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  • Simon Ditchfield


This archetypal depiction of the divine, Pentecostal solution to the challenge posed by linguistic diversity to the spread of Christianity lies at the heart of this volume. How was the curse placed on the citizens of monolingual Babel, who had the temerity to attempt to build a tower that reached heaven (Gen. 11: 1–9), so that God made their speech mutually incomprehensible and scattered them to the winds, to be exorcised, or at least best coped with?

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1 Acts 2: 4–8 NRSV.

2 Clackson, James, Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Cambridge, 2015), ch. 6, to which the following account is indebted.

3 Rajak, Tessa, Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible of the Ancient Jewish Diaspora (Oxford, 2009). For a compelling account of why the Septuagint subsequently lost out to the Hebrew Bible, which Jerome used as the basis for the Old Testament of his Latin (Vulgate) translation, see Law, Timothy, When God spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible (Oxford, 2013).

4 Clackson, Language and Society, 147. The sermon in question was no. 167: see Rotelle, John E., ed., The Works of St Augustine: The Sermons, III/5 (148–183), on the New Testament, transl. Hill, Edmund (New York, 1992), 212 for the Punic proverb.

5 Clackson, Language and Society, 148–9.

6 Casey, Maurice, Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel (Cambridge, 1998).

7 Simon, Richard, Critical History of the Text of the New Testament wherein is established the Truth of the Acts on which it is based, ed. and transl. Hunwick, Andrew (Leiden, 2013), 264; cf. The Philocalia of Origen, ed. J. Armitage Robinson (Cambridge, 1893), 42.

8 Brown, Peter, The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, AD 200–1000, 10th anniversary rev. edn (Oxford, 2013), 232; Clackson, Language and Society, 168.

9 Sanneh, Lamin, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture, 2nd edn (Maryknoll, NY, 2009).

10 Sanneh, Lamin, Whose Religion is Christianity: The Gospel beyond the West (Grand Rapids MI, and Cambridge, 2003), 97.

11 Ibid. 75.

12 Joel Cabrita, ‘Empire of Healing: South Africa, the United States and the Transatlantic Zionist Movement’, 448–75, at 453; cf. eadem, Text and Authority in the South African Nazaretha Church (Cambridge, 2014).

13 The lands which converted to Islam during the period included much of the territory covered by the modern-day states of Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as large groups of sub-Saharan Africans and most of the Muslims of Pakistan, India and China. In addition, one should factor into calculations the substantial populations of south-east Europe and central Asia: Bulliet, Richard, The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization (New York, 2004), 40–1.

14 For a stimulating recent discussion of the contextual significance of the visual dimension to Ignatian spirituality touched upon in this article, see Morgan, David, The Forge of Vision: A Visual History of Modern Christianity (Oakland, CA, 2015), 3541.

15 Scott F. Johnson, ‘Silk Road Christians and the Translation of Culture in Tang China’, 15–38, at 16.

16 See now an important survey of the circulation of catacomb relics throughout the Roman Catholic world from the late sixteenth to the nineteenth century: Baciocchi, Stéphane and Duhamelle, Christophe, eds, Reliques romaines. Invention et circulation des corps saints des catacombes à l’époque modèrne (Rome, 2016).

17 This quotation has its origins in the following anthropological context: ‘We can understand, too, that natural species [animals] are chosen not because they are “good to eat” [bonnes à manger] but because they are “good to think” [bonnes à penser]’: Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Totemism (London, 1964), 89.

18 Charlotte Methuen, ‘“These four letters s o l a are not there”: Language and Theology in Luther's Translation of the New Testament’, 146–63, at 147.

19 Venuti, Lawrence, The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation, 2nd edn (London and New York, 2008).

20 Andrew J. Finch, ‘Translating Christianity and Buddhism: Catholic Missionaries in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Burma’, 324–37, at 337.

21 James H. Grayson, ‘John Ross and Cultural Encounter: Translating Christianity in an East Asian Context’, 338–58, at 358.

22 In a pioneering study, Parratt, John, Reinventing Christianity: African Theology Today (Grand Rapids MI, 1995).

23 Kirsteen Kim, ‘The Evangelization of Korea, c.1895–1910: Translation of the Gospel or Reinvention of the Church?’, 359–75, at 375 (emphasis added).

24 Favre, Edouard, François Coillard. Missionnaire au Lessouto (1861–1882) (Paris, 1912), 147; see Esther Ruth Liu, ‘The Nineteenth-Century Missionary-Translator: Reflecting on Translation Theory through the Work of François Coillard (1834–1904)’, 376–88, at 383.

25 Gospel Recordings is now referred to as Global Recordings Network and offers recordings in more than 6,000 languages: ‘Global Recordings Network’, <>, accessed 22 October 2016.

26 For an example of this explanatory paradigm as applied to Britain, see Brown, Callum, The Death of Christian Britain: Secularisation 1800–2000 (London and New York, 2001). However, the near-contemporary publication of Davie, Grace, Europe: The Exceptional Case. Parameters of Faith in the Modern World (London, 2002) is a reminder that the secularization paradigm was – and remains – only of limited application.

27 See Olupona, Jacob, African Religions: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2014), 101, where there is a photograph with the following caption: ‘A Shembe Church ceremony on Palm Sunday, near Durban, South Africa. The Shembe Church, also known as the Nazareth Baptist Church, is an indigenous African Church that borrows from both indigenous Zulu traditions and Christianity.’

28 Taylor, Charles, The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity (Cambridge, MA, 2016).


  • Simon Ditchfield


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