The Bible in Africa: Transactions, Trajectories, and Trends

By Gerald O. West; Musa W. Dube | Go to book overview

A LATE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY TRANSLATION
OF THE PSALMS AT THE CAPE
Philippe Denis

In June 1699 Pierre Simond, the minister of the French church at the Cape, began a new translation of the Psalms into the French language. His work was published five years later in Amsterdam under the title Les Veilles Afriquaines ou les Pseaumes de David, Mis en Vers François. A copy of this extremely rare pamphlet was recently found in St. Petersburg.1 It throws new light on what is probably the earliest piece of biblical scholarship ever produced on the African continent. According to Simond the fact that the book was written in Africa was no accident, even if the intended audience was much broader than the small French colony at the Cape. It was God's Providence, he explained in the preface, that inspired him to go to the “deserts of Africa” to translate the Psalms (Simond 1704: 1r).

The only other African biblical scholar who comes to mind from this period is Jacobus Capitein, a former Gold Coast slave who was trained as a theologian in Leiden, before becoming the pastor in Elmina in present-day Ghana. In his doctoral dissertation he discussed the biblical arguments in favour of the institution of slavery. But this was in 1742, long after Simond had published his book. In Elmina, Capitein also translated the Ten Commandments and the Our Father into the vernacular (Boxer 1965: 152, Kpobi 1993).

Had it not been written in Africa, Simond's translation of the Psalms would probably have fallen into oblivion. Its theological content is not particular significant and its literary value doubtful. But the fact that this work was produced on the African soil, as early as the turn of the eighteenth century, deserves attention. Why did Simond decide to write a new translation of the Psalms? What was

____________________
1
[Pierre Simond], Les Veilles Afriquaines ou les Pseaumes de David, Mis en Vers François. Amsterdam: Cornelle de Hoogenhuisen, 1704. 12°, []1 *6–[6] **2 A-L 6, [16]–130–[2]p. National Library of Russia, St. Petersburg: 6.52.11.35. Microfilm: Bibliographie du Psautier, Institut Claude Longeon, Saint-Étienne, France. The preface and a few psalms are reproduced in Psaume. Bulletin de la recherche sur le psautier huguenot 14 (November 1997), pp. 9–17.

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