DON BELONG AND THE ILOCANO BIBLE
Now that we are celebrating the 100th year of the Ilocano Bible, have you ever wondered how did the Holy Bible find its way to the Philippines and was translated into our beautiful language? Have you ever thought what sacrifices those translators made so that we can read this super-book in the language that is closest to our hearts?
Of course, many of us know that the original languages of our Holy Scriptures are Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. And unless you know these languages, chances are, the Bible that you use is a translation. Of course, our beloved Ilocano Bible is also a translation of the Scriptures that were written in these ancient languages.
The first major translation of the Holy Scriptures is when the Jews in the diaspora decided to make a Koine Greek Translation of the Old Testament. During the 3rd Century Common Era (C.E.), most of the Jews in the diaspora were no longer using Hebrew as a medium of communication. Although the priest still uses Biblical Hebrew in worship services until now, many of the Jews understood very little of this language, just enough for the requirements of the liturgy.
Because of this, some 70 scholars (others say 72) translated the Pentateuch into Koine Greek, the lingua franca during that time. Popularly known as the Greek Septuagint (from the Greek = Septuaginta [seventy]), this edition remains to be one of the most authoritative translations of the holy Bible. Even now, this edition is still used as the base language of the Roman Catholic Church when translating the part of the Bible called the Deuterocanonicals. In fact, even the United Bible Societies (UBS) uses this version when they are asked to translate this part of the Bible. And even though the other parts of the Old Testament was translated from the original Hebrew, the Roman Catholics still uses the Septuagint as to counter-check those passages that are hard to translate.
As Christianity became a state religion under the Holy Roman Empire, th lingua franca of the Christians gradually changed from Greek to Latin (the language of the Empire). Thus, a new translation was needed to be undertaken so that theScriptures could be proclaimed in the language that is understood by the people (See, from the very start, they wanted us to understand the Bible). And in 382 CE,Pope Damasus
I commissioned Jerome to translateboth the Old and New Testaments in Latin. Collectively known as the Vulgata Latina, this translation of the Holy Bible has become the most important translation of the Holy Scriptures for the Roman Catholic Church. Together with the Greek Septuagint, this version is always being consulted by the Roman Catholics when they encounter difficult passages. This version of the Holy Bible is the one that made its way to the Philippines through the missionaries that were sent into the country by Spain.
But sadly, not many of the missionaries that worked in the country had the facility to use the Latin. Some just knew how to read it because of the formation given to them in the seminary, but a few were able to understand them. More so, only a few knew how to translate it into a language understood by the native Filipinos.
As discussed in the earlier post, the first parts of the Holy Bible in Ilocano were the ‘Lord’s Prayer‘ (Ti Amami) and the Ten Commandment (Dagiti Sangapulo a Bilin). But the first one who dared to really undertake a real work of biblical translation in the Philippines was the former-Dominican Fr. Manruque alozo Lallave. During his stay as a priest in Manaoag, Pangasinan, he managed to acquire a ‘smuggled‘ copy of the Holy Bible in Spanish and became so engrossed with reading it. He then felt that he needed to share the Bible to his parishoners that he undertook the translation of the Gospel of Luke in Pangasinense. Thus, Lallave’s work now has the distinction of of being the 1st Gospel published in any Philippine Language.
His work was published by the Singapore-based British and Foreign Bible Society but did not enjoy wide circulation because the Codigo Penal of the Philippines during that time declared it a crime to propagate a religion other than the one officially recognised by the state. And also during that time, unauthorised translation of the Bible falls under this category of crime.
But that prohibition did not discourage the men of faith to give up their goal of translating the Bible for the Filipinos. Driven by a strong sense of nationalism, some of the Filipinos who wanted to really bring the Word of God into the Philippines, undertook the translation of some of its books in some of the Philippine Languages. In the case of our beloved Ilocano, some of the first translations were done by the founder of theUnion Obrera Democratica (UOD) and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) known to us by the name Don Isabelo de los Reyes, lovingly called Don Belong by his close friends.
By the 1900, Don Belong has finished translating the Gospel of Luke(1899), the Gospel of John (1900) and the Book of Acts (1900). But it needed 9 more years and at least4 more zealous men to finally publish the whole Ilocano Bible, known as Ti Santa Biblia. Also known as the Union Version, the project was made reality through the tireless efforts of Don Belong, together with Don Irineo Javier, Don Simplicio Mendoza, Prof. Ignacio Villamor, Don Eduardo Benitez and many other unnamed writers.
Since then, the Ilocano Bible (Ti Biblia) that we know now was revised to suit the needs of the new generation. The first revision of the work was published in 1927 and another one was published in 1933. Still, another revision was published in 1954 and it is more or less the edition that conservative Protestants are familiar nowadays. It is the one that has a black hardbound covering that is only entitles Ti Biblia.
Of course, the Protestants weren’t the only ones who tried to bring the holy Bible into our beautiful language. As early as 1920, some priest tried to seek the authority from the bishops to translate some portions of the Scriptures in the Philippine Languages. One of those who were able to obtain such permission was Rev. Fr. Melanio Lazo Singsong, who was able to publish the 4 Gospels in 1920. However, his translation was based on the Latin Vulgate rather than the original Hebrew, Greekand Aramaic. Entitled Daguiti Uppat nga Evangelio ni Apo Tayo a Jesucristo, Fr. Lazo’s translation carried the imprimatur of the thenRoman Catholic Bishop of Nueva Segovia Peter Joseph Hurtzh andRev. Fr. Mariano Pacis as censur deputatus.
Other Christian denominations had undertaken their translations too, most notably the Aglipayans under the leadership of the then Obispo Maximo Santiago Fonacier. Their work entitled Ti Santo nga Evangelio ni Apo Tayo a Jesucristo nga Inbatad da San MAteo, San Marcos, San Lukas ken ni San Juan was published in 1965.
A major impetus happened in 1943 when Pope Pius XII released hisencyclical entitled Divino Afflante Spiritu. Called by Catholic Theologians as the Magna Carta for Biblical Studies, this papal letter paved way to open cooperation between Protestant and Cathloc Scholars. And thus, in 1983, the first Bible translated by both Catholics and Protestants was published by the Philippine Bible Society. Entitled Ti Naimbag a Damag Biblia, this edition of the Ilocano Bible has become one of the country’s most popular Bibles.
Of course, since we all know that language is continuously changing, a revision of this edition of the Bible was called in 1988 and finally produced the edition which we know today as Ti Baro a Naimbag a Damag Biblia. Like its predecessor, the team that made the revision was composed of Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. In fact, this edition of the Ilocano Bible has become one of the world’s truly Ecumenical Versions. Also, this edition of the Bible is used by the different religious groups in their special projects of propagating the Word of God.
Today, after 100 years, the Ilocano Bible is distributed not only in the Philippines but also in the Ilocano Diaspora all around the world, giving hope to Filipinos abroad in times of trouble and assisting Filipinos propagate their faith.