Probably any nation or people group, or at least the majority of them, have their heroic epics, but only a few of them can claim that their national epic is rooted in Biblical history. One of those few is the Kyrgyz people. An IBT Kyrgyz translator shares what he finds in common between the Kyrgyz epic story and the Bible.
“The Kyrgyz epic is the largest in the world and we have much pride in it. It is called “Manas”. I’ve come to the conclusion that some storylines in Manas can be traced back to Bible plots. For example we have an epic hero Jakyb, whose name is actually the same with Hebrew Jacob, only with a different pronunciation. He had two wives like the Biblical Jacob, and it was his son’s name Manas that gave the name to our whole Kyrgyz epic. But this name “Manas” is nothing other than the Biblical Manasseh! As we remember from the Bible, Manasseh was Joseph’s son and therefore Jacob’s grandson, but was nevertheless blessed by Jacob on a par with his own sons. Thus the parallel with “Manas, son of Jakyb” becomes more than evident.
Now let us have a look at the cultural traditions and lifestyles. Both the ancient Hebrews and the Kyrgyz are nomadic peoples. We are both shepherds. When we cut meat from a lamb, we do it according to the same rules that we find in the Bible. Just like the Hebrews we cut it into 12 pieces. Just like the Hebrews we do not eat the sinew of the hip which is upon the hollow of the thigh. Just like the Hebrews we should not break any of the bones. All these customs are recognizable in the Biblical text. And it’s only when you speak about Christ that you are confronted with mistrust, “Oh, no, do not say anything, He is a Russian God…”.”
Here I’d like to add that the same reaction is typical for plenty of IBT projects. “Russian God” – that’s it! People do not approach the Bible with scholarly ideas, unless they are professional historians. They see it through their attitude to the people who made the Bible known to them. And when these people belong to another nation and culture, if historical contacts between the nations were complicated by wars and conquests, they start seeing the Bible itself as part of an alien culture, or even as an instrument of violence and domination. That is why it turns out that in different corners of the world for some people the Bible is “Western”, and for others it is “Russian”. In this case a strictly scientific approach itself may cause a wonderful breakthrough.
And our Kyrgyz translator shares how he confronts the stereotypes with this strict scientific approach, “At these words about “a Russian God” I present a completely different perspective, “Why, wait a minute, Jesus was not a Russian! He was a Jew! And Jews are very similar to us”. And I start speaking about their customs and lifestyle, and then people agree that they see many things in common. And then from the customs I turn to literary styles that we come across in the Bible. In our poetic tradition we have a word “akyn”. Akyn is a poet who makes poetic improvisations. We also have “manaschy” – professional reciters of the Manas epic, and we have akyns, who improvise on any topic. They are speaking poetry right on the spot. Now since we started working on the Old Testament translation, we have already decided to translate all the Psalms as poems. In the Kyrgyz New Testament translation all the poetic sections are also taken into account. Many Old Testament quotations and those parts of St. Paul’s Epistles that are written in rhythmical prose in the original, sound close to poetry in our translation. For example, the piece from Philippians 2:6-11, where it is said that Christ became obedient to death and God exalted Him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, or 1 Corinthians 13. In the Kyrgyz translation this chapter is a big poem from the beginning to the end. Anything that is written in the genres of lamentation or praise in the Book of Revelation is also translated in verse. In the Kyrgyz tradition the genre of lamentation “koshok” is well known, and it is also very similar to lamentation in the Biblical Hebrew tradition. Thus when I speak to people, I put a question, “Didn’t you know that the apostle Paul was an “akyn”?”.