Thursday, October 26, 2006

National Review Online Gets Aramaic Right, Then Wrong

NRO sells out its readers for 30 pieces of silver

It's always interesting, and disappointing, to catch a cover-up or a lie in the making. After Jim Caviezel recorded his commercial about stem cell research, speaking Aramaic, people naturally wondered what he'd said.

Rush Limbaugh's translation was the oddest:

CAVIEZEL (in Aramaic): You know now. Don't do it. Vote "no" on two.

As one might expect of a blog with a well-educated and diverse readership, National Review Online came up with a transcription and translation very quickly, provided by a student of Aramaic:

Happened to be reading the Corner this evening in between sporadic bouts of translating Aramaic (actually Syriac, but same difference) for my grad studies. What Caviezel said was "l'bar nash b'nashak", or "the son of man with a kiss". Which isn't even a complete sentence, but whatever.

The reference, obviously, was to a biblical passage in which Jesus asks Judas, "Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" But something had gone awry. Caviezel, or the commercial's editors, had chopped off the first part of the quote.

We have independently confirmed with an Aramaic scholar that the transcription and translation provided by the student are accurate, and that the first part of the quote was in fact lopped off.

What happens next in the story of the Caviezel quote is fascinating. The Washington Times (nobody's paragon of journalistic excellence) reported that it had the "exclusive" translation:

When presented with Mr. Fulco's translation, which was confirmed by several other Aramaic scholars, the group agreed to release the exact translation exclusively to The Times.

"It means 'You betray me with a kiss,' which means Amendment Two is a betrayal because it is deceptive," Ms. Ruse said. "It promises one thing and delivers another."

Suddenly, the word "betray" had inserted itself into the translation, although its Aramaic equivalent was nowhere to be found in the transcription, which the Times confirmed as "le-bar nash be-neshak," exactly what the Aramaic student had provided.

Back we go to the National Review, which suddenly changed its translation to match that of the Washington Times:

The Corner can end all suspense and officially confirm that in the commercial airing in St. Louis tonight Jim Caviezel says in Aramaic, "You betray me with a kiss." (Which is what a few readers, including one Aramaic student told The Corner last night.)

Actually, it wasn't what the Aramaic student told The Corner, and it isn't the proper translation. But, there you have it. The National Review sold its readers and its credibility for 30 pieces of silver, or its equivalent in whatever political capital might have been gained by lying about the quote.

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