Impressive bible stories in dialect

A Shetland Bible, Charles Greig. Saint Andrew Press, £12.99.

The production of a Shetland dialect Bible is surely long overdue, and this impressive and accessible book fills an obvious void.

The Rev Charles Greig’s labour of love is a delight, with more than 80 well-known and well-loved Bible stories and passages translated into dialect.

The extracts are short enough for even a non-dialect speaker to be able to cope with, especially as there is a comprehensive glossary of Shetland words at the back of the book, and will be a joy for native speakers.

And bearing in mind the fact that Shetland dialect is usually spoken rather than written, there is the further treat of a CD with selected readings attached to the book.

In creating A Shetland Bible Mr Greig has done exactly what Christians are exhorted to do in the book of Acts – preach the word. Now stories of the Göd Man and the Göd Place, of Adie and Eva, Noah and da doontöm, Jonah and the whale, da göd Samaritan, the life of Jesus and the acts of the apostles are available in the indigenous tongue.

As well as familiar stories there are selected inspirational readings from the Psalms, Romans and Rev­elation.

Mr Greig has taken the most familiar extracts and made them into short and succinct pieces which are complete in themselves, each having a straightforward message. The clear and neat layout – a new story for every page and plenty of white space around the text – makes for pleasant reading. This is a book that lends itself to being read in sections rather than all at once.

Like the Bible the book is divid­ed into Old and New Testaments, beginning with: “At da very start da Göd Man med the heavens an da aert”. The order of the stories then roughly, though not exactly, follows the order of the Bible (the birth of Jesus is taken from Luke’s gospel and preceeds stories from Matt­hew’s, for example).

Mr Greig’s tone is simple and modest and he communicates in an everyday way rather than sticking slavishly to the authorised version. There is no preachiness, no “thou shalt not”. Rather there is the gentle common sense of: “You shoold treat aabody da very sam. If a posh body comes to your meetin an a pör body – dunna mak a fuss o da wan an no da tidder.”

The reading experience is further enhanced by the wealth of sketches by Smirk. Forgoing his cartoon mode he has opted for black and white atmospheric drawings to capture the essence of the tales. There are, however, a few blank pages – more of Smirk’s work could possibly have been used.

In his introduction to the book, Mr Greig said that Shetland has been a place where religion was “brought in” from the south, being provided for many years with Scottish preachers appointed by Scottish lairds.

Dialect and the simple “trans­lation” should make the Bible more relevant, but Mr Greig feels there is another reason why Shetlander will relate to the stories. Life in Biblical times was very difficult, just as that of crofters and fishermen has always been – Shetlanders therefore have shared experience with the writers of the scriptures. His book aims to make that common thread more apparent.

The easy appeal of the book should bring the Bible to a whole new audience. But it will also enhance the reading of those already familiar with it, and will be a welcome addition to the many existing editions.

A Shetland Bible – available in hardback and with an attractive Shetland blue cover produced by Saint Andrew Press – would also make an ideal Christmas present, and not only to the “religious”.

Mr Greig will be launching A Shetland Bible at the library tonight at 7.30pm and will be signing copies at the Shetland Times Bookshop tomorrow from noon to 2pm.

Rosalind Griffiths


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