METM19 Chronicles: John Hynd

Translating the Bible – it could cost you your life!

Our work matters. To us and, we hope, to our clients and to those who read our translations. But while others’ lives may depend on our work (say a patient awaiting a life-changing diagnosis), for us, our translations are seldom a matter of life and death.

Not so for many Bible translators throughout history, as John Hynd, former choirboy and religious scholar, recounted in his fact-filled but comfortingly gore-free METM19 talk. In his abstract, John promised us a “broad chronological sweep” and that is exactly what we got: a whistle-stop journey spanning the best part of two millennia. John’s talk was a rundown of all the big hitters in Bible translation, some of whom survived the experience. Here are a few highlights.

John began with the Dead Sea Scrolls, the famous collection of largely Hebrew and Aramaic texts, discovered in Qumran between 1947 and 1956 CE after nearly two thousand years hidden in the desert. He then moved on to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, which dates back to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Greek King of Egypt, tasked 72 Jewish scholars with translating the Torah for the Library of Alexandria. The Septuagint, their translation, has stood the test of time and is still in use today.

Doffing his cap to a son of Dalmatia, John moved on to St Jerome, the patron saint of translators. When revising the Old Latin translations of the Septuagint in the late 4th century CE, Jerome went back to the Hebrew source – and he faced fierce criticism for doing so, notably from St Augustine. Still, with time, Jerome’s Vulgate became the accepted translation, warts and all.

Skipping forward to the early 16th century CE, John spoke about Erasmus of Rotterdam, after whom the European university exchange programme is named. The Dutch philosopher’s revised Latin translation, displayed alongside the Greek, was published in a run of five editions, proving you can never revise too much.

At roughly the same time, Cardinal Cisneros was working on the Complutensian Polyglot Bible in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, where this chronicler briefly studied. This was the first printed polyglot of the entire Bible, and it was expensive and laborious work, instigated and funded by Cardinal Cisneros himself. Only 123 copies of the 600 six-volume sets printed survive.

Throughout his talk, John was keen to flag up how translating the Bible into local vernaculars opened up the text to new and increasingly literate audiences. This “democratisation” brought about a shift in mindset. By the time of the Reformation, the stakes (no pun intended) could not have been higher. John introduced the main protagonists from this period, including Martin Luther, John Calvin and William Tyndale, the latter who paid for his work with his life.

All too soon, the talk ended with a brief mention of the King James Bible, published in 1611 CE. I wanted to hear more about the influence the King James has on modern English – and the unsung hero Tyndale’s influence on the King James. But with such a short timeslot and so much material to get through, John couldn’t be all things to all men. Besides, perhaps he’s saving that for METM20 – I hope so!

John’s expert knowledge shone through in the Q&A that followed his talk. For me, this was the highlight of the session and, given the glint in his eye and his enthusiastic gesticulations, I’d wager it was his, too. His thoughtful, detailed answers were a testament to his lifelong passion and meticulous preparation – the man knows his stuff.

  This METM19 presentation was chronicled by Helen Oclee-Brown.

Featured photo by METM19 photographer Mario Javorčić.

2 thoughts on “METM19 Chronicles: John Hynd

  1. Great write-up, Helen. Like you, I thoroughly enjoyed John’s whistle-stop tour and I would encourage him to come up with a second part for METM20. John! Keep an eye on the call for papers.

  2. How could I resist? I look forward to putting together a follow-up presentation for METM20. Thanks for the opportunity, encouragement and the lovely review Helen.

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