Bible Translations "affected by racism and sexism"
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« on: November 05, 2007, 07:46:11 pm »

I found this interesting article...Feel free to comment.  I do not agree with all which is stated however, I am willing to investigate further.  Bless.


Decolonising Bible translations
published: Saturday | October 20, 2007

Mark Dawes, Staff Reporter


Dr. Gosnell L. Yorke, professor of religion in the School of Religion and Theology at Northern Caribbean University and an expert in the field of Biblical Studies and Bible Translation, addresses a class at the Mandeville campus of the university.- Contributed

"Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow.
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."

That is the refrain of a popular hymn sung in many churches for several years. The music was written by William G. Fischer and the words by James L. Nicholson. The words of the refrain are based on a reading from Isaiah 1 verse 18b. But it is an incorrect reading says Dr. Gosnell L. Yorke, professor of religion in the School of Religion and Theology at Northern Caribbean University (NCU) and an expert in the field of Biblical Studies and Bible Translation.

The King James Version of the Bible renders the passage this way "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

Professor Yorke stressed "It is the sins that are washed white not the person." The sins, he said, are the object of transformation. It is the sins that undergo a colour change, not the person.

The scholar takes his reasoning to an even deeper level. A proper understanding of the Hebraic background to the passage would mean that whiteness is a form of judgement. In much the same way, that Miriam was made white by leprosy (Numbers chapter 12), so 'white' as used in Isaiah 1:8 is to be understood as being negative. "White as snow is the language of judgement. Being made as white as snow is a negative thing. It is the language of disease." Professor Yorke stressed.

Racism and sexism

Professor Yorke, in an interview with The Gleaner earlier this week, said that the work of Bible translation has been affected by racism and sexism. Most of the work of Bible translation was done by white males, drawn from Europe or North America, who, unwittingly or by design, passed on translations which have been coloured by racist and sexist undertones, Professor Yorke said.

But now Africa has matured. It has produced many capable Bible translators who now have the moral responsibility to challenge and correct racist and sexist perspectives that adulterate the message of the scriptures, he said.

Professor Yorke will be speaking to such issues affecting the work of Bible translation on Monday in two public lectures at the Mandeville campus of Northern Caribbean University. In his first lecture, which begins at 10:00 a.m., he will speak to the subject 'Some Reflections on the Art and Science of Bible Translation: An Afrocentric Interrogation of Tradition'. The second lecture happens at 2:00 p.m. and addresses the topic 'From Transportation to Translation: A post colonial and linguistic repositioning of the Bible in the Caribbean'.

Ideologically driven

Professor Yorke in his abstract to the first lecture, wrote that the fundamental contention of his presentation is that the work of Bible translation "is not an innocent endeavour, it is to some, if not to a large extent, ideologically driven; and that our gender, socio-cultural and other perspectives, our existential situations and locations, our biases and 'blind spots', our pathologies including our unarticulated commitments, all have a bearing on the difficult task of Bible translation - a task which, from the church's perspective, is rightly regarded as sacred. We will, among other things, seek to demonstrate, by way of an Afrocentric interrogation of tradition, that Africa has played and continues to play a much more substantive and positive role than has been openly and consistently acknowledged heretofore."

Professor Yorke was involved for 10 years as translation consultant with the Africa Area of the United Bible Societies (UBS). He arrived at the School of Religion and Theology of NCU last July.

The professor who hails from St. Kitts, told The Gleaner that Africa's profile is often rendered invisible or inaudible. Maps of Bible lands, he observed, often show little if any of the nations that comprise Africa. This is unfortunate he said, as Africans figured prominently throughout the Bible.

To further illustrate his point he said that many Bible dictionaries and Bible encyclopaedias have nothing to say about the actual location of two of the four rivers mentioned in Genesis chapter 2: 10-14. The passage says "And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel (Tigris): that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates."

Most scholars, the Professor acknowledged agree on the location of Tigris and Euphrates as being in Mesopotamia. But scholars have not been careful to state where Pison and Gihon are located. This was not hard to figure out, Dr. Yorke said. He continued, "Most recent research has shown quite clearly that the most likely location of these are in Africa. That is the White Nile and the Blue Nile - the two main tributaries of the River Nile of Egypt.

To further emphasise his point about the location of the two rivers, he said, "the language of the Ethiopian Orthodox (Tewahedo) Church is the Semitic language, Ge'ez. Even today in Ge'ez, the word for the Nile is 'Gihon'. You can hear the lexical echo of the Hebrew even in the Ge'ez of today. But you don't find that in the literature. It is morally incumbent on those in the Afro tradition to raise the positive profile of Africa at the level of Bible translation.

De-Africanised

According to the scholar, "We have 'de-Africanised' Egypt. We have 'Europeanised' Egypt. We have put Egypt in the Middle East. Which makes no sense. How can a place be both middle and east at the same time. It makes no sense geographically. We need to 're-Africanise' Egypt."

Professor Yorke spoke of the need for gender-sensitivity in the work of Bible translation. He feels where the Greek of the New Testament and the Hebrew of the Old Testament permit, Bible translators should seek to be gender-inclusive in their work.

He said because the work of Bible translation has historically been the work of white men, women were rendered invisible because of male sexist pathologies.

He cited, as a case in point, the person named Junia in Romans 16:7.

"We have transformed that woman into a man because we have assumed that a woman could not have been an apostle in Paul's time - therefore, Junias had to be a man. This is chauvinism, and distorted logic to give vent to our own chauvinism and patriarchy. So women scholars say Junias was a woman and she will ever be a woman. Africa, like women, have been rendered invisible and inaudible in Bible translations."

According to major Bible translations organisations, 95 per cent of the world now have access to the Christian scriptures in whole or in substantial parts. The other five per cent that does not have the scriptures number about 300 million. The world has about 6,700 languages of which 700 are in decline. To date the Bible has been translated into 3,000 of those languages. The challenge facing churches is to get the scriptures in the remaining 3,000 languages - 2,000 of which are located in Africa. The Bible has been translated in full into only 150 African languages.

Turning to the work of Bible translation in the Caribbean, Professor Yorke noted that since the 1990s there have been significant pains made to create Creole versions of the Bible for the Spanish, Dutch, French language groups of the Caribbean. He is supportive of the work of the Bible Society of the West Indies to create a patois Bible for Jamaicans.

Proper learning and usage

While noting the concerns some have raised that such an endeavour could detract from the proper learning and usage of the English language, Professor Yorke said empirical evidence does not validate that fear. He emphasised that the way forward should involve the promotion of the learning of patois and Standard English. In fact, he disclosed that one of his NCU colleagues is about to embark on a study to show that "Jamaican patois does have a place in the academic formation of young people and can be used as a medium of discourse, a medium of construction at a certain level, without negating English."

Already under the Jamaican Patois Bible project, which is spearheaded by the Bible Society of the West Indies, two audio recordings have been produced in compact disk format. The first is A Who Run Tings - a selection of readings from the gospels. The second is De Kristmus Story - a selection of readings related to the birth of Jesus Christ.

Rev. Courtney Stewart, executive director of the Bible Society of the West Indies told The Gleaner that his organisation hopes to launch next year a patois version of the Gospel of Luke in both audio and print formats. The substantive work for this project has already been done and is undergoing review by a team of experts.

Professor Yorke believes the Caribbean is well poised to play a key role in promoting the cause of Bible translation work in Africa and other parts of the world. Meantime, he said, Caribbean people should embrace their indigenous languages "like a badge of honour". "We must affirm the language as an integral part of what it means to be Caribbean people," he said.

Send feedback to mark.dawes@gleanerjm.com
Copyright Jamaica-Gleaner.com

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