Fady Mekhael is working on the first Arabic translation of the Bible in 150 years to be accepted by all churches in the Middle East. Now a new generation of Middle Easterners will be able to read and understand these Scriptures.
Mekhael Th.M.'18 is a research fellow at the Bible Society of Egypt. He’s specializing in the New Testament. For him, this important work had to be done at Duke Divinity School.
“Duke is a well-respected school all over the world,” he says. “It has the some of the world leading New Testament scholars. I also wanted to be in a Christian community but not a fundamentalist environment. Duke has this balance between serious scholarship and maintaining a faithful and Christian life.”
“As a person coming from the Middle East, I’m wondering how the gospels as studied in academia can help my nation back in Egypt,” Mekhael says. “How can it help the Middle East understand Jesus? How can studying the New Testament bring hope to our nation?”
In recent years, Christians have been persecuted in the Middle East. “We are living in very frustrating times,” Mekhael notes. The Middle East has witnessed the Arabic Spring revolutions in the past six years, with two of them happening in Egypt. Christians have protested in the streets despite their fears of Muslim fundamentalists who have attacked Christian as well as government institutions and police stations.”
“It’s not easy to maintain the Christian existence in the Middle East,” he says. “It’s a struggle for survival.” Part of Mekhael’s mission is to figure out how to create reconciliation in a place where violence has often been part of its history.
Mekhael is a member of the Presbyterian Church of Egypt, the leading Protestant church in the Middle East. One challenge facing Christian churches in the Middle East is that the only Arabic translation of the Bible that has been universally accepted by the churches is in archaic Arabic that many people do not understand it today. He hopes to change that with the translation he is preparing to work on as part of the Bible Society of Egypt.
“As time goes on, languages change. The younger generation doesn’t understand the classical Arabic anymore,” he says. “The dream of the Bible society is to have a new Arabic translation based on the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament that we have, to be translated in a clear modern language. We want to maintain accessibility and accuracy, in term of its representation of the original Greek.”
Mekhael plans to have two versions of the translation, a colloquial Arabic version made for speaking and a more formal Arabic for reading.
“My professors at Duke are helping me master the Greek language in terms of understanding the text and construction. They are helping me to express this original Greek in modern language.”
Eventually, Mekhael will return to his native Egypt and complete the translations. But during his time at Duke, he’s been welcomed with home cooking and a church community that makes him feel very loved. “It is my first experience of living for quite substantial time outside Egypt, but my friends in the Duke community helped me overcome the cultural shock,” he says. “One of my friends in Durham invites me to her home, where her chef husband cooks Egyptian food for me. The professors at Duke are very accessible and available for any scholarly need. It took me some time to find a church that I like but it happened eventually. Again, my Duke friends helped me on that. Overall, the community at Durham, and especially, at Duke, is very warm. They taught me practically what it means to be really Christian.”