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30 October 2019 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Rulanzen Martin
Prof Jacobus Naude
Prof Jacobus Naudè is one of few South Africans who have delivered the Van Selms Memorial lecture at the Southern African Society Near Eastern Studies conference.

To be awarded an opportunity to present a lecture outside the domain of your own university is not only beneficial to attract new postgraduate students but also provides senior researchers with the opportunity to publicise their research on a national and sometimes international level.

This is the impression of Prof Jacobus Naudè, a senior professor in the Department of Hebrew at the University of the Free State (UFS) when he delivered the 2019 Adrianus van Selms Memorial lecture at the Southern African Society for Near Eastern Studies conference. Prof Naudè said such lectures provide an opportunity to academics and researchers to demonstrate that a particular field of study has broad implications for society. “A South African only has the opportunity to deliver this lecture every second year by invitation, so it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. 

His own research seeks to understand alterity (“otherness”) in various systems of ancient culture and to preserve it while representing it intelligibly for modern users. “In my current research I utilise complexity theory to integrate seemingly disparate foci (pre-modern Hebrew linguistics and religious translation).” 

The conference took place on 16 September 2019 at the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics at the Pietermaritzburg Campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

South African Bible translations through the ages

The topic of his lecture was, Translations of sacred texts and the shaping, reshaping and circulation of religious knowledge in monotheistic religions with written traditions: A Southern African perspective, in which he provided examples from the history of religious translations in monotheistic religions (Jewish religious tradition, Christianity and Islam) to “illustrate the spreading, circulation, shaping and reshaping of our religious knowledge by translation”.  

Prof Naudè shared some aspects of how religious ideas have travelled via the medium of translation into different cultures and languages. With his focus on South Africa he illustrated how the Dutch East India Company imposed monolingualism in the Cape with Dutch being the only language in church and at school. “There was complete unwillingness on the side of the Dutch to learn the Khoikhoi languages.” The political change in beginning of the 19th century provided strong motivation for Bible translations into indigenous languages. 

There have been many attempts to reconceptualise South African translations of the Bible. The latest attempt was by Prof Kobus Marais from the UFS Department of Linguistics and Language Practice whose work aims to reconceptualise translation within the frame of complexity thinking. “Religious translation will thus need to avoid reductionism and rather focus on the source or the target,” Prof Naudè said.

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