The Dalmatin Bible—Rare but Not Forgotten
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN SLOVENIA
THE last of the barrels with their valuable contents arrived in Slovenia in the late 1500’s. For two years they had been in transport by various routes. To disguise their contents, the barrels had been labeled “playing cards” or “store supplies.” Concealed inside were leather-bound volumes of the first complete Bible in the Slovenian language.
The valuable consignment was the fulfillment of the dream of two dedicated men—Jurij Dalmatin and Primož Trubar, who devoted their lives to translating the Bible into the common language of their people. While these men may not be featured in many history books, their names can be added to the list of those who made a great contribution to early Bible translation.
Dalmatin, the man responsible for the secret transport of the Bibles, had included one special richly bound copy for Trubar, his friend and adviser. Let us consider the challenges these two men faced in making the Bible available in the common tongue of their fellow countrymen.
The Making of a Translator
In the 16th century, the Holy Roman Empire, which was closely associated with the Roman Catholic Church, was still entrenched in most of Europe. However, the Protestant Reformation was well under way, and the effects of the movement had filtered into the towns and villages of what is present-day Slovenia. Trubar, a local clergyman there, was among the first to adopt Protestant convictions.
Since Latin was the language of the Catholic Church, only a privileged few who were schooled in that ancient tongue could understand church services and the Bible. Yet, the Reformers said that church services should be held in a language understood by all. Therefore, by the mid-1500’s, some Bible passages were read in the local Slovenian language during church services. This was made possible because the Slovenian equivalent of certain texts was written in the margins of the Latin missal, or Mass book, that was used by the clergy.
However, Trubar wanted to have the entire Bible in Slovenian. Since there was as yet no Slovenian alphabet, Trubar invented one, and in 1550 he wrote the first book printed in the Slovenian language. In it he included some Bible verses from Genesis. Later, he also translated the Psalms into Slovenian and eventually the entire New Testament, or Christian Greek Scriptures.
Yet, Trubar recognized that he did not possess the language skills needed to carry out his ambition to translate the entire Bible into Slovenian. In Jurij Dalmatin, a gifted young student, he saw someone who could help him accomplish his goal.
Dalmatin’s Early Background
Dalmatin, the son of a poor family, was born in about 1547 in a village located in what is today southern Slovenia. As a boy, he attended the local school run by an early convert to Protestantism, and this greatly influenced his later religious inclinations. With the support of Trubar as well as a schoolteacher and the local parish, Dalmatin attended a religious school and later went to a university in Germany. He thereby perfected his Latin and German, learned Hebrew and Greek, and completed his studies in philosophy and theology.
Although Dalmatin studied abroad, he was encouraged by Trubar to value and cultivate his mother tongue, Slovenian. When Dalmatin was attending university, while still in his 20’s, he began the monumental task of translating the Bible into the language of his countrymen. Trubar’s fervent wish to have the complete Bible in Slovenian now became Dalmatin’s main goal in life.
Plunging into the project with great enthusiasm, Dalmatin began by translating the Hebrew Scriptures. Apparently, he translated from the original languages but with close reference to Martin Luther’s German translation of the Latin Vulgate. As for Trubar, by 1577 he had translated the entire Christian Greek Scriptures into Slovenian, as mentioned previously. Dalmatin now corrected and improved Trubar’s text, once again relying heavily on Luther’s German Bible translation. He eliminated many of Trubar’s Germanisms and made the translation more uniform. Dalmatin may have used his knowledge of Greek in his translation work, but scholars still debate whether he consulted early Greek texts or not.
Obstacles Along the Way
Because the Slovenian alphabet had been introduced only a few decades before, Dalmatin faced a daunting task. Moreover, the vocabulary was small, and Slovenian reference books were nonexistent. Therefore, it required a great deal of ingenuity to render the text into understandable Slovenian.
The Counter Reformation movement also added to the difficulties. Since the printer in Slovenia was exiled, Bible printing had to be done on foreign soil. This was why camouflage was needed when Bibles were shipped into the country. Yet, despite the obstacles, Dalmatin achieved his goal in only ten years, apparently while he was still in his early 30’s.
Under Dalmatin’s supervision the first printing of 1,500 copies of the Bible took place in seven months. Many called the Bible a literary masterpiece and a work of art, as it was beautifully illustrated with 222 woodcuts. Many of the original Bibles are still in existence, and the translation has been used as a basis for modern-day versions of the Bible in Slovenian. The work of these two men has contributed to the fact that today Slovenians can read God’s Word in their mother tongue.
[Box/Picture on page 15]
THE DIVINE NAME
Dalmatin included the following explanation in the foreword of his translation of the Holy Bible: “Wherever the word LORD is printed in capital letters, this means the LORD God alone whose name is יהוה, Jehovah, in the Jewish language. This name belongs only to the LORD God and no one else.”
[Pictures on page 14, 15]
Front page of the Slovenian Bible
All pictures except Tetragrammaton: Narodna in univerzitetna knjižnica—Slovenija—Ljubljana