Jots & Tittles
Bible Translation School Flourishes in Jerusalem
A few miles west of Jerusalem, in the aptly named suburb of Mevasseret Zion (in Hebrew, “who brings good tidings to Zion,” from Isaiah 40:9), a colorful band of men and women, some clothed in bright tribal robes, bang away rhythmically on a clutch of hand drums, bongos and a local darbuka, and sing out a sweet, homegrown version of a Halleluiah hymn. This is no ordinary combo. It consists of clergy and translators, of mainly African origin. The song of praise is to mark their graduation from an intensive course of Bible studies at the Home for Bible Translators and Scholars in Jerusalem, Inc.—or HBT for short.
HBT draws students mainly from Third World countries—typically ex-colonies where the national language is still that of the colonial power (French, English, Portuguese, etc.) and where the people’s native language or languages lack an alphabet or any written tradition. In the school’s eight years of existence—with alternating French and English sessions—students have come from over 20 countries, speaking over 40 different tongues with exotic-sounding names like Sabaot, Nyaboa, Samu, Dagara, Lama, Di-Congo, Baoul, Yele and Attie—a linguist’s paradise.
“In my native Benin in West Africa,” reports Issifou Korogo, “my language, Yom, is shared by about 200,000 people. It is one of 51 languages used in Benin, a country of seven million inhabitants. There are, in addition, numerous dialects. It is possible to travel from one village to the next and not understand what your neighbors are saying. The one uniting language has been French. Even when we translated the New Testament into Yom, it was from French.”
The situation he describes is not uncommon. In the past, when the Bible was translated into a local language, the source text was generally one of the major authorized European-language versions—Latin, Greek, German, English, French, etc. For the Old Testament, it was seldom feasible to work from the original Hebrew because so few people knew it. It was only through the modern revival of Hebrew as a living language in the State of Israel that biblical Hebrew has become accessible to more than just traditional Jews, language specialists or Bible scholars.
Thanks to the dedication and hard work of American-Israeli Halvor Ronning and his Finnish-born wife Miriam, founders of the nonprofit HBT, some representatives of the world’s minority languages, of which there are over 6,000, are now being taught the original text of the Hebrew Bible.
“We wanted,” says Halvor Ronning, “to offer a serious academic program for translators who would then be able to return to their native lands and languages, and join a team of Bible scholars and church people in working on a first-time translation of the Bible into their native language, and in which the Hebrew text would be a critical element.”
Devout Christians who have lived in Israel since the early 1960s, the Ronnings share a number of academic degrees between them. With degrees in clinical psychology and translation, Miriam has translated several Bible books from Hebrew into her native Finnish. Halvor Ronning, with a B.A. in philosophy, a B.D. in theology, an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Yale, and doctoral studies at the Hebrew University, has been lecturing in Bible, particularly its history and geography, at undergraduate and graduate schools in the United States and Israel; he also served a while as the director of the Institute of Holy Land Studies on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion before co-founding the HBT.
Some eight years ago, Miriam and Halvor suggested the creation of a special program for Bible translators. It became an official program of the prestigious Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School for overseas students. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs realized the potential of developing good relations with emerging nations and for a number of years has offered two tuition scholarships of $3,500 each to the Hebrew University.
“When we first discussed the ‘ideal’ project with translation specialists, they came up with a course that would take 009two years. However, this would have been impractical for the potential students, most of whom are people with families and for whom such an extended stay away from home would have been asking too much. Eventually, we managed to condense the essence of a program into six months. But this means that students have to study introductory Hebrew beforehand and that the course at the Hebrew University would be very intense.”
Issifou Korogo can vouch for this: “We are driven early each morning to the Hebrew University to study modern Hebrew. In the afternoon, we study the history, geography and archaeology of Israel. We then have sessions in the philology and historical meaning of biblical Hebrew texts and then discuss how best to translate the Hebrew texts into our mother tongues. We return to Mevasseret to more Hebrew studies, dinner and then homework, often to midnight.”
“The aim of the program,” says Miriam, “is to reach the level of translating some 80 percent of narrative texts with relative ease, and to know how to use research tools in tackling more difficult texts. This aim is greatly enhanced by modern Hebrew studies, which aid fluency in reading since basic biblical Hebrew also provides the basis for modern Hebrew—as can easily be attested by a simple comparison of the most frequently used words in both genres.”
The student translators face a real intellectual challenge in making the text understandable to native readers: What do you do when your language has no native word for snow (as in Benin), or sea (as in landlocked Burkina Faso) or if you live in a place where vineyards or other plants and animals known in Hebrew don’t exist (as in many parts of Africa and Asia)? At the end-of-year ceremony, in which they received their certificates, each of the graduates demonstrated ingenious ways they had found of substituting native words for the Hebrew, showing a sensitivity to the context of the language, not just its literal transcription.
In translating “stiff-necked people” (Exodus 32:9), for example, one translator came up with “blocked ears,” and another with “as hard as a grasshopper’s head”! These may sound amusing to Western ears but they make sense in the local vocabulary and worldview of the intended audience.
Issifou’s French colleague Anne-Marie Gimenez observes that Hebrew is a more “tactile” language than the more abstract classical European languages. “Even so,” she says, “I’m having problems finding equivalents of more abstract concepts such as ‘holiness,’ not to mention ‘God,’ in San—one of the Mande family of languages in Burkina Faso, where I work.”
So far 68 students, speaking 41 different languages from 23 different countries around the world, have participated in the course. Reports from alumni in the field show that they are already tackling fresh Bible translations back home—a project that in any given case may take more than 15 years to complete. The hope is that familiarity with the source language will speed the process of translation.
One of the highlights of the 2004 closing ceremony was an expression of thanks from the student body, provided by Thomas Kore, from the Ivory Coast, who read out his speech in perfect Hebrew, a language of which he had little knowledge just a year before.
Sheba Goes West
She came to Jerusalem bearing precious gold and spices, to test King Solomon “with hard questions” (1 Kings 10:1). We don’t know what those questions were, but the Queen of Sheba left satisfied, returning to her far-off country with great riches given her in return by Israel’s powerful king. Later legends added that Solomon even married this enigmatic visitor.
The identity of the Queen of Sheba remains a mystery, but archaeology has provided ample evidence of a wealthy kingdom called Saba, in southern Arabia—what is now Yemen—that most likely was the historical Sheba. Now, following a successful run in London, a new exhibition of treasures related to this ancient kingdom—and to the enduring myth of the Queen of Sheba—is making its exclusive North American appearance at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California.
Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality consists of over a hundred treasures from the British Museum, including an elaborately carved sixth-century B.C. tin-bronze altar, an inscribed bronze apotropaic hand dedicated to the god Talab, and a stunning first-century B.C. calcite-alabaster funerary stela with the bust of a woman in relief.
Also on display are ornate incense burners and lamps for scented oil—artifacts related to the major export of Saba from the eighth century B.C. through the Roman period. The “spices” listed as part of the queen’s gifts most likely referred to these commodities.
The exhibition also includes beautiful Renaissance paintings and even 20th-century film stills that chart the Queen of Sheba’s popularity in Western art and popular culture.
Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality runs until March 15, 2005. For more information visit www.bowers.org or call 714–567-3600.
The Bible in the News
If truth be told—and BR provides its readers with only the truth—I would name any company or institution I founded after myself: Leonard Limited or Greenspoon, Inc. Although some businesses follow this onomastic principle, many others show greater imagination and creativity. When the corporate name reflects, intentionally or not, a biblical character, the results can be remarkably appropriate or strangely incongruent. A few examples will suffice to prove our premise:
ABEL Tasman Adventures of New Zealand is partnering up with Abel Tasman Wilson’s Experiences, Ltd., “to strengthen the sea kayaking industry in the region.” Imagine how different things would have been if the biblical Abel had teamed up with his brother to lead ecological tours through the Garden of Eden.
“A woman taking a shower at a swimming pool near London was shocked,” so the press reports, “when wolf whistled by male cleaners in the female changing rooms.” In my opinion, she should have been forewarned by the name of the establishment, BALAAM Leisure Centre.
Is there any better name for a remote reconnaissance system than CALEB? I don’t think so: Caleb served well in that capacity in the Hebrew Bible and, we may hope, for the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.
DEBORAH Heart and Lung Center is described in an online medical newsletter as “one of New Jersey’s premier cardiac and pulmonary specialty hospitals.” I know that I would feel completely confident putting my heart or lungs in the hands of an establishment named for this bravest and wisest of biblical judges.
“The floor of the hutlike enclosure is covered with sheepskins, and its walls are of rough-hewn wood. I recline against a pillow covered in a red fabric embroidered with gold threads.” I’m not sure whether the apostle Paul would be as at home in this EPHESUS Grill as are hungry residents of today’s Houston, the site of this restaurant.
“In the Garden of GETHSEMANE,” the Chicago Sun-Times reminds us, “not long before His Easter miracle, Jesus wept.” It continues: “On a sun-caressed Easter morning in Chicago, wandering the Gethsemane Garden Center, Mary Clafford simply sighed.”
HOSEA’s House—”a haven for low-income families, the disabled, transients, at-risk youth,” among others—is on highway 30 between North Little Rock and Little Rock, Arkansas. Its founder consciously chose the name from “the Old Testament book that talked about redeeming love.”
Okay. You’re not very likely to have heard about the Internet service provider Rumba and its possible connection with ISSACHAR Informatix Limited, a South African concern. But, admit it: Most of us don’t know very much about the biblical tribe of Issachar either.
Let the good times roll may, or may not, have been the slogan of the first king of Northern Israel. But gourmet food and fine wines “are ingredients for success” of JEREBOAMS, a growing concern found in eight London locations. I imagine there are no golden calves on the menu.
Trying to locate KADESH or Kadesh-Barnea on a map of the ancient Near East is no easy task. But if they have their way about it, owners of Kadesh Ostrich Farms in New Zealand will soon be at the center of the bird-exporting world.
The restoration to life of LAZARUS remains one of the most enduring narratives of the New Testament. Alas, no similar miracle will save the Lazarus store from closing its downtown Columbus, Ohio, location.
MELCHIZEDEK, the mysterious priest of God Most High whom Abram encountered, was apparently a man of many talents. But I’m not sure he would recognize much of a kinship with one Gerard Fedell, of Buffalo, New York, who, as a minister in the Order of Melchizedek, offers wedding services starting at $195—including music, witnesses and a bottle of champagne.
I know I’m pretty much out of it when it comes to the latest in music. Therefore, I was not so surprised that I had never heard of the “80s goth rock icons Fields of the NEPHILIM.” Nor am I too disappointed that their most recent release, Fallen, falls short of their earlier Elyzium.
“PROPHET 21 Acquires Dynamic Data Systems, Inc.; Prophet 21 Reinforces Domain Expertise in the Medical Products Market,” reads the headline about a fast-growing technology enterprise. It is not difficult to imagine (that is, it is a reasonable prophecy) that this company will profit from all of its acquisitions.
If a recent story is accurate, the RED SEA Rangers group of eco-warriors have their work cut out. At one and the same time, they must “overcome their nerds-on-steroids image and build environmental awareness” along more than 1,200 kilometers of Egyptian coastline.
Indonesia is the home of SILOAM Gleneagles Hospital. Although Hezekiah might well have approved of such a designation, some of the hospital’s patients are claiming that their relatives aren’t being released until the full bill is paid.
There was no early Christian who did more to spread the Word than Paul, born in TARSUS. Thus, it does not seem at all inappropriate that the British-based Tarsus Group is a leader in international media relations.
The land of UZ, Job’s home, cannot be confidently identified. So I was startled to see this headline, “Mr. And Miss UZ Contest a Flop.” Rather than reflecting another woe in Job’s life of travail, it represents a failure by organizers at the University of Zimbabwe. Have no fear. A gospel ensemble named King David’s Cantors was able to launch its debut album over that same weekend.
Unable to uncover anything appropriate for V-Y, I was relieved to find that among the contestants in the World Battle of the Bands, being held in New Zealand, was a group called ZEBULUN. In competition with other bands like Vendetta and Exiter, I wish the group well. And I offer my well wishes and gratitude to all readers who followed this listing from A-Z (with only a few lacunae).
Bible Translation School Flourishes in Jerusalem