The Tatar project is a very special one, for the Tatars are the second largest ethnic group of the Russian Federation after the Russians. This is no wonder, for the histories of the two peoples are deeply intertwined and in the course of the centuries the two cultures have interpenetrated each other profoundly. The Mongol-Tatar invasion of Rus’ in 1237 and their subsequent domination of it (the so called Yoke, which lasted till 1480) was a great blow to this young Slavic Christian culture and changed the course of Russian history for ever. The Mongol-Tatars of that period were pagan tribes of different origins and thus they assimilated the customs and traditions of conquered peoples rather easily, but in 1262 the Golden Horde announced its adoption of Islam. However it was not earlier than at the beginning of the 14th century that Islam grew strong enough to become truly a state religion. Still the Golden Horde remained ethnically and religiously pluralistic and it was even allowed for Russians to have their Orthodox Christian diocese in the Golden Horde capital city of Saray. Later the Golden Horde was succeeded by several Khanates, all of which were eventually conquered by the Russian Empire. Soon after the Russian conquest of the Kazan Khanate in 1552 a new ethno-confessional group arose among the Tatars,consisting of those who adopted Christianity as their own religion. They started calling themselves Kryashens and this label is derived etymologically from the Russian word for “baptism”.
Surprisingly even Kryashens do not yet have a full Bible in their mother tongue and have only recently received their first New Testament, though the earliest attempts to translate the Bible into Tatar go back to the middle of the 19th century.
In the Kryashen biblical translations Muslim terminology is carefully avoided and is replaced by Russian borrowings and ancient pre-Tatar words. However good and suitable for their own isolated ethno-confessional church usage these translations may be, they are not at all intended to be read by the Tatar population at large. What is specific to our Tatar Bible translation project is the use of contemporary Tatar vocabulary, which presupposes that all the names and key terms follow Muslim tradition comprehensible for everybody.
“It was a great challenge for us to find the proper ways of expressing things untypical of our national culture”, one of IBT translators said. “As a result, the words that we have finally chosen make it evident for every Tatar reader now that ‘Christ’ means Messiah and is not at all the name of “the Russian God”, that “baptism” means immersion in water and is not at all the swear word into which the Russian word “christened” has turned in modern Tatar, and that the meaning of sanctification to which Moses or Joshua called the people of Israel was purification and not at all some unknown ancient Jewish rite”.
“I have very good friends”, she continues, “who were brought up in an atheist culture, but now when they are already elderly women, they have adopted Islam and have become devout Muslims. Taught by previous bitter experience of contacting Muslims who were afraid they would become unclean even if they only took a Christian book into their hands, I was at first afraid to present my biblical translations to them. But as they are very good friends of mine and my desire to share was really overwhelming, I did it with great caution. Can you imagine my surprise when they took the translations as a most precious gift? They said, "Why? Is it not a holy text for Muslims too?" And now they read it regularly with great interest and pleasure”.