Friday, June 01, 2018

"What is a taranta?"

     "What is a taranta?" my Tanzanian friend asked me the other night. We were speaking in Swahili.
     "I don't know. Is it English or Swahili?" I replied. Swahili, he told me. I laughed, "Why do you think I might know it if you don't?"
     "Well, this radio preacher keeps using this word and I don't know what it means. Since you know more about the Bible than I do I thought you might know."
     I thought for a minute. Tanzanians often mix up R's and L's. Talanta? Ah, I clued in! "Is it from a parable of Jesus?" I asked. He said it was. Success! I explained that a 'talanta' was simply a measure of money - a lot of money - by the Jews in the Bible. And then we discussed the parable of the talents and what it meant.
     "Oh!" he said. "Now I understand. That makes more sense than what the radio preacher was trying to say. And I can explain it to others now too." My friend is a pastor of a small church.

To me this highlights two big challenges over here to Biblical understanding. One is good teaching. It's great to have radio preaching - Tanzanians listen to the radio a lot - but in this case it was confusing. Perhaps the preacher didn't have good teaching himself. I know missionaries here who are starting small Bible schools, and praise God, because this is a huge need. Though my friend and I discussed the difficulty in taking the time away from earning a wage or raising a crop to go to a Bible school, even if it was free.

A second challenge is good translation. Most Tanzanians are not going to be able to simply read the parable of the talents and know what a talent is. Over in America we underestimate the good teaching and preaching we've received, English resources available to us, and simply an inherited understanding of Biblical things from our culture. 

Translating the Bible in a way that communicates well is hard. I don't want to just use 'shillings' instead of 'talents', because Jesus wasn't Tanzanian (I mentioned this to my friend and he laughed); I need to be faithful to the original text. But I want to do something to help it communicate well. Maybe insert a short phrase of explanation, maybe a footnote (though most Tanzanians aren't familiar with those either), maybe a more generic word for a large sum of money. Or maybe in the end it just needs to be 'talanta' and we depend on preaching and teaching to expound. In any case, I welcome these challenges; they intrigue me. It's another reason I want to be a Bible translator. But it's a huge responsibility, and we need the Holy Spirit to guide us.

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