jump to navigation

Dialects aren’t daft – Jesus came down to earth December 16, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Dialect versions.

I’d already heard stories from the Bible retold in various English dialects but recently I not only found a few more, I also read the reason behind these often jokey, almost scandalous retellings.

I may post details of a few more over the Christmas break but before a brief retelling of the nativity here’s the introduction by the then bishop of Liverpool to the Gospels in Scouse:

We often read the Gospels through Churchy spectacles, putting a sort of Sunday dress on the words. This can mislead us into putting Jesus and His words into a separate compartment from everyday life. And it can hide the sharpness of His challenge to us. 

This sharpness frequently breaks through in the Gospels in Scouse; “Youse shud star actin as if youse knew de meanin uv de werd sorry,” says John the Baptist. You can hear the words ringing tune in Liverpool language and culture. “Yer norron lad,” says’ Jesus to the Devil out in the desert. “On yer way…make yer name walker.” 

If you start reading this for amusement, I reckon the Lord will be content enough; I have a feeling you may stay for something deeper. Sometimes there are flashes of real insight; “If you want to get into God’s House. don’t play knock and run at His front door. There’s so many as does that God’s liable to wait to see which knocker’s earnest.

David Shepperd, introduction to the Gospels in Scouse by Dick Williams and Frank Shaw

The Gospels in Scouse were first published in 1967 and revised ten years later. In addition to the print version it was also available on a long playing record. Sadly neither the record nor the text appear to be available digitally online so here is a sample from their adaptation of the nativity.

Jesus is born

Jesus wus born in a back yard in Beth’lem in Judea but wus the Save-yer uv the whole werld. His mother Murry was a virgin, cum from a good family. So did er husband Joseph who became Jesus’s foster father. When e was courtin Murry, in their home town of Naz’rith whur dey was very poor, (e being in the carpentry line in a small way), an Joseph eers ow she wus he was properly narked at the first. Den he gets a direck messidge fum God an he understands.

Murry, Joseph, de lot, wus all Jews, under Roman rule, like. An de Roman ruler says, through a certain puppit Jewish bigshor, dat Jew, like evry body else in de werld, must get dare names purron a big werld-wide list. To do did, days avter go back to de town dare famly come from in de first place. Der Murry an Joseph dis meant Beth’lem, where dare ancestor David used ter live. So off day went.

De town wus chock a block. The baby was due and they cudden even get in a likkle pub. So the baby was born in the back yard among the animals. But wise men and ordnry sheppids come to see him and day knew dis wus no ordinary baby.

As you may notice the retelling goes beyond what would be considered a translation I can just make out reference to some of the controversy on the sleeve notes to the LP (that is online at discogs.com/release/23584916-Rev-Dick-Williams-Frank-Shaw-The-Gospels-In-Scouse )

Since the book of the Gospels in Scouse first appeared, the Rev Dick Williams has been called Judas and – happily without adverse result – reported to his hierarchy. Yet many, of all ages and classes, in various countries, have praised it’s new approach … The controversy continues. You, hearing these extracts will make up your own mind. We believe it will prove and enlightening process approached in the right manner, even for non-Christians. When Jesus preached in Judea and Jeruslame, a provincial workingman it was uncouth Aramaic that he spoke and it was to ordinary people he appealed. Say Shaw and Williams, ‘This is our way of praying’. Will you join them in prayer? Will scouse give you spiritual nourishment?

Old copies of the Gospels in Scouse can still be found to purchase online as can a number of other dialect versions. Others lurk in attics, and archives or have been lost completely. One has recently been republished and billed as … A very down-to-earth ‘translation’ that brings scripture out of the pulpit and back onto the streets. But that’s for another post. Stay tuned.


No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: