Expert analysis used in trial of Bible absurd


SOVA Center for News and Analysis, 18 August 2017


On 17 August 2017, the Vyborg city court granted the lawsuit of the Leningrad-Finland transport prosecutor for finding to be extremist the publications "Sacred Scripture. New World Translation" (that is, the Bible of the Jehovah's Witnesses), 2015 edition, and also brochures "The Bible and its Main Theme," "Science Instead of the Bible?" and "How to Improve Health. 5 Simple Rules." The court's decision has still not taken legal effect and may be appealed, the website of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia reports.


The edition of the Bible was seized by Vyborg customs in July 2015. In February 2016, the prosecutor's office sent to the court a lawsuit for finding the publications extremist, and its consideration began in April 2016.


In the course of reviewing the lawsuit, on the basis of a petition of the prosecutor, a complex linguistic religious studies judicial expert analysis was conducted. It was carried out by experts of the Center for Socio-Cultural Expert Analysis: kandidat of pedagogical sciences Natalia Kriukova and kandidats of political sciences Alexander Tarasov and Viktor Kotelnikov.


Most of the questions placed before the experts regarded the presence in the texts under review of signs of extremism and the wording of relevant legislation was reproduced in these questions. This is a violation of the rules for conducting judicial expert analysis, inasmuch as only a court has the right to answer such questions. At the same time, from the text of the conclusion it follows that the main goal that guided the experts was to answer the questions posed by the investigation in the affirmative.


The obvious insubstantiality, impotence, and blatant absurdity of their own arguments did not embarrass them. Thus, to the question whether these materials contain a rationale and justification of the necessity if overthrowing the constitutional structure of the Russian federation, the experts answer: yes, inasmuch as it follows that the Jehovah's Witnesses believe in the moral depravity of the existing state of things; the imminent end of the world; the victory of Jesus over the devil after seizing the world and destroying all rulers, evil people, and demons; the accession of Jesus; and the start of a new world system. To the question whether the materials presented contain calls for the disruption of the territorial integrity of the Russian federation, the answer again is in the affirmative: yes, inasmuch as Jehovah's Witnesses believe in the inevitability of a change of government with the end of the world and where there is a change of government there is the conquest of territories there. Whether these materials cause religious strife and hatred: yes, inasmuch as they speak of the divine election of Jehovah's Witnesses and the falsity of other religions (of whom are used the collective terms "Babylon the great" and "great whore"). At the same time, the experts cited Old Testament episodes of original sin and the destruction of Babylon, Canaanites, and apostate Israelites after the death of Joshua, and they cited God's blessing of the new Christian assembly and followers of the Christians. To the question whether these materials contain statements about the natural and biological superiority of Jehovah's Witnesses over adherents of other religions, the experts also answer in the affirmative, citing the very same arguments. Among other things, the experts considered as causing religious hatred the criticism of the Catholic church consisting in the fact that the Jehovah's Witnesses' brochure about science in an article about Galileo says that the Catholic Inquisition sentenced him to life-long arrest unjustly and Pope John Paul II admitted this. Whether the Jehovah's Witnesses in their material call for genocide and mass repressions and the establishment of inequality, discrimination, and committing hate crimes, according to the opinion of the experts: yes, after all they believe that God rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah and that disaster awaits at the end of the world.  It is amazing, but the experts in their reviews of texts did not find calls for terrorism (in contrast to mass repressions) or obstruction of the exercise of voting rights by citizens and of legal activity by governmental agencies.


The experts of the Center for Socio-Cultural Expert Analysis gave a positive answer to a question of the investigation about the presence in Jehovah's Witnesses' materials of manipulative linguistic and psychological techniques aimed at the formation of negative attitudes toward representatives of other religions. Such things they found in a "special form of presentation of material" (use of inserts, citations, and illustrations with commentary), the use of specific terminology ("vigilance," "last days," "day of darkness and gloom," "little flock," "fiancé," "bride," "wedding," etc.), the formation of positive stereotypes with regard to Jehovah's Witnesses and the "image of the enemy" with regard to representatives of the sinful world that is external to them, "exhortation in the form of infection" (citing examples of a righteous and pious life), "substitution of concepts" (the text contain calls for studying the Bible in the Jehovah's Witnesses' translation, which in the opinion of the experts is not a Bible), and "exhortation in the form of persuasion."


From the experts' point of view, the Jehovah's Witnesses' materials "contain information connected with the obligation or encouragement" of members of the congregation "to distance themselves from institutions of civil society," in particular, from family and marriage, inasmuch as they present the Jehovah's Witnesses' view on marriage, and other points of view are not acknowledged. At the same time, the experts refer to statements that adultery is considered a sin and the followers of Christ must not commit adultery. The authors of the expert analysis discovered in the literature reviewed "signs of encouraging the reader to refuse to fulfill duties established by legislation of the RF," specifically refusal of military service, despite the fact that Russian legislation provides the possibility of performing alternative service, and Jehovah's Witnesses perform it.


Finally, inasmuch as there exists in Russia a law forbidding finding the sacred scriptures of world religions and excerpts from them to be extremist, the investigation placed before the experts the question whether the given materials are "the Bible, Quran, Tanakh, or Gandjur" and whether they contain quotations from these books. The experts' answer, of course, was negative. From their point of view, "Sacred Scripture in the New World Translation" is not a Bible, inasmuch as it differs from the Synodal translation on linguistic, topical, and interpretive levels. This is expressed in the fact that it uses the concept of "Jehovah" instead of the concept of "God," the tetragrammaton is introduced into the text of the New Testament and translated as "Jehovah," the texts of the New Testament about the unity of the nature and the equality of God the Father and God the Son are "changed so that they can be interpreted in the opposite sense," the name of the Holy Spirit is written in lower case letters (which depersonalizes him and contradicts the presentation in the New Testament "as a personality and person of the Holy Trinity"), with the same goal the "verse of 1 Peter 1.11 is distorted," and the internal notation of the text has been changed, and in addition the book does not indicate that it is a Bible, although other translations, particularly the Synodal, do contain such an indication. Inasmuch as the "New World Translation" is not a Bible, the experts indicate, that means that it does not contain quotations from the Bible.


The fact that there exists in Russia a court that considers it possible to take into consideration an expert conclusion containing argumentation of such a level casts a shadow onto the entire Russian legal system as a whole and testifies to the most profound crisis of Russian jurisprudence.


We consider that recognizing as extremist both the Bible in the Jehovah's Witnesses' translation and their other publications is unjustified and we regard such prohibitions as a manifestation of religious discrimination. The means chosen by the experts and adopted by the court for getting around the law that forbids ruling the sacred scripture of world religions to be extremist is its own sorry precedent, which in the future opens the possibility of the ban of other translations and presentations of sacred books.


We recall that on 20 April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and 395 local congregations to be extremist and the decision has come into force. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 August 2017)


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