“These words can’t really be from the Bible, can they?”
Newsletter, Summer 2019 on the Adyghe project

Good Bible translation is not a simple process. Each translated text goes through at least four drafts with various checks at each stage (exegetical checking, internal reviewing, philological editing, field-testing, consultant checking, external reviewing, etc.). But even after the translation is completed and the book has been published and delivered to the region, it still needs to be somehow distributed among its potential readers, which is not an easy task either. Distributing the Bible in areas with a predominantly Muslim population may be dangerous because many people are prejudiced against the Bible and see it as a tool of westernization or russification – a real threat to their ethnic culture and to the worldview foundations of their community. “We decided to be creative in our approach to distribution,” the Adyghe project co-ordinator shares. “There is a well-known Muslim holy day called Kurban Bayram. It is devoted to the Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice of his son (though Muslims think that it was Ishmael and not Isaac) who was to be given to God as a burnt-offering until God sent a ram in place of the son. Thus, during the celebration of Kurban Bayram we organised a celebration and presented the Adyghe translation of the book of Genesis, where Abraham’s offering is described, to our Muslim friends and neighbours. Besides Genesis we distributed Exodus, Psalms and Daniel.”

It is especially valuable when representatives of the society into whose language the Bible is being translated become ardent readers of the Bible of their own accord.

“When I started working in the project more than 20 years ago, I was not a believer, but I got to know and love God through this work,” the Adyghe translator testifies. “I am especially happy to work on the Old Testament. I fell in love with the book of Deuteronomy to such an extent that I myself asked for permission to translate it. In the process of working on Deuteronomy, I discovered that this book was like a key to understanding the whole Old Testament. I love Israel and I love the people of God, who suffered so much throughout their whole history to stay true to their faith. During my study-tour in Israel a few years ago, I realised that Jewish history is a mysterious phenomenon that still remains unsolved. And the Caucasian peoples have a lot in common with the Jewish people. For me, Jewish history feels like my own element. Some ethnographers have suggested that the Adyghes are descendants of the Hittites, and indeed, I see much in common with Biblical characters in the Adyghe mindset and heart, in our attitude to other people. For example, the Old Testament tradition of hospitality is very similar to the Adyghe tradition. We associate blessing with honouring our parents, just like in the 5th Commandment (Ex 20:12 or Deut 5:16). The traditional Adyghe attitude towards someone else's property reveals the law given in the 8th Commandment: do not steal. I personally was taught from an early age that to remove the neighbours’ landmark is considered shameful.” The book of Deuteronomy is planned for publication in 2019.

The Biblical texts translated into Adyghe often become seeds that fall on fertile soil. Here are several episodes from the Adyghe project co-ordinator’s own experience that she shared with IBT:

For Christmas, the Adyghe Christian community decided to hold a celebration for people from their neighbourhood. As part of this celebration, guests were offered to take turns reading a passage from the Bible in the Adyghe translation. People who consider themselves Muslims found these “Adyghe texts” exciting. They wondered where they came from and expressed their amazement that they had never heard or read such texts before. They immediately recognised them as the Word of God. Many expressed their wish to have such a book at home at their own disposal and to continue reading it. Of course that celebration was an organised event, and at least the guests knew beforehand that they had been invited by a Christian community, so the very fact that they accepted the invitation signified their open-heartedness and readiness to establish contacts and learn something new. It is even more spectacular and joyful, when the first contact with the Bible happens spontaneously and unpreparedly, as in the following situation.

One Adyghe Christian woman used to listen to Proverbs in Adyghe while driving her car, and one time she left the CD in the car. The next day her son was driving, and the CD started playing from the beginning. The young man’s ride that day was long, and thus he listened to everything that was recorded on that disc. He was deeply impressed. He came home and asked his mother where she got that disc from. He was shocked to learn that the text was from the Christian Bible. He was a Muslim and his previous attitude to the Bible was rather hostile. After this, his attitude has changed and he has expressed eagerness to listen to more Scripture portions, though he still paradoxically refuses to read the Bible texts himself.

Another Adyghe Christian woman greeted her elderly neighbour who was sitting on a bench near the house totally engulfed in reading. “What are you reading?” she asked. “I am reading the Adyghe Bible,” the old lady replied. The younger woman rejoiced to hear that, but then suddenly realised that this could not be true, since the full Bible had not yet been translated into Adyghe. She expressed her surprise, and the elderly lady explained that by “Adyghe Bible” she meant the Koran. The woman returned home, got a copy of the Book of Proverbs in Adyghe and brought it to her elderly neighbour. “Look, here is a text from the real Bible, if you want to know what the real Bible is,” she said. When she met her neighbour next time, the elderly lady couldn’t help but express her great amazement, “These words can’t really be from the Christian Bible, can they?” she repeated. “It is so similar to our Adyghekhabze (the ancient Adyghe Law), many things are absolutely the same! Could you bring me more books from the Bible?” So the Christian woman brought her other books of the Old Testament that she had in the Adyghe translation.

Over the past decade, the translation team has published several OT books and is getting closer and closer to producing a full Bible in their mother tongue. The Adyghe team members are very creative in their approach. Thus, the book of Proverbs was audio recorded by professional actors, and beautiful videos with Adyghe landscapes and ethnic music were produced for 5 Psalms in the Adyghe translation. A bilingual Adyghe-Kabardian edition of Ecclesiastes is planned for publication in 2019. This will be accompanied by an audio recording and decorated with a traditional ornament on the cover. We hope that the Bible will truly be treasured by this Caucasian people, whose own culture seems close to the Biblical world in so many aspects.

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