The Bible: ASL Translation Review

The Bible: American Sign Language Translation

Video Review by Chris Wixtrom     © 1998

The Bible: American Sign Language Translation
1- and 2-hour videos, signed in ASL, no voice-over
(some earlier videos in PSE, with voice-overs)

Available from:
Deaf Missions, 21199 Greenview Road, Council Bluffs, Iowa 51503   712.322.5493 v/tty
E-mail: DeafMissions@deafmissions.com; URL: www.deafmissions.com

The Bible. To some, a literary masterpiece. To others, a source of spiritual guidance. But always, a compelling book. Encompassing history, poetry, song, proverbs, prose and prophecy, this book engages the mind and influences the heart. The Bible has been translated into many tongues. Now we can see it in American Sign Language - ASL - the language of Deaf people in the United States and Canada.

In 1981, Deaf Missions established the OMEGA Project, a translation meant to make the Bible directly accessible to Deaf people. The first videos produced (Matthew, Luke, Acts and Philippians) were in a signing style strongly influenced by English (Pidgin Sign English, PSE, or "contact sign") but soon a team approach, with ASL Translators and Original Language Consultants, produced videos elegantly expressing the books of the Bible in American Sign Language. To date, more than 25% of the Bible is available in ASL. Work continues at Deaf Missions, and sign translations have been initiated by other groups, following Deaf Missions' lead, in the countries of Australia, Britain, Japan, Mexico, Romania, Spain, and Thailand. The signs are different, but the goal is the same - "heart language" translations for those who communicate with visual language.

I selected the four videos showing Genesis, a book valued in both Judaic and Christian traditions, for this review, and was rewarded by ample evidence of the ASL translation's accuracy. Line by line, the Bible comes across clearly. I found myself pulled into the drama as the Deaf signer detailed the struggles, passions, scheming, noble acts, disheartening defeats, and extraordinary victories chronicled there. I marveled at the creation story, delighted in the luxuriant garden, cringed at Satan's tricks, stood in awe at the ark, laughed with Abraham and Sarah, saw Jacob take his brother's birthright and blessing, and cried with Joseph when he revealed his identity to the brothers bowing before him.

Printed Bibles usually provide supplemental aids to understanding, such as maps, definitions and explanatory notes. The ASL Bible has all of these. On-screen maps trace the journeys of Bible characters. Signed notes give cultural information and fine distinctions in terminology, such as the difference between clans and tribes. Genesis contains some long lists of family lineages, which were here presented succinctly as text.

Reading the Bible in ASL, I was overwhelmed with its power to communicate. Everything was there, from the big picture to the finest particulars: the men and the women, the failing and the faithful, the muttering and the miracles, the mysteries and the visions, all surging across the video screen in thundering, thundering silence.

The Bible, in sign. See it.

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Deaf Missions also offers:

* ASL Bible studies on video. Example: Lessons from the Law of God, Deaf signer, w/voice-over, 4 hours, $38

* ASL Bible stories. Example: God's Heroes, Deaf signer (Bob Alcorn), w/voice-over, 92 minutes, $29

* JESUS, the Movie, with corner inset interpretation, 2 hours, $29

* A 4-hour seminar on Deaf Culture & sign language in the church setting: We Can Communicate,$60, rent $25

* A loan library which makes many of these treasures yours-for-a-time for the price of the postage.

* Bible camps for the Deaf and mission training for Deaf people.

* A free publication, Daily Devotions for the Deaf.

In cooperation with Deaf Missions, Jeanne Bricker and Lynne Cionne produced a New Testament ASL video, The Life of Christ, to be given away free to all Deaf people who request it. Deaf people may contact: Scripture Sign Project, Inc., P.O. Box 277 Blumel Road, Middletown, NY 10940; (914) 692-2848 (voice or tty). Hearing people wishing to purchase this video may contact Deaf Missions.

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