Reference Number160004
TitleLeabhraiche an t-Seann Tiomnaidh air an Tarruing o’n Cheud Chanain Chum Gaelic Albannaich. Ann an Ceithir Earrannaibh.
AuthorN/A (Translated work)
Date Of Edition1783-1801
Date Of Languagelate 18c
Date Of Language Ed18th c.
DateMacroLate 18th c.
Date Of Language Notes
PublisherWilliam Smellie (Uilleam Smellie)
Place PublishedEdinburgh
VolumeVol. 4 of 4 (Four books in two volumes.)
LocationNational and academic libraries
Geographical OriginsMostly Argyllshire and Perthshire
Geographical Origins EdArgyll
Geographical Origins Notes
RegisterLiterature, Prose (Religious)
Register EdReligion, Prose
Gaelic translation of the Old Testament.
A seminal text in the history of both written and, subsequently, spoken Gaelic.
Along with the Gaelic New Testament (Text 173) this is the primary source for the religious register in Scottish Gaelic.
Alternative Author NameN/A
Manuscript Or EditionEd.
Size And Condition21.5cm x 13.5cm
Short TitleLeabhraiche an t-Seann Tiomnaidh
Reference DetailsNational and academic libraries
Number Of Pages(No pagination)
Gaelic Text ByRev. John Stuart and Rev. John Smith
Social ContextThis is the first Scottish Gaelic translation of the Old Testament. Following Robert Kirk’s 1690 rendering of the Irish New Testament, a Scottish Gaelic translation of the New Testament, translated by Rev. James Stuart of Killin and proof-read by Dugald Buchanan, had been published in 1767. Both the Old and the New Testaments were translated under the auspices of the SSPCK. Three scholars had worked on the translation of the New Testament: Rev. James Stuart of Killin, Rev. James Fraser of Alness, and Dugald Buchanan. The translation was useful but ‘not immediately acceptable’ and many ministers preferred to translate the English Bible into Gaelic extempore themselves when preaching. Professor Meek has explained the lack of success of this translation in the following terms: ‘The translators had used a vocabulary and style that was significantly different from that of contemporary Gaelic. The tended to follow Kirk’s Bible, modifying it where it diverged greatly from vernacular Gaelic (for example, in the verb system). Thus the new translation was really an adaptation of an existing version in a related language, the overall style being closer to the older Classical language once shared by Ireland and Gaelic Scotland’ (Thomson, p. 23). He also pointed out (ibid.) that ‘a similar technique was used in the translation of the Old Testament.’

Two translators worked on the translation (‘from the First Language’) of the Old Testament: Rev. John Stuart, minister of Luss, and Rev. John Smith, minister of Campbeltown. Stuart translated the first three volumes (from Genesis to the Song of Solomon) in 1783, 1787 and 1801 respectively; while Smith translated the fourth volume (the Prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi), which was published in 1786. According to Professor Meek, Smith’s translation differed from the others in that he ‘consulted the most recent textual and critical works by Lowth, Blaney, Newcome, Houbigant and Kennicot’ (Thomson, pp. 23-24). The Advertisement at the beginning of the Volume IV acknowledges the use of works by these scholars and argues that ‘from this cause, and from a nearer conformity to the arrangement and idiom of the original than the genius of the English language would permit, proceed any variations from the established English Version that may be observed in the following volume. The uniform design, however executed, was to be as faithful, as literal, and as like the original as possible; and to convey the clearest and most distinct ideas of what was judged to be the mind of the Sacred Writers, by using the plainest and most obvious language.’

The Advertisement attached to the beginning of the first volume, which was published in 1783, makes the following claim and statement of policy: ‘The Translator has endeavoured to preserve the literal meaning and arrangement of the words in the Hebrew Text. In the original, some words not unfrequently occur, which may be differently interpreted. In cases of this kind, the Translator has adopted what appeared to him to be the most proper signification. He has, however, in many instances, given the other meanings at the bottom of the page. He has sometimes been obliged to use words which may not be known in every district of the Highlands. To remedy this inconvenience, he has likewise subjoined, in notes, other words which convey nearly the same meaning: But as these explanatory, or synonymous words could not be always repeated, an alphabetical list of them, together with the corresponding English words, is printed at the end of the present volume’.

John Stuart was born in Killin, where his father was minister, on 31st July 1743. He was the oldest of six children. Stuart studied in Edinburgh and was licensed to preach in the Church of Scotland in February 1771. Two years later, he became assistant minister at Arrochar. He was minister in Weem for a few years, before becoming minister in Luss, where he remained for the rest of his life. He married Susan Macintyre, daughter of Rev. Dr. Joseph Macintyre, who was minister of Glenorchy, and they had four children. Stuart was a keen botanist, and Thomson reports that he ‘identified many rare Alpine plants on Perthshire mountains’ (p. 282). According to MacKenzie, Stuart’s garden at the manse in Luss was ‘sought out by naturalists anxious to benefit from his wide knowledge and experience, and to see the Arctic/Alpines which grew in the manse garden there collected and planted by him. He is credited with having added seven mountain flowers to the British Flora’ (p. 190). Stuart also had a keen interest in Gaelic. Thomson reminds us that, as a young man, he ‘helped to see the poems of Donnchadh Bàn through the press’ (p. 282); in addition to translating the first three books of the Old Testament, Stuart superintended the revised second edition of the New Testament, which was published in 1796. John Stuart died in Luss in 1821.

John Smith was born in Glenorchy in Argyllshire, in 1747. His father, also John Smith (or John M‘Lulich), was probably a farmer, and his mother was Mary Campbell. Smith studied at the University of Edinburgh, and was licensed by the presbytery of Kintyre in April 1773. He was ordained in October 1775, when he was appointed to the Royal Bounty Mission Station at Tarbert on Loch Fyne. In 1777, Smith became assistant to Rev. James Stewart in the parish of Kilbrandon and Kilchattan. In 1780, he obtained his own charge at Campbeltown in Kintyre, to which he was admitted in April 1781. While awaiting his transfer to Campbeltown, Smith completed his translation of Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted (Earail Dhurachdach do Pheacaich Neo-Iompaichte, Text 162). He had been encouraged in this work by Lady Glenorchy, and it is said that through reading extracts of his translation to his congregation, Smith brought about a revival among them.

Smith was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Divinity honoris causa by Edinburgh University in 1787, and in the same year published Sailm Dhaibhidh (see Text 188 for information on the Gaelic translations of the Psalms). By 1840, more than thirty editions of Smith’s psalter had been published. Smith was also extremely interested in the Ossianic controversy, and his 1780 publication, Galic Antiquities, argues for the authenticity of MacPherson’s publications. In 1787, Smith published two volumes, Sean Dana and Dàn an Deirg agus Tiomna Ghuill. While Smith claimed that the poems in Sean Dana were authentic, modern scholars believe that Smith composed much of the material himself. Smith also wrote a number of religious and economic works, including Urnaighean airson Theaghlaichean, which was published posthumously in 1808; A View of the Last Judgement, published in 1783; Lectures on the Nature and End of the Sacred Office, published in 1798; and General View of the Agriculture of the County of Argyll, published in 1798. While in Campbeltown, Smith also contributed to Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-99).
ContentsThe text of the Old Testament is divided into four sections (Earrann IEarrann IV). Earrann I-II and Earrann III-IV are bound separately in this edition. Earrann I and IV begin with an Advertisement. There are no page numbers, but chapter numbers are given at the top of each page. A list of the Books contained in each Earrann (‘Section’) is provided, with the number of chapters in each Book added in brackets.

The first volume contains Earrann I and Earrann II:

Earrann I contains the five Books of Moses: Genesis (anns am bheil 50 Caib.), Ecsodus (40), Lebhiticus (27), Aireamh (37), and Deuteronomi (34). It is followed by a five-page alphabetically arranged glossary (entitled Clar-Mineachaidh), giving Gaelic synonyms and English equivalents for difficult words, entitled Clar-Mineachaidh, and a three-page section in English entitled General Rules for Reading the Gaelic Language, arranged under the following headings: Of the Letters, Of the Vowels, Of the Diphthongs, Of the Triphthongs, and Of the Consonants.

Earrann II contains Ioshua (24), Breitheamhna (21), Rut (4), I. Samuel (31), II. Samuel (24), I. Righ (24), II. Righ (25), and I. Eachdraidh (29).

The second volume contains Earrann III and Earrann IV:

Earrann III contains II. Eachdraidh (36), Esra (10), Nehemiah (13), Ester (10), Iob (42), Leabhar nan Salm (150), Gnath-fhocail (31), Eclesiastes, no an Searmonuiche (12), and Dan Sholaimh (8).

Earrann IV contains the Prophets: Isaiah (66), Ieremiah (52), Tuireadh (5), Eseciel (48), Daniel (12), Hosea (14), Ioel (3), Amos (9), Obadiah (1), Ionah (4), Micah (8), Nahum (3), Habacuc (3), Sephaniah (3), Hagai (2), Sechariah (14), Malachi (4).
LanguageIn his article ‘Language and Style in the Scottish Gaelic Bible (1767-1807)’ Donald Meek compared the 1767 translation of the New Testament with the earlier Irish translation, noting the ‘concise business-like style of the 1767 translation, which does not elaborate beyond the essential substance of the text’ (Meek 1990, p. 5) and contrasted the Gaelic translations of the New and the Old Testaments, pointing out ‘the New Testament, is, in fact, the older part of the translation, and that is reflected in a more formal style than that found in the Old Testament’ (p. 14). He used as an example the relative frequency of temporal phrases in the New Testament (e.g. Air do Iosa dol don luing and Aig dol do Iosa don luing) where the Old Testament had temporal clauses introduced by Nuair. Meek concluded that ‘the Old Testament is the more modern in its overall complexion’.

The Gaelic of the 1783-1801 Old Testament, while formal in its register, was less formal or at least less akin to the earlier classical Gaelic translations, than was the 1767 New Testament. Indicative examples of the style of the former are (1) ‘Is iad sin na h-àitheantan, agus na breitheanais, a dh’àithn an Tighearna le làimh Mhaois, do chloinn Israeil ann an còmhnardaibh Mhoaib, làimh re Iordan am fagus do Iericho’ (Air. xxxvi, 13); (2) ‘Agus ghlac se e, agus a righ, agus a bhailtean uile, agus bhuail siad iad le faobhar a’ chlaidheimh, agus léir-sgrios iad gach anam a bha ann; cha d’fhàg e h-aon air bith beo: mar a rinn e re Hebron, mar sin rinn e re Debir, agus r’a righ; agus mar a rinn e re Libnah, agus r’a righ' (Iosua, xi, 39).

This text is by definition a primary source of Biblical terms and language. Given the wide-ranging subject-matter, the translators inevitably encountered terms for which no Gaelic equivalents were in general use, where they had to resort to neologisms, explanatory circumlocutions or local terms. As a consequence, the need was felt to provide a glossary. The Clar-Mineachaidh contains entries such as ‘Abhlan, dearnagan, breacag. A wafer, a small round cake’; ‘Cairbh, closach, corp marbh. A carcase, dead body’, and ‘Iobairt-loisgte, tabhartas-loisgte, ofrail-loisgte. A burnt offering, holocaust’. Although the presence of linguistic variation is implicit in this treatment, dialect was not a matter of importance to the translators; nor are their own dialects apparent in the text as a whole.

In regard to the influence of the Gaelic Bible on the Gaelic speaking population, Professor Meek declared that these translations ‘established and maintained an important upper register in the minds of the Highland people.’ In his estimation, ‘the language of the Gaelic Bible was used extensively in the composition of hymns, sermons and other types of prose … its style was quite different from that of the wooden translations of tracts which existed previously, and in that way it probably encouraged a better brand of home-produced prose’ (p. 15).
OrthographyThe orthography is of the time, with a high level of internal consistency; it generally follows that of the 1767 New Testament. As in the New Testament, only the grave accent is used. The section on General Rules for Reading the Gaelic Language was adapted from the Rules that were first published in 1767 with the New Testament. They include general rules on pronunciation, and also some notes on Gaelic spelling, e.g.: ‘In a word of two or more syllables, if the former ends with a broad vowel, the next syllable must begin with a broad vowel; if with a small vowel, with a small. … When the consonants l, n, r, have their double sound in the middle or end of words, they are written double, as in Gall a foreigner, fearr better.’
EditionFirst edition. The four Parts appeared separately, in 1783, 1786, 1787 and 1801. After the publication of Earann III in 1801, they were published together, in two volumes. In 1802, a three-volume edition of the whole Bible was produced. A revision of the Old Testament was begun in that year, as many peope felt that Earrann IV, translated by Smith, was ‘too free, corresponding much more with Dr Lowth’s translation than with the English one’ (see Thomson 1994, p. 24). Earrann IV was subsequently revised by Rev. Alexander Stewart of Dingwall. A complete revised edition, comprising both the Old and New Testaments, was published in 1807. This text was widely distributed throughout the Highlands. A number of editions of the Bible have since been published, some of which were revised, and some of which were new translations. These include MacLauchlan and Clerk’s edition of 1870, and a revised edition of 1902.
Other Sources
Further ReadingMacIntyre, Rev. Neil, ‘Outlines of Lectures on the Bible Part 6 – The Gaelic Bible’, The Free Presbyterian Magazine, June 1998 (Extracted from The Free Presbyterian Magazine, 9 (1904-5)).
MacKenzie, Rev. Donald W., ‘The Worthy Translator – How the Scottish Gaels got the Scriptures in their own tongue’, TGSI, 57 (1990-92), 168-202.
Meek, Donald E., ‘Language and Style in the Scottish Gaelic Bible (1767-1807)’, Scottish Language, 9 (1990), 1-16.
Thomson, Derick S., ed., The Companion to Gaelic Scotland, (Glasgow, 1994: Gairm).
Link LabelDigital version created by National Library of Scotland
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