Monday 27 April 2020

The changing texts of religious meditation

Seeking calm for the soul
Meditating on Psalm 23, because I was inspired and directed to look at the context of the first part of verse 3, ‘He restoreth my soul:’, my quest for calmness and peace brought me to a newer understanding of this Psalm along with a much needed peace. [Psalm 23 – BibleHub – KJV]
I would normally start my Bible study with the King James Version (KJV) and then access other translations as the Amplified Bible (AMP), The Message (MSG), New Living Translation (NLT) and the New King James Version (NKJV). I addressed the differences in the Bible translations in a blog I wrote in 2013.
Tongues are changing
Then, much as English is my mother tongue, Yorùbá, spoken in southwestern Nigeria is my mother’s tongue. I learnt Yorùbá under duress because my mother insisted on my reading the Psalms in Yorùbá rather than in English, though I did my Anglican confirmation study in English.
I then happened upon the Yoruba Contemporary Bible Copyright © 2009, 2017 by Biblica, Inc.® - BÍBÉLÌ MÍMỌ́ YORÙBÁ ÒDE ÒNÍ (BYO) on the Bible Gateway website, which jumped directly to my reference text of Psalm 23.
I did not realise it was a different Yorùbá translation until I read the beginning of the first verse, "The Lord is my shepherd..." which now, had a literal translation of "The Lord is the shepherd and I am His sheep."
"Olúwa ni Olù́ èmi àgùntàn rẹ̀"(BYO)
For I remember my traditional Yorùbá Bible writing that as, "Olúwa li Olù́-àgùntàn mi."
I was in for a treat, a revelatory one at that.
It was like the Amplified Yorùbá version, and read quite differently, even more expository, somewhat abandoning the classic Yorùbá grammar for an easily accessible vernacular.
Old Bible
I just found an old Yorùbá Bible by the Bible Society of Nigeria © 1960 and the differences in the text are starker than I realised. The accent diacritical marks are only applied for context and not on every word. ‘Li’ is used rather than ‘Ni’ for the English ‘Is’. My observations are not exhaustive, just a point of interest.
Comparing the ancient to the modern
Psalms in the old Yorùbá Bible was Orin Dáfídì which translates to Songs of David, but the BYO has not attempted to translate the name of the book at all but left it as Saamu without the diacritical marks. Taking liberties, one would think, saying an English word with a Yorùbá accent and all its inflexions, as we require a vowel sound ending except for the usually nasalised or gritting 'n'. 
I have nothing against modernising religious instruction for easy consumption and lax grammar rules, it just sometimes makes it quite unfamiliar to those of us brought up on the traditional text. It's the same thing when in the Anglican Church, the Apostle's Creed I was confirmed with does not read like the Nicene Creed of the current liturgy and when saying The Lord's Prayer, 'Thy kingdom come' could attract disapproving looks in church, as I might be reciting an 17th Century version when the rest of the church is living in the 20th Century.
In all, it is quite fascinating how so much more insight can be gained from meditating on Psalm 23 that I have probably repetitively recited a million times and yet, it yields new meaning.

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