How should a translator approach the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, called “Torah” in Hebrew? How does one begin the translation of this foundational part of the Old Testament? How can translators avoid getting buried under the many minute details in the ancient text that modern readers are usually not aware of? How can one find the spiritual and meaning core of these texts? Without a doubt, any translator of the Pentateuch must face these questions. In order to explore some of the answers offered by contemporary biblical scholarship and related disciplines, the Institute for Bible Translation recently held a seminar that focused on the Pentateuch. On 11-17 October 2018, consultants from IBT and its partner organizations SIL and UBS presented a number of lectures and practical working sessions in Ramenskoye, a town on the outskirts of Moscow.
The seminar gathered about 35 participants from 19 translation projects, including Avar, Adyghe, Altai, Balkar, Dargi, Digor, Kalmyk, Kyrgyz, Komi-Zyrian, Lak, Nogai, Rutul, Tabasaran, Tajik, Uigur, Khakas, Tsakhur, Mordvin-Erzya, and Yakut. In all of the mentioned language groups the translation of the Pentateuch has either been recently started or is about to begin in the near future. The topics discussed at the seminar addressed the issues that these translation teams currently face.
Here are some of the questions and topics discussed at the seminar:
- the variations of the Pentateuch canon
- characteristic features of the religious life of ancient Israel
- differences in the names of the Pentateuch books in Hebrew and its translations, particularly Greek and Russian
- the core meaning of each of the five books of the Pentateuch
- parallel places in the Pentateuch and the Quran
- Pentateuch citations in other books of the Old Testament and in the New Testament
- history and cosmology in the Pentateuch
- feasts and fasts in the Pentateuch
- some peculiarities of vocabulary and grammar in ancient Hebrew.
The lectures were followed by practical application sessions, during which the lecturers and other consultants helped translation teams resolve concrete problems.
Almost all of the participants who had already begun translating the Pentateuch decided to go back and review the key terms used in their translation. It was also encouraging that many translators became interested in the inner workings of ancient Hebrew.