Round Table with Oscar
October 15, 2013

Modern Bible translations: The King James, and the Jamaican

Translating the Hebrew Christian Bible has been a joy and a threat in the history of the Christian church. Two hundred or so years after Jesus died different “ethnic” communities began to yearn for and produce their own translations to help in evangelizing their people and developing their Christian scholarship. So, the imperialist languages of Greek and Latin gave way to move of less “national” translations into Coptic/Egyptian, Ethiopian, Goltic, Syrian, Georgian, Slavonic, Arabic…English and so on. This good new expansion lasted nearly up to 1,000 years after the death of Jesus. Then, in the Middle Ages, the church’s higher ranks put a stop to it.{{more}}

Also, the rapid speed of an evangelical Islam effectively slowed down the Christian expansion. One Pope actually wrote in 1079 that “…it pleased Almighty God that holy scripture should be a secret in certain places (ranks) lest… it would be… subject to disrespect, or it might be falsely understood by those of mediocre learning…” The policy of keeping the people ignorant was in the church’s programme during that period before reformation. Many men who translated the Bible were condemned and burned. In one case, John Wycliffe, a great English Bible translator had been dead for decades when leaders tried him for heresy, condemned him, dug up his corpse burned it and threw away the ashes in a river!

Bible translation (Bible chansilieshan) is a challenge and a threat. The King James and the Jamaican translations have been at one and the same time, a moral, intellectual, evangelical and political imperative. In 1611, that King of England was reinforcing England’s spiritual independence from the “foreign” church and empire and putting in place, in the hands of the young English church, a legacy of what one writer described as “…the long and brilliant line of English Bible translations; (which) united high scholarship with Christian devotion and piety…the noblest monument of English prose.” The impact of the Jamaican translation has been enormous and profound. To take one case, it has been so much of a colonial and missionary mystique and instrument, and mystery, that many believers see and hear it as being the language of the Emperor himself! It cannot be improved or replaced. To “touch” it would be to offend God. It rules our minds like an implicit and implacable Papacy. It is infallible. Thus, a God-given instrument of spiritual liberation is turning into its opposite, a fetter on, a stifling down of, and oppressor of further spiritual advance. Even the Jamaican New Testament has a parallel column on each page, which carries the Jamaican authorized version, so profound is its power and cultural hegemony. Is the KJV King of the church?

Di JamickanNyuuTestiment

Dis NyuuTestiment get baan pan Jamickafiftiyetbortdie wen Di baiblSosaiyite fi di Wes Indizgi di JamickanPiiplwaagrietbortdieprezan – Aleluuya. Stay with me. Don’t chuups your teeth, just try to read that first sentence three times, you will get it. Like the Jamaican version, the Jamaican new testament is a moral, intellectual, evangelical and political declaration. It is not an exotic, or play-play reader to make you chuckle. In fact, the Bible Society of the West Indies notes that of the 2.7 million people in Jamaica, Jamaica creole is the mother language (tongue) of 85 per cent of them – nearly 2.3 million. At a church service in England, when worshippers heard the scripture in their own language for the first time, they became very moved. Some gave it a standing ovation. Many passages touch me in a new way, carry me into new places when I read them in this translation. Remember, Creole will be spoken and sung when people of every nation and tongue gather around the throne!

The truth about Caribbean Creole translations is that it is old. Not long ago, I think that persons like Bro Nigel Morgan, Rev Melch Pope and others pursued efforts at a Vincentian creole rendition of scripture passages. Maybe 40 years ago, in a seminary magazine named ‘Kokeoko,’ our now Monsignor Michael Stewart, published a portion of scripture in creole and, there is the Haitian creole New Testament and Bible, which I first read in 1968. That must be at least 50 years old. The church is leading the way, with others, in our emancipation from mental and missionary slavery. At this time of independence commemoration, Di Jamaican NyuuTestiment must make us reflect on where we are.

This extract is from Mark’s Gospel. The 1st 3 verses:

“Dis a one di GudNuuz bout JiizasKrais, Gad Bwai

Piknistaat. It rait dong iina di buk we di prafit

Aizaiyarait, se;

‘Luk, mi wisen mi mesinja fi gwaantilyukom,

Im a-go getpiiplredi fi yu’

“Sumadi a shout iina di dezot,

‘Klier di wie fi di laadkomchuu,

Mek di chrak we di laad fi waak pan chriet.”

Here is Mark 1: 29-31;

“AftaJiizaslef di Juudemchoch, dem go chriet a Saiman an Anjou ous.Jiemzan Jan did go widdemtu.Saimanmada-in-laa did sikiina bed a ruoswidfiiva. WenJiizas rich a di ous, demtelimboutar.Jiizas go to ar, uolar an, antektaimriezar op. Di fiivabrokanshistaatlukaafadem.”