Lost in Translation, Interpreting Prophecies

Rocky Moutains    Modern Language Association, Conference

Fresque Romane XIIe, Eglise St Martin de Vic, France.
Les trois prophètes (Ph Mossot)

at the Millennium Hotel,

Chair:    Juliette Blue Bourdier, University of Colorado, Boulder

The presentations will  be held chronologically, XII & XIIIth centuries, XIXth century, and XXIst century.
Juliette Blue Bourdier, University of Colorado, Boulder. “Interpreting Prophecies from Infernal Journeys: When the Traveler becomes a Prophet, Diverting the Visions of Gottschalk and Thurkill.”
Eugene Clay, Arizona State University. “Interpreting Heavenly Tongues: Transmitting and Translating the Inspired Prophecy of Maksim Rudometkin.”
Philippe Brand, Lewis and Clark College. “Before Disappearing: Xabi Molia’s Paris after the Apocalypse.”

Interpreting Heavenly Tongues:

Transmitting and Translating the Inspired Prophecy of Maksim Rudometkin

J. Eugene Clay,

Associate Professor, Arizona State University


Translation of human texts has always posed difficult questions about how best to render meaning, meaning, context, and authorial intent, but the translation of texts that claim divine origin present special theological, philosophical, linguistic, and sociological problems.  This paper explores the translation and transmission of the divine writings of the Russian peasant wheelwright Maksim Gavriilovich Rudometkin (ca. 1832-77), who declared himself to be the King of Spirits in the 1850s.  As a child, Rudometkin had been exiled from his home in the black-earth region of Tambov province when his parents became Spiritual Christians, a religious movement that rejected the icons, fasts, church buildings, sacraments, clergy, and hierarchy of the official Russian Orthodox Church.  Forced to travel hundreds of miles in hostile territory, Rudometkin’s family helped found the village of Nikitino in Erivan Province (in contemporary Armenia) on the Caucasian frontier in 1842.  Arrested in 1858 for his radical millenarian prophecies, Rudometkin spent the rest of his life in monastic imprisonment.  (Rudometkin’s most devout followers to this day believe that he is still alive and is waiting for the right moment to return to establish his terrestrial kingdom.)  In his prophecies, written in 14 tiny notebooks that were smuggled to his followers from his monastic prison, Rudometkin bitterly attacked the Russian Orthodox Church and its tsar, comparing them to the apocalyptic beasts of Revelation.  He broke with other Christians by rejecting the holidays (such as Christmas and Easter) that they shared, and instead insisted that his followers observe the Old Testament feasts, including Trumpets, Passover, and Tabernacles.  When Rudometkin’s followers began emigrating from the Russian Empire to the United States in 1904, they took copies of their prophet’s manuscripts with them and began the controversial process of editing, publishing, and translating them.  This paper explores the nature of Rudometkin’s prophecies as they moved from an oral performance to handwritten text to printed sacred scripture to translated work.

“Before Disappearing: Xabi Molia’s Paris After the Apocalypse”

Philippe Brand,

Assistant Professor, Lewis and Clark Oregon


Throughout history, one of the most common prophecies goes something like: “the end is near!”  From the Book of Revelation to big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, the notion of apocalypse and the question of what might come afterward have alternately terrified and fascinated people for millennia.  At the start of our twenty-first century, post-apocalyptic fiction and theories are alive and well, a fact to which anyone with an Internet connection can attest.  While early apocalyptic writings prophesied the “unveiling” or “revelation” of a messiah figure at the end of the world, more recent post-apocalyptic fiction has transformed over time, concerning itself primarily with the notion of catastrophe, or the “overturning” of social order.  The central theme thus shifts from what happens at the end to what happens afterward for those left behind.  This talk will examine Xabi Molia’s recent novel Before Disappearing [Avant de disparaître] (2011).  Set “a few years from now” in a Paris ravaged by pandemic and engulfed in a civil war, Molia’s novel is both a gripping narrative and a philosophical meditation on what it means to remain alive when everything around has already crumbled.

“Interpreting Prophecies from Infernal Journeys,
When the traveler becomes a prophet, diverting the visions of Gottschalk and Thurkill”
Juliette Bourdier,
PhD Candidate, University of Colorado, Boulder

Hell and its punishments, as we know them today, were designed from supposed visits in Hell performed by a chosen few. During these journeys the traveler was commissioned by God to disclose the secrets of the Otherworld that were transcribed by an authority whose screening would authenticate the vision. The first revelations were mostly symbolic and meant to justify the spread of Christendom; the fifth century adapted version of The Apocalypse of Paul clearly announced his eschatological purpose. The seventh century Visio Sancti Fursei, included all the ingredients the saint required to rationalize his mission to establish Christianity throughout the British Isles. Fursey also brought back stigmata from his passage among the souls, materializing what was meant to be a spiritual experience, and consequently establishing a new kind of active spokesman for God. Traces of skepticism toward these testimonies  are not found until the second part of the twelfth century when the vulgarization of the genre  allowed clerics to extend beyond its original purpose in order to achieve their own priorities.

Using the most controversial texts of the genre, The Vision of Gottschalk (1189) and The Vision of Thurkill (1206), I will focus on the rise of doubt based on a new management of the divine testimony, which promoted not only a more and more complex message but the living prophet himself.  This new role of the visionaries whose “contemporary” testimonies exclusively supported the values of their monastic community, namely poverty, chastity and obedience, implied the worshiping of a human being.  Their new, innovative and amazingly detailed statements needed to be translated like the parables of the Bible. Through the medium of public talks, the oral revelations of Gottschalk and Thurkill turned them into prophets, contact with them had the power to save souls, and this initiated a local competition between monasteries.  This phenomenon caused a fundamental shift in the genre that denied its essential authenticity and opened the door to eventual literary invention.