The Word in 80 languages : the December 2018 Slavonic (and much more) item of the month

In the year 2000, the Institute for Bible Translation produced a rather remarkable volume containing the nativity narrative of Luke’s Gospel (2:1-20) translated into 80 languages of the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States.

The Stockholm-based Institute was founded, as the back cover tells us, with the primary purpose of “[making] the Holy Bible available to the non-Slavic peoples of the former Soviet Union”.  The book in hand refers specifically to the languages of the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, which – in the year 2000 – included 12 of the 15 post-Soviet states.  The three not involved in the CIS were the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The book commences with the Greek text of the Luke narrative, followed by the Old Church Slavonic translation and the Russian Synodal one.  It then launches into translations of the passage into the extraordinary range of languages listed below (reproduced from the book’s table of contents).

  • Ibero-Caucasian languages:
    • Abaza, Abkhaz, Avar, Adygei, Andi, Bezhta, Georgian, Dargin, Ingush, Kabardian, Kubachi, Lak, Lezgi, Rutul, Tabassaran, Tsakhur, Tsez, Chechen
  • Indo-European:
    • Armenian, Baluchi, Wakhi, Kurdish (Kurmanji), Moldavian, Ossetic (Digor), Ossetic (Iron), Rushani, Tajik, Tat, Shugni, Yazgulyam
  • Turkic:
    • Azeri, Altai, Balkar, Bashkir, Gagauz, Dolgan, Kazakh, Karakalpak, Karachay, Kyrgyz, Crimean Tatar, Kumyk, Nogai, Tatar, Tuvin, Turkmen, Uzbek, Uighur, Khakass, Chuvash, Shor, Yakut
  • Finno-Ugric:
    • Veps, Karelian (Olonets), Karelian (North), Komy-Zyrian, Komi-Permyak, Mansi, Mari-Hill, Mari-Meadow, Mordvin-Moksha, Mordvin-Erzya, Udmurt, Khanty
  • Other languages:
    • Dungan, Buryat, Kalmyk, Itelmen, Koryak, Chukchi, Ket, Nivkh, Yukagir, Nganasan, Nenets, Selkup, Enets, Nanai, Evenki, Even

Samples from the various translations.  Left to right: Khanty, Armenian, Yazgulyam

After each translation, brief information about the language and its speakers is given, including bibliographical references about existing Bible translations where these predated the book in hand.  There are such references in the majority of cases, thanks chiefly to the Institute’s own efforts, but only a modest majority – 48.  The book closes with the English translation from the New King James Version (text here).

Rozhdestvo Iisusa Khrista : Evangelie ot Luki 2:1-20 na 80 iazykakh narodov SNG = The birth of Jesus Christ : Gospel of Luke 2:1-20 in 80 languages of CIS is held in the Bible Society’s collection within the University Library, and can be consulted in the Rare Books Reading Room.  Its classmark is BSS.100.G00.3.  (NB our copy sadly lacks pages 65-80, a span which covers many of the Indo-European languages listed above, but we shall see whether a more fortunate copy might be found as its replacement.)

Luke is one of two Gospels which contain the story of Christ’s nativity; the other is Matthew.  It is the opening of the Gospel according to St John, however, which is best known of all four: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’.  (The end of John’s Gospel is also a librarian’s favourite: ‘And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.’).  Having started with some of the most recent Eurasian translations of the Bible showcased in the Institute for Bible Translation book, this post ends with the beginning of John’s Gospel in one of the very earliest, the Slavic Ostrog Bible of 1581 (Young.59).

Happy Christmas from Collections and Academic Liaison.

Mel Bach

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