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Names, Revisited

Back here I discussed why it irritated me that a translation of the Gospel of Thomas that I was reading used the Aramaic forms of the names of the people mentioned within it (“Yeshua” for Jesus, “Thoma” for Tomas, and so on), instead of the more familiar forms of the names.  More broadly, while such complaints may seem trivial, they’re not, really.  The way you refer to something implies and even to an extent determines the way you think about it, relate to it, and act with regard to it.  As Philip K. Dick said, “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” What we call something matters.

As far back as my third post here, I noted that I object to the term “Roman Catholic”, preferring just plain “Catholic”.  I’ve reiterated that view at times over the course of my writing on the blog, but I’ve never explained my reasons for that objection.  Those reasons are exactly what I am going to discuss now.

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A few days ago I was sitting in a Wal-Mart, waiting to get a tire replaced on my car.  I had my Kindle Fire with me so I’d have something to read.  Recently I posted here about The Gospel of Thomas.  Since I had the ebook version of The Gnostic Bible on my Fire, I decided to open it up and reread The Gospel of Thomas.  I got to the first page and stopped.  I remembered that I’d started to read this particular translation before, and stopped; and I remembered why I’d stopped.  The introduction to Thomas says,

The translation gives the Semitic forms of Semitic names, in order to highlight the Jewish identity of Jesus and his students and the Jewish context of the life of the historical Jesus.  For example, the name Yeshua is used for Jesus; the other names are identified in the notes.

Thus, the first line of the translation reads, “These are the hidden sayings that the living Yeshua spoke and Yehuda Toma the twin recorded.”  “Yehuda Toma” is the Aramaic for Judas Thomas–the disciple known as “Thomas”, literally “twin”, in the canonical gospels, and referred to also as Judas or Judah here and in other non-canonical sources.  This irritates the crap out of me, and the rest of this post will unpack the whys of this irritation.

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