Andy Warren-Rothlin (United Bible Societies): Retranslation of the Bible in Muslim idiom

Bible translation in Muslim contexts is a very sensitive task, bridging as it does often highly volatile socio-cultural boundaries. Put most simply, Muslim receptor communities may reject biblical concepts, whilst Christian secondary audiences may reject Islamic terms. In addition to the large historical, (usually) geographical and cultural distance involved in all Bible translation, translators working to a ‘Muslim idiom’ brief need to consider a distinct range of cultural and linguistic associations as biblical texts are imported into an entirely different semiotic framework, and distinct issues of acceptability and intertextuality within their audience’s Qur’ān-based hermeneutic. The challenge is yet greater where there is an existing Christian-idiom translation which, though usually not highly domesticated, has a highly instrumental status for a certain community; retranslation may call into question deep assumptions about the basis for that community.
Typical examples of these dynamics are the المعنى الصحيح True Meaning Arabic translation (2009-19) in the context of the most widespread historic van Dyck-Bustani translation (1860-65), various new Urdu products in the context of the Pakistan Bible Society translation (1745-1843), and the Koinonia English translation (2017/19) as against the popular New International Version (1978/84).
We will look at the transformation of biblical texts in these and other retranslations with a particular view to: semantic shift across history and religious cultures and by the mediation of Qur’ānic Arabic, anachronisms, indirection strategies, honorifics, and what all of these mean for the evaluation of equivalence in translation quality assessment and ultimately, for receptor communities and their perceptions of ‘canonicity’.

About the speaker

Andy Warren-Rothlin is a Bible Translation Consultant with the United Bible Societies, working with Bible translation projects in West Africa and South Asia. With an MA in European literature (Oxford) and a PhD in Classical Hebrew grammar (Cambridge), he was then Professor of Hebrew at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria and has published on Hebrew grammar, pragmatics and idioms, biblical textual criticism and Arabic script.