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Old Testament translation completes Inuktitut Bible

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 23, 2012

After 34 years, Bishop Benjamin Arreak and a team of Canadian Bible Society translators, including Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk, have completed the project of a lifetime: translating the Old Testament to make a complete Bible in Inuktitut.

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Translators Canon Jonas Allooloo, left, Bishop Benjamin Arreak, Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk, and Rev. Joshua Arreak work on the Inuktitut translation of the Bible in this undated photo. - photo courtesy of Sue Careless/Canadian Bible Society

"Everywhere we go, people are always asking when we will have a whole Bible in our language," Arreak said. "Our people are willing to pay whatever the cost for the complete Bible. They can not wait to have one."

The complete Inuit Bible will be dedicated and released when St. Jude's Cathedral reopens in Iqaluit June 3.

Based on the reaction to the 1991 release of the New Testament in Inuktitut, now in its fifth edition, he believes it will be hard to draw readers' attention away from the complete Bible.

"Many of them will read and read until their eyes are tired, and I believe that some of them may not be able to put it down," he said. "Hopefully it will open up their eyes to new insight and inspiration."

The Inuktitut Bible marks the first time an entire translation of the Bible was done by first-language speakers instead of by missionaries. The Canadian Bible Society partnered with the Anglican Church to do the translation, which is the first full indigenous language Bible translation the society has done.

Arreak and three other Inuit translators joined the team in 1978, working on the translation for as much time as three months a year.

"The Bible is a direct message from God," he said, describing Bible translation as a way to give people the spiritual food they need in a digestible form. "The Bible is the food of our soul and our spirit."

The Bible may have a side-benefit of improving literacy among Inuit, according to Hart Wiens, the society's director of scripture translations, who has been working with the team since 1993.

"Experience has shown that the Bible is one of the most important, if not the most important, factor in language development and maintenance," Wiens said. "The Bible is also the most important factor in the spread of literacy in the world as the desire to read the Scriptures motivates people to learn to read."

Modern technology will also help spread the message held in the Scriptures.

"I expect that the Inuit Christian community will be looking for additional biblical material, such as a study Bible, audio recordings of the Bible and digital delivery of the Bible through media such as smart phones and tablets," he said. "CBS intends to remain connected with the community and respond to their requests for additional support as we are able."

Most importantly, he said, the Old Testament will open a world of understanding to monolingual Inuktitut speakers who have only read the New Testament.

"To have a Old Testament will help to understand better how God has dealings with humanity and His chosen people in the Old Testament," Arreak said. "That can help people understand better the New Testament message of the Gospel and God's redemption plan and the future of God's people."

A price for the Inuit Bible has not been revealed, but it will be available online at the Canadian Bible Society website after the St. Jude's Cathedral opening June 3.

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