Translations and Unity

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By Georges Michelson-Dupont, trustee, manager of translations, Recloses, France

When discussing translations, as is planned to take place at the Urantia Book Fellowship IC’17 conference, one ought to consider this important topic in its context of desirable spiritual unity and long-term perspective of service to our communities of readers.

Some Historical Considerations

After a long revelatory process, the fifth epochal revelation came to Urantia as a book, in English, from higher beings, and through a human subject. In 1950, the revelators requested the creation of a formal organization charged with the responsibility of protecting the text, disseminating the teachings, and making translations—as stated in the Declaration of Trust (DOT) Article III.3—thus giving Urantia Foundation the legitimacy to act accordingly. Also, the responsibility of translating The Urantia Book was granted to Urantia Foundation before the book was printed and reader organizations came into existence. There are many reasons for that, which I shall discuss in this article.

Another clarification is that Urantia Foundation does not own The Urantia Book but protects it for future generations—just as the rangers in Yosemite Park protect the wildlife and natural wonders of Yosemite. They prevent the park from human destruction.

Urantia Foundation’s goal is to produce translations of the highest accuracy, consistency, readability, and beauty that are humanly possible and that will stand as a reference for the benefit of the greatest number of people, from the largest number of countries, and for the longest possible time.

Prerequisite to Translations

The translation of The Urantia Book is one of the main projects of our unseen friends as a means to support the dissemination of the teachings worldwide. One might easily assume that hiring professional translators would be the easiest and quickest solution to produce faithful and easy-to-read translations of The Urantia Book. Unfortunately, experience has shown the contrary.

Due to the superhuman source and spiritual nature of the text, the translation of The Urantia Book is a unique task requiring specific and personal prerequisites, all of which are indispensable. I would rank them in importance from the highest to the lowest as follows:

  1. To have a living faith in God.
  2. To be a truth seeker and receptive to the Spirit of Truth.
  3. To experience a living connection with spiritual forces through prayer and worship.
  4. To have a vibrant awareness of the importance of the task at hand.
  5. To demonstrate a keen, loyal, and steadfast interest in the Urantia revelation.
  6. To understand the concepts and teachings of The Urantia Book.
  7. To commit to respect the authors’ ideas and translate with the least possible interpretation.
  8. To have a team spirit and to work accordingly.
  9. To master source and target languages.
  10. To have experience in translation.

Choice of Translators

I venture to say that only our unseen friends can determine if those prerequisites are present or not. So how can we believe that they do not intervene in the process of selecting candidates for the task of translating The Urantia Book? Indeed, there is much evidence that those humans possessing those qualifications attract their attention and receive their spiritual and material support.

Process to Ensure Accuracy, Consistency, Readability, and Beauty

It should be made clear that while the translation is the responsibility of the translator, Urantia Foundation takes responsibility for making sure the work is true to the original, consistent in terminology, and beautiful in language.

One must understand that most of the individuals who have translated The Urantia Book were not professionals. Therefore, based on Urantia Foundation’s thirty years of experience, a complete procedure and consistent workflow have been designed to offer the translators a friendly and trustworthy framework and to ensure that the responsibility of Urantia Foundation is fulfilled.

This procedure includes a cycle of up to forty years, comprising three phases, which can be summarized as follows:

The initial translation phase

  • Translation of a specific list of English terms into the target language for consistency.
  • A round of professional copyediting for fluency, readability, and beauty.
  • Independent specialized third-party evaluations of the quality.
  • A reader group for improvements (when possible).

In general, translating The Urantia Book requires seven to ten years of time.

The incubation phase

All translations are human works and therefore subject to improvement. It is simply impossible for a human being, however talented, to translate The Urantia Book free of error or mistranslation. After a translation is exposed to the readership of the targeted language, individuals who are educated in English soon begin to detect errors. This process of incubation can take anywhere from five to twenty-five years.

The revision phase

When the time is right, Urantia Foundation selects, based upon specific criteria, a team of two or three “revisers,” including the translator (when possible), along with the selection of students (the “reader group”) in charge of making relevant suggestions to the team of revisers. Again, when necessary, the revision is copyedited and evaluated by an independent specialized third party. This period might take from three to seven years.

It should be noted that several revisions might be necessary to reach the goal.

Are several translations of The Urantia Book in a given language desirable?

To properly answer this question requires abandoning the egoistic and partial human point of view and considering the long-term development, the best interest of the readership, and the unity of our brotherhood of believers in the revelation; as we read in Paper 195, “a house divided in itself cannot stand.” 195:10.11 (2085.3) Frankly, I believe that our unseen friends are not supportive of having several translations, for the following reasons: Unlike the Bible, The Urantia Book is a single, original text that comes from divine sources in the English language; it is the basis for producing accurate and beautiful translations. Since the source is authentic, different translations in the same language are unnecessary. Rather than creating multiple translations with different terminology in one language, we can improve a single translation to the point that it is 99.99% accurate and beautiful and satisfying for all readers. You, who are able to read the original text in English—would you appreciate having multiple and different English texts of The Urantia Book with different terminology in your study group, causing great confusion?

Do we need to repeat the unfortunate story of the tower of Babel?

Having multiple and competing translations in one language brings no benefit to the readership. Quite the contrary, it causes real and unnecessary short- and long-term difficulties such as:

  • The translations of specific Urantia Book terms and proper names are different, causing misunderstanding. This is the case among the Korean readership, which has five translations, of which two are published.
  • In study groups, students are confused by having different texts, spending their time in endless discussions, creating disagreements instead of studying and sharing.
  • Multiple translations create unnecessary competition leading to the division of the readership.

What is the solution?

We should always keep in mind that the success of the revelation and the interest of the readership comes before personal considerations of any kind. This requires a sense of responsibility and a long-term interest in the success of the revelation. Members of organizations, as well as individual translators, should have the courage, wisdom, and humility to recognize and agree in their hearts that the revelators’ project goes far beyond the personal agenda of any one individual.

As explained earlier, Urantia Foundation has developed a procedure and a method to ensure accurate and beautiful translations. A suggested first step to finding a solution to the problem of multiple translations is to organize a gathering with interested translators in cooperation with Urantia Foundation in order to reach an agreement define an orderly process to improve existing translations, instead of having translators working on different translations alone in their own backyards.

We have a successful precedent with the Standard Reference Text Committee in an effort of two parties to cooperate in order to publish an identical text instead of competing with two slightly different versions. Why should we not come together and cooperate to produce a single, accurate, and beautiful translation for the benefit of the readership and for generations to come?

Throughout the earlier ages of any world, competition is essential to progressive civilization. As the evolution of man progresses, co-operation becomes increasingly effective. In advanced civilizations co-operation is more efficient than competition. Early man is stimulated by competition. Early evolution is characterized by the survival of the biologically fit, but later civilizations are better promoted by intelligent co-operation, understanding fraternity, and spiritual brotherhood. 71:5.3 (805.3)

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