Belief Beat

I’m attending the Religion Newswriters Association conference in Denver, and yesterday’s sessions focused on Bible translations. (For quick notes from the conference, check out the Twitter feed from the convention — #rna2010.)

The news hook: Next year will be the 400th anniversary of the best-selling King James Version. Also, the iPad, Twitter and other new-fangled technology have revolutionized the way people read the Bible. Some interesting things I learned:

    • More than 90 percent of American households have a Bible (this includes all Catholic, Protestant, Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon versions, plus the Torah for Jews). Of those households, the average number is three per home.
    • Tricky thing about translating the Bible (it’s currently printed in more than 2,500 languages) is whether to focus on literal word-for-word translations, or getting the general meaning across. For example, some Asian languages have honorifics, so do you use the “king” or “friend” reference for Jesus? And in languages that don’t have a generic word for “fish,” what kind of fish did the disciples catch?
    • Words matter differently today — there’s a big difference between describing someone as a “young woman” and a “virgin” in modern languages. And some translators now interpret with an eye on gender inclusion, using words like “people” and “humanity” instead of what used to be translated as “men,” and “kin” instead of “brothers.”
    • Even within the same language, slang and evolving meanings require updates with every generation. For example, phrases like “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks,” and words like “thong” and “ankle chains” wouldn’t be understood today as their original meaning.


And, from the “Bible on Steroids” presentation, some bullet points on the increasingly popular use of Twitter to communicate Bible verses, which has shot up from 2,000 a day in April 2009 to 11,000 a day in February 2010:

    • Miley Cyrus was the #1 recipient of Bible tweets, mostly encouraging her to keep her life in order (her account is no longer active, by the way), followed by President Obama.
    • Most retweeted Bible tweeters are @RevRunWisdom, @RickWarren and @JohnPiper.
    • Not surprisingly, the majority of Bible-related tweets in the world come from the U.S., specifically the Bible Belt/Southern region.
    • The most tweeted Bible verse is Jeremiah 29:11, followed by Philippians 4:13.

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