Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Decisions, decisions

So the Job manuscript is done, finished, submitted! But there's one last thing to do - securing images (and permissions) for the dozen illustrations I've planned. They're going to be a gorgeous and richly varied lot, telling their own stories all while reinforcing my point that the Book of Job was never encountered in some pristine ahistorical form - as if there could be such a thing - but in particular editions and translations, with commentary, illustrations, etc.

My quest took me today to the American Bible Society, which has a collection of 46,000 Bibles in over 2500 languages. The objective? Job in an exotic language nobody would recognize, preferably from a brand new translation - to show that Bible translation is taking Job in to every world culture, and out of western sight and control. The Bible Collection's wonderful librarian was more than game, generously insisting that my request wasn't, as I had presented it, "silly" at all.

So here's the problem: although many of the newest translations are only New Testaments, we found tons of Jobs, and I don't think I can use more than one. Here are the finalists, each of which would make quite a different (but also very cool) point. Closest to what I'd had in mind is this 1995 translation into the doodly script of western Indian Oriya:
But that's not recent enough. And it turns out modern translation into Indian languages goes back to the early 18th century (not to mention the churches of St. Thomas). It would be an important reminder that Job has, in fact, been part of Asian and African Christianities for a long, long time (as indeed Christianity has been global from the beginning), but my purpose is to suggest the global Christian future. So here's a brand-spanking-new (2012!) Chinese edition from Hong Kong:
As you know, I have a sense that the future of Christianity will be in significant ways Chinese, so this would mark that. There's also an interesting note to Job 42:6 indicating the I abhor myself is better understood I abhor my words, and Job's whole final speech is marked out as a prayer - an actual devotional use you can see on the page (it's actually in blue ink), and not one I've heard of before! But then there was this, also 2012, in the Eastern Arctic language of Inuktitut:
Trippy!! It looks like something from a science fiction show! And in fact it's a phonetic alphabet devised by Canadian missionaries for languages which have no script of their own. This is also the last chapter of Job, where he says that he's heard of God by the hearing of the ear but now he sees him... In many cases the Bible is the first text speakers of endangered indigenous languages like this ever see, so that has a powerful resonance; it'd also make the words of Job which frame my book, his desire that his words be written down, poignantly real.

So what to do? I think I'll probably wind up with the Chinese - more significant, used by a vastly larger number of people, and a people important for the future of biblical interpretation. But it will be with a heavy heart. I'll have to find some other occasion to use the Inuktituk...

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