Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Which Jesus Was Properly Baptized

Here I'm advisor-checking with a group of Tiang
“So,” I asked again, “Who was baptized?”

The group looked at me blankly. “No one.”

“No one?! How could no one have been baptized?” I pointed to our paper. “We just talked about how it was Jesus asking to be baptized by John and not the other way around. What happened after John finally agreed?”

Gillian, the main translator, peered closely at the paper, then burst out laughing. “Nothing happened, because it doesn’t say 'Jesus was baptized.' It only has the conversation before between Jesus and John, and then it says ‘Jesus came out of the water really quickly.’ So, Jesus wasn’t baptized.”

I shook my head. “Well, then, I guess we have to make some changes!”

The group bent close together as they discussed in murmurs the best way to translate the sentence into Tiang. I was working with a group of pastors, Sunday School teachers, and national translators to translate and produce a Sunday School book following the life of Christ. It was a two-week workshop out in New Ireland this past June (see blog post here), and we were nearing the end of the first week, beginning the process of advisor checking (where an advisor works through the text with a group of speakers, making sure it’s clear, accurate, and natural).

The group had started out translating the Bible stories into Tiang, after which another group edited it. Next, they “back-translated” the translated Tiang story into Tok Pisin, the trade language that I know. I then read through the Tok Pisin text to see if there were any potential inaccuracies or mix-ups, which would indicate a problem with the Tiang. I also came up with a series of questions to ask my focus group in order to test if they are able to come up with the right answers from the text (who, what, where, why, how, for what purpose, what next, as a result etc.). Finally, I checked areas of potential translation challenges, like rhetorical questions, double negatives, key terms (words that are loaded with impact, like glory or resurrection) and cultural details (what does a well look like to a Papua New Guinean? why did Judas kiss Jesus?).

If they aren’t able to answer my questions correctly, then we begin to pull at the threads of the story to find out where there might be problems or parts of the text that could be translated more clearly. This part often turns into a mini-Bible story as we discuss the text in depth. For example, in the story of the baptism of Jesus, the original Tiang translator was confused why Jesus would ask John for baptism, and so he assumed he misread the text and translated it as John asking Jesus. When I discovered the mix-up in our advisor checking, it led to a great discussion about the reasons behind Jesus’ baptism and the implications for later.

Here my colleague, Hanna, was working with a group
Similarly, when we checked the story of Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the temple to present him to God as their firstborn son and to give the offering for Mary’s purification, they read Mary’s purification as Jesus’ baptism and christening. We had to work together to find a different way of describing the ceremony that would not lead the readers to think He was being baptized as an infant.

Sometimes only one word can make a huge difference such a change in verb agreement  (Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt with a crowd of people instead of secretly in the night) or pronoun (when Jesus was rebuking the disciples and included Himself as if needing correction as well!). As you can imagine, advisor checking can be a lengthy and mentally-taxing process, but extremely fascinating as language, culture, and Scripture work together in a marvellous display of God’s creativity.

The group had finished their edits (Jesus was now getting properly baptized), but I had one more question. “I’m curious—why did Jesus come out of the water really quickly?” My mind was conjuring up images of the Son of God leaping with flailing arms out of the water, as if shocked by the cold or bitten by a fish...

“Well,” they looked at each other, “because that’s what the Bible says.”

“Hmm.” I glanced back at my notes, and then at my computer screen, where I had several New Testament versions, including Greek, opened to the passage. “Here it says, ‘Immediately after Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove.’ Immediately means to happen right away...not necessarily quickly.” Understanding dawned across their faces as they once again scribbled red corrections over the paper.

“So, who was baptized?” I asked one last time.

“Jesus!” they chorused, grinning at me.

“And what happened when He was baptized?”

“Right away, the Holy Spirit came down!”

I closed my notebook and grinned. Jesus had now been baptized—in Tiang!

At the end of the workshop, Solomon stood up at the back of the classroom. “I have never read the Bible so much before! From morning until evening, from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm, we read the Bible. We read it in English. We read it in Tok Pisin. We read it in Tiang. And when I read the Bible in English or Tok Pisin, I get this much.” Solomon spread his thumb and forefinger apart. “But, when I read it in Tiang, then I get this much.” He stretched one arm above his head and the other below his waist. “Em i bikpela tumas long mi!It’s very important to me