Versions of the Bible

Versions of the Bible a general name for translations of the Holy Scriptures into other languages than the original.

I. Origin. — After the Hebrew had ceased to be spoken I and had become a dead language in the 2nd century before Christ, and still more after the spread of Christianity, translations of the Hebrew Scriptures into the prevailing languages of the age became a thing of necessity, both to Jews and Christians, in Palestine and in other countries. Accordingly, almost every language then current received at least one version, which became of ecclesiastical authority, and was used instead of the original Hebrew text. In this way there arose, almost contemporaneously, the Alexandrine version for the Grecian and Egyptian Jews, and the earliest Chaldee versions for those who dwelt in Palestine and Babylonia. After the introduction of Christianity, the Christians adopted at first the Sept.; but in the 2nd century there appeared three or four other Greek versions from the hands of Jewish and Christian translators, the object of which was to supersede the Sept. In this, however, they did not succeed, and these works are now mostly lost. About the same time, the Syrian Christians made the Syriac version and the Latin Christians procured a Latin version of the Sept., which at the close of the 4th century gave place to the version of Jerome, the present Vulgate. After the wide extension of the Arabic language in the 7th century, both Jews and Christians began to translate the Scriptures into Arabic also the Jews out of the original Hebrew, and the Christians from the Sept. Indeed, this latter is the case with all translations of the Old Test. made by the Christians into the Oriental languages.

In the case of the New Test., there did not for a long time exist any occasion for a translation, as the Greek language, in which it was written, was universally prevalent in the civilized world at the time of the promulgation of the Gospel. In 'certain provinces of the Roman empire, however, the Latin soon came into common use, especially in North Africa, and hence the old Italic and afterwards the Vulg. arose. Still earlier a Syriac version was made for the use of the Oriental Christians, to whom that language was vernacular. SEE PESHITO.

II. Literary Character. — The Versions of the Scriptures are usually divided into the immediate, or those made directly from the original text, and the mediate, or those made from other versions. The latter are also sometimes called daughters of the former. It is only those of the first species which have any hermeneutical value; those of the latter kind can only serve for aid in the verbal criticism of the versions from which they have flowed, and are indeed of no special importance even here, except in the case of the Sept., the text of which has been so much corrupted.

The ancient translators possessed neither grammatical nor lexicographical helps, and followed, therefore, everywhere exegetical tradition. As their object, too, was always a practical, rather than a learned or scientific one, they are often apt to fail in the requisite degree of exactness, and sometimes also they interweave their own views and impressions in their versions. This last circumstance renders these versions less available as respects exegesis, but makes them so much the more important as historical documents in regard to the views of the age and of the sect to which they belong. SEE CRITICISM.

III. Classification. — In this Cyclopaedia (including the Supplement) the reader will find a concise account of all the versions of the Holy Scriptures made in ancient and modern times, under the alphabetical order of the various languages. In general all the tongues of this "babbling earth" may be arranged as follows:

A. Monosyllabic Languages. — These are referable, geographically. — and philologically, to three grand divisions, viz.

1. Languages of China;

2. Languages of the Transgangetic peninsula or of the Indo-Chinese;

3. Languages of Thibet and the Himalayas.

B. Shemitic Languages, comprising:

1. Samaritan, originally identical with Hebrew;

2. Ancient Syriac and Chaldee, which, however, have their representative in modern Syriac.

3. Pehlvi, the ancient tongue of Media, a compound probably of Chaldee and Syriac with Zend.

4. Various Arabic dialects; Himyaritic, the parent of Ekhkili;

5. Gheez, or Ethiopic, now superseded by its modern dialects, Tigre and Amharic.

C. Indo-European, with different branches:

1. MedoPersian, including the Persian, Pushtoo, Beloochee, Kurdish, Ossitinian, and Armlenian;

2. Sanskrit, subdivided into

(a) languages of Sanskritic origin, as Hinduwee, Bengtalee, Assamese, Utriyi, Nepalese, Palpa, Kumnaou and Gurishal, Cashnlerian , Dogura or Junnboo, Pujnjaee, Moultan or Ooch, Sindhee, Cutlchee and Gujerattee, Kunkuna, and Mahratta;

(b) languages of India of non-Sanskritic origin, as Tamul, Telinga; Canarese, Cingalese, and Maldivian;

(c) rude and unwritten languages of 1101 Sanskritic origin, as Gondee or Goandee;

3. Indo-European languages of Europe, subdivided into the different families, as Celtic, Teutonic, Graeco-Latin, Traco-Illyrian, and Slavonic.

D. Ugro-Tartarian. — To this class belong all the languages of Europe and Asia which are not either Shemitic or Indo-European, including the Finnish and Stamoiede languages in the North; the Georgian and other languages of the Caucasian region; the Turkish, Mongolian, and Tungusian families of Central Asia; the Japanese, Loochooan, and Coreau in Western Asia; and the Etuskarian, or Basque, in Western Europe.

E. Polynesian Languages, including two varieties, the Polynesian and Negritian.

F. African Languages, with four varieties: Coptic, Berber, Nigro-Hamitic, and Nilo-Hamitic languages, with their various dialects.

G. American Languages, with numerous groups or families.

A different classification is adopted by A. H. Sayce, in his Introduction to the Science of Languages (Loud. 1880), 2, 33 sq., following the results of Friedrich Miller, in his Grundriss der Sprachwissenschaft (Vienna, 1876). The following passage from Sayce's work (loc. cit. p. 32) will be of interest: "The test of linguistic kinship is agreement in structure, grammar, and roots. Judged by this test, the languages at present spoken in the world probably fall, as Prof. Friedrich Müller observes, into 'about one hundred different families,' between which science can discover no connection or relationship. When we consider how many languages have perished since man first appeared on the globe, we may gain some idea of the numberless essays and types of speech which have gone to form the language-world of the present day. Language is the reflection of society, and the primitive languages of the earth were as infinitely numerous as the communities that produced them ... So far as the available data allow, the existing languages of the world may be classified as follows (referring to the seventy-six heads adopted), "though it must be remembered that in many cases our information is scanty and doubtful, and languages here grouped under a single head may hereafter turn out to be distinct and unrelated." SEE TONGUES, CONFUSION OF.

IV. History of Modern Efforts. — At the beginning of the present century there existed a number of versions, which formed a stock for the newly established Bible societies to commence upon.. There were translations into nearly' all the languages of Europe, into a few spoken in the adjacent parts of Asia and Africa, and into four only of countries lying beyond. Some of these old versions were not adopted; others were printed for use until something better could be provided for it is better to give a starving man stale bread than keep him waiting while you are baking; and others, again, have been employed without material change up to the present time. In some countries a single version has been accepted, as in England; elsewhere, as in France and Germany; use has been made of more than one; and in cases where important sections of the people have refused one version, it has been the practice of most Bible societies to permit them to- purchase a version they would receive; provided, always, that it was substantially faithful and revealed clearly the way of salvation.

New translations have been made since 1804 in about two hundred and twenty-six languages. To state how many have been due to the labors of any particular body of missionaries would not be easy, inasmuch as, in many cases, various missions have been engaged. The same difficulty applies, in a measure, to the work of the Bible societies, two or more having often published in the same language. Still the following may be taken as an approximate statement, though the correctness of the figures is not guaranteed:

The British and Foreign Bible Society has published in 187 Lang The American Bible Society in Scotland 41 " The National Bible Society in Scotland 5 " The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 17 " The Trinitarian Bible Society 3 " The Netherlands Bible Society 11 " The Bible societies of Germany (viz. the Prussian 9 " Bible society, 4; the Würtemberg Bible Society, 4; and the Bremen Bible Society, 1) The Bible societies of Switzerland 9 " The Bible societies of Denmark, Sweden, and 6 " Norway

Many of the above translations extend only to a part of the Scriptures. The entire Bible has been rendered during the present century into about fifty- five languages, the New Test. into eighty-four, and parts only into eighty- seven. It may surprise the reader to learn that the work should, in so large a proportion of cases, be incomplete; but no one will wonder who realizes the prodigious labor involved in making a translation of the whole Bible. The Burmese version of Judson occupied nineteen years; the Bengali of Dr. Carey, at least fifteen years; the Tahitian, twenty years; the Arabic, sixteen years; the Turkish of Dr. Schauffler, fourteen years; the Mandarin Colloquial of the Old Test., by Dr. Schereschewsky, fifteen years; and, after nearly forty years of study and of missionary labor, Dr. Williamson and Dr. Riggs completed their Dakota version of the Bible, and one of them estimates that he has spent on an average fully thirty minutes on each verse he has translated. How could it be otherwise? We can imagine the labor it would cost simply to transcribe the book from Genesis to Revelation; but how much greater must have been the labor of men like Eliot or Moffat, who had to note down phonetically the words used by the natives, mould them by degrees into a written language, and then cast into that rough mould the elevated spiritual conceptions of the Bible! How difficult to find the equivalents for sin, atonement, righteousness, in languages possessing, perhaps, a dozen words for murder, according as mother, child, or other relative is dispatched, but none for gratitude or forgiveness, because such affections are unknown!

Considering the varied difficulties of the work, the marvel is that so much has been translated, and translated so well. As language, especially the foreign, becomes better known in the course of time, the necessity of revision is felt, and by none perhaps so much as by the translator himself; and thus it happened that many versions were revised at different times, in order to produce one Bible for the converts and to avoid the evil of varying versions. (B. P.)

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