History of Bible Translation in Turkey
Imagine a population
of, say, English, Greek and Egyptian communities who all speak English (though
with a range of vocabulary and dialect) but who write it using their own separate
scripts. Imagine, further, that some of the English people want to embellish
their literary and official writing with French and German vocabulary and stylistic
devices. How would you set about preparing a new translation of the Bible for
Ottoman Turks for
the most part wrote a Turkish that was interspersed with Arabic words for religious
purposes and Persian for literary finesse. Armenians and Greeks, on the other
hand, who had been absorbed so fully into the Turkish empire that they had lost
the use of their mother tongues, spoke versions of Turkish but wrote it in their
own national scripts without any particular literary interest. How could Bible
translation work accommodate this range of Turkish used in speech and writing?
Would one translation be intelligible to everyone? What script(s) would you
use? At what 'level' would you try to pitch the version?
Dutch ambassador at the Sultan's court persuaded a Polish slave there known
as Ali Bey to translate the Scriptures into Turkish. That translation lay unused
in Leyden University until an Englishman Dr. Pinkerton, asked a Turkish-speaking
Russian called Baron von Dietz to work on it in Berlin. The Baron was elderly
and died before he could finish.
Bible Published. Scholars were raised up from outside Turkey and in the 19th
century, Jean Daniel Kieffer, a Frenchman took up the baton; and a translation
of the Bible was published in 1827 by the Bible Society.
- Turkish Bible. In 1823 an American called William Goodell arrived in Beirut
and started work another translation (Turkish in language, Armenian in script).
Producing a New Testament in Malta in 1831. He then went to Constantinople.
where he finished the Bible, in spite of losing all his dictionaries; grammars,
commentaries and manuscripts in the great fire of 1833.
2nd Turkish translation of Gospels and Acts. Moslem Turks became interested
in the Scriptures of the 'infidels' because of Anglo-French support in the Crimean
war, an interest which provoked a search for a more accurate version of the
Bible than Kieffer's. A German scholar-missionary called William Schaffler,
who had been Turkey for 25 years, worked on a fresh idiomatic, producing the
four Gospels and Acts in 1862.
2nd Turkish Bible. In1868 a Dr Pratt did start work in Constantinople on producing
a version in Turkish characters of Goodell's Armeno-Turkish Bible. There were
ideas of combining the work of these two scholars but it came to nothing so
the Bible Societies established a committee of translators with gifted Turkish
advisors to try to produce a Turkish rendering intelligible to all Turkish speakers.
They started in 1873. The work of the committee was greatly eased by major political
changes. The bloodless revolution of 1876 that put the liberal Sultan Murad
on the throne provided an opportunity for language reform and a brief lifting
of censorship. Written Turkish became clearer and bolder, the work of the committee
was intense and rapid, and in five years a fresh Turkish version of the Bible
had been produced (1878).
Major revision. 3rd version. There was still a third version to absorb,
however the Greaco-Turkish version which Henry Leeves had been instrumental
in first producing and others was revised. By 1901 this version and the 1878
version had been combined into yet another translation, which had about 25 years
to run before major changes were forced on the Bible Societies.
version. In 1923 Ataturk started on his reform programme, seeking to restore
the Turkish language to something of its pristine nature, give it its own phonetic
script, and rid it of eastern influences. Clearly the Bible had to be produced
in this renewed Turkish language, and so it was, through the work of Dr Frederick
MacCallum, and his son Lyman, in 1941. Turkish believers read it still.
New version Published. The Turkish language has continued to change
rapidly through these last sixty years, however, making the 1941 version out
of date and hard to read. The new version was launched
in October 2001. Pray that it will be widely used to change lives amongst
Turkish speaking peoples, and lead them to the Saviour.