The Need for a Critical Edition of Reverend Moon’s Words

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By Andrew Wilson

WilsonIn the history of religion, the work of collecting and preserving the founder’s words normally becomes a priority in the years immediately after his passing. Thus the Gospels were collected and written some 40 years after Jesus’ passing, and the leaves of Muhammad’s revelation were collected as the Qur’an within 20 years of his death. This same priority is emerging in the Unification movement.

Although the UM enjoys all the advantages of modern technology for preserving and publishing the words of the founder, technology also makes it easy to edit those words before they reach the printed page. The question of possible distortions introduced by editors, or allegations of such, becomes even more acute in light of the current controversies over Reverend Moon’s words pursuant to claims over succession.

The FFWPU has been consciously setting up a corpus of official writings, all based upon selections from Moon Sun Myung Seonsaeng Malseum Seonjip (Sermons of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon), but the large corpus of his sermons given over more than 60 years, even some of the texts in Malseum Seonjip, may suffer from distortions. There is need for scholars to establish a critical edition of the Rev. Moon’s sermons that preserves what he spoke in exact detail.

Having been involved in editing Rev. Moon’s translated speeches for over 20 years, I learned some of the challenges the task of translation requires. For example, for World Scripture and the Teachings of Sun Myung Moon (2007), the translation work occupied the editors and their staff for two full years. Korean and English are so dissimilar that translation between them is extremely difficult. Furthermore, Rev. Moon had a unique vocabulary and often gave his Korean words shades of meaning distinct from secular Korean. However, while it is well known that many existing English translations fall short, I came to recognize that there are problems in the underlying Korean as well.

Lack of Reliable English Translations

Although thousands of pages of Rev. Moon’s words have been translated into English, the translations are of varying quality. Least reliable are the large corpus of Sunday sermons given at the Belvedere Training Center in Tarrytown, NY, which were delivered in Korean with consecutive translation.

The translators, who were caught up in the heat of grasping the words of the extemporaneous sermon, often took considerable liberties paraphrasing and elaborating upon the thought rather than striving for accuracy with his words. They often felt it necessary to adjust the content to be more comprehensible to a Western audience. While these sermons can be drawn upon for inspiration, they can by no means be taken as an accurate representation of Rev. Moon’s words. Accurate translation requires that the translator begin from the official Korean text or from a transcription of the original audiotapes.

Due to such distortions, the consecutively-translated extemporaneous sermons are the least reliable translations. In the pressure of the moment and with the inspiration that accompanied these sermons, word-for-word accuracy was just not possible. In time, all of these sermons will need to be re-translated based upon transcriptions of the original audiotapes.

Towards a Proper Standard of Translation

Translations prepared for the 15 Hoon Dok volumes published in 1998 are only slightly better.  The process of translation began with a Korean making a rough translation into English, followed by a Westerner at another location, sometimes half-way around the world, polishing the English. The results were of variable quality, with generally poor English and numerous inaccuracies.

Several reasons contributed to the poor results: First, a tight deadline for completing the task; second, lack of selectivity in the employment of translators and editors — many of whom had weak English skills; third, there was no mechanism for the translator to check the work of the editor against distortions that inevitably arise in the course of polishing the English. Generally, the practice of using Korean translators for whom English was their second language is contrary to best practices of translation, where a translator should have as his or her first language the language into which the work is being translated. Few Westerners in the church had sufficient command of Korean to be qualified to translate.

A better procedure for translation utilizes a team approach, where both the translator and the English editor communicate with each other to go over the text for both accuracy and clarity in English. This method was employed in preparing Exposition of the Divine Principle (1996) and most of Rev. Moon’s formal public speeches. Korean translators and American editors met together, sometimes on a weekly basis, to review the translations, identify difficulties, and come up with renderings that satisfied both the criteria of accuracy and good English sense. The team approach was also used for translating large portions of the new Cheon Seong Gyeong (2014) and Chambumo Gyeong (2015), which has improved the quality of these translations.

There are many issues involved in translating Rev. Moon’s words from Korean into English. It suffices to caution that no translation can be perfect; there is always something lost or misunderstood in going from one language to another, one culture to another, one way of thinking to another. Translation is partly an art, requiring language fluency, years of experience, and knowledge of Rev. Moon’s unique way of thinking.

Establishing a high standard of English translation reveals the shoddiness of earlier efforts. When English passages selected for World Scripture were checked against the Korean text, 80% of them had to be completely re-translated. In the future, there will undoubtedly be scholars who will devote themselves to making new translations of all Rev. Moon’s sermons.

Problems with the Official Korean Text

In addition to the typical difficulties that exist in any translation from Korean to a Western language, there is a more fundamental problem: the unreliability of the current standard Korean text – the published 400+ volumes of Malseum Seonjip and other collections of readings in Korean such as Blessing and Ideal Family. All these printed Korean texts show evidence of editing.

Extemporaneous sermons are not the stuff of polished prose. Rev. Moon frequently involved the audience, often in sustained rhetorical challenges and responses. He would occasionally challenge a particular disciple, setting up dialogues that lasted for a minute or more. His sermons were replete with sudden exclamations and contain occasional misstatements and self-corrections. Sometimes he used strong, even shocking language, meant for aural effect but too strong to come off well on the printed page. Hence, it is understandable that the publisher of Malseum Seonjip would edit the text as he prepared the sermons for publication.

Furthermore, Rev. Moon gave numerous sermons entirely in Japanese, in which he was fluent. When speaking to Western audiences he would often break into broken English for minutes at a time. Yet in Malseum Seonjip all his words are in Korean. Even sermons given in Japanese were translated back into Korean. While these adjustments can be expected in a publication meant for the Korean membership, they undermine the reliability of those particular sermons.

Testimonies by several editors of Chambumo Gyeong in July.

The Perspective of a Text Critic

In the history of religion, scholars agonize over the fact that the extant copies of the holy books were written decades or centuries after the founder’s passing, and that struggle as they may, they cannot easily penetrate behind the veil of time to know the founder’s actual words. This task is called text criticism.

In the Old Testament there are frequently differences between a verse in the Hebrew and Greek versions. In the Septuagint (Greek) text, the prophet Isaiah states, “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son” while the Hebrew (Masoretic) text simply states a “young woman” shall conceive and bear a son.

In the case of Rev. Moon’s speeches, there is no need to wait for an archaeologist to stumble on ancient scrolls; the original audiotapes are mostly available. Scholars of Reverend Moon’s words have an obligation to history that requires them to go back to the audiotapes and check every speech. Undoubtedly more such missing passages will be found.

Characteristics of a Critical Edition

As scholars begin the task of assembling a critical edition of the Korean text of the Reverend Moon’s words, they will produce a text having the following characteristics:

  1. It preserves oral speech. We know that oral speech is different from written words, and the temptation of an editor is to clean up all the natural and spontaneous extra words to make for better written prose. The critical edition should preserve every single word Rev. Moon spoke, and not make any effort to clean it up.
  2. It preserves impromptu dialogue between Rev. Moon and individual members. In the Gospels, we treasure reading the many short dialogues Jesus had with his disciples. Rev. Moon often interrupted his message to carry on short conversations with his disciples. These can contain precious wisdom and reveal much about the personal dynamics of his ministry; yet they were excised from Malseum Seonjip. All such conversations, including the disciple’s responses, should be included in the critical edition. When a disciple is making a report and Rev. Moon interrupts to make a point, both Rev. Moon’s remark and the words from the disciple’s report which prompted it will be included.
  3. It includes harsh and jarring language, which in Malseum Seonjip was cleaned up for public consumption. In a critical edition that will mainly be used by scholars, all Rev. Moon’s words will be preserved exactly as he spoke them.
  4. It preserves controversial sayings that might offend. Editors and translators alike took to cutting out some of Rev. Moon’s frank language about sex and pronouncements that might be a political liability. The critical edition will preserve this controversial content for posterity and for analysis by future generations of scholars.
  5. It includes diagrams. Rev. Moon conveyed much information through diagrams he drew on the blackboard. Whenever possible, these diagrams need to be rescued from videotapes and included in the critical edition.
  6. It is multilingual. When Rev. Moon spoke Japanese, the text will be written in Japanese; when he spoke English, the text will be written in English. The practice of translating Rev. Moon’s words from Japanese and English into Korean for Malseum Seonjip introduced many errors. In whatever language Rev. Moon spoke, he chose fitting words to convey his message because he recognized that sharing language is the best way to share the heart. The critical edition will thus include all three languages, exactly as Rev. Moon spoke them.
  7. It includes editor’s notes about the context. Behind every sermon is a context — a political event, a providential activity, or an issue of church life — that forms the backdrop to what is spoken. Knowing a speech’s context sheds additional light on its content. Therefore, scholars who prepare the critical edition will create notes about the historical context of every sermon.

It is high time for scholars to begin the work of establishing an accurate text of Rev. Moon’s speeches. The taped records of his speeches are aging and in a few years will begin to lose their integrity. This critical edition should include every single word to the letter that Rev. Moon ever spoke in public, including conversations with his disciples. It should be prepared with the highest scholarly standards. Its purpose will be to preserve for generations to come a full and accurate record of the words spoken by this remarkable man.♦

This article is adapted from the full version which originally appeared in the Journal of Unification Studies, Vol. 9, 2008.

Dr. Andrew Wilson (UTS Class of 1978) is Professor of Scriptural Studies at Unification Theological Seminary. He edited World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts.

Photo at top: Rev. Moon speaking on a Sunday morning at Belvedere Training Center.

7 thoughts on “The Need for a Critical Edition of Reverend Moon’s Words

  1. Dr. Wilson mentions that the taped records are rapidly aging. May I suggest that if that has not already been organized, that these old tapes be quickly transferred onto digital formats such as CD/DVD sound/video files, etc.

  2. Women scholarly critics and seminary graduates and the conversations with our theologian, Dr. Young Oon Kim, should be included in these discussions. Also, women translators who translated from Korean to English should be included.

  3. I couldn’t agree more about the need to have critical editions of Rev. Moon’s words. Having been involved with Dr. Wilson on World Scripture II and in the publication of a number of other books, I think it is important to recognize that printed texts are always contextual, and claims of literal inerrancy, whether it be the Bible, Koran, other sacred texts, or Rev. Moon’s words, are always suspect because of the perspective of the translators, editors, and the social-historical changes in languages that continue to evolve and give old words new meanings. Also the institutional goals of the producers are important to consider.

    The reputation of any book is tied to the skills of the translators and editors and, for book integrity, the people working on any text need to be known, along with their degrees and reputations. I have received a number of book submissions in which the author has claimed the words come directly from God, and many of the books of collections of Rev. Moon’s words available to Unificationists today are promoted like that, without indicating the people who worked on it and their skills, the context of the speech, the audience, and Rev. Moon’s specific goals that day. Preserving the videos taken by New Future Films and others is important for the critical scholars to better grasp the subtle nuances and context of a speech.

    I also worked on the English edition of Rev. Moon’s autobiography, which is a translation of a book published in Korea by a Buddhist publisher that emphasizes Rev. Moon’s life in Korea, his philosophy of family, and Korean unification. Very little in that book is related to the many activities of Rev. Moon in America to promote a new global civilization that took up half of his life work. Someone reading his autobiography as it exists would certainly fail to understand him fully, as his time in the U.S. and his efforts to influence every field of human endeavor was so extensive.

  4. I think if this idea bears fruit, it might be best to hire an outside editorial staff to do the translation and editing. It seems like at this stage of the game, there are too many personal agendas and prejudicial judgments made in the compilation and “refinement” of TF’s words. Of course, UC members would give final approval to such a new work, but at the end of the day, a work more faithful to TF’s original intent will probably be produced than one produced by an editorial committee composed of church members.

  5. Yes, even though it is “dangerous ground,” it needs to be done. To make a Korean text translated into the local tongue more easily accepted is very important, but with scripture it is very sensitive. The term “absolute sex” for instance may have been emphasized by non-native English-speaking Korean scholars who are not sufficiently aware of all the nuances in English; however, the term “absolute sex” sounds very hard, crude and cold in Anglo-Saxon languages, so other terms like absolute sexual morality/ethics was introduced, yet often not applied. There are many such examples.

  6. Also the repetitive element of the text needs to be looked at. Our books often repeat certain elements over and over, which sometimes can even cause irritation, instead of spiritual nurture; also the pages would be less in number, which would cut down on printing costs, but that is of course far less important!

  7. “Proper” translations are always a good thing for the reader, especially when we mean by proper correct grammar, punctuation and spelling, and overall sentence structure. However, when it comes to dealing with the extemporaneous sermons delivered by Father, we must not forget that a “preached sermon” to a corporate body of believers involves other key elements in addition to proper word translation, and preached sermons by experienced preachers are never delivered for the purpose of having them published in book format to be read, or as literary works to win a Pulitzer Prize.

    Preached sermons involve the “whole personality” of the preacher, and are subject to the “manifestation of Spirit” among the corporate body of believers; an element not possible to transfer via correct text translation. Hence, Dr. Wilson assertion that the published English translations of the sermons Father delivered during his 20 years of preaching ministry from the Belvedere pulpit “are the least reliable,” ought to be reconsidered from the perspective I have shared here. Those who had the privilege to sit and hear and experience those sermons on a consistent basis over the years are well aware of the problems inherent with simultaneous translation, but are also aware of the incredible inspiration, internal cleansing, excitement and tears experienced while present during Father’s time preaching at Belvedere. No amount of “accurate text translation” will ever be able to transfer those elements to the reader.

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