By the Power of the Spirit: Stories of Iranian Christians by Kenneth J Thomas

(Published by the Association of Iranian Presbyterian Churches and Fellowships in North America; 2015 – and in the UK available from Elam Publications – PO Box 75, Godalming, Surrey, GU8 6YP – or email to  publication@elam.com) £3.00 plus postage.)

Dr Kenneth Thomas, a Bible scholar, Presbyterian theological teacher in Iran for seventeen years and a translation consultant to the United Bible Societies, has produced this short (110 pages) and very readable account of twenty-seven figures he has selected from the history of Christian faith in Iran – a by-product of his major study of Persian language Bible translation noted below.

Starting with Tatian and concluding with Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti he ranges through eight different eras of the last two thousand years of Iranian history to highlight significant figures ‘whose birthplace was within the bounds of Persian domination at the time they lived. They can be described as Armenians, Assyrians, Persians or Kurds.’

The book is divided into two sections – Christians in Apostolic Churches and Christians in Newer Churches. Then through the lives of people like Aphrahat, Mar Aba 1, Ivanis ‘Izz al-Din, Yuhannan Gavilani, Jonathan Marzaki, Behravesh Pakizegi and Seth Yeghnazar we gain insights into Christian faith in Iran at different stages in its history.

And those connected with the Diocese of Iran are well represented – Carapet Yohannes, Benyamin Badal, Norollah Hakim (highlighting the Jewish tradition within the diocese) Jalil Qazzaq and Bishop Hassan are all included.

Further value is added to the book by the brief Scene setting introductions to the history of Iran at the beginning of the eight eras that he has identified.

The Book of Hebrews speaks of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ cheering us on as we follow Christ – and among them are these Christians of Iran. Iranian Christians of today and those who associate with them are part of a great tradition of faith stretching back to the time of the Apostles and on into the future and this book sheds light on some who today may be lesser known figures of that chain of faith – and for bringing them back to our awareness we should be grateful to Kenneth Thomas.

Distribution is through Elam Ministries – and at £3.00 a copy, this is a bargain. There will be copies of the book on sale at the Spring meeting.

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A Restless Search: A History of Persian Translations of the Bible by Kenneth J. Thomas (with a contribution by Ali-Asghar Aghbar) published by the American Bible Society in 2015. (550 pages).Hardback £61.50

A major and authoritative study of the many translations of the Bible (and portions of the Bible) into Persian from the fifth century to the twenty-first, this is the third volume in the American Bible Society’s series of monographs on the History of Bible Translation.

There are substantial sections on Henry Martyn and Mira Ali’s translation of the New Testament and Robert Bruce’s revision to create what is often seen as the classic version of the whole Bible. Recent translations – the Living Bible; the Bible Societies’ Common Language Version; Elam Ministries’ Millennium Translation – are explained and explored. Other translations by Catholic, Jewish and Muslim translators are also covered – including our own Khalil Razmara’s ‘Mojdeh Asan’: Easy Good News. It is fascinating to see the range of work that has taken place in the last forty years.

The background note on the book states that ‘he demonstrates how literary style, vocabulary, and word choice were vexed by lack of a standard Persian vocabulary for key biblical terms… In addition he incorporates research by literary scholar Ali-Asghar Aghbar on the stylistics of three major Persian biblical translations.’

The book concludes with a summary of trends in Persian language translation; a list of all known translations; and a thirty page bibliography. It is the invaluable fruit of many years of research and study, which leave scholars of Persian Christianity in Kenneth Thomas’s debt.

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