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Old Testament Workshop in Amata

Nyunmiti Burton
interviewed & interpreted by Paul Eckert

"I want to tell you about the first Old Testament Bible translation workshop that we've just had at Amata. I was really thrilled to be a part of it. We translated three passages from the Old Testament. One about Elijah (and the widow), and two Psalms: Psalm 8 and Psalm 3. Someone would do the first draft, and then the rest of us would make comments or suggestions to improve that. We'd discuss various renderings to come up with the best translation.  We would think about what language to use so it would be clear for our children. At first, we might put in some older words, but we had to think about our younger people and make sure that we only put in words that they would understand. We had to think hard about what words we wanted to use, and make sure that they were good and accurate words. As we worked like this, we really loved it - that we were doing this translation from God's Word. There was such joy in doing it. It was the first time that we were doing something like this."

"Paul Eckert, first off, was teaching us to think about our own language, Pitjantjatjara, in terms of 'nouns' and 'verbs', and things like that. And we did it by looking at a story of Elijah. And we saw that there were lots of different parts of this story,
different meanings. We learned that we shouldn't try to make our language fit the English word order, and we should make it sound like the sort of language we speak at home. The English is fine, but we've got to translate the meaning, in our own
language, Pitjantjatjara." "Tjunkiti (Peter Greenwood) also told us about the Old Testament and the different stories in it. It's a big book, a very big book, with five different types of stories: stories about the law, stories with song, stories of history, stories spoken by the prophets, and there's another one, a deep story, called 'philosophy'. When we heard this, we realised that, yes, the Old Testament does contain all of these kinds of stories. There are songs like what David sang, and what Miriam sang. We all know about the law, that God gave, the Ten Commandments, and lots of other laws too."

"There were visiting teachers, Carl, was one (pictured below). Carl is a Hebrew expert, he was teaching us about Hebrew. We learnt from Carl that Hebrew was the language that the Old Testament was first written down in. English was only translated much later from the Hebrew. The English stems from the Hebrew. And we in turn have seen God's Word in English, and are now translating it into our language, Pitjantjatjara. But Hebrew is the original language, in which God's Word was written down. English only came later. We're translating the English, putting it down in Pitjantjatjara, knowing that Hebrew is the original language. Carl has been telling us about this Hebrew language. We want our translation to be equivalent to the original Hebrew."

“Carl also taught us about checking. After we do the first draft we send it to others to look at, and come up with a second draft. And later on Carl comes to check our translation, comparing it with Hebrew to see if it’s correct, and give final approval. Carl will be checking our translation to make sure it’s a faithful translation of the Hebrew.”

“Another man, called Chuck, from AuSIL, he grew up in Mexico. And there, his father worked with a group, translating the New Testament into their own language. And then those people wanted the Old Testament as well, in their own language. So we learnt about this situation there in Mexico, he showed us pictures of his stories, and we learned something about their language and we saw that they too were translating the Old Testament into their language based on the Hebrew, just like we’re now doing into Pitjantjatjara, and they are doing it into Huichol. We also heard from Chuck that in this world there are many many languages - 7000, and that
God wants his Word to be heard in all of these languages.”

“Then Hannah, she was asking about how we could be working. It was on Wednesday afternoon we sat around outside, thinking about how we’re going to work together as a team. What sorts of things do we need? One of the things we thought of, is that we need a safe place, a room. We could have a photocopier, we could do e-mail and connect to the Internet on the computer. If we are able to get some place like this where we can do the work, then we might have a meeting and decide to get together on say, Wednesdays, to work on translating God’s Word. We’re hoping that when they extend the church there will be room for us to do that. In the meantime, we’re asking them to give us some room in the office, just one room. The school has their office for them to do their work in, and the council have an office to do their work in; we are writing this letter to ask government [council] so we can have an office to do our work in. We all signed that letter. We thought of lots of other good ideas too, about working together as a group.”

The Amata workshop was a great exercise in partnership. All involved in the Amata workshop were very thankful to David Curtis, the Flying Bible Man, for flying Carl Gross (Bible Society) and Chuck Grimes (AuSIL); thanks also to Sue Greenwood for catering so generously for all the workers. As CoordN8 goes to print, translators and support workers are participating in another workshop in Pukatja (Ernabella).