When a guest comes into a Kurdish home, the hosts normally say, “You have come to step on my head.” Such were the words of our Kurdish translator in the Moscow IBT office when we asked him about the Kurdish national tradition of receiving guests. To say that we were shocked is an understatement!
“The Gospel of Luke has been translated into the Chukchi language. The translation team includes experts and native speakers from the indigenous people group. Their purpose is to make sure that the translation is clear and intelligible to readers, and what is even more important, that the proper meaning, power, and spirit is conveyed by the text.”
These words were spoken on the local TV newsbroadcast in Anadyr, the capital of Chukotka. But these simple words of a short TV report do not give us the full picture of what strenuous creative efforts and what intellectual agony the task demanded. It does not show how many months and years first the translation and then the revision of a relatively small text of the Gospel of Luke actually required.
“We were fortunate to visit the very spot where several thousand years ago Abraham may have stood looking at the place that God chose for him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac,” one of the participants of the study tour to Israel exclaimed emotionally. The trip was specially organized for IBT’s Bible translators from the Caucasus by the Jerusalem Center for Bible Translators. Each of these translators already had serious experience in Bible translation work. Some of them had translated quite a few books of the Bible, to say nothing of the annual training seminars, workshops, and tons of literature they read… All of that was an important school indeed. But only a school, whereas the study trip to Israel was described by one of the participants as “a university for Bible translators!”
In Altai historical epics, we frequently come across the following plot: people who have been enslaved and are being driven into a foreign land hang a cradle with a baby on a tree branch in the hope that someone will find and raise their child. Does this sound similar to a well-known story from the Bible?
At the Institute for Bible Translation we are always reflecting upon the importance of translating the Bible into people’s “heart language”. But what do we usually think of when we speak about one’s heart language? The first idea that comes to mind is that this is the language that a person speaks in his or her daily life, the language that is the easiest and most natural one for conveying meaning to other people. It is interesting that the more we talk with representatives of different people groups and cultures who are working with IBT in Bible translation or Scripture engagement, the more this seemingly obvious picture becomes blurred and loses its defined contours. Surprisingly so! It seems more likely that the concept of “heart language” goes beyond the language itself and involves the whole cultural worldview and the layer of deepest emotions and childhood or even genetic memories...