NOTE: The appearance of the following article does not imply that the International Society of Bible Collectors endorses the Klingon language NT project or the rationale for it. We carry it as an item of information only, which might be of interest to some collectors.
What could prompt a relatively sane person to undertake the translation of the New Testament into a language created for a fictional race of aliens in the Star Trek Universe? Of the many translations of the Bible in the past, the goal has always been to render God’s Word into a version which will make the Gospel available to other groups of Earthlings who can benefit spiritually from reading the translation in question. But what value is there in a Bible written in a fictitious language for fictitious beings? The answer is a complex one, and, for the author of these lines, also a personal one.
Most of the really great discoveries in science have been made when the scientists were not attacking a problem directly, but were ‘playing’ with it. Certainly the Bible is not a toy and is not meant to be played with for the amusement of its readers or translators. However, focusing on the task of trying to explain the Gospel to people who live on another planet and about whom we know very little, except that they are space travelers and live in a very militaristic society, is mind-opening. The Klingons, whose Home World is very distant from ours, have little or no knowledge of life on our planet (with the exception - we are told - of high government officials and military officers). Consequently, there are very few words which describe plants, animals and food with which we are familiar. They have no knowledge of our history or our religious practices. Most probably, they don’t even know where the planet Earth is located in the Cosmos, much less first century Palestine.
Christianity is a historical religion which stems from a certain period of history in a small country in the Middle East. It is focused on the meaning of the life of one man whose life and work took place during a few years in a distant time period. Yet, the theological message which emanates from this brief period in human history is timeless. It is about life, death, redemption, faith, and salvation - themes which transcend it’s historical basis and earth-bound origins. It gradually became clear to me that a conventional translation into the Klingon language was impossible. It seemed to me that the only way one could make Klingons understand God’s Word was to retell the story in symbols and in an environment with which they were familiar.
Before I go much further and the reader begins to believe I’ve lost my sanity, I need to emphasize here that I am fully aware that Klingons do not exist. However, in order to create a successful translation, it was necessary to treat the text as if they existed, and that it was my intention to bring the Gospel to them.
I wanted to create a translation which could be read and understood by the mythical “Klingon-in-the-street.” I, of course, also never lost sight of the fact that my real target reader was the Star Trek fan and the ‘Sunday-go-to-meetin” Christian, who needed to see the Gospel presented in a different way; and perhaps in this fashion, gain some insights which would not have occurred to him or her by reading a more traditional translation. To this end, it would not do to bring out a monolingual translation into Klingon, since this could be read easily by only a small handful of dedicated Klingonists. A bilingual text was necessary: Klingon and Federation Standard. Federation Standard is the term Klingons use to refer to English, which presumes that English will have become the “lingua franca” of the United Federation of Planets in the twenty-third century. In this case, however, it means a more-or-less literal translation of the Klingon text back into English, producing a sort of ‘Star Trek’ English version, so the reader can get the feel of the Klingon text without actually having read it in Klingon. Of course, the bilingual text can also prove useful to the student of Klingon who wants to improve his skills by working through the translation.
Adjustments in the text to make it ‘Klingon friendly’ are considerable. However, it must be remembered that, unlike some translations - those which attempt to change Christian doctrine by making the biblical text conform to current standards of political correctness by denying the Trinity and replacing “God the Mother” for “God the Father”, or talking about the ‘child of humanity” instead of the “Son of Man”, thus taking away Jesus’ Messiahship - the goal here is to try to keep the Christian doctrinal concepts intact, even while modifying specifics of the text, to make it more understandable to it’s Klingon readers.
Having said this, let me paint the scenario. All of the Klingon Empire is under the military occupation of Romulan soldiers. The Empire is divided into three provinces (colonies) - Kronos, Judah and Bajora. The Vulcans control the religious and social life (they axe the Scribes and Pharisees), and the Ferengis are in control of the business world. The Klingons are expecting a “warrior Messiah” who will drive out the Romulans and take the Emperor’s throne. Such a man appears in the form of Jesu Kahless. After undergoing the cleansing ceremony with Jong the Baptist, he chooses his disciples. Among them are Maltz, maroQ, juQ, ‘angHu’, petor, juDaS, the twin (Thomas), pI’lIgh, and Jong. After a military attack to take the Holy City (Jerusalem) fails, Jesu is crucified on the “Claw”. The claw is the Klingon trefoil, the three-pointed star which is spread out in a cross-like shape, and which represents the flag symbol of the Klingon Empire.
Since there is no word for “cross” in Klingon, and the claw is an important symbol in the Klingon Empire, I felt like the Apostle Paul (“putlh” in Klingon) preaching the “Unknown God” to the Romans. I took a symbol that already existed in the culture, and used it in a way that would make the readers understand the Gospel more clearly.
Further, the name “Jesu Kahless” was chosen to translate Jesus Christ, because the Klingons already owed their allegiance to a warrior Messiah whose name is “Kahless” (‘geylIS’ in Klingon spelling). After long deliberation, I decided that instead of trying to transliterate “Christ”, “Christus”, or “Messiah”; or to translate “the anointed one” or the “chosen one”; it would be more effective simply to use the name “Kahless” as the equivalent of Christ. This is not to imply in any way that Jesus is one and the same as the Klingon Messiah, but rather that he is the true Kahless, or true Messiah.
Our efforts to “evangelize the Klingons”, so to speak, has stirred a lot of interest. There are a considerable number of people, both Christians and non-Christians, who are of the opinion that one should not mix Star Trek and religion. The one is a matter of faith, the other of fantasy. Others feel that “we have too much time on our hands” and that the project is a monumental waste of time, since the Klingons don’t exist, and therefore don’t need saving. I guess one could argue that watching Star Trek is a waste of time, but for those who do, I hope it will be reassuring to have God’s Word in a medium that speaks to them. At least it won’t hurt to think about the message of the Bible in a new medium.