Posts Tagged ‘A Brief Description of the World’

Censorship of A Brief Description of the Whole World

December 2, 2011
A Brief Description of the Whole World

A Brief Description of the Whole World

Former Archbishop of Canterbury censored as his views may offend Jews and Muslims.

George Abbot (1562-1633), born in Guildford, Archbishop of Canterbury, one of the translators of the King James Bible, was a prolific writer.

One of his works A Brief Description of the Whole World, the Master of Abbot’s Hospital in Guildford has recently edited. It is published by Guildford-based Goldenford, 400 years after it was first published.

On a recent tour of Abbot’s Hospital I almost picked up a copy but glad now I did not. I learnt today that it had been heavily censored by the publshers, anything that they did not like they censored.

Two examples

– Muhammad was born of a whore
– Jews are Christ-killers

The first because they thought they might receive a fatwa, the second because the publishers are Jews and they saw the comment as anti-Semitic.

When I flipped through A Brief Description of the Whole World I saw nothing to indicate it had been censored.

You do not censor a historical document!

No doubt some of the history was not correct, nor the geography, nor the natural history. Do you censor that too? Do you redraw the maps? Of course not.

What you do, is explain the context, provide footnotes. If you are not prepared to do the academic legwork, then do not publish!

When Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade he called Muslims an accursed race. He said a race absolutely alien to God has invaded the land of Christians. Knights sought salvation through slaughter. When they entered the Holy Church in the newly liberated Jerusalem they entered dripping with blood of slaughtered Muslims to seek thanks from God.

Christianity A History: The Crusades

Although it is not something I have encountered personally, until at least the 1950s Jews were called Christ-killers. Maybe in some quarters they still are. It was not until 1965 that the Vatican issued a statement that the Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus. But this was due to a distorted reading of the Gospels, the letters of St Paul, reading them outside of their historical context.

To heaven with Scribes and Pharisees

This taking out of context, then condemning what you do not like or showing prejudice, is exactly what Goldenford are doing with a historical document, but worse, not only are they failing to understand the historical context they are then compounding their ignorance by applying the censor’s pen. Ignorance piled on ignorance. Not that this is new, it has happened through the ages.

Where do we end? Do we edit out the sexual bits in Shakespeare, do we cover up Greek Statues? Do we remove all the acts of atrocity and genocide from the Torah and Old Testament?

There are issues when dealing with historical documents. Do we, for example, render The Canterbury Tales as is, or do we try to render in modern English, both approaches have pitfalls, but what we do not do is censor because it may offend our or others sensibilities as that is to render the document worthless.

To do justice to what George Abbot has written, to leave a legacy for others to read, we publish in full, we then explain the historical context, the views of the time, only then do we understand, but what we do not do is censor what we do not like as that is to distort history, to bastardise what has been written, historical vandalism.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, history was continually being rewritten: He who controls the present controls the past, he who controls the past controls the future.

Censorship of A Brief Description of the Whole World is to be discussed at a meeting at Abbot’s Hospital, possibly sometime March 2012.

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