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Pastors celebrate Bible translation

  • 2000-02-03
  • By Joseph Enge
TARTU – Accurately translating the Bible into the full richness of a nation's language is a major event. At the annual conference of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church on Jan. 25 and Jan. 26, the Estonian Bible Association presented the newly published altar, or family, large Bible in Estonian.

The 1997 first release of the recent translation was a smaller, pocket version without apocrypha – a group of 14 books from the Old Testament that is considered non-canonical, but suitable for instruction.

Last month a copy was ceremoniously presented to President Lennart Meri and Prime Minister Mart Laar. The presentation at the Estonian Lutheran conference in Tartu was well received and was followed by discussions regarding the meaning behind "authorized" versions of the Bible. The question being, would this become the only sanctioned Estonian edition for use in the church, or would previous translated editions be sanctioned as well?

Anton Thor Helle, a Baltic-German, translated the first complete Bible into Estonian in 1739. Helle translated it into the Northern Estonian dialect, a major factor in the dialect's linguistic dominance since. The Estonian writer and member of the committee editing the latest translation, Jaan Kross, told the Estonian daily newspaper Postimees, "Helle's work was a heroic undertaking." Kross even commented he should write a novel about Helle.

Helle's translation did have some problems, critics say. He approached the Estonian language as a different form of German, resulting in awkward Estonian grammatical constructions. A 1939 translation by Harald Pold tried to address this, but the quality of Pold's translation received some debate.

A 1968 Estonian Bible edition combined Pold's New Testament translation with Estonian expatriate Endel Kopp's Old Testament translation. Toomas Paul completed his own translation of the New Testament in 1989. The need to bring all these elements together for a complete and unified Bible in clear, modern, and easy to read Estonian led to this latest translation project.