Many translators of the Old Testament, especially from the developing world, have never visited the Holy Land and do not use the original Hebrew texts.

But a new program, launched in 1994, seeks to give these translators intensive training in the language of the Bible in the land of the Bible.

The Home for Bible Translators is tucked neatly into a hillside outside Jerusalem. This brainchild of scholars Halvor and Mirja Ronning serves as an oasis for visiting Bible translators from the developing world. Mirja Ronning, herself a teacher of biblical Hebrew, says, "The students from Africa and Asia [have] felt completely out of place. The language, the food, everything was so new. It was making it very hard for them."

So the Ronnings were inspired to open a comfortably furnished ten-bedroom complex to make any student studying the original text of the Old Testament feel welcome. "Most translators never even work from the Hebrew," Mirja Ronning says. "They are translating from a translation."

The Ronnings note that there are more than 2,000 languages with translations from the Greek New Testament, but only 350 from Hebrew. "It's a battle in attitude," Mirja Ronning says. "If I were to translate Dostoevsky into English from a French translation, people would say that's absurd. Why don't we show the same respect for the Bible that we do for Dostoevsky?"

Many of the new Bible translations today are done with extensive assistance from mother-tongue speakers of the language. Professional linguists, often under Bible Society sponsorship, help with techniques, training, and supervision. Yet it is local believers doing much of the initial translation work.

"A direct translation is like seeing a Michelangelo with the paint professionally cleaned," ...

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