Jehovah's Witnesses verdict made to order

by Ksenia Sergazina

SOVA Center for News and Analysis, 18 August 2017


We are publishing a commentary by Ksenia Sergazina, an expert of the SOVA Center and a docent of the Center for the Study of Religions of the Russian State Humanities University, devoted to the recognition of the Bible in the Jehovah's Witnesses' translation to be an extremist text.


On 17 August the Ministry of Justice included in the List of Noncommercial Organizations Recognized as Extremist the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and 395 local organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses. From this moment, Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia can be held criminally liable on the basis of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code for continuing the activity of an organization that has been recognized as extremist.


On the next day, a Vyborg city court granted the lawsuit of the Leningrad-Finland transport prosecutor's office to find editions of the "Sacred Scripture. New World Translation" (printed in 2015) and also the brochures "The Bible and its Chief Topic,"" "Science Instead of the Bible?" and "How to Improve Health. 5 Simple Rules," thereby finding to be extremist materials not only Jehovah's Witnesses' brochures but also the biblical text in their translation.


The Russian public—especially in the regions—meanwhile is protesting mainly against the showing of "Matilda," while silently approving the crushing of the active and annoying Jehovah's Witnesses.


The decision of the Vyborg court strikes directly on several sore points of contemporary religious policy: if one looks attentively at the text of the expert analysis that lies at the base of the court's decision, then its becomes clear that at its base lies the "right of the strong": whoever is needed to be banned will be banned, and science—or more accurately, pseudo-scientific formulations—merely provide a fine screen for a "bad game."


A straightforward question was given to the experts: "Are the materials presented for examination the Bible, Quran, Tanakh, or Kangyur?" (because it is these texts that according to law may not be recognized to be extremist materials). Any religious studies student and even humanities student, who has taken a course in the history of religion in a university, will say that sure, we have before us the Bible in the Jehovah's Witnesses' translation (the "Old Testament" in a nontraditional translation). Not everyone, however, will name the differences of this translation from the canonical synodal translation. But it was with the differences that the experts dealt: they enumerated in detail which places the Lord was called Jehovah and where the Holy Spirit is written in lower case letters. At the same time, their answer to the question posed was surprising: "The materials presented for examination are not the Bible, Quran, Tanakh, or Kangyur."


Why? Because "in Islam, the Quran in Arabic is recognized as Quran," and "the 108 volumes in Tibetan are called Kangyur," but we have in front of us only a Russian translation of an English book. Well, it is certainly not the Quran nor Kangyur.


"As the Jehovah's Witnesses report in their publications," the expert analysis text says, "the New World Translation of the Holy Scripture (Sacred Scripture. New World Translation) was created in the English language. It was this translation into the English language that was executed from Hebrew sources. The Hebrew religious books were written in a so-called sacred language, which lies at the basis of modern Hebrew. In such circumstances, a translation into another language is essentially the creation of a new text, recreating the original on fundamentally different bases. All other translations of the book 'Sacred Scripture. New World Translation' are secondary, inasmuch as they were made from the English language."


If one contemplates this text, then it turns out that the experts, and following them the judges, are telling us, Christians, that the translation of the Old Testament is not at all sacred text because the Jewish tradition does not consider it as such. And if we use the English translation of the New Testament, then this is just a "secondary text."


To be fair, it should be said that the authors of the expert analysis write in black and white that "the texts constituting the Orthodox Bible are a translation specifically from the Septuagent." Therefore they must take recourse to yet another trick. "The key texts of the New Testament [in the Jehovah's Witnesses' translation—K.S.]," they write, "have been changed so that they might be interpreted in an opposite way."


By the logic of the experts, it turns out that before us is not the Quran (because it is not Arabic text), not a Buddhist text (because it is not in Tibetan), not the Hebrew Bible, because it is a translation, and not the Christian Bible, because "the texts are interpreted differently."


This logic can lead us far: it is possible not to consider as the New Testament the translation by Valentina Kuznetsova (it is called "Good News" and not the Gospel and not the Bible) and it is possible not to recognize translations as sacred texts, and it is possible not to pay any attention, finally, to the culture in which a text has been created. All of this becomes unimportant when there is an "order." In such a case it is obvious that it is not an order from competitors—the Russian Orthodox Church—but it is a "state order." (tr. by PDS, posted 4 September 2017)

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