The Arabic Bible
Eric G. Fisk, late of Marocco
The author of this article writes that he hopes by this account of translation work to stimulate prayerful interest; the workers engaged in this project are the object of satanic opposition in a variety of ways. Two and a half years waiting proved to be necessary before the receipt of the first galley proofs from the printers, but our brother has more recently informed us that proofreading of the whole Bible is now complete. We trust that he will later provide us with an account of the initial reception of the Bible by the Nationals when eventually published.
The Great Need
The missionary, God-sent and Holy Spirit-controlled, possessing a complete Bible in the language of the people amongst whom he labours, is a formidable threat to the dark kingdoms of Satan, but alas, in the past there has been none so armed in the Muslim lands of North Africa. Morocco is best off, but the other States possess only a few books of the New Testament; hence, what a joy to know that at last we shall all have in our hands the priceless treasure of a whole Colloquial Arabic Bible. A whole Bible costs a great deal of money to produce and quite naturally no Bible Society will sponsor one unless there is reasonable chance of sales, adequate to compensate the enormous outlay. In a Muslim land where both missionaries and converts arc not very numerous, the great need felt by the few has often to be placed against the apparently greater need claimed by the many, where religious liberty is in evidence, and sales arc pretty well assured.
Old Methods and New
The old method of establishing and maintaining a Gospel witness where open air preaching is not tolerated, has been through medical work, schools and shelters, but nowadays, the newly born independent Muslim States prefer to have medical work and schools under their own control rather than leave them in the hands of a foreigner, and they certainly do not welcome the Christian missionary. Consequently most, if not all, missionary hospitals, dispensaries and schools, have, in recent years, passed out of the missionaries' hands into those of the State. But other ways of approach have opened up. The radio can very often be switched on to the Gospel broadcasts; there are Bible correspondence courses available, and there is Christian literature. These modern methods of reaching the unsaved may yet prove to be even better ways of carrying home the message of salvation. Learning to read stimulates an appetite for reading, and many young Muslims of this age are enquirers in their make-up, and are willing to read Christian literature when obtainable, and what could possibly satisfy them more than a whole Bible? The average Muslim loves the stories in Genesis, and he would be thrilled with the historical books. Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes would intrigue the Muslim philosopher. The Psalms read beautifully in Arabic, and Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and Jonah with their historical background would be particularly attractive to them. The New Testament crowns all: here nothing is obscure; here we have just the words needed to open the eyes of the followers of the false prophet. We believe the existence of Islam is due to the challenge of the New Testament to the conscience, and that Mohammed and his Koran is the Devil's answer to Calvary, and a masterpiece of compromise which recognizes the sovereignty of God, whilst at the same time robs the Muslim of any sense of sin.
There is an increasing demand for learning in Arabic-speaking countries. Children and even adults are being taught to read and write Classical Arabic whilst at the same time they continue to converse in their particular Colloquial. The pure, Classical Arabic can really only be understood by scholars, and is very often meaningless to the uneducated. And the Colloquial dialects in Arabic vary considerably as they do in English, where
T'ould yow lowped dyke is well understood in parts of Cumberland but means little or nothing to people in the Midlands or the South. A parallel in Arabic could easily be produced, and in consequence, a Colloquial Arabic Bible is presented with alarming difficulties from the start. In the Arab world it is quite possible to make a statement in one vernacular which could mean something entirely different in another. Words are often inverted and foreign terms incorporated which add to the difficulties. Fortunately, however, these difficulties are sometimes over-exaggerated, and the modern method of teaching Classical conveys to the student some knowledge, at least, of how the language should be spoken, and at the same time his attention is drawn to the real meaning of the terms he is actually using.
T'ould yow lowped dyke may be the only way the Cumbrian farmer has ever expressed the event, but if you tell him that the old ewe has jumped across the ditch, he understands quite easily. It is exactly the same with the Arabic dialects, and this fact makes a Colloquial Arabic Bible possible. The language must be very simple Arabic with no serious departures from the main Classical rules. It is a compromise between the two, the purest of the Colloquial, and the fewest possible Classical expressions that are little known. The great tiling is it must be understandable and if so it will work, even though the uneducated may still prefer his own faulty way of expression, which is so often confined to his own particular locality.
Help from Nationals
Obviously, no Colloquial Bible could be produced without the help of sympathetic Nationals with a good knowledge of both Classical Arabic and a Colloquial. This should be obtainable, but again difficulties arc encountered here as Nationals are most prejudiced to their own dialects and often most unreasonable where change is contemplated. If the area for which the Colloquial Bible is prepared is a large one, then the number of alternative dialectal terms, expressions and synonyms is equally large. It is when the question of the choice of these dialects is involved that the Colloquial Bible rests on a very critical poise and a Bible Society is called upon to direct. In the case of the North Africa Colloquial Arabic Bible, the ruling was for the total abolition of a Colloquial term or expression only understood in one small area, and the gravitating towards the pure Arabic. This is the only possible solution and is absolutely unavoidable, but it means that more vocabulary - in fact, more language - must be learnt, a real hardship to slothful minds, but a joy to the keen and vigorous.
Rancour and Opposition
Reactionaries, both amongst Europeans as well as Nationals, fail to appreciate the logic of this course, and being so grieved, they would sooner sabotage the whole project than sacrifice some of their favourite terms and expressions. The translators arc put to great strain on this point alone. Before the North African Colloquial Arabic Bible was commenced the writer was warned that he would be attacked both by pen and tongue, and that, in fact, was putting it very mildly. Feeling runs very high when the Bible is in question, and though it is not possible to burn translators at the stake for daring to give the common people the Word of God, nothing less than a real spiritual war has been in progress during the several years in which the translation was made.
When the initial work is finished and the manuscripts are accepted and handed over to a Bible Society, only a portion of the actual labour has been completed. The respite of a year or even two years before a printer can be found able to set up the type and to print the Bible provides much needed rest for those who are to read the galley-proofs as they are called. The printed page of the original has a subtle ability to deceive the eye at first sight, and it is wonderful how one can read mistakes and not recognize them. Many eyes are needed for this gigantic task and different minds working behind those eyes. Proofreading is really an art in itself and is a most vital element in the production of a Bible. Most readers will be familiar with the fact that an edition of the Authorized Version printed in a.d. 1631, was called the 'Wicked Bible' owing to the omission of the word 'not' from the seventh commandment; and the Arabic language with its dots above and below the line offers vast scope for first class errors to creep in. The Bible is an enormous work too, consisting of sixty-six books requiring some two thousand pages to put into print. It takes about two or three whole working days quietly to proof-read a book such as Isaiah, and the strain on the eyes and on the nerves is tremendous. An interruption, or a conversation going on in the same room where the work is being done, could result in something being missed; consequently one reading will by no means suffice. When it is established that the galleys contain all the original text, and that there are no additions; that the chapters and verses are all there and numbered correctly, only quiet reading, and re-reading will reveal the presence or absence of some necessary vowelling or punctuation, and it is this concentrated quiet reading that counts.
The Completed Work
It is not conceivable that after finishing a work such as the production of a whole Bible, translators could feel in any small way complacent; they will more likely feci the opposite. The human frailty which has been detected as the initial mistakes were discovered by those who helped as critics and advisors, as well as the haunting fear that some error may have been innocently introduced, takes a heavy toll upon the complex. If the final printed text still harbours something imperfect, as it surely will, for only God's work is perfect, it will not be due to any relaxation on the part of those who have produced it, and it will be deeply regretted. On the other hand, all who have a share in the great work, Translators, Nationals, Consultants and Proof Readers will all feel deep gratitude to God as they see in the hands of the people for whom the Bible has been prepared, the living Word of God in language understood by them, a real Colloquial, the very existence of which proves that, in spite of all the difficulties and the opposition, it has upon it the stamp of God's blessing.