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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

Transacting Through Translation

When the Bible itself as text becomes the focus of the encounter between Africa and Judaism and/or Christianity, the emphasis is almost always on translation. For example, Schaaf's The History and Role of the Bible in Africa is primarily about the history and role of translation of the Bible in Africa. From the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek (the Septuagint) in Alexandria about 260 BCE, to the first translations of the Bible into African languages in the early 1500s (Coptic, Arabic, Ge'ez), to the present where parts of the Bible have been translated into more than 230 African languages, translation has been a central aspect of Africa's transactions with the Bible.

Bediako goes as far as to say that ‘to the credit of the modern missionary enterprise, the more recent missionary history of Africa … can justly be regarded as the history of Bible translation’. Drawing on and developing the work of David B. Barrett, Kenneth Cragg, Philip Stine, Ype Schaaf, and especially Lamin Sanneh, Bediako argues that when missionaries or mission societies made the Bible available to an African people in that people's own language, their grip on the gospel was loosened and so too their proprietary claim on Christianity. Translation enabled the Bible to become ‘an independent yardstick by which to test, and sometimes to reject, what Western missionaries taught and practised’ and in so doing ‘provided the basis for developing new, indigenous forms of Christianity’.

The full weight of Bediako's argument, and here he leans heavily on Sanneh's work, is found in the final phase of the argument where it is claimed that in the vernacular Bible Africans were able to discover ‘that the God of the Bible had preceded the missionary into the receptor-culture’ and that ‘Christianity had, in fact, been adequately anticipated’. Translation in this sense is much more than a technical discipline, it is a metaphor for forms of inculturation.

While most translation in Africa to date has focused on particular translation problems in particular languages, Bediako's elaboration of translation as a metaphor for inculuration opens up other, less explored, areas. For example, what forms of Christianity emerge in a context where the first texts translated into the local languages are Genesis and then Luke? Such was the case in the coastal villages of East Africa among the freed slaves during the period 1840–70. This question is given additional force because, as Schaaf notes, these Christians ‘became the African pioneers of the missions who early in the twentieth century would spread the gospel among the peoples of East Africa’. If both Bediako and Wimbush are right in their respective arguments—that translation into the vernacular loosens the control of the missionary on the message and that the hermeneutic strategies that local communities adopt in order to appropriate the message for themselves are foundational—then more careful analysis of such transactions would be extremely valuable.

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