Do other languages have an equivalent of the King James Bible?
September 15, 2011 2:34 AM   Subscribe

Do other languages have an equivalent of the King James Bible?

That is: a poetic, archaic, widespread translation that's commonly used in quotations? Or does no one translation predominate? Do they quote the Bible in modern or archaic language?
posted by TheophileEscargot to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
In Dutch, there's the Statenvertaling, which was translated from Hebrew/Greek in the 1600s.
posted by neushoorn at 2:41 AM on September 15, 2011

Agricola's translation of the new testament plays this role in Finnish.
posted by Wylla at 3:29 AM on September 15, 2011

I should clarify - it plays some of the KJT's role in Finnish - that is, as the foundation for literature in the language today, as it's a very early Finnish written text. Mostly, though, when you see quotations from the bible in Finnish publications, they're from modern translations (A boon to non-native language learners like me, who find the older text very very challenging to make sense of!).
posted by Wylla at 3:36 AM on September 15, 2011

I understand that in German, the Luther Bible serves a similar function to KJV in English.

In Icelandic, no translation has such exalted status. There are some famous bible translation, especially Guðbrandsbiblía from the late 16th Century, but no one uses it in their daily faith (as far as I know).
posted by Kattullus at 4:21 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

In Japanese, most of those old, frequently recycled quotations are from the Chinese (especially the Confucian) classics (but pronounced Japanese style).
posted by No-sword at 4:26 AM on September 15, 2011

The standard Spanish version is the Reina Valera Bible (Queen Valerie Bible.)

In Spanish, like English, there are several other translations. But the Queen Valerie Bible is the standard - and is often compared to the King James Bible.
posted by Flood at 4:51 AM on September 15, 2011

In Spanish, that version would be the Reina-Valera version, which is based on a 1569 translation by Casiodoro de Reina and its 1602 revision by Cipriano de Valera. That version has been repeatedly revised (perhaps most importantly in 1960, which I believe may be the version that most commonly circulates in Latin America), but it's still considered the "Reina-Valera" bible. These revisions have, for the most part, not dramatically altered the basic, and archaic, grammar/syntax/structural form of the older Reina-Valera text.

Interestingly, this is a "Protestant" Bible, despite the dominance of the Catholic Church among Spanish-speakers. (This is, of course, true of the King James version as well). Canonical Catholic translations are few and far between, with most Spanish Catholics today turning to relatively recent translations from the middle of the 20th century.
posted by drlith at 4:54 AM on September 15, 2011

I can't really speak to quoting the Luther Bible, as I don't see the Bible quoted that often in any language, though Lutherans in Germany are still using it, albeit in a revised version.

The Luther Bible is also a big deal for its impact on the history of the German language and Luther's efforts to produce a translation readable by speakers of the myriad of German dialects, which helped standardise German somewhat.

I'm not sure what Catholics in Germany use. Also, it's really weird to be typing the Luther Bible rather than Lutherbibel.
posted by hoyland at 4:57 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Arabic actually has an even stronger form of this, because Islam views translations as theologically problematic, i.e. versions of the Quran in other languages are considered "interpretations," not "translations." This has led to pretty much every literate Arabic-speaker becoming pretty familiar with seventh-century Arabic.

As a result, Arabic has remained remarkably static for most of the last thirteen-hundred years, at least when compared to a language like English, where even something as recent as the KJV is viewed as being pretty archaic and Middle English, dating from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, being almost entirely incomprehensible to a modern English speaker. By comparison, so-called "Literary Arabic" or "Classical Arabic," the language of the Quran, is still a viable language or language subset, existing alongside Modern Standard Arabic and viewed by most Arabic-speakers as being a different register of the same language.
posted by valkyryn at 5:43 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

A lot of proselytizing (by Christian missionaries) done in East Africa used translations of the King James Bible provided by the International Bible Society. Christianity wasn't a big force in Kenya and Tanzania (the countries I know most about) until it was targeted by missionaries. I've read sections of the Bible in both "Zanzibar Swahili," "Mombasa Swahili," and modern standard Swahili. There are definitely differences in word choice and diction across all of these. Those translations have changed over the years, but I think one of the biggest impacts of the introduction of the Bible by missionaries is the fact that Swahili is now written using Latin characters. Because the Swahili coast (from Somalia on down through bits of Malawi) was originally colonized by the Omani empire, there is a strong Islamic heritage throughout coastal East Africa. Swahili was originally written with Arabic characters, and was expressly connected Islamic poetry. There were also regional differences in its spoken and written form all along the Swahili But, when the Germans and the British showed up with their missions, they standardized Swahili, codified it in Latin characters, and translated Bibles into it.

I don't know much about it, but if you're interested in a more "organic" African Biblical tradition, check out Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity. Ethiopian Christianity developed sort of in a vacuum, has all sorts of interesting components, and some really beautiful artwork. And I would suspect that the form the Bible takes there has really helped shape the development of Ethiopian culture.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:23 AM on September 15, 2011

In Welsh, William Morgan's 1588 translation.
posted by sianifach at 6:25 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

In Italian, yes, but it's Dante's Inferno
posted by bq at 6:44 AM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

In Greek the Septuagint translation of the OT and the original NT are still used in church. People usually get taught in modern Greek first, but the juicy parts are usually quoted from the aforementioned texts.

They might not be archaic translations, but the majority of Greeks have read the translation of the Odyssey and the Iliad by I. Kakrides in school. A lot of quotes and expressions by the three tragedians, philosophers et al. that are used in everyday speech are in the original (or in a mixed form).
posted by ersatz at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2011

Jan Hus, a fifteenth-century religious reformer in the Czech lands, introduced a lot of the current practices in written Czech such as the háček ("little hook": ie: č, ř, š), partly to ease translation of the Bible and religious-philosophical treatises into Czech.
posted by dhens at 12:46 PM on September 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all! Good answers. Interesting that so many other languages do seem to have an equivalent.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:34 AM on September 16, 2011

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