A few miles west of Jerusalem, in the aptly named suburb of Mevasseret Zion (in Hebrew, “who brings good tidings to Zion,” from Isaiah 40:9), a colorful band of men and women, some clothed in bright tribal robes, bang away rhythmically on a clutch of hand drums, bongos and a local darbuka, and sing out a sweet, homegrown version of a Halleluiah hymn. This is no ordinary combo. It consists of clergy and translators, of mainly African origin. The song of praise is to mark their graduation from an intensive course of Bible studies at the Home for Bible Translators and Scholars in Jerusalem, Inc.—or HBT for short.
HBT draws students mainly from Third World countries—typically ex-colonies where the national language is still that of the colonial power (French, English, Portuguese, etc.) and where the people’s native language or languages lack an alphabet or any written tradition. In the school’s eight years of existence—with alternating French and English sessions—students have come from over 20 countries, speaking over 40 different tongues with exotic-sounding names like Sabaot, Nyaboa, Samu, Dagara, Lama, Di-Congo, Baoul, Yele and Attie—a linguist’s paradise.