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10,000 pictures paint the Word March 23, 2023

Posted by Pete B in Uncategorized.
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exploring a few Bible comics

DC Comics launched their first Bible comic in 1942. Since then there have been a lot of attempts to retell some or even all of the Bible in multiple linked panels. Why bother?

The primary motivation is simple: to engage people (young and old) with the Bible. Bible comics aren’t meant to replace the Bible, but they may be the first way that some people actively choose to read the stories for themselves.

There are a lot of children in the world and they do seem to like comics and picture books. Adults of all ages seem to like them too but as the stories and artwork get more complex the term Graphic Novels is used to define what scholars apparently like to call “sequential art”.

Chapter 23 of the Oxford Handbook on the Bible in America is called “The Bible and Graphic Novels and Comic Books“. Written by Dr Andrew T Coates it is freely available on Academia and has much to inform (but contains no pictures).

Meanwhile you can take a look at some of the comics and graphic novels that have been produced over the years.

DC Comics produced just a two issues of Picture Stories from the Bible before comic book pioneer Maxwell Gaines left to form EC Comics. You can read more about Max on Wikipedia or browse through the comics themselves via the internet archive (free loan for an hour at a time)

Also pictured above is cover from Jesus as depicted by Al Hartley and published by Spire Christian Comics in 1979.

Somewhat more contemporary is the 2019, Lion Kids Bible Comic, billed as “The Beano meets the Bible. Over 60 stories in comic strip style, from artists who brought us the Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep cartoon strips”, and now accompanied by the all new Lion Kids Bible Comic Activity Book.

At the older target market the Action Bible is still quite popular and other new contenders include Kingstone Bible bringing a total of “2,000 pages in three volumes with over 10,000 full-color art panels”. Kingstone has a vision for seeing their work translated widely. So far they have content available in about 60 languages and counting.

As far as I can tell the most widely translated Bible comic is the Jesus Messiah Picturebook, first published in 1993 and now available in over 230 languages.

A friend gave his own son the Czech version of Iva Hoth and André LeBlanc’s 1978, Picture Bible when he was eight, and he read it until the cover fell off.

There are many of other Bible comics from different decades and different continents in many different styles, and also a wide range of children’s picture Bibles (not that pictures are just for children).

UK Christian Book store Eden.co.uk lists over 430 Children’s Bibles, of which almost 70 are “storybook Bibles“. Not all will appeal to every audience and despite the skill and enthusiasm of the artists it’s not quite true that pictures will be understood by everyone.

Anyone considering translating a comic or picture Bible, or using any artwork cross culturally would do well to check what read my colleague Michelle Petersen’s paper on avoiding visual miscommunication.

Perhaps the risks of miscommunication should be balanced with the risks of missed communication. It may be the pictures that grabbing the attention that allows the text to be read or heard. To adapt a well known phrase, “every picture sells a story”.

Is this a Real Bible: Gruffalo Leather March 13, 2023

Posted by Pete B in Uncategorized.
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I’ve posted a few times about products that might get people wondering “is this a real Bible?” What do you think? Is the book pictured a real Bible or not?

I’ve seen a few luxury Buffalo leather Bibles so just for fun I Googled “Gruffalo Leather Bible” and found this…

found on Abe Books

It definitely looks like an impressively bound Bible but actually this really is a leather bound edition of the hugely popular, much translated, and also much shorter children’s story, the Gruffalo. (No Gruffalos were harmed in the making of this book cover)

Given that The Gruffalo is only about 30 pages long in most editions the leather binding does seem to be a bit unnecessary. I also suspect that part of the appeal of the Gruffalo is the pictures and accompanying story not the binding. (Personally I thing the content is more important than the cover for Bible’s too, but I recognise that people do judge a book it’s cover and design is an issue that can impact engagement.)

The Gruffalo hasn’t been translated as much as the Bible but is now available in over 100 languages (105 by 2021). Translation can be less precise than with scripture as the following posts suggest.

and again…

#ThreeSillyBoatsGruff March 9, 2023

Posted by Pete B in Uncategorized.
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I asked ChatGPT: Rewrite the children’s story the three billy goats gruff but instead of goats trying to cross a bridge make it refugees in boats trying to cross the English channel and make the troll be a mean politician called Rishi. I helped shape the final version of the story a little more suggesting it let Rishi use the phrase “who’s splish splashing across my territorial waters” and that it be the brave citizens of the destination country who defeat the politician after the children in the third boat appeal to them on TikTok (I don’t use TikTok so blogged it and it posted here on twitter)

Once upon a time, there were three families fleeing from the war-torn country of Gruff. They knew that they had to leave their home to find safety and a better life, so they set off on a perilous journey to cross the English Channel to a new country.

The families had three small boats that were not meant for the dangerous crossing, but they had no other choice. As they paddled towards their destination, a politician named Rishi stood on the shore and demanded, “Who’s splish-splashing across my territorial waters?!”

The families were frightened, but they knew they had no other option but to try to cross the channel. Rishi stood in their way and declared, “I will not let you into my country! You are not welcome here!”

The first two families tried to reason with Rishi, but he refused to listen to their desperate pleas. The third family, consisting of three young children, came up with a clever plan.

They pulled out their phones and began filming a TikTok video, sharing their story and asking for help. The video went viral, and soon people all over the world were sharing it, using the hashtag #ThreeSillyBoatsGruff.

As the video gained traction, the citizens of the destination country realized the danger that the families were facing, and they rallied to their aid. They began to put pressure on Rishi to let the families enter the country, using the hashtag #RefugeesWelcome.

Eventually, Rishi relented and allowed the families to cross the channel and enter the country. The citizens of the destination country greeted them with open arms, providing them with food, shelter, and a new start in life.

The families were grateful for the kindness shown to them, and they never forgot the power of social media and the willingness of people to help those in need. They knew that they had faced many dangers and difficulties, but they were finally safe and able to start a new life in a new land.

…of course this still sounds like a fairy story but there are lots of good people who can make a difference #ThreeSillyBoatsGruff doesn’t need to trend but let’s make sure that #RefugeesWelcome defeats #StopTheBoats

Should you let chatGPT translate the bible into languages that it hasn’t been available in before? March 6, 2023

Posted by Pete B in Technology.

I typed in the question. Here is chatGPT’s response:

“As an AI language model, I am capable of translating text into different languages, including the Bible. However, it is important to note that the translation of the Bible is a sensitive and complex task that requires a deep understanding of the source text, as well as the culture and linguistic nuances of the target language.

While I can accurately translate words and phrases, I am not equipped to provide the necessary contextual and cultural understanding needed for an accurate and meaningful translation of the Bible. Therefore, it is recommended that any translations of the Bible be done by trained human translators who are well-versed in both the source and target languages, as well as the cultural and historical contexts of the Bible.

Additionally, it is important to respect the views and opinions of different religious groups and communities when it comes to translating religious texts like the Bible. Therefore, any decision to translate the Bible into a new language should be made with careful consideration and consultation with the relevant religious authorities and communities.”

I was impressed and encouraged that the machine generated text implied that the AI knows it’s limits (for now). I then noticed that my WordPress blog software now includes an option to add AI generated paragraphs based on what has already been said. Here’s what it suggested

“This is to ensure that the translation is accurate and that the new version will be accepted by the relevant communities.

Even so, it can be argued that AI-driven translations of the Bible holds immense potential for those who are unable to access the Scriptures in their native language. It may also contribute to increased dialogue and understanding between different communities and cultures. As such, there is an argument to be made that it is worth exploring the potential of AI-driven translations of the Bible- particularly if those translations are accurate and are made with the proper consultation of religious authorities and the relevant communities.”

And so back to me again. (and I should add that I’m the bald one on the right). I agree that it is definitely worth exploring how AI can help in many areas of life, though I’d prefer the idea of AI-assisted rather than AI-driven. For decades now different computer tools have helped in various processes of linguistic analysis, Bible translation, typesetting, and distribution. (see https://software.sil.org/ for many of these developments)

The tools and technology help with some elements but don’t promise to always get things right and are not a replacement for “the proper consultation of religious authorities and the relevant communities”. Alongside tools and technology, there remains a need for time, tenacity, and tea …building relationships, trust, and understanding between real people. The goal is not to get apps containing translated text into new phones, but to get transforming words into people’s hearts.

Scripture Engagement: The Parable of the Three Billy Goats Gruff March 2, 2023

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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You may be familiar with the much translated and frequently retold story of “De tre Bukkene Bruse, som skulde gaa til Sæters og gjøre seg fede” (which according to the British Library roughly translates as “The three Billy-Goats Gruff who were going to mountain pastures to fatten themselves up”), but you might not have thought about it’s relevance to the work of Bible Translation and Scripture Engagement.

Most people I know have never read the tale in the original Norwegian, and, as it’s quite a short story are more familiar with picture book versions that are read to or by small children who rarely research it’s history. Wikipedia summarises the set up for the story as follows:

The story introduces three Billy goats (male goats), sometimes identified as a youngster, father and grandfather, but more often described as brothers. In the story, there is almost no grass left for them to eat near where they live, so they must cross a river to get to “sæter” (a meadow) or hillside on the other side of a stream to eat and fatten themselves up. They must first cross a wooden bridge, under which lives a fearsome and hideous troll, who is so territorial that he eats anyone who tries to cross the bridge.


You may know the rest and if not you can read an early translation on the Internet Archive from “A selection from the Norse tales for the use of children” by Sir George Webbe Dasent, (1817-1896)

text and illustration from 19th century version of the Three Billy Goats Gruff

So what – you have possibly been wondering for a while – does this have to do with Bible translation and Scripture Engagement?

A few thoughts:

Well constructed bridges are useful. But a nicer bridge won’t be used unless there is motivation to cross it is greater than the reasons not to.

The story features three goats, one goal, a bridge, and an obstacle (in this case a troll). The bridge is a good metaphor for translation whether it is of a folk story or a religious text, and perhaps of a desire to move from one metaphorical place to another. The goats might take an interest in the bridge and cross it just because it’s there, but presented with the challenge of being eaten by a troll, many goats would think again.

The goats are driven to action by a dissatisfaction with their side of the river and a view of greener grass on the other side. What they really want is a GPS (Goat Pasture Search) that can avoid Trolls.

In the same way people might read or listen to the Bible simply because it is there, or because they perceive some benefit of doing so, but if there is an obstacle then they are likely to need a little more motivation. The book Translating the Bible Into Action uses a metaphor of bridges and barriers as to how and why people use the Bible. EMDC.Guide uses the metaphor of a journey leading people through detailed discussion of Eight Conditions necessary for Scripture Engagement (developed more deeply in a 160 hour introductory university course I took twelve years ago and in the MA I studied later).

I’ve recently adapted these Eight Conditions into my background graphic for Zoom calls about Scripture Engagement but am also learning not to use Zoom’s fun new avatar feature with people who don’t know me yet.

Understanding the potential challenges of Scripture Engagement is useful but also a more than a little daunting. Translation teams need to be sure for themselves that the rewards on the other side are worth it. Likewise ordinary readers or hearers of scripture need to know that engaging with the Bible is worth the effort.

The story of the three Billy Goats doesn’t go into a huge amount of detail about the design of the bridge, or about grass on the other side (but it is a very short story). On the subject of motivation I wrote four posts exploring reasons people might read or listen to the Bible, and promised some more.

Language Death, Revival …and Parrots? February 20, 2023

Posted by Pete B in Language revitalisation.
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Sometime when the last speaker of a language dies, the language dies with them. Sometimes living fragments live on in shared vocabulary and sometimes written records or audio recording remain. In an age where we see value in slowing or even reversing language loss, there may even be attempts to begin teaching the language again.

When the last of the Maypuré people were killed in 1799 by a neighboring tribe, fragments of their language lived on in the brains and voices of their pet parrots.

These were documented by German naturalist Alexander Von Humboldt, who carefully listened to the parrots and to the best of his ability wrote down all he could of what they said phonetically. Skip forward almost two hundred years to 1997 and something else interesting happened – artist Rachel Berwick, to the best of her ability, took those transcriptions, taught them to a couple of parrots and made an art installation. This made a few news stories at the time but what happened next?

Well to parrot Berwicks own words:

While it was first exhibited in 1997, may-por-é has continued to evolve as I have worked with additional parrots, one pair in Turkey for the Istanbul Biennial in 2001, and another pair in Brazil for the Mercosul Bienal de Porto Alegre in 2004 and finally, Innsbruck, Austria in 2008 for the exhibition “Voice and Void.” For these venues younger parrots learned from my first two parrots. I trained them largely through the use of recordings of my birds and “Berlitz” tapes for lessons. Volunteers who were on site conducted lessons with the young birds and additional lessons were transmitted via the Internet. There are now a total of eight Maypuré speaking parrots worldwide.


The revival of the Maypuré language is definitely limited, and as far as I can tell from some admittedly limited googling there are no known descendants of the actual tribe alive let alone relearning the language.

In many other instances of language death the process has been more gradual but of over 300 languages that are classified as ‘nearly extinct’ almost 40 are (or were) down to the last one or two known fluent speakers in 2022.

Each year there are news stories of the death of the last know speaker and updates to a Wikipedia List of languages by time of extinction. For 2022 it currently lists just two but there may be more:

DateLanguageLanguage familyRegionTerminal speaker
5 October 2022Mednyj AleutMixed AleutRussianCommander Islands, RussiaGennady Yakovlev[1]
16 February 2022YahganIsolatedMagallanes, ChileCristina Calderón[2]

The stories of many of these last speakers are inspirational and today though videos, recordings, and living memory their words live on. By the time a language is almost dead, the chances of reviving it are slim, but not impossible. Stories on language death and language revitalisation will continue to appear on this blog and on wikipedia pages and news sites around the world.

You might even see a few hit the headlines as part of International Mother Language Day each year on Feb 21st.

I hope to follow up with a few more stories of how technology, strategies and above all, people are making a difference.

2023 starting the year well with online Bibles January 1, 2023

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Scripture Engagement, Statistics.
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Happy New Year! …and no, the balloons aren’t wrong. I’m celebrating the fact that at the start of the year there are online Bibles, New Testaments, or portions of scripture available via Bible apps in at least 2,322 languages. (there may be a few I don’t know about plus a couple harder to classify)

  • YouVersion provides 2,867 versions in 1,913 languages, many with audio and video as well as text.
  • Faith Comes by Hearing provided audio scriptures in 1,740 languages by the end of Dec. (figures released early 2023. They also provide text and video for many of these and for a few they have text but no audio yet)
  • SIL’s Scripture App Builder isn’t a single app but rather a tool for creating scripture apps and so far they have been created in at least 1536 languages.

In some languages scripture is available on only one app, in others there is a choice and so between them, according to my best attempts at combining the lists scripture is available in 2,322 languages via these platforms and there are others online in other ways too. ScriptureEarth.org and Find.bible are two sites that try and list all the available languages and versions. On this blog I don’t try and list everything but I do point to these and other sites and encourage you to do so too.

You might only speak one or two languages languages or you may speak several. Digital Bibles in (all) the language(s) you speak may have been on your phone for several years. They might only have been added in the last 12 months or they might be still to be added, or even translated.

2023 is a year you can celebrate that more Bibles, in more languages, will be available to more people, as each platform increases its content and its reach. You can help too, through your own work in Bible translation and Scripture Engagement (several colleagues read this stuff); through praying for, encouraging and financially supporting people and organisations; and through the simple practice of telling or showing people where and how to access the Bible in their languages on their phones.

…oh and don’t forget to read/listen to/watch the Bible throughout this year and let it speak to you. Just like the print versions, Bible apps are much more useful when opened regularly.

“I will put my law in their phones and write it on their screens.”

Jer 31:33 (Altered Version) …not as good as the original

“I have hidden your word in my phone
that I might look at if I remember” 

Ps 119:11 (Altered Version) …not as good as the original

More Bits of the Bible in English dialects …and what to call this stuff December 26, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Dialect versions, Scripture Engagement.
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Yo’n often wondther’t, aw darsay, why wi durn’t o talk th’ same lingo! Well! aw lippen
ther are various explanations, an’ ‘ere’s one fro’ th’ owd book, as sarves as a soart o’
link between Noah’s new start an’ th’ foundin’ o’ th’ Jewish nation.

Brooks, Rev. Joseph Barlow, Th’ Amazin’ Stories o’ th’ Bible (i’ th’ Lankisher Dialect) (1937)

There are over 7000 languages in the world, and many of those consist of a variety of dialects that are also very much part of people’s local identity. Samples of text from Th’ Amazin’ Stories o’ th’ Bible are available here as part of a collection called the Salamanca Corpus but neither these nor the 1938 edition of Th’ Good News accordin’ to Mark : Arrang’t an’ thranscrib’t fer Northerners, i’ th’ Lankisher appear to be available in print or in copies circulating in used bookshops.

I’ve recently blogged about the Gospels in Scouse, which was endorsed by the (then) bishop of Liverpool, the Cockney and Aussie Bibles, endorsed by the (then) Archbishop of Canterbury, the (then) Archbishop of Sydney and the (then) deputy prime minister of Australia.

One version that I’d heard of but not looked at was Clarence Jordan’s Cotton patch gospel which in a later imprint included an introduction from the former president Jimmy Carter. Clarence Jordon’s, Cotton Patch Version was billed as “a modern translation with a Southern accent, fervent, earthy, rich in humor.” and is infamous for not only for the style of language in his retelling but for also substituting the place names to southern USA locations, and switching the names of the a few people such as the twelve disciples: Rock, Jack, Jim, Andy, Phil, Tom, Bart, Matt, Jim Alston, Simon the Rebel, and Joe Jameson.

The three other titles pictured above don’t have such prestigious endorsements. Dew Yew Lissen Hare by Colin Riches uses Norfolk dialect, Andrew Elliott’s Geordie Bible is in the local dialect of Tyneside, and for those readers of this blog who are unfamiliar with the Black Country of Kate Fletcher’s 1986 dialect work, it refers to coal rather than ethnicity and an area of the UK’s West Midlands covering Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall. I also previously blogged about an older 1968 Black Country Nativity and about “Gods Brainwave: The Story of Jesus doing the job his old dad sent him to do” by Bernard Miles a retelling of the gospel in the language of the Chiltern Hills, originally commissioned for radio by the BBC’s Religious Broadcasting department.

One characteristic of the various ‘retellings’ of Bible stories in English dialects that I’ve encountered is that they would make many a number of people, especially Bible translation consultants, nervous about referring to them as translations.

Fortunately “ A guide to Bible Translation: People, Languages, and Topics“, published by UBS in 2019 provides another term used by scholars for these works: “Adaptive retellings”. The article on this is an edited version of an earlier article by SIL’s Freddy Boswell, “Classifying cotton patch version and similar renderings as adaptive retelling rather than translation

Each retelling seems to be full of anachronisms, often add unnecessary detail an dialogue, and are as Boswell notes “Lexically, very expressive”. Are they meant to be taken seriously? Yes and no. They are meant to be fun but also engage people who wouldn’t necessarily read much if any of the “proper” translations but are intended to set the stage for something deeper.

There is a lot to consider (hence a nice long academic article) but in point 11 of his conclusions Boswell stated “Perhaps it goes without saying, but I will state the obvious: I believe the Adaptive Retelling approach definitely qualifies as a legitimate, useful, and potentially highly successful entry point for delivering God’s Word to a language group”.

It’s the day after Christmas as I write this blog and I’m not sending any work emails until the new year, but I do look forward to asking a few colleagues what they think of this approach and in one contexts they consider it might be appropriate.

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