Prof. George Hewitt

A “Children’s Bible” in Abkhaz, Translated from Russian by Zaira Khiba

Typed, proofed and introduced by George Hewitt

Some time between 1977 and 1979 Boris Arapović of the Institute for Bible Translation, then based in Stockholm, contacted Zaira, who had arrived in the UK from the USSR in January 1977, to see if she would be interested in translating initially the Gospel According to St. John and subsequently the remaining three Gospels into Abkhaz from Russian. She agreed. As Zaira did/does not type, I had to sit with her in order to type her translations on the specially adapted Olympia typewriter supplied by the Institute. Only one of her Gospels ever appeared in print (viz. that of St. John, which came out anonymously during the Soviet period; it was later reprinted), though all four are available on-line. The Institute then commissioned a “Life of Jesus”, also placed on-line, and eventually in 1990 a “Children’s Bible”. The Russian text was provided in two formats: (a) each chapter typed on one or more separate pages, the text being frequently corrected/supplemented via hand-written insertions; (b) a published book (Detskaja Biblija) printed in 1990 on glossy paper, the text of each chapter accompanied by a coloured illustration on the facing page. The two versions are mostly, but not always, in concord. By the time the translation of the Children’s Bible was completed we had acquired our first computer, and so, rather than employ the Olympia typewriter, I transferred the text from Zaira’s manuscript onto that old computer and then printed out the result. Because the printer produced a dot-matrix output and because there was often no correspondence between page-breaks on screen and in the printout, the result was, quite frankly, a mess, making it difficult to read. This meant that it lay untouched for years (decades, in fact).

From time to time I tried to discover what plans the Institute might have for publishing Zaira’s translations of the remaining Gospels (plus the “Life of Jesus”), but none has seen the light of day. Direct contact with the Institute, by then based in Moscow, was re-established when I met its representative Natasha Manzienko in Sukhum in around 2013. Abkhazian writer Mushni Lasuria (Lashwria) had privately published his Abkhaz translation (again from Russian) of the entire New Testament in 2004, and the Institute was interested in publishing it under their rubric. But they wanted someone to check the translation against the original Greek text. Since my degree from Cambridge was in Classics, I agreed to review the translation, but only of the Gospels. For this purpose, the Institute provided me with a PC-laptop carrying special SIL-developed software to enable me to access Mushni’s translation and enter any comments/adjustments/corrections alongside relevant words/lines/passages, all of which could be seen immediately by any member of the group licensed to access work on the Abkhaz text. And so, I decided at this point to copy Zaira’s Gospel-translations onto our Apple Mac and then simultaneously to edit BOTH versions against the Greek text, Mushni’s via the ‘Paratext’ programme on the PC, Zaira’s on the Mac. Once this task was accomplished, I decided that I could not leave the Children’s Bible manuscript to go on gathering dust and so undertook to type up that material on the Mac as well. The proofing of the resulting 144 pages is now finally finished.

In 2003 a courier brought to me in England as a gift from Abkhazia a copy of the Abiblia Axwych’kwa Rzy ‘Bible for Children’, translated by T’. ArySH-pha [T. Arshba] and Gw. Kw’yts’nia-pha [Gunda Kvitsinia] and published in 2001 by the Stratofil publishing-house on behalf of the Sukhum-Abkhazia Eparchy. I thought it would be useful to have this alternative work open at all times for comparative purposes, and it is indeed fascinating to see how different translators approach what is substantially, but, as it turned out, by no means entirely, the same Russian source.

There exists a third, briefer Bible designed for children (Sara Rapxjatw’i Sbiblia, asaxjakwa atsny ‘My First Bible, with the accompaniment of pictures’, produced for the International Bible Society by Kenneth N. Taylor in 2001). We possess this volume but have never made use of it and know nothing of Kenneth Taylor.

George Hewitt

Doncaster, England

28 December 2020

The full text in PDF can be downloaded by clicking here


See also:
The Lord’s Prayer in Abkhaz: A Comparison of Three Published Versions

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