THE entire Bible has been translated into Kurdish for the first time, opening up the scriptures to hundreds of thousands of believers who live in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The task has taken 28 years: the first translators began work in 1989. Now, collaboration between missionaries working for the Church Mission Society (CMS) and Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society), has produced a complete Old and New Testament in Sorani, a central Kurdish dialect spoken mostly by the 5.5 million people living in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, and also in north-west Iran.
Joel Hammond and his wife, Ruth, worked for CMS to complete the translation over the past eight years. “It has been a privilege to be a part of this project,” Mr Hammond said. “Kurds have known healings, dreams, and visions from Christ, but having the whole word of God available in written form will crystallise their faith and allow them to pass it on more effectively.”
Mr and Mrs Hammond, whose names have been changed for security reasons, said that they had already begun to hear back from Sorani-speaking Christians about how having the Bible in their mother tongue was transforming their lives.
Although it is difficult to know precise figures, the Kurdistan regional government estimates that about 300,000 Christians live within its borders. Since the emergence of Islamic State in recent years, many Iraqi Christians have fled to the relative safety of Kurdistan to escape persecution and terrorism.CMSCelebration: a cake specially baked to mark the publication of the new translation
The international director of CMS, Paul Thaxter, who recently returned from travelling to the region, said: “Trying to live as a Christian while being denied the chance to read the Bible in your own language is unimaginable. However, through the application and commitment of people like Joel and Ruth, and the team around them, millions of people will now have the ‘gift of life’ in their own hands.”
The Revd Timothy Ezat, a Church of England priest who was born and raised in Iraqi Kurdistan, said that reading the scriptures in Kurdish was almost impossible until recently. While the Bible was available in Arabic and some other Kurdish dialects, there were only a few Gospels and other fragments in Sorani, and even these were hard to get hold of. “It makes a huge difference to be able to read it for yourself and get in touch with these stories,” he said last week.
The translation would also mean a lot to Kurds, who are scattered across four nations, because for many years they were forbidden to speak their own languages, Mr Ezat said.
Even in Iraq, which was more tolerant than most places, Kurds had to learn Arabic if they wanted to go to university or pursue a career, he said.
The general director of public libraries in Iraqi Kurdistan has been given a copy of the translation. CMS said that he “welcomed its contribution to Kurdish culture and mutual understanding between the faiths of Kurdistan”.
As well as the printed Bible, the new translation is also available as an app for smartphones and other devices.