Prayers of the Cosmos
by Neil Douglas-Klotz
Jesus never said anything about "God" or "Heaven." In fact he did not say any of the words most of us read in the Bible. This is not a controversial fact. Why not? Jesus did not speak English. He spoke Aramaic and talked of "Alaha" and bwashmaya (transliterations of the Aramaic words for God and Heaven). As obvious as this may be it caught me by surprise. If Jesus did not tell us to pray, "Our Father in Heaven..." what did he say?
In his book, Prayers of the Cosmos, Neil Douglas-Klotz uses his Aramaic scholarship to re-understand some of Jesus' most well known teachings. He focuses on the Lord's prayer, contrasting his own possible translations from ancient Aramaic texts with the King James translation, which was rendered from a Greek version of the prayer. Douglas-Klotz's main point (aside from re-animating the prayer on a personal level for the reader) is that the King James translation suffers from the Greek tendency to understand the world through concepts. This Greek predilection for abstraction distorts the more organic, naturalistic perception of the world held by Jesus' first century, Mid Eastern, mystical culture. For example what the King James Bible translates as, "Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed be they name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven," Douglas-Klotz translates as, "O Birther, Father-Mother of the Cosmos, Focus your light within usmake it useful: Create your reign of unity nowYour one desire then acts with ours, as in all light so in all forms."
Douglas-Klotz is not trying to lead a revolt against the King James Version. He does not feel that it is wrong. Rather he is using his understanding of Aramaic to round out the reader's understanding of Jesus' most fundamental teachings. For example he explains that the Aramaic word "Tzevyanach," translated as "Will" in the King James Bible could also be understood as, "deep desire." Thus the line, "Thy will be done," does not refer to so much to an outside force controlling our lives from above as to a harmonization of our heart's desire with the way of the universe (sound like Lao Tzu?).
To bring the reader around to this more organic understanding of Jesus' teachings, Douglas-Klotz includes body prayers for each saying he translates. The body prayers range from breathing exercises to stretches done with a partner. While I did not spend much time much time on the body prayers, the few times I tried them they added an important dimension to Jesus' prayersthey reminded me I was saying the prayer. An I with lungs, an automatically beating heart, and awkward limbs (and usually tensed back muscles).
Despite Douglas-Klotz's decision not to make Prayers of the Cosmos academically thorough (which would have ruined the book's accessibility), his translations opened up Jesus' teachings for me. It is not hard to believe that the teachings of a woodworker living in the Middle East during the first century would carry an earthy tone. (So many of Jesus' parables use natural processes to describe spiritual truths.) A tone lost in Greek and medieval English translations. Rediscovering those organic overtones can only be helpful in understanding Jesus' teachings and being.
Roger Clough, a reader of this Web site, wrote the following response to this review:
The Neil Douglas-Klotz translation of the Lord's Prayer is beautiful, but his claim that it goes back to the "original sources" appears to be bogus. The text to the New Testament was originally written in Greek, not Aramaic. The Aramiac text which Klotz used as his "original" source (The Peshitta) is in fact a derived work, being translated into Aramaic from the original Greek text of the Bible, according to the Lion Encyclopedia of the Bible. A Catholic source (The New American Bible) also says that the New Testament was originally written entirely in Greek.
Marita Haberland, another reader, responds:
The fact that the New Testament was written in Greek does not make Klotz bogus. Since Jesus spoke Aramaic, the words he allegedly spoke in Aramaic when translated to Greek would still contain the same philogical encumberances. Klotz has done a lot of original research and shouldn't be unjustly mailgned in such short shrift.
We at SKS ask you: where else are you going to find this kind of scholarly debate, huh?
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