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After 25 Years, Bible Translation into Mayan Language Completed

A massive, multi-decade project of translating the entire Bible into the Mayan language of Tzotzil has finally been completed, and was commemorated with a Mass celebrated in that language in the state of Chiapas, Mexico.

Fifty-nine communities of the municipality of Los Altos participated in the translating work, in a project that lasted 25 years from start to finish. The new translation joins the 531 languages boasting a full translation of the Bible (as of October 2014) and the 2,883 total languages with at least some portion of the Bible translated.

The commemorative two-hour Mass, celebrated in Tzotzil, was presided over by the bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Enrique Diaz Diaz, and was attended by the bishop of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, and many missionaries who work within the indigenous communities of the state.

Tzotzil is a language that comes down from the Mayans and is mostly spoken in the highlands of Chiapas, between the villages of Tzotzil ethnicity. According to the last census, the number of people who speak the ancient indigenous language amounts to 350,000-400,000.

This latest translation joins the train of translations produced by missionaries down the ages to make the Bible accessible to people ignorant of the original languages of the text.

September 30 marked the celebration of the “International Translation Day” to commemorate the feast of St. Jerome, who was the first to translate the Bible from Hebrew to Latin. In 382 AD, Pope Damasus commissioned Jerome to produce a definitive Latin translation, which Jerome did in his monastery at Bethlehem. His Latin “Vulgate” version of the Bible came to dominate the Western Christian world until the advent of the printing press and the Protestant reformation.

It was Jerome who coined the famous adage “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

In the 9th century, the Greek brothers Cyril and Methodius were sent from Constantinople to Moravia at royal request, and translated the Gospels and parts of the Old Testament into Slavonic, after having first invented the Cyrillic alphabet, named after the missionary and still in use today. In December 1980, Saint John Paul II proclaimed Saints Cyril and Methodius co-Patrons of Europe.

The first full English translations of the Old and New Testament were produced by John Wycliffe and his followers in the late 14th century. Two-and-a half centuries later, a team of forty-seven scholars cooperated on the formulation of the King James Bible. The project lasted from 1604 to 1611, and sought to take the best from all earlier English translations.

Living Bibles International is currently engaged in popular-language translation projects in 110 languages.

In November, the new Tzotzil translation will be presented to the meeting of the Mexican bishops for ecclesiastical approval.

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