Published in Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology 7.3 (Feb. 2000)
Reviewed by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D., Los Angeles, CA 90045
This volume collects sixteen papers originally presented at an academic Symposium called "From One Medium to Another" (New York; September, 1995), sponsored by the American Bible Society (ABS). The focus of the Symposium was on the question of biblical "translation," broadly defined: "How can the message of the Holy Scriptures be faithfully translated and communicated from one medium into another?" (p. 3). The discussion was also practically related to the ABS Multimedia Translation Project (MTP), which has produced modern versions of some popular biblical stories in Videotape and CD-ROM formats. The MTP productions are intended especially for teenagers, since "while they might not read a Bible in our post-literate world, they might well come to know the Word of God by means of translations and presentations in new media formats" (p. 6). Instead of being a "how-to" manual, however, this volume mostly contains theoretical reflections about the nature and dynamics of such interpretation and translation.
When speaking of "translation," most people probably think about spoken or written texts being transferred from one language into another, such as from Spanish to English, or from ancient Hebrew or Greek to some modern language. These articles, however, are about a broader type of translating, namely communicating the meaning of the biblical texts in various non-print media, such as music, dance, film, art, and especially the newest computer-related technologies. Such processes are not really new, since past cultures have also "translated" written or spoken stories into such non-text media as stained-glass windows, passion plays, musical oratorios, and other audio-visual media. Yet this book discusses only the media of our own century, without considering examples from earlier periods.
The sixteen original papers are grouped into three categories, and each article is preceded by a short summary of its contents and some brief biographical information about its author, so that readers can easily decide whether a particular article might interest them. The book has also added a nice "Introduction" (by Robert Hodgson) and a good summarizing "Postlude" (Ronald W. Roschke). Gary Rowe's "Overture" is more troubling, displaying a blatant anti-print bias and naively assuming that no one will read books in the future, since everyone in the whole world will soon have easy access to televisions and computers (p. 22-24). Given the realities of international politics and economics, however, such predictions are overly optimistic, ignoring the likelihood that many poor people will not have access to such technologies for a long time to come.
The five essays in Part I all focus on "Theoretical Approaches", including a brief but good summary of "Recent Developments in New Testament Hermeneutics" (Moisés Silva; ch. 1), and a very helpful presentation of newer models for "Understanding Audience Understanding" (Paul Soukup; ch. 4). José Lambert's discussion of some "Problems and Challenges of Translation¼" (ch. 2) is also clear and understandable for general readers, while the articles by Patrick Cattyrsse ("Audiovisual Translation and New Media"; ch. 3) and Fred Lawrence ("The Seriousness of Play: Gadamer's Hermeneutics¼"; ch. 5) are much more theoretically technical, and thus more appropriate for academics who deal with communication theory.
Part II contains eight different "Case Studies", all very concrete and each representing a different media into which biblical texts have been or can be translated. Edith Blumhofer ("Tuning In"; ch. 6) takes an historical look at how some Evangelicals and Pentecostals made use of radio technology in the early days of our century. Elizabeth Keen's focus is on "Telling the Story in Dance" (ch. 7), while Alice Bach considers some feminist issues by tracing "Eve's Journey from Eden to MTV" (ch. 10). Two excellent articles explore the relationship of the Bible to film (Jayne Loader; ch. 9) and to music (J. Ritter Werner; ch. 11), while the contributions of Gregor Goethals ("Multimedia Images: Plato's Cave Revisited"; ch. 12) and Reg Pettus ("Programming Issues in Multimedia Design"; ch. 13) focus on computer technologies.
Readers of the Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology will probably find Jennifer A. Gonzalez' article on "Installation Art" (ch. 8) particularly interesting. She discusses the way three modern artists from different cultures have used altars or shrines to create "sacred places" within "secular spaces." Although her cases involve artworks placed in public museums or galleries, the issues raised here are closely related to the common Hispanic practice of setting up "home altars" for the Dia de los Muertos and other occasions.
The three essays in the concluding Part III present some suggestions and challenges for "Future Studies"; each of these is fairly abstract and will not easily appeal to most readers. In contrast, Ronald W. Roschke's "Postlude" presents a nice summary of some of the main issues in communication theory, biblical translation, and modern technology, as raised in the preceding articles. He also reconnects the discussion to the ABS' "Multimedia Translation Project," which is indeed a pioneer in testing the possible connections between the Bible and modern media.
The main strengths of this collection are its fine introduction, the opening and closing essays, and the interdisciplinary nature of the project. As in any compilation of essays, however, the individual contributions in this volume are not all of the same quality, and they will appeal differently to different people, based on the reader's own interests and background. Few readers will be interested in all of the articles, but something of relevance can be found here for a wide variety of different people, not just those who do biblical "translations" in the traditional textual sense, but also those who attempt to use or apply biblical stories and images in other ways.
Paradoxically, despite its bias against traditional print-media, this collection is a printed book that contains only a few pictures and figures. It might have been more appropriate to publish this collection in a "multi-media format" itself, so that the "reader" could also see and hear some of the artwork, dance, films, music, and new videos and CD-ROMs that are discussed in the various articles. The nature of this topic seems to require a companion website or CD-ROM to provide samples of these other media in addition to the printed articles. Nevertheless, this book makes an important contribution to a new and exciting field, and should stimulate some thought-provoking reflections for anyone involved in translating biblical texts, in the broadest sense.