Translating the Bible in Euskal Herria (the Basque Country)
Jesus M. Zabaleta


The history of the biblical versions into the basque language began with the publication, in the year of 1571, of the translation of the New Testament into the dialect of Lapurdi, by the Calvinist minister Joanes Leizarraga.

'This took place twelve years utter Juana of Albret, Queen of Navarre, and Lady of Bearn, publically abjured the catholic faith and embraced Calvin's Reformation in the Easter of 1559.

The Queen of Navarre tackled to imposed the Reformation all along her states, that is, in what remained of the Kingdom of Navarre after its annexation to the Kingdom of Castille, as well as in the province of Ultrapuertos and the Bearn.

This policy gained the adherence of the population and of the noblemen of Zuberoa and even of part of the noblemen from Basse-Navarre, but not of us population, who opposed to it.

The translation of the New Testament into the basque language is a part of the plans set to establish the Reformation in the country, it was basically based upon the translation into french made by Pierre Robert, also known as 0livetan (it should he remembered that the latin Vulgate gate has not necessarily got any value of' "originality" from the point of view of a calvinist minister); this same test would be adopted, after several corrections, as the official one for the calvinist and was edited in 1688, after the publication of Leizarraga's test.

As it happens in many other languages, the translation of the Bible (in this case, only the NT.) into basque, was one of the first books published in this language, in fact the second. Bearing in mind the lack of records to be used as reference, it is astonishing the degree of perfection attained on this first edition. Nevertheless, as the Reformation undertaken in the Kingdom of Navarre did not prospere, this translation did not spread as it should have been expected for a work of such quality, until three centuries later, some of the books included were reedited mainly by the London Biblical Society.

During the next centuries two more biblical translations into basque were made. The first translation of the Old Testament, made in England by P. d' Urte (± 1700) was not published till the end of XIXth century, and its use was practically reduced to its filological value. And the translation of the New Testament, which was not published until 1855 in a corrected version.

After some translations and publicacions made by protestants, in the first third of XIXth century, the first complete translations of the Bible appear, together with many partial translations, at the end of the same century. The inititative of all this vaste production and effort of translating, was taken by Prince Lucien Bonaparte, eminent filologe and linguist. His interest for the basque language and particularly for its dialectological aspects induced him to the creation of a group of collaborators, all of them translators, to whom he asked several biblical translations and other texts, willing as he was to have dialectological samples of different dialects. It should be specially mentioned among them J. Duvoisin, who translated the Bible into the dialect of Lapurdi (published in London between 1859 and 1865). It should also he mentioned J. A. Uriarte, a monk from Biscay to whom Bonaparte commended the translation of the Bible into the dialect of Gipuzkoa, and parts of it into other dialects. Only the first hooks of this translation of the Old Testament were edited. More than the edition of the translated texts (very short editions, from one to two hundred and fifty copies sold) the preparation of the team of collaborators had a greater echo.

In the first half of the present century, very few biblical translations come into light, until in 1959 the complete translation of the Bible made by and left unpublished by R. 0labide, dead seventeen years earlier, is published. The utter purist tendency presented by this translation in its language style makes its comprehension very hard and the approval by the public and its use in liturgy hardly impossible.

The second Vatican Council promoted again the biblical translations. In 1977 an Interecclesial Commission is created for the translation of the Bible, which after having published the New Testament is now working on the translation of the Old Testament. So much can he said about the Interdiocesan Liturgical Commission or the translation of the Bible, which published its version of the New Testament in 1980.