Prof. Daniel Newman Speaks at QUB on Arabic Bible Translation

Arabic Bible Translation1

Depiction of Ḥunayn ibn ‘Isḥāq

Sarah Buchanan, PhD candidate in Translation Studies researching Bible translation, reports on Prof. Daniel Newman’s recent lecture to postgraduate students of translation and interpreting at QUB. Prof. Newman is a renowned Arabist and head of Modern Languages at Durham University.

“On 9 March 2015, we had the pleasure of welcoming Professor Newman from Durham University, as part of the Monday Night Seminar series in translation studies at QUB.  At the outset, he reminded us that the history of translation is inextricably linked with the history of the Bible.

Professor Newman discussed convergences between the Qur’an and the Bible, for example the contrasting attitudes to translation in the two faiths, wherein translation of the sacred text is endorsed by Christians, while Islam places greater emphasis on the source language with references to the “pure Arabic tongue” and to “translation of meanings” rather than translation of the Holy Book.  Moreover, there are some narratives and terms which appear in both Books, for example the story of Joseph, and the word “Allah” which is used in both sacred Books.

Arabic Bible Translation2

Our speaker brought us on a journey from the earliest Arabic translations to some of the texts still used by Arabic-speaking Christians today. The earliest translation of a portion of the Bible into Arabic can be dated back to a manuscript of Psalm 77 from the 8th century. Between the 9th and 12th centuries many more partial translations were written by scholars, priests and laymen, and the texts, although in Arabic, were often written in either Syriac or Hebraic script.

In Baghdad, Ḥunayn ibn ‘Isḥāq (808-873) translated many parts of the Hebrew Scriptures, and significantly for translation scholars, outlined his methodology, creating the first ever commentary on translation. His method comprised of two elements: 1) searching for the best manuscripts 2) collating and comparing these manuscripts in the process of translation.

Finally, our speaker guided us through the 13th to 19th centuries in which the Gospels were translated in Al-Andalus, the first printed Arabic translation appeared in 1622 and a number of polyglot versions appeared in the 16th and 17th century in Constantinople, Paris and London. In the 19th century there were a series of missionary endeavours, sponsored by the Jesuits, Dominicans, and Protestant missionary organisations. Characteristics of these translations in the 1800s included repetition, mixing of high and low registers, and varying degrees of translator visibility.

This seminar provided us with a sense of roots as translation theorists, as we looked to the earliest comments on the complex processes we undertake, while demonstrating some of the particularities of sacred text translation within the Arab world.”

Sarah Buchanan, PhD candidate in translation studies at QUB


One thought on “Prof. Daniel Newman Speaks at QUB on Arabic Bible Translation

  1. I got MA in Arabic/ English translation and interpreting from Durham I can say nothing but I was lucky enough to be supervised by Prof Newman

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