44 thoughts on “A nice exchange

  1. Wonderful. Jesus & Mo is consistently brilliant and deserves all the praise it gets – even from the Great Salman Rushdie!

    I just love the way the ‘sophisticated theologians’ produce ream after ream after ream of meaningless verbosity – and Jesus & Mo regularly skewers it all in 60 words or less. Pure genius.

  2. Interesting cartoon, but the back story has a lot of details that are left out.

    Many (most? all?) Moslems believe the Koran has eternal existence and flew down from Allah. (I’ve surely garbled that a little.)

    And they are deadly against any kind of textual analysis of the Koran, the kind of analysis that scholars have conducted on the bibble text since the 18th century. However a discovery of ancient manuscripts of the Koran in a mosque in Yemen gave scholars much raw material for such an analysis. The authorities in Yemen have since locked those manuscripts up, but a German scholar managed to microfilm them and get the films back to Germany before the finds were sequestered.

    Though the Arabs claim that the language of the Koran is the most beautiful, perfect form of Arabic, parts of it are incomprehensible gibberish in Arabic, perhaps because they’re in Aramaic, not Arabic.

    Again, I have to warn readers that I may have garbled these points as they are based on a rather fuzzy memory of a news article. Undoubtedly Google can lead you to the real news in these matters and correct any errors I’ve made.

  3. Funny. I just attended a debate between Dan Barker and Hamza Tzortzis about whether atheism or Islam is more rational. One of Tzortzis’ primary arguments was this uniqueness of the Qur’an’s literary style. I had never heard of this before and I find it strange. Tzortzis has a article about it here: http://www.hamzatzortzis.com/?page_id=170

  4. I read the whole Qur’an (or rather an imperfect English rendering of the Glorious Qur’an) not long ago, and what struck me most was the monotonous repetition of a small number of themes over and over and over again. I was finding it a little hypnotic by the time I was through. Not a whole lot of there there, I would say.

    I am of course completely incompetent to judge its beauty (or lack of beauty) in Arabic. Muslim Arabs go on endlessly about its sublimity. Christian Arabs somehow manage to be immune to its charms.

    1. . . . the monotonous repetition of a small number of themes over and over and over again. I was finding it a little hypnotic . . .

      I suspect that’s the whole point.

  5. Edward Gibbon has an amusing passage about Muslim praise of the Qur’an, which I’m too lazy to look for just now. He says something to this effect: nothing in the Qur’an as translated would lead him to give up being able to read Homer in Greek for a chance to read the Qur’an in Arabic.

    And, really, what about the miracle of Homer, or Sophocles, or Shakespeare, or take your pick? Must we believe all these authors were supernaturally inspired because they wrote so well?

    1. Hamza Tzortzis countered the Shakespere claim by pointing out that Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter – if trained, one can replicate it. The claim about the Qur’an is that it doesn’t fit these literary styles. An audience member brought up e.e. cummings (along with another author but I can’t remember who), but Tzortzis sidestepped that, IIRC.

  6. OK, I found it, though not the section of The Decline and Fall where it occurs:

    This argument is most powerfully addressed to a devout Arabian, whose mind is attuned to faith and rapture; whose ear is delighted by the music of sounds; and whose ignorance is incapable of comparing the productions of human genius. The harmony and copiousness of style will not reach, in a version, the European infidel: he will peruse with impatience the endless incoherent rhapsody of fable, and precept, and declamation, which seldom excites a sentiment or an idea, which sometimes crawls in the dust, and is sometimes lost in the clouds.

    The divine attributes exalt the fancy of the Arabian missionary; but his loftiest strains must yield to the sublime simplicity of the book of Job, composed in a remote age, in the same country, and in the same language. If the composition of the Koran exceed the faculties of a man to what superior intelligence should we ascribe the Iliad of Homer, or the Philippics of Demosthenes?

    So my memory was very inexact here. I wound up making Gibbon’s last point with my last comment (maybe I was unconsciously under his influence).

    1. As a linguist, I find it incredible that Arab speakers claim the beauty of the language in the Koran, yet the translations I have seen never crawl beyond the level of the banal and tedious.
      The book is worth reading solely in order to view the chasm between its reputation and its reality. I found it philosophically null, devoid of any remotely interesting insight into the human condition (contrast, say, The Book of Job or Ecclesiastes, the Iliad and Odyssey) humourless, repetitive, adolescent and murderous.
      And those are the good points; it is unpardonably dull.

        1. It also has something akin to a sense of humour: A passage in the first book of the Mahabharata states (roughly)

          What is described here may be found elsewhere. But what is not here is nowhere.

          There is also the fact that it is about four times* the size of the next largest, and I think equally good, Sanskrit epic Ramayana. Indeed, it even includes a helpful medium length summary of the main stories of the Ramayana, perhaps for the reader who might be forced to choose between reading one of the two.

          * If that comparison between the sizes of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana means nothing to you, the Ramayana itself is supposed to be about twice the size of the Illiad and Odyssey combined. Also, the whole of the so called “Hindu Bible” or Bhagvadgita appears as a small breakfast-table conversation in the Mahabharata. Admittedly, it is a little after breakfast (they have already had it and reached the battlefield) and Time is stopped except for the two parties involved in the conversation while it takes place, but you get the point.

  7. Jerry, you have produced proof of goD. For is in not true that on Sinai’s height hE spake unto Moses–in Popeye’s voice–saying: “Ehhh, I Yam What I Yam!”

  8. I yam, I said
    To no one there
    And no one heard at all
    Not even the chair
    I yam, I cried
    I yam, said I
    And I am lost, and I can’t even say why
    Leavin’ me lonely still

  9. Don’t forget that Allah is oft forgiving, most merciful. And also that Allah is oft forgiving, most merciful. Oh and did I mention that Allah is oft forgiving, most merciful? Of course if you don’t believe it he will not only pour boiling water over you until your skin peels off but he will provide you with an infinite number of new skins so that he can boil them off over and over again. So don’t forget that Allah is oft forgiving, most merciful.

    If the Koran was edited to cut out the repetativeness it would be a whole lot thinner.

    1. It would appear there is some serious schizophrenia in the Quran and/or Allah – the strange case of Dr. Muhammad and Mr. Allah. Consider this damning passage from In Defense of Atheism [Michel Onfray; pgs 168-169]

      According to Islamic tradition, God has ninety-nine names …. Many of the names are variations on the theme of mercy and compassion. Al-Rahim: the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate. … Al-Karim: the Generous, the Bountiful. [But] how is it that, among the ninety-nine Beautiful Names of Allah, there is also Al-Mudhill: the Humiliator, the Degrader, Bringer of Dishonor and Disgrace. … Al-Muntaqim: the Avenger, the Inflictor of Retribution. Al-Darr: the Punisher, Bringer of Harm to Those Who Offend Him. Debasing, killing, avenging, harming – strange ways of showing mercy! But justified on page after page of the Koran.

      1. So Allah turns out to be nothing but a second-rate, big-time wrestling character — both face and heel? Seems you needn’t be Roland Barthes to tell from the get-go that the whole deal was kayfabe.

        1. That wouldn’t be so bad – everyone needs a little entertainment in their lives – if it weren’t for the fact that far too many people take it for reality and act accordingly – with a great many obvious and problematic consequences.

          Curious phenomenon though – even if kind of depressing, the extent to which many people are taken in by such tripe. Reminds me of something, I think, from Pinker’s How the Mind Works which described how some fan of a soap opera had sent in some gift or card to a woman character on the show who had had a baby as part of the story line. One might reasonably argue or suggest that religion has blurred the distinction between the real and the fantasy and has thereby contributed to that rather sad state of affairs.

          1. Some adults actually buy into the reality of WWW (just as many other adults believe equally bogus BS). Michael Shermer has identified some of the reasons why, and the P.T. Barnums of the world have found ways to monetize it.

            And every December the post office receives hampers-full of letters to Santa. Most people outgrow that fantasy, and I think most adults outgrow religious fantasies as well. But many of them stick with the religion they were born with anyway (without really thinking about it much) because of secondary reinforcement — from family, friends, popular culture, what-have-you — and they believe they’re supposed to believe, just as everyone else around them appears to do. The ones who are intent on sticking with their religion, but require some additional papering over — those are your Sophitos.

      2. Allah was originally the chief god in the Arabian peninsula’s pantheon; the list therefore represents, I assume, an attempt by Mohammed’s followers to subsume the lesser gods within the new monotheism.
        Here is a list of some gods from around the world which I prepared earlier; you can take your deities à la carte and choose some bizarrely-named dishes, viz:
        The One Who Holds, The Worshipped One, The Lord,
        The Cosmic Serpent Chinaweji and
        Minia, The Lady Of The Grape Vine,
        The Absolute, Ymir, Itzamna, Geb,
        The Father Of Gods El, Brahma, Fu Xi,
        Odin, Heimdall, Mwari, Rangi, Barong,
        The Creator Viracocha, Nű Gua,
        Omam, Mawu-Lisa, Mboom, Atum
        The Androgynous, The Lady Rainbow,
        the sex-god Amon-Ra, Aphrodite,
        Brighid, Nehalennia, Freyja, Ing,
        Freyr, Makosh, The Rozhanitsy, and
        Mot the Sterile, Ahriman too, Bata
        the masochistic eunuch, and Anat
        the transvestite, the god of war Mithras,
        Astarte, Ishtar, Durga, Hachiman,
        Morrighan, Tiwaz, Huitzilopochtli,
        Tu, Ku, Mars, The August Male And Female,
        The Iron Crutch, Queen Mother of the West,
        The Minister Of Thunder, Wen Zhong, Thor,
        Shango, Wakinyan, Perun, Taranis,
        Donar, Lord of the Centre of Heaven,
        Great Lord of the Country, god of wisdom,
        wine-god, goddess of female diseases,
        goddess of dawn, god of rain, The Wise Lord,
        goddess of food, god of sowing, yam-god,
        god of kitchen ranges, the fire god
        Hephaistos, Homusubi, Svorozhich,
        Huehueteotl, The Black Misery,
        The Radiant, The Lord of the Night Sky,
        The Protector of Dead Souls, The Dark One
        Donn, Shoki the Demon-Queller, The
        Trickster Loki, Nanabush, Argula,
        Eshu, Maui, the god of crops Lono,
        Demeter, Rongo, Quetzalcoatl,
        Ah mun, Inari, The Leader of the
        Demon Hordes, Lord of the Smoking Mirror,
        The Ancient Foundation, Instructor Of
        The World, Lord of Duality, sea-god
        Poseidon, Tangaroa, Sedna,
        Ngaan, Njord, storm-gods Baal and Susano;
        did I mention Aesculapius god
        of medicine and Patecatl and
        Dian Cécht, The Lord Of Progeny, The
        Lord Of Heaven, The Shining One, Deva,
        The Messenger Of Heaven, The Horned One,
        The Great Spirit, Lord Of The Underworld,
        The Enlightened One, The Maker Of All,
        The Moon Spirit, Mother Earth, Divine Youth,
        The Jade Emperor, The God Of Darkness,
        The Maintainer, The Destroyer, The Great
        Mother, The Shadowy One, Enlil the
        Flooder, Thoth the Lunar, Taweret the
        Reviver, Pan, Pan Gu, Gu, Zu, Nut, Frigg,
        god of chilbirth, prophecy, hearths, hunting,
        the dead, water, earth, sky, sun, wind, air, love,
        lightning, elements, order, woods, wild plants,
        and witches, Satan, Mephistopheles,
        Beelzebub, the Beast, Yahweh, Allah?

        Reductio ad absurdum.

  10. “Sweet potatoes make better fries.” The subject of a real face to face debate with Haught.

    Then again after his last performance;

    Haught aught naught!

  11. In the garden of superstitious make believe
    I, yam, the lord of all
    stand naked before no one else
    my new clothes, they’re beautiful.

  12. More confusion about yams and sweet potatoes again. They are not the same thing!

    Come on, one’s even a monocot while the other’s a dicot.

    How can educated people not know something so basic. I demand the sweet potato be given its due as a new world plant and one which deserves correct identification.


    1. Yes,yes, I do know the difference (I believe it’s arisen here before), but I couldn’t use the word “yam” twice in the title!

    2. Come on, one’s even a monocot while the other’s a dicot.

      I did not know that. And to think I was a botany major. (I did know they were different, of course. Certainly used interchangely in US patois, tho.)

  13. Ok, besides yammering on, here is a somewhat boring yet perhaps informative review of the The Koran, taken from The Historians’ History of the World – Volume VIII (1908). I could not find an electronic version on the intertubes, so I have transcribed it from my own copy of the book. As this was written in 1908, it is not quite as politically correct as we might see in a more modern review. As I have not read the Koran in either Arabic or English, I cannot personally vouch for the words hereunder, but from what others have said it appears to describe the same book.

    Dozy’s Estimate of the Koran

    The book which contains the revelations make to Mohammed, and which is, at the same time, if not the most complete, at least the most trustworthy source of his biography, presents more peculiarities and irregularities than any other. It is a collection of stories, exhortations, laws etc., placed side by side without attempt at chronological order or any other order.

    However, in the time of Mohammed no complete collection of the texts of the Koran existed; and had it not been for the care of the first three caliphs it would have run a great risk of being forgotten.

    …whatever may be the judgement which posterity will declare as the greater or lesser authenticity of the Koran, it is quite certain that the arrangement of this book and its division into suras or chapters is entirely arbitrary. And it could not be otherwise; an arrangement according to subject was quite impossible, for Mohammed often spoke in the same revelation of totally different things. Still less could a chronological order be followed: first, because Mohammed himself, in many places, added new revelations to more ancient ones; next, because in those times there were no one still living who knew the exact moment when each verse had been revealed. It was with perfect justice that, at this period, a man who was asked if the fragments of the Koran were arranged in chronological order, replied: “Even if all men and all jinns (demons) attempted it, they could not succeed.” So the length of the suras was taken as a rule of the order to be followed, without keeping too strictly to it; the longest came first, then the one which was nearest in length, and so on; so that the last sura is at the same time the shortest. The consequence is that revelations dating from very different epochs are now mixed without order, so that a similar confusion is found in no other book; and this, above all else, makes the reading of the Koran so difficult and so tedious.

    The Koran is crowded with degenerate words, borrowed from the Jewish, the Syrian and Ethiopian languages; the Arab commentators, who knew no other language than their own, wearied their brains in trying to explain them, without succeeding, however, in finding their true meaning. Moreover the Koran contains more than one infraction of the rules of grammar; and if these are less noticeable, it is because the Arab grammarians, wishing to justify them, made these errors into rules or exceptions to the rules.

    The Koran had, moreover, very little influence on Mohammed’s contemporaries. The Arabs had reached a very high degree of civilisation and of development – I refer to intellectual and not material civilisation; while Mohammed was a mere enthusiast, like many others elsewhere – a fanatic, who was surpassed in understanding, science, intelligence and even in morality by more than one of his fellow-citizens. The greater number of his contemporaries were indifferent to his pious effusions. And, in short, to find the Koran fine and sublime, faith must first have stifled common sense. The majority of that nation had not reached that stage. So the conversions one reads of which are attributed to certain passages of the Koran belong chiefly in the domain of the pious legend and not to history; history, in fact, teaches that the multitude knew little or nothing of the Koran, and that they were moreover not at all anxious to know it.

    1. In re. wearying their brains in trying to explain degenerate, borrowed words.

      Interestingly, at the same time that review was written, Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover were laboring over translating De Re Metallica, a medieval mining treatise, written in Latin, which had failed all attempts at translation. The rock on which they had all foundered was that mining technology had advanced after Latin died, and so many terms had been invented when the tome was written in the mid 1500’s. (Lavishly illustrated with woodcuts, it apparently remained the standard reference for ~200yrs, and was so valuable that it was chained to many altars. I presume this is because of the interest of the church in gold and silver.) The future President was a mining engineer and his wife was a geologist with a bent for languages (they later communicated in Chinese at the White House when they needed private exchange), so they were ideally suited for the task, which was a hobby pursuit. But by 1912 they had succeeded, apparently by conducting experiments to test whether their interpretation of this or that term was correct.

      Hard to use that approach when trying to translate woo.

Leave a Reply