Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Austrian Translator

Red Baron had read about pre-Luther translations of the Bible into German before, but Der Spiegel recently devoted an article to an Austrian Translator as early as the early 14th century. His name and origin are not known, but he is assumed to be an Austrian because most of his handwritings were found in an Austrian monastery. The man describes himself as an unconsecrated layman, neither being ordained as a preacher nor educated at a university.

Indeed Luther was not the first who translated the Bible into German. The earliest translation so far is dated eleven years after Gutenberg had finished his printing of the Latin Bible. Johannes Mentelin had founded a printed house in Strasburg around 1460 and published a German translation of the Bible in 1466. Fearing of being accused of heresy Mentelin produced a word by word translation of the Latin Vulgate thus lacking Luther’s Sprachgewalt (powerful eloquence). Subsequently and contrary to the Luther Bible Mentelin’s translation did not become “popular” and was a flop.

Back to the “Austrian Translator” of the Bible. His translated texts are handwritten and in fluent, beautiful German. Some scientists suspect that his translation, which circulated in many manuscripts until the 15th century, was "decisive for pre-Lutheran German Bibles". And for Luther too?

Beautifully illustrated handwritten copy of the "Austrian translator’s" text.
Fitting to the season a nativity scene and the circumcision of Jesus (©Der Spiegel).
Here is an example of the “Austrian translation”. “Unser herre Ihesus Cristus sey seinr muter, der rainen magd Marien des ersten erschienen” (Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to his mother, the Holy Virgin Mary, first) although in St. John 20, 11-18 it is Mary Magdalene who sees Jesus after his resurection first. Indeed, for the “Austrian Translator” frankly added, “Wie aber die heyligen evangelisten nicht schreybent” (What the holy evangelists do not write).

Adding text to make a Bible translation more popular? A deadly sin for Luther whose leitmotif was  „sola scriptura!“ That meant forgetting the Latin Vulgate and going back "ad fontes", i.e., to the sources as there are the original texts in Greek and Hebrew.

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