the key to local history
Keepers of the Word
settlers came to the Duluth area, they brought with them their most
treasured possessions. Those personal belongings and artifacts
tell a great deal about the people who came to this country and adds
to the history of the area. Part of that history is found in
the Bibles people brought with them from across the sea and were later
translated into local languages.
Bibles in Swedish,
Polish, German and Norwegian from our ancestors can be found in a
special display at the University of Minnesota-Duluth now until September.
us the history of the area's people, not just Christianity," said
Don Pearce, curator of the Ramseyer Bible Collection. "The people
that brought them here. Where did they come from? Where did end up?"
Those are the types of questions the Bibles bring about. Immigrants
brought their Bibles over to American in their steamer trunks.
The first book in the collection, a Swiss-German Bible brought over
by Rev. Henry Ramseyer, cost his family six horses. "It's indicative
of the importance (of a family Bible) to a person," Pearce said.
of Minnesotans," display on the third floor of the Library features
25 books that trace the history of the early immigrants through the
later arrival to the area, like the Vietnamese. There are Bibles
published in Duluth in the 1880's in the Finnish language as well
as translations in Ojibwa. The display's oldest Bible, a 1712
German translation, is a highlight, but the translations don't stop
there. They continue all the way to the present with the 1993
Black Bible Chronicles that tell of Christianity in the current cultural
language of African Americans.
is a minute portion of the 1,800 volumes that make up the Ramseyer
collection. Housed at the Library, the collection dates
back to the 13th century with a Jewish Torah and encompasses 406 languages.
Though the primary focus is Christian Bibles, the collection includes
several scrolls of the Torah and two 15th century manuscript copies
of the Koran. Sermons, hymns, devotionals and commentaries are
a part of the collection as well.
in over 400 languages, obvious questions about the accuracy and meaning
of the text surface. "you can't translate (directly) from language
to language," Pearce said. "That's what I find fascinating is
this question of translation. In some languages we don't have
equivalents. How do you translate 'Jesus is the cornerstone'
in a society where there is no cornerstone? How do you translate
the 23rd Psalm into Eskimo? Sheep and green grass don't exist
there. (It brings up) the whole question of literal translation."
you want a precise rendering that you won't understand or do you want
something you can understand?" Asked Pearce. "Some of
these words don't have the same meaning anymore, there's always some
change. Sometimes its a problem of our own language.
English has moved meanings. The church in the first century
A.D. was different than it is now. In literal translation it's
very hard to pin that down. We're only now beginning to know
what the Greek and Hebrew meant." Pearce said. "It's not
the word of God that's shifting, our understanding is shifting.
We should be growing and understanding more. We continue to
look at it, understand it and reinterpret it. It's not a solid.
fixed thing." Especially in light of new findings in the Dead
Sea Scrolls, which have only been made open to a wide range of scholars
in the past decade. "The Dead Sea Scrolls have given us a lot
more information on the Hebrew text," Pearce said. "(They're ) catching
a lot of errors that have been made over the years."
Even the King
James Bible, which has been considered the authority in Bibles, was
a politically authorized version, not a theologically authorized version,
as so many have believed, said Pearce. It was developed to offset
the popularity of a Calvinist unauthorized version, which was highly
collection of Bibles come in 43 Native American languages from the
Americas, including a first edition New Testament in Cherokee invented
by Chief Sequoia. Editions run from the old and unusual - the
Catholic Lectionary can be found in the Aztec language - to the newest
and most modern - the complete King James Version in laser on the
business card size piece of plastic. There are new version coming
about at the rate of one a year, said Pearce. One of the newest
is called "Rapping With Jesus" and is written in, of course, rap.
There are now non-gender translations available. Ironically,
God has no gender in the original language.
It is also
ironic that the older the book, the more likely it will endure.
The Torah is made of sheepskin. "That will last forever," Pearce
said. On the other hand, a first edition of the Bible printed
as a magazine supplement in New York in the 1880's has paper
"so bad you can barely touch it." Newspapers from the era are
turning to dust. "Some of the early things are extremely durable.
We have a 17th century Greek text, it's 400 years old and doing extremely
"A lot of things
are so fragile we have to restrict how they're handled," Pearce said.
The high heat and humidity of the Library in the summer months are
not ideal situation to store books," he said. "We'll have better
facilities in the new library."
collection is open to the public, with a bibliography available at
the Research & Information Desk at the Library. Those wishing to study or
examine the books in storage need to make arrangements before hand.
The collection "The Scriptures of Minnesotans" currently on display
can be viewed any time the Library is open. During the summer
months the Library at UMD is open from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday
through Thursday: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to
4 p.m. Saturday.
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