Text, Translation, Transmission

This research theme explores the ethos of individual translators, traces the transmission and impact of source and produced texts, and interrogates the authority that arises in and through translation, in biblical and parabiblical contexts, and at different points in history.

Old bible laying open on a table showing the New Testament

Demand for translation of biblical texts pre-dates the New Testament. Yet the professionalisation of bible translation in the twentieth-century obliged practitioners to articulate theory and practice in a more systematic way, providing a founding influence for the wider discipline of translation studies—which seeks both to inform and study translation. Eugene Nida (1914–2011) proposed a critical distinction between effect and form: 

An instruction manual needs to help its reader complete the task at hand; the translator is transmitting a message to influence action. In a critical edition of an academic text, a translation that mirrors features of the source and aims to reproduce linguistic patterns may be more appropriate. A translator ought then to consider both the nature of the source and the goal of their translation. So what kind of text is the Bible? Who translates it? Why? For whom? And to what effect?

Research aims

Research under this theme engages with bible translation at the level of system (questions of commission, production and publication), and of text (conducting detailed comparative studies to identify patterns of convergence and divergence, and so on). It considers how translations are and have been used. 

Relevant data stretches from draft manuscripts and translators’ prefaces, to the layout of printed page, and marks remaining in individual copies. Topics of interest include the reliance of translators on other translators as intermediaries, the citation of particular versions in other contexts, and examples of remediation—where translation repackages oral as written, written as audiovisual, or moves from page to stage. 

Current work centres on the H.W. Cassirer archive

Opportunities also exist with the Oliver Beckerlegge Bible collection, and Sheffield provides a reference point for those interested in interdisciplinary study of early modern bibles (see EMBERS, below).

Current projects

Heinz Cassirer: Contexts and Translation

The Cassirer archive brings together papers and publications related to life and work of Heinrich Walter Cassirer (1903–1979) and his literary executor Ronald Weitzman (b. 1945).

Cassirer was primarily a classicist and philosopher, publishing commentaries on Aristotle and Kant. In his middle years he began to apply his Greek skills to the letters of St Paul, eventually producing a complete translation of the New Testament. Weitzman took on the task of publishing this and other texts after his friend’s death, working closely with Cassirer’s widow.

The archive materials include drafts and reworkings of Cassirer’s manuscripts, correspondence with publishers and those involved in marketing the posthumous works, and copies of reviews and responses from readers known to Weitzman. As a result, it is possible to study systemic factors in the texts’ production, as peer review and editorial decision-making shapes and reforms the scholarship in view of their intended audiences. 

The interdisciplinary nature of Cassirer’s interests also offers opportunities to consider the role of translated texts and their transmission in scholarly and popular culture. Concretely, this may mean comparing the path to publication of his translation of Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason to that of God’s New Covenant; calculating the optimal digital format for a first edition of a translated play (Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus); or—looking beyond Cassirer’s own oeuvre—evaluating the remediation of related texts in 21st-century culture (e.g. the treatment of Kant’s phenomenology and ethics in Michael Schumer’s Netflix series, The Good Place).

At an intellectual level, one may also follow ideas such as free will and moral responsibility through Cassirer’s oeuvre. Translation may also serve as a metaphor through which to consider events in Cassirer’s life, whether in terms of his physical relocation to the UK as an academic refugee fleeing Nazi Germany, or his later religious transition from Kantian Jew to self-declared Jewish Christian.

For more information, see our website

EMBERS: a network for all scholars interested in early modern bibles.

Recognising the impact and relevance of the Bible in early modern society, EMBERS offers a space for interdisciplinary exchange and collaboration and a resource for those less expert in handling early modern bibles. The network was founded in 2017, convening multiple sessions at the biennial Society for Renaissance Studies conference in 2018. It is free to join.

Funded by: Lightning Seed award from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publication; and SCIBS.

Embers website

Future projects

A postgraduate bursary scheme linked to the HW Cassirer archive offers an award of £1,000 per annum to a student whose research touches upon translation. Potential applicants should email scibs@sheffield.ac.uk for more information. 

Funds are also available for collaborative activities linked to HW Cassirer’s work. Please direct enquiries to Dr Iona Hine.

Past projects

Luther as philosopher

A collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield, Leeds and York, led by Bob Stern. Philosophers, historians, literary and biblical scholars came together to consider the intellectual contribution and legacy of Martin Luther with reference to philosophy. A series of informal reading groups moved from consideration of the Lutheran influence on England’s Reformation (with Diarmaid MacCulloch) to the philosophical content of Luther’s theses on scholasticism, and a study of Luther and Erasmus’s discourse on freedom of the will. Read a biblical scholar’s reflection on the collaboration here. Core activity culminated with a conference in September 2018, though work in this area continues with support from the Prokhorov Centre (see especially the God and the Good lecture series in partnership with Sheffield Cathedral).
Funded by: White Rose University Consortium.

Luther as Philosopher website

500 Reformations

Was 1517 the beginning of the modern era? The 500 Reformations project tackled this and other questions relating to the anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses through a series of interdisciplinary events in venues in and around Sheffield, under the direction of Dr Iona Hine. Collaborators included Sheffield Libraries, the Diocese of Sheffield, and BBC Radio Sheffield. Reports and a series of articles from University of Sheffield authors can be seen on the dedicated website.
Funded by: Faculty of Arts and Humanities.

500 Reformations website

Biblical Literacy in the Curriculum

Who reads the bible anyway? In 2011, the University of Sheffield hosted a three-day colloquium exploring the place of the Bible in the Curriculum, with examples from Secondary and Higher Education. Scholars also collaborated in the development of a new module for literature students, to address gaps in biblical and classical knowledge. Subsequent publications include a Special Issue of Postscripts (2011.2, ed. Crossley and Hine) and a collection of essays edited by Dr Katie Edwards (Rethinking Biblical Literacy, Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015).

Funded by: Higher Education Innovation Fund with the HEA Subject Centre for Philosophical and Religious Studies. 

Telling Tales

In 2010–2011, Sheffield researchers created an exhibition and educational materials to mark the 400th anniversary of the bible translation commissioned by King James VI & I. Shown at Sheffield Cathedral and in cathedrals and churches across the UK, Telling Tales of King James’ Bible offered an accessible account of bible production, explored the text’s influence and demonstrated advances in biblical studies. A digital companion, The UnAuthorized Version, was released as a DVDRom. Dr Iona Hine also curated an exhibition of bibles based on University collections.

Funded by: Higher Education Innovation Fund and Knowledge Transfer Partnership award.

More information about Telling Tales

Events and opportunities

  • An annual bursary of £1000 is available to support postgraduate study connected with this theme. For more information and to apply, send an email to scibs@sheffield.ac.uk.

  • Performance and publication: The writings of Heinz Cassirer are due for digital republication in late 2020. A performance of his hitherto unpublished translation of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus is also. Anyone interested in participating, whether as actor or audience, is encouraged to contact Dr Iona Hine for more information.

  • Papers: In addition to the works of Heinz Cassirer, the Cassirer archive includes papers pertaining to music criticism, the Society of Friends, and Weitzman’s correspondence pertaining to the dissemination, publication and marketing of Cassirer’s works. Enquiries about this material should be directed to Dr Iona Hine in the first instance.

  • Special Collections: The University of Sheffield holds more than 200 bibles and related material from the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries, including the Oliver Beckerlegge collection and the Parish Libraries collections

  • Informal reading groups will be exploring Cassirer’s works throughout 2020. Sessions will focus on passages from Grace & Law: St Paul, Kant, and the Hebrew Prophets and God’s New Covenant: A New Testament Translation.  All are welcome to participate. For more information, contact Dr Iona Hine.

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