21 March 2008

What's the good on "Good Friday"?

In the English language (as well as in Dutch) the Christian churches call today "Good Friday". This is a very strange choice of word, since the day commemorates the torture, crucification and death of Jesus. What is good in putting a great man to his death in such a humiliating way? It has puzzled me and made me wonder ever since I learned English as a child.

We should not forget that for the Romans crucification was not only the harshest, but also the most shameful form of legal execution. It was usually reserved for the worst of criminals, but also regularly used as a political punishment for traitors and rebels.
Jesus fell into this last category, as the Romans saw him as the leader of a rebellious movement that threatened the Roman presence in Palestine and thus the stability of the Empire.

Regardless if one might believe the stories told in the New Testament or not, the killing of a man for political reasons - which sadly still happens several times every day on this planet - is not a good thing at all. Quite the opposite. So why did the English, after adopting Christianity, decide to call the day their spiritual leader was killed "Good Friday"?

I have researched this matter for quite some time, but could not find any clear explanation or reason. The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that something must be wrong with the way English-speakers think and comprehend things, as "Good Friday" is only one of many English words and expressions that are either factually wrong or make no sense. (I will not elaborate on other examples here today, but will revisit the subject at a later time.)

In Irish we call this day Aoine Chéasta (Passion Friday), which describes exactly what it is, the day of Jesus' Passion.
Most of the other major cultures and languages are also doing the same and put the emphasis either on Jesus' suffering or on the sadness about it.

In Russian the day is called
"Passion Friday" (Страстной Пяток or Страстная Пятница) as well, while in German it is known as Karfreitag, which translates as "Friday of Lamentation" (from the medieval German word kara, meaning grief, sadness or lamentation for a dead person). The Germans actually extend their lamentation to Saturday - Karsamstag - as well, while in most other languages the attribute "Holy" is used, as it is also in English.

In French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese the various names for the day Jesus died mean "Holy Friday", which makes sense, and the same is also the case in the Philippines and Vietnam.
The words used in most Eastern European countries, as well as in Greece, Palestine and Malta, translate in a literal way as "Great Friday", but the meaning is the same as "Holy Friday".

In the Scandinavian countries the translation "Long Friday" matches most closely the word used in the various national languages, and the meaning comes from the long suffering of Jesus on the cross.

Even in cultures where Christianity is a small minority religion, the words used for this day are proper and fitting. In Chinese it is - very descriptive - the "Day of Christ's Suffering", while in Arabic the day is known as "Sad Friday".

Only in English (and Dutch) - it appears - is Jesus' suffering and death regarded as "good". I think this is very weird. And despite the fact that the word is in use now for many centuries, it might be a really good idea to change it and use a more appropriate name for this day when speaking English or Dutch.

The Emerald Islander

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

blessed are those that mourn for they shall be comforted

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