In late April, four of the Ashɛ translation team were in Gardi — deep inside Ashɛ land — to greet chiefs and others, and to participate in an Ishɛ language service on the Sunday.
While Arams often complains about how things aren’t as they used to be, many children and adults swamped Moses’ house to look at the strange visitors and to listen to the Ishɛ story that we’ve studied together and which Arams told to the attentive audience.
In the mid-19th century, the renowned French/Russian entomologist Jean-Marie Syccof discovered and described the behaviour of an intriguing group of ants native to Algeria.
These days everyone knows how fiercely ants will defend their queen, but before Syccof’s time understanding of the social behaviour of ants was less clear. The queen herself hides deep in the anthill or nest producing offspring and she relies entirely on worker ants bringing food to her, since she can’t go to forage for herself. She can’t even defend herself while she’s producing more workers and so soldier ants defend her from enemy ants or other predators. You don’t want to get in the way of soldier ants, I can tell you!
On some rare occasions a queen will go rogue and will start consuming her offspring or other worker ants. This is clearly not good for the colony, but Syccof found that in certain ant colonies the soldier (defensive worker) ants will rise to defend the queen even when she is doing this. It doesn’t make sense for the colony (workers can sometimes start laying eggs if the queen dies), but Syccof theorised that the soldier ants became so used to backing and defending their queen from any and every attack that they would even help the queen fight and kill their own workers before eating them. In their unthinking defence of the queen therefore, Syccof’s soldier ants were in fact accelerating the demise of the colony. At some point distressed worker ants would disperse and attach themselves to another colony or a group would leave and a new queen would start laying. While what was good for the queen was normally good for the colony, that principle could badly backfire.
Perhaps there are lessons today even for humans. Go to the ant!
Mission ceases to be biblical when it is focused more on what humans get out of it (salvation) than on what God gets out of it (glory)… the former is anthropology the later is theology and if you do not properly order these your missiology will constantly go astray.
Just after the new year 3 families from our compound (and several singles) went on a short holiday trip to Yankari Game Reserve, about 4 hours east past Bauchi town. It was delightful! The roads to get there were surprisingly smooth, on the 40 mile drive (!) from the gates to the accommodation we spotted something antelope-like crossing the road. Warthogs (and baboons – least said about them the better) roamed around the chalets we stayed in, and as well as a fun wee safari, we spent lots of time swimming in the Wikki Warm Spring. Nestled in a grove of trees a river emerges from under a large rock wall. The water’s just a touch under body temperature the year round, and so for those of us used to a chilly shock every time we jump into an open air pool, it’s a rather pleasant surprise to jump in and get no shock – whether by day or by night. The blueish-tinged life-giving water steadily flows out from under the rock and is crystal clear, so that it was actually hard to see where the surface of the water was (at night especially). All you could see was the gleaming sand on the bottom.
Intriguingly there is a ‘royal villa’ at the game reserve which has its own private swimming pool for the State governor and his big men. But I for one couldn’t quite see why you would want a chilly and increasingly dirty artificial pool instead of the living, regenerating spring a few hundred metres away.
It reminded me of the prophet Jeremiah’s words to Israel:
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns,
2018 was something of a departure from normal patterns for Ashe and for me. To the surprise of many, I did almost no checking of translation with Ashe, but focussed on studying 6 Ashe stories – some true, some folk tales. I had reasons to think this was absolutely necessary, and even though it’s taken much longer than I had hoped to get this far, I’m encouraged by the fruit and the potential we are starting to approach to do better Bible translation as a team.
The Frustration of Skipping the Discourse Study
I (David) had checked a lot of the translation of Luke’s gospel in Ishɛ from 2016-2017. We used back translations (explain it in English) to understand what the Ishɛ language was meaning, but often I really wanted to ask questions about translation choices that the translators were not able to answer adequately. All they could do was to say ‘this word in Ishɛ means this in English’. I was never satisfied with that but there was no more we could really do.
In the course of trying to compare the style of natural storytelling in Koro Wachi language with what’s in the Bible, we looked at a seasonally appropriate passage:
“That time, angels that accepted strangers in heaven many appeared and they came with the angels.”
Luke 2:13, the Koro Wachi translation draft, as explained in English.
That’s how the Koro Wachi translator explained the current translation of Luke 2:13. I must admit I was somewhat puzzled as I asked about each word of the Koro translation in turn. It wasn’t what I was quite expecting. Suddenly the penny dropped! Of course! Who welcomes strangers but a generous “host”? And this is what the original Koro Wachi translator understood when he read Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared… in his NIV Bible. If these were heavenly hosts then they must be angels welcoming people to heaven. It all makes some kind of sense.
But of course it’s based on a tragic misunderstanding of the NIV English. Had the original translator looked at the Good News version ‘a great army of heaven’s angels’ then they may have done better, but how were they to know what to choose? Since ‘host’ (one welcoming guests) is a familiar concept and ‘heavenly host’ features in not only the NIV but in the KJV, ASV, ESV, RSV, NRSV, NASB (even the NLT!) why would a bilingual translator who considered himself to know English adequately suspect anything could be wrong?
One of my favourite short articles about Bible translation was written 56 years ago by Constance Naish and Gillian Story working among Tlingit people in Alaska. They reflect on how the interpreters for the first missionaries there 100 years ago (mis-)understood the Bible. It’s comic and tragic and repeated in some similar way every day in parts of Nigeria. As we work with people to study their language and the Bible we gradually get to unpick some of the confusions which in our case have often been baked into the reading of the Bible for a few generations, now.
The original article is hard to find, so I’ve re-typed it here.
“The Lord is my shepherd…” and I am His sheep—isn’t this the sense in which we understand this phrase as the result of long familiarity with the Twenty-thrd Psalm? But couldn’t it mean instead, “The Lord is the one who herds sheep for me?” It was in some such sense that a Tlingit interpreter for some of the early missionaries understood it. His interpretation of the opening verses of this Psalm was later translated back again from Tlingit into English like this:
The Lord is my goat hunter; I don’t want Him. He knocks me down on the mountain: He drags me down to the beach…
Abstract: ‘witness’ in the Bible tends to mean telling people about something rather than seeing it. This is not normal English.
The following definitions hopefully explain the senses given by the Greek word martys and martureo, and the word they’re often translated by in English.
μαρτυςnoun 1. one who testifies in legal matters, 2. one who affirms or attests, 3. one who witnesses [tells something] at cost of life
μαρτυρέωverb 1. to confirm or attest someth. on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, bear witness, be a witness. a. to offer testimony b. to confirm bear witness to, declare, confirm, c. to support one’s testimony with total selfgiving, eccl. usage w. regard to martyrdom bear witness, testify, be a witness (unto death), be martyred, 2. to affirm in a supportive manner, testify favorably, speak well (of), approve
witnessnoun 1. a person who sees an event, 2. evidence, proof verb 1. see (an event) happen, 2. have knowledge of a development from observation or experience.