I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Religion - The Ten Commandments

A lot could be said about the ten commandments, but my purpose here is to talk about the fact that the ten commandments in English, German, Italian, Spanish, and French are not exactly the same. The reason for choosing these languages is that they are the only languages I understand. The ten commandments appear three times in the Bible: in Exodus 20:2–17, Exodus 34:11–27, and Deuteronomy 5:6–21, and they are not identical. The official catholic version of the commandments is available online in the catechism pages published by the Vatican(1).

The first commandment I would like to discuss is the 6th: “You Shall Not Commit Adultery”. The literal English translation of the 6th commandment as it is expressed in Spanish is: “You shall not commit impure acts”(2). Now, committing impure acts includes all sorts of activities that go well beyond adultery. Does that mean that Spanish catholics commit a sin when they masturbate at home but not when they are on vacation, say, in Britain? Or that Spanish people, regardless of where they are, commit a sin when masturbating but Britons can get away with it without having to confess it? It is interesting to note that, although the official Italian version of this commandment matches the English one, the version normally taught in Italy is identical to the Spanish version. And there are also French and German versions in circulation that translate respectively into “You shall carefully practice purity”(3) and “you shall not act unchaste”(4). All in all, it seems safest to adopt the English version!

Perhaps not surprisingly, considering the difficulties that the catholic church has with sex, also the 9th commandment (“You Shall Not Covet Your Neighbour's Wife”) is not identical across the various languages. The Spanish are again the worst off. Their version translates into: “You shall not allow impure thoughts and desires”(5). In Italian, the commandment is “You shall not covet the woman of others”(6), which is more restrictive than the English version, because it states that you commit a sin even if the woman you desire is engaged or involved with somebody else but without being married to him. I saw a French version of this commandment that is very close to the Spanish one: “In thought, you shall be watchful and remain entirely pure in your desires”(7). In any case, it seems that heterosexual women and homosexual men have it easy concerning the 9th commandment. At the very least, the church should consider making this commandment gender-neutral. But they are not good at this type of things, are they?

Some countries have it a bit more difficult with the 8th (“You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbour”): French and Italian commit a sin even when their false witness is not against their neighbour, but the Spanish, as usual, have it worst of all: “You shall not bear false witness or lie”(8).

Perhaps the commandments are strictest with the Spanish speakers because the catholic church thinks that they can get away with it...

I don’t know whether the commandments as they are taught in France conform to the French official version, but I saw on the web a version of the 4th (“Honour Your Father and Your Mother”) that translated into: “You shall honour your father and your mother, as well as your superiors”(9). I also saw a French version of the 5th (“You Shall Not Kill”) that translated into: “You shall avoid murder and scandals, as well as hate and anger”(10). I let you judge the wisdom of such additional constraints. In any case, I lived in France for one and a half years, and you can trust me when I tell you that the French seem to get angry as easily as anybody else. Shame on them!

I find it quite surprising that the commandments are different in different languages. After all, the Vatican is a fully centralised organisation, especially in matters of doctrine. It’s not serious!

(2) No cometerás actos impuros
(3) La pureté observeras en tes actes soigneusement
(4) Du sollst nicht Unkeuschheit treiben
(5) No consentirás pensamientos ni deseos impuros
(6) Non desiderare la donna d'altri
(7) En pensées, désirs veilleras à rester pur entièrement
(8) No dirás falso testimonio ni mentirás
(9) Tes père et mère honoreras, tes supérieurs pareillement
(10) Meurtre et scandale éviteras, haine et colère pareillement

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