New book places Biblical stories in contemporary Czechia

Alexandr Flek, photo: Marián Vojtek, Czech Radio

Christians around the world are celebrating Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. But what would it look like if Jesus was born today, in the 21st century, in the Czech town of Beroun? This paraphrase of the birth of Jesus and other Biblical stories retold and reimagined can be found in a newly published book called Parabible. Its author is Alexandr Flek, a publisher, theologian and the chief translator of the modern Czech Bible version, Bible 21.

Alexandr Flek,  photo: Marián Vojtek,  Czech Radio
I asked Mr Flek to tell me more about the Parabible and the motivation behind the project:

“As a translator I am always striving to communicate the message of the original text and of course in a traditional translation you are bound to the wording of the original and you have to be faithful to the original language.

“Often I have thought how nice it would be to be able to say it as we say it today and maybe to use some other metaphors that are meaningful to us today. You cannot do that as a translator - hence the paraphrase.”

Did you feel that people couldn’t really understand the original text or that they couldn’t perhaps relate to it?

“Not necessarily, working on the Parabible I have been thinking about two groups of people. One group are those that do not read the Bible, ever. Many people, in my experience most people in the Czech Republic, have never read the Bible.

“So for them, the Parabible might mean a gateway through which they might get some kind of access to the Biblical story or the message of the Gospels and they might end up opening the real Bible, not just the Parabible.

“And then there is another group, which is actually a huge target group of the Parabible, and that’s people who have been raised on the Bible. They know it very well, maybe even too well, so the wording of those parables and stories is so familiar to them that they no longer feel the power or are impacted by those texts.”

Photo: ČT24
Was there any story that you didn’t dare to paraphrase for some reason?

“Yes, definitely. The Parabible covers the story of Jesus Christ, it’s not the whole Bible. I skipped over some stories that are too notoriously well-known. For example the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan are missing.

“I wanted to give space to the readers to create their own versions. That’s actually the whole point of the Parabible. It’s not just to put another book on the book market but to share a way of appropriating the Bible text for ourselves in a way that make those ancient texts relevant for us today.”

“The other type of texts were those that I didn’t dare to paraphrase. An example of that would be the Transfiguration. I just felt this was such a transcendent and mysterious situation that I found no parallel to that in our modern experience. So I didn’t dare touch it. So there are definitely texts in the Bible that I do not understand well enough to paraphrase.”