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? We do not know whether the ancient Altai ever heard about Moses, but the earthly life of their national hero Kogudey-Mergen begins exactly like this in the epic tale “Maadai Kara”. Later, in his mature years, Kogudey-Mergen descends into the underworld to fight Erlik (the Altai version of the devil), and defeats him. Freed from the bondage of the underworld, people thank the hero for rescuing them from death. What is this? Is it just a random piece of ancient folklore, or is it an intuitive perception of the kingdom of heaven that had already come into the world by the time this epic tale appeared (the 6-8th centuries A.D., according to scholars)? Could it be that echoes of Christian preaching had somehow reached the Altai Mountains and were reinterpreted by folk storytellers? “Here we have a story which is very similar to the Gospel. The idea of the Messiah is quite obvious in it,” says the young Altai woman who has recently started developing a biblical website in her mother tongue. She was inspired to create this website when her heart started burning with the desire to share the newly translated New Testament with other Altai young people. “What should we start with?” she wondered. The new edition of the text was fully ready, the audio recording was completed… but the potential audience remained completely unprepared for the Bible message. The Bible is not easy to understand, and many Altai people who are seeking for spiritual truth would rather turn to their ancestors’ traditional faith, Burkhanism, a.k.a. “the white faith”. Shamanism and Tengrism are alternative spiritual paths that many Altai are also willing to follow, as one can see by the large number of webpages devoted to these religions on the Internet. There is a large choice indeed.
Our Altai webmaster wondered again and again, “How can we make the Bible closer to the hearts of the Altai people? In fact, it is not alien to them at all. As for the nomadic life style or the practice of sacrifices, these are quite similar and quite recognizable from the Old Testament. People in the mountain villages of the Altai today in many ways live like the Old Testament patriarchs lived. Even the Altai name Madai, which gave the name to the abovementioned epic “Maadai Kara”, sounds very similar to one of the names found in the book of Genesis, the one that is listed among the names of the founders of tribes in the Table of Nations (Gen 10:2).” (We have noticed many times that for many people groups such chance coincidences help make the biblical text sound closer to their own cultures).
She decided to consult her uncle, a master of Altai throat singing who created a contemporary biblical epic called “Eshua” that relates the biblical story from Genesis to Revelation in the kai style of Altai poetry. Her uncle gathered the whole local church together in order to choose an appropriate name for the newly created Altai website, and the name that they finally suggested was one dear to the Altai ear: “Sudur Bichik”, or “The prophetic book.” For his niece, hearing this name instantly brought her back to the depths of her childhood. It was as if an old legend heard from her mother and later forgotten had re-entered her consciousness.
According to this ancient legend, in the distant past the Altai people possessed a certain prophetic book, and whoever read from it could find the answer to any question, understand the course of events, and attain the mysteries of the universe. There was just one problem: the book was lost... The Altai nomads joked that the book had been swallowed by a cow, since the internal organs of a cow that are used in Altai cuisine look exactly like a book. Well, the book itself may have been swallowed, but where the wisdom of the prophetic books had gone, no one knew... And so the local church decided to name this site “Sudur Bichik” (sudurbichik.ru). As soon as the name was given, the concept became very clear – we have found the lost book! “That’s precisely the point,” the Altai webmaster exclaims. “The Bible is exactly this prophetic book that the Altai and all other people on earth have been seeking from time immemorial.”
For this young lady the secrets of the lost Altai prophetic book have already started to reveal themselves through the study of the Book of books, especially through the prophetic parts of the Bible. “I’m very much interested in the book of Daniel,” she says. “In the first beast from the vision of Daniel (Dan 7:4), if you read carefully, you can recognize... the emblem of the Republic of Altai! Our emblem depicts a griffin. It is a symbol of the ancient Pazyryk culture, which coincides with the time of the Babylonian empire. For me the appeal of Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar was like a revelation: “Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed all mankind... Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all” (Dan 2:37-38). It’s possible that the people of that time were speaking in accordance with their limited knowledge of geography, but we can also interpret these words in another way, that there was indeed one “head of gold” – that single Babylonian Empire that had spread to the most distant corners of the earth, including Altai. And the remains of the Pazyryk culture on the plateaus of Altai indicate how much the Altai was connected with Persia and India.”
But not only this. In the prophetic books of Scripture she also found a response to the specific needs of her church: “In the book of the prophet Haggai I clearly see a message for my church community, a call for us to direct our efforts on building up the house of the Lord.”
On the new website one will soon find a video with the performance of the epic “Eshua” accompanied by pictures of Altai’s pristine nature. The site already houses the New Testament in the new Altai translation together with its audio recording and a parallel Russian text. This is available in a variety of formats, including those suitable for mobile devices. The site solicits active feedback and participation from visitors: one may study the Bible online, or upload one’s own poetry, music, or life testimony in the Altai language. Studying the biblical text is the true fulfillment of Altai spiritual aspirations found in their belief in the ancient prophetic book “Sudur Bichik”. But this is something that people can only do together. The “Sudur Bichik” website thus welcomes both Altai tradition and a living stream of ideas. Age-old hopes and urgent questions of today take shape and find their specific answers in the pages of the Book of books – the lost prophetic book, which has been found anew.