Richard Pleijel (Uppsala University): The Non-Reception of a new Swedish translation of the Lord’s Prayer

In the early 1970’s, a committee was appointed by the Swedish Government to carry out a new translation of the New Testament. The guidelines stated clearly that the committee should take no regard whatsoever to the biblical language tradition, represented by the then existing official translation from 1917 but also by earlier Swedish translations, the first one dating back to 1526.

In 1977, one of the main translators was interviewed in a magazine, whereby he revealed an early draft of a new translation of The Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9–13). The new translation immediately aroused a heated debate in Swedish newspapers. Almost every partaker in the debate was of the opinion that the translation committee was distorting the biblical language tradition. Many maintained that it was inconceivable to ruin a text with such cultural and historical value. Several persons also equated the established Swedish translation of The Lord’s Prayer with ”the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples”, meaning they perceived the translation as a kind of source text. Adding to this was surely the fact that the translation of this particular text had been almost completely preserved in all subsequent New Testament translations since the first one in 1526.

In sum, the new translation was broadly rejected by the general public. This was apparently linked to the fact that the new translation was a retranslation. In this lecture, I will discuss the rejection of the new translation using Hans Robert Jauss’ concept horizon of expectations. I will show how earlier translations contributed to the expectations of the readers and to their readiness to reject a new translation. I will discuss how especially the first Swedish translation of The Lord’s Prayer from 1526 in being perceived as a kind of source text continued to exert an influence on readers’ horizons of expectations still after 450 years.

About the speaker

Richard Pleijel, born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1985.

PhD in Old Testament Exegesis, Uppsala University, 2018.
The PhD dissertation (in Swedish) dealt with the latest official Swedish translation of the Old Testament, and consisted of a reconstruction and analysis of the sociocognitive translation process of the translation committee’s Old Testament team.

Subsequent works include two papers on the interpretation and translation of the Biblical Hebrew word nephesh, ”Translating the Biblical Hebrew Word Nephesh in Light of New Research” (The Bible Translator 70:2) and ”To Be or To Have a Nephesh? Gen 2:7 and the Irresistible Tide of Monism” (Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 131:2), as well as a shorter monograph on the Swedish critic and translator Viveka Heyman (Att riva Babels torn: Viveka Heyman som översättare av Gamla testamentet, Artos & Norma, 2019). Current research includes a project on the Swedish poet and Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer and his work with an indirect translation of the Book of Psalms in the context of the latest official Swedish Old Testament translation (see above).