Sacred Languages and Sacred Texts is the first comprehensive study of the role of languages and texts in the religions of the Greco-Roman world, including Judaism and Christianity.
It explores bilingualism, language learning, literacy, book production and translation, as well as some of the more explicitly religious factors, including beliefs about language, missionary zeal, ritual, conservatism and the power of a priestly establishment.
Sacred Languages and Sacred Texts sheds new light on the role of the power of words, spoken and written, in religion.
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John Sawyer is Senior Research Fellow of Hebrew and Biblical Interpretation at the University of Lancaster. He is the author of The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity (1996) and the Religion Editor of the 10-volume Encyclopaedia of Language and Linguistics (1994).From Library Journal:
In this thorough and satisfying analysis of the relationship between language and religion (covering Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity in the ancient Greco-Roman world), Sawyer explains what makes certain language sacred, the role of literacy in societies, and the factors involved in translating sacred texts into the vernacular (or keeping them in the obscurity of the original). Retaining an obscure language often had serious social consequences, especially when the texts were left in the hands of elite experts (priests, magi, etc.) who then acquired power over their community. The book contains informative contrasts between the Avestan language of Zoroastrianism's texts (unintelligible to the masses) and the Greek (and, later, Latin) of Christianity's Old and New Testaments (commonplace to all). Between these two extremes was the Hebrew preserved in Judaism's Tanakh and Mishnah, obscure but not wholly unintelligible. The author conveys how early Christianity had no interest in either retaining the original Aramaic language of its founder or in preserving a special "sacred" language at all, which resulted in crucial differences in religious thoughtAnot to mention a difference in lasting influence in the world. Sawyer is a discerning and competent scholar, and this book will instruct any who seek a well-grounded study of the role of language in religion. A rare comprehensive treatments of the subject; recommended for all academic and public libraries.ALoren Rosson III, Nashua P.L., NH
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