attention to the first couple of chapters of Job and then the ones where God shows up and starts talking. The ones in the middle? Might as well not have happened. Abraham was mentioned for his Faith but, otherwise, I had to get into Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling to get into his psychological state.

      Christianity (and Islam, from what I can tell) have The Afterlife as being The Point/The Reward. I’m torn on that. The morality of doing something to get something is lower on the hierarchy than doing something because it’s the right thing… but doing something because it’s the right thing (and, more than that, God will reward people who do the right thing when it is difficult) is somewhere between them… and if you care more about the right thing being done than the intentions of those doing the right thing, then unverifiable incentives (free ones!) are things that get more people to do the right thing than would have done them otherwise.Report

      • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        Judaism kinda sorta has the concept that “doing things for their own sake” is better than doing things because G-d’s going to reward/punish you. Thing is, Judaism understands that reward/punishment is a lower level of morality, so it asks its followers not to spoil things for the children among us, no matter how old they are.

        (or you can say that morality has evolved from temple times and burnt offerings to G-d).Report

  7. Saul Degraw says:

    I think the how and why of the afterlife is a big way of determining the different thought processes of religions.

    You can understand the psychology and thought processes of how religions act based on their understanding or belief on what happens after you died.

    Conversely, this might be the angriest song I know. Sample lyric: “So Jesus preached the other world
    But Judas wanted this. And he betrayed his master with a kiss”

    How does your religion deal with the pain and suffering of this world? Judaism’s philosophy is Tikkun Olam, to mend the world. Christianity seems to be about ending the world to create paradise. Judaism is about Heaven on Earth to borrow from the socialist Moses Hess.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      How does your religion deal with the pain and suffering of this world?

      The problem of Theodicy is still causing fistfights.

      The big answer among the devout is still “we misunderstand evil and, someday, we will have the perspective we need to understand everything that happened” but there is enough room for answers like Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen To Good People” that said that God just doesn’t have the strength to make his Omnibenevolence realized. (Personally, it seems obvious to me that The Old Testament allows for God to be All-Powerful and merely Kinda Good rather than All-Encompassingly Good but you start going down that road and you’ll start noticing that the angles are all wrong.)Report

      • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        Old Testament G-d commanded rape, among other things. Either you accept that G-d was a world class asshole, or you get inventive…Report

      • Paul in reply to Jaybird says:

        If you’ll allow me to geek out with a tabletop analogy, from my Catholic upbringing:

        Old Testament God might be ‘good’ but He mostly requires and demonstrates ‘lawful’. New Testament God (through Jesus) might be ‘lawful’, but mostly requires and demonstrates ‘good’. Reconciling that is to say that if you could be completely lawful, you could be good, but original sin and our capability of sins makes absolute lawfulness impossible–thus we need the ‘good’ of benevolence and forgiveness embodied in Christ. ‘God’ as a whole is thus the embodiment of ‘lawful good’, which on some level is a redundant term. If humans have some degree of free will or ability to choose between lawful/good acts and unlawful/evil ones, absolute lawfulness is impossible to attain–but we can still strive to be ‘good’, and fulfill the law in that way by the grace and forgiveness of God.

        But why do bad things happen to good people? That question misses the point. One may as well ask, ‘why doesn’t God grant wishes to good people?’ and the answer is that our lives on Earth aren’t meant to be some sort of reward, but more of a question. One that we answer by faith and good works. Do we want to be close or separated from God? We can be forgiven of our sins, based on our choice.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Paul says:

          @paul Well, there come up with problems when you start getting into more and more Cartesian traits for the deity.

          Does God change over time? Believe it or not, there are serious arguments that he doesn’t and, get this, *HASN’T*.

          Yeah, I know, we’re in crazytown at this point.

          Anyway, the problem, from here, is that we’re defining The Deity as having to have all of these traits and if he isn’t, in fact, powerful enough to make a hot dog so big that he couldn’t eat it then we’re wiping our hands clean and saying “Welp! Must not be a God!” He has to do this! And count to infinity! In a second! And one of the good infinities! Not one of the crappy ones!

          And then being surprised that our concept of “power” is incoherent.

          It wouldn’t surprise me to find that our concept of “good” is incoherent as well…

          But it’s very possible even yet to see something like a child die and say “I would have prevented this, if I could have. God doesn’t need to be all-powerful to have prevented even this. God doesn’t need to even be particularly good to have wanted to prevent this because I know that I’m not even particularly good and I wanted to. So what’s up?”

          And that creates a problem.Report

          • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

            Good is just a relative term, as is morality.
            G-d, as far as we’ve been able to measure him,
            is bound to have some definition of good.

            But the question behind all the questions is:
            “Why are we here?”

            and, lurking in the shadows,
            “Why isn’t anyone answering us?”Report

    • CK MacLeod in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I’ve avoided this conversation as I don’t consider the major faiths a subject for “vague and open-ended musings,” not least because, on a practical level, vague and open-ended musings naturally encourage reciprocation from people who find the topic initially vaguely and open-endedly interesting, often paving the vague and open-ended way to passionate disputes and meta-disputes and meta-meta-disputes that all of history heretofore has not managed to sort out (because all of history is that sorting out)… or to statements like this one:

      Christianity seems to be about ending the world to create paradise.

      I recommend that you avoid simplistic as well as vague and open-ended characterizations of anyone’s religion – whether defined as a sect or, as in the above, a faith community and tradition involving billions of people over thousands of years (and even if one’s only objective is to expose one’s ignorance). The rule applies I think even to discussion of one’s own religion or religious community, but by social convention it applies especially strongly to comments on anyone else’s religion that may be taken as reductive and demeaning. Following this rule may help you avoid embarrassment or other harm to your reputation or interests. It may even save your life.Report

      • Glyph in reply to CK MacLeod says:

        1.) The quoted sentence caught my eye as well, and, well, I didn’t much care for it.

        2.) That said, I have mused here before that it’s…odd that we customarily give verbal deference to the major world religions – seemingly based on nothing more than their age and number of adherents – when we clearly know that an ideology can be, or can become over time, malicious and dangerous. Cults do in fact happen, all the time since forever, and some are more dangerous than others to their adherents, or to outsiders.

        If I think, for whatever reason, that Christianity (or Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism, or Hinduism, or a sect of any of them, or…) appears to be, as a whole, heading down a worldwide Jonestown/Aum Shinrikyo/Heaven’s Gate path, why am I obligated to not say so?

        3.) As far as “vague and open-ended musings”, I am actually a fan of what I perceive JB to be doing. Considering one religion, alone, tells me about that religion.

        Looking at several religions, and their points of congruence (as well as their points of divergence), and thinking about how those might relate to the cultures that produced them (and that they in turn produce) might start to tell us about people.Report

        • Kim in reply to Glyph says:

          Well, in all fairness, the Catholic Church doesn’t actually hire assassins… anymore…
          (What they actually have going on with the Mafia is supposed to be fascinating, but I don’t know that much about it).

          Perhaps a little deference is due because they’re showing moderate amounts of common sense?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Glyph says:

          Thanks, Glyph.

          (I had a longer original comment here but between me writing my last one and my writing this one, I had, apparently, been logged out. So it got et by the internet.)

          Long comment short:

          I didn’t really start understanding English until I started learning Greek.

          In that same vein, I only understand my own atheism when I look at it through the crystal of my abandoned Protestantism and that particular family of Protestantism is only understood through the Enlightenment and the Enlightenment is only understood through the Reformation and the Reformation is only understood by understanding the Catholic Church and why they would have been impacted as hard as they were by Gutenberg’s Printing Press and you can only understand *THAT* by…

          And you can do this for a while, actually.

          And I can understand why someone might see it as mastubatory navel-gazing. But I also think that it’s possible to improve communication between people by understanding what’s going on when people are talking to help when stuff is lost in translation.

          And seeing how people pray and how people read their own texts and what impact those actions have upon the ensuing cultures illuminates one’s own culture even if one is a new atheist searching for the last bishop’s entrails on the way to visit the last king. Maybe understanding these things (or, at least, wandering towards an understanding of them) will help us figure out how we’re talking.

          And that’s a pre-req to figure out how to talk to each other.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to CK MacLeod says:

        @ck-macleod ,

        I absolutely agree with everything you wrote above.

        It also parallels pretty closely my feelings on the appropriateness of the vague and open-ended musings about same-sex marriage: That it’s a matter of real importance to millions of people, and that a discussion about the issue focused around theoretical speculation, playing the devil’s advocate, and quibbling about parentheticals is doing a disservice to those people.

        I also think it’s noteworthy that you highlight Saul’s statement–one that is in no way based in animus on Saul’s part, but nevertheless comes from an incomplete understanding of Christianity, and can be rightly considered insulting to Christians. I’ve previously objected to a number of statements made by you, or made by others but defended by you, precisely on those grounds.

        I think the principles you’ve articulated above are worth considering in any case where we find ourselves in discussion about groups we are not part of. I, for my own part, no longer participate in discussions about the Israel/Palestine conflict on these boards, for precisely that reason. While I might have strong feelings about the matter, I’m not affiliated with either country or culture, and my statements come from a place of limited understanding. While nothing I said about the matter was ever motivated by animus, that doesn’t mean other members of the OT community were wrong to take offense at them.Report

        • Alan Scott in reply to Alan Scott says:

          As a follow up to what I posted above, I want to apologize to @LeeEsq and @Saul Degraw in particular. I have come to recognize that some of my comments during the discussion about the Steven Salaita tenure debate were things that didn’t need to be said, and certainly not by me. I should have just kept quiet, and I apologize for not doing so, and for any hurt or annoyance my comments caused.Report

        • CK MacLeod in reply to Alan Scott says:


          I’m afraid I’ll have to decline your offer of alliance, as I believe you have misunderstood my position.

          You interpret my words and associate them with notions of your own in a way that may serve your own thesis, and your preferences, but has nothing to do with mine. “Theoretical speculation” need not be “vague and open-ended.” “Playing the devil’s advocate” can mean many different things. If it means putting adverse arguments in their strongest form in the interest of clarifying what’s really at stake, and making any intellectual victory won actually worth winning, I’m all in favor of it. I don’t see how “quibbling about parentheticals” does any disservice to anyone except for those hoping to follow or pursue a discussion and having their time wasted. If a matter is a mere parenthetical, then the decision over it should not matter very much by definition.

          I don’t want to focus overly much on the particular statement I highlighted, except to say that the problems with it go far beyond any hurt feelings on anyone’s part, even though, as I did in fact mean to suggest, the last might be something for the person given to making general statements about religion to take into account. Otherwise, a lack of interest in “vague and open-ended musings” does not preclude interest in clear and carefully contained inquiry, or intervention to repair intellectual damage done or threatened.

          I also have no interest in re-starting the SSM discussion and meta-discussion here. I’ll just say that in general the individual who is disturbed by the terms and typical course of any complex and difficult inquiry should avoid it, but not expect others to cease investigation. I didn’t say or suggest that people should avoid discussing controversial topics or matters of “real importance” to however many observers. I am in favor of discussing serious topics seriously. I’m not in favor of holding discussion, or for that matter the law and custom, hostage to tender feelings, especially where based on stubbornly irrational attachments and presumptions.Report

  8. James K says:

    One of the most interesting things I learned studying Classics at High School was how pre-Christian Roman prayer worked. The Romans bargained with their gods. Say you were a merchant who was funding a trade ship. Naturally, you wanted the ship to return home safely, so you’d go to Neptune’s temple and write a prayer that took the form “Oh great and powerful Neptune, if you see my ship back to Rome safely, I will sacrifice ____ in your name”. If the god didn’t deliver, you were under no obligation to perform the sacrifice – clearly the god didn’t like your offer enough, but you could always try again by offering a bigger sacrifice.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to James K says:


      Interesting! I didn’t know that!!

      There is a similar Jewish joke I suppose:

      “Cohen goes to synagogue and prays “God, I have had such a rough life and never given up my belief in you. My mom died when I was a small child. I had to drop out of college and work as a clerk because my dad died and I needed to take care of my little sister. I have never been able to take my wife on a nice vacation or buy her pearls. We could not afford to pay for our children’s college educations. Yet through out this I have always observed the Sabbath and given to charity. I have helped feed the homeless and hungry and took in my nephew when she was a wild teenager and my sister couldn’t handle her anymore. I am an old man now but I have a decade or so left. Can you please let me win the lottery so my final years on earth can be in comfort?”

      Nothing happens. Cohen comes back to synagogue weekly and repeats the same prayer over and over again. A few months later, Cohen is walking home from the grocery store and hears this:

      “Cohen, meet me half way and buy a lottery ticket!!!”Report

  9. Alan Scott says:

    Catholics have a handful of situationally appropriate prayers. When you find yourself in any given situation, there’s a prayer (or, more likely, a handful of prayers) that will work. Hail Mary, Our Father, The Act of Faith, The Act of Hope, The Act of Love, prayers for morning, prayers for evening, prayers for mealtime, prayers for bedtime, and so on and so forth. Sure, sometimes prayers could be personal prayers written on the fly… but the tradition of prayer was a TRADITION. Each of these prayers is a prayer that has been prayed trillions of times by billions of people

    I’m Catholic Adjacent, in that my very-involved-with-my-life Grandparents are Catholic, and my mother was raised Catholic. The one aspect of Catholic prayer that I get to see on a regular basis was the tradition of prayer at mealtimes.

    “Bless us o Lord, and these, thy gifts, which we receive from thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord, Amen.”

    Power in tradition. But often there’s more–improvisation inserted in between the “thy bounty” and “Through Christ” bits. Special thanks for impressive meals, or for the presence of guests at the table–and that’s just as much a part of the tradition (at least my family’s version) as the rote text. To me, this also makes the rote text have more meaning. When my mind connects the presence of loved one, or new friends, to the food I see on the table, I appreciate the gift that is the meal I’m about to eat as well as the gift of the company–and I get the sense that my grandparents always appreciate that gift, every time they repeat those words, I never get the sense they are less than genuine.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Alan Scott says:

      There’s also Vatian 2 that changed the words between the time Boomers learned the litanies as kids and the time Gen X did. And in the last decade there’s been another big revision to the mass litany, (i.e. “and with your spirit”)(ugh.) though I dont know if that changed the CCD curriculum again.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Alan Scott says:

      But often there’s more–improvisation inserted in between the “thy bounty” and “Through Christ” bits.

      That’s just lovely.Report

  10. LeeEsq says:

    On Koran translations, the Muslim belief is that the Koran is a perfect and pure revelation of God’s word to Mohammed. The previous revelations, the Torah, Psalms, and Gospels, were corrupted by humans. Since the Koran is considered a perfect and uncorrupted revelation, it has to be read in the language that Mohammed received it in. Any attempt to read it in translation would only corrupt it. This is why Islam insists that the Koran has to be read, recited, and heard in Arabic alone.

    A more secular explanation, one assuming that all religions are not true, was that Islam was created to unite the Arab’s politically in the same way that Constantine wanted to use Christianity to reinvigorate the Roman Empire. This meant that the language of Islam needed to be the language of Arabs. Its similar why the Catholic Church insisted on using Latin until the 1960s. Catholic means universal and a universal church needs to have a universal language of worship.Report

  11. Brian Murphy says:

    The ignorance in this post is pretty embarrassing. Most translations of the Bible (even KJV) go back to the original greek and hebrew.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Brian Murphy says:

      They go back to things like the Greek translations of the Hebrew to help translate the Hebrew and the Latin translations of the Greek (and the Latin Vulgate translations of the Greek translations of the Hebrew) to help decode into the English and there is a lot of baggage that goes along with that.

      For example, the KJV uses the same word, “abomination”, to all sorts of things in Leviticus because the Greek translation uses the same word, “bdelugma” where the Hebrew uses terms like “sheqets” or “toeba” that refer to different kinds of taboos.

      This is stuff that I have encountered *PERSONALLY* in my own research. Sure, I’m told that they’re interpreting from the original, but if they didn’t know what a word meant, they looked at the Latin for guidance.

      Do some of the research yourself and you will find yourself asking “why did they translate into this word instead of that one?” and looking at the Greek or Latin will help you understand.

      But without getting into the whole “sitting at a table with fifteen books” thing, let’s ask you to concede one particular point: people who are primarily English speakers are not asked to read the Bible in anything but English. Some show offs like to point to “look at the word they’re using in the original language!” to help make this or that point, but the whole “In the original Greek, the word is blahblahblah” is something that primarily pastors do to help pad a sermon because The English Is Good Enough.

      But perhaps I should have explored the whole “King James Only” controversy within the church and used that as a weird analogue to “the original Arabic” arguments about the Koran… though it’s a strange and imperfect analogue as its translation issues are… well, there’s a reason that there are still arguments over formal vs. functional translations and that there are new translations of the Bible coming out every few decades and the foundational source of many of these translations problems stem *NOT* because they disagree with the languages they’re translating from but because they disagree with the KJV.

      So I ought to have gotten more into that.

      But, anyway, the NIV and the KJV, despite their claims of being translations, are translations of translations (and sometimes translations of translations of translations).

      I stand by that because of what I have seen.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        The KJV uses the word “atonement” 85 times, for example, a word that was not in popular use until the Tyndale Bible. It is clear that the earlier English-language Bibles, along with the Latin Vulgate, were heavily relied upon in the KJV translation.

        I didn’t think this was controversial.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

          It is among the KJV Only crowd.

          “Sola scriptura” is one of the foundational doctrines of Protestantism. If you cannot trust your translation, you have a shaky foundational doctrine. If you point out that the KJV is a translation of a translation and that causes problems, then you have pointed out that one of the foundational doctrines has problems.

          Resolve the problem by pointing out that you can trust the translation. Anyone who says differently is ignorant and ought to be embarrassed.

          Ironically, there is *ONE* place where I have encountered KJV Only people argue to me that there is a mis-translation.

          It’s at the Wedding at Cana.Report

          • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

            Ah, yeah. That I knew. I meant not controversial outside of the Protestant literalists.

            I remember getting invited to a Methodist Bible study in the late 90s where they were talking about translation issues in the KJV.

            By the way, nobody invites me to their Bible studies anymore.Report

  12. Francis says:

    Some vague and open-ended musings on reading the Bible:

    The KJV was published about the same time as Shakespeare. My college edition of Shakespeare plays is so heavily annotated that the left-hand page is annotations with the original text on the right. Still, I recently read a hilarious Vox post on dirty jokes in Shakespeare, many of which were new to me.

    It’s not only the case that the KJV is a translation; it itself needs to be translated 400 years into the future (just like Shakespeare).Report