I can’t remember the guy’s name, but I once saw an interview with one of the lead writers on the old “Batman” show with Adam West, which was a staple of my childhood. Evidently the guy had a master’s in historical linguistics or something and he told a hysterical story about how the character King Tut (that corpulent villain in the faux Egyptian gear, played by the inimitable Victor Buono).
Tut’s henchmen’s original names were actually obscure curse words and vulgarities in Coptic and they received loads of complaints from the few folks who knew that relatively rare language. The network made them change the names on the ubiquitous black t-shirts that all of these guys wore. At least that’s the story I remember.
Those names on the black t-shirts extended, of course, to the famous cave where Batman kept all of his wonderful computers and gadgets. Each item was labeled clearly in block letters. Nothing was, apparently, left to chance in the man of justice’s lair. Even the phone was labeled with “telephone,” or at least it seemed that way to me.
This morning I looked for some still photos of the show and ran across one of Batman and Robin standing in front of a computer labeled “Electronic Translator” at http://www.batmangiftideas.com/batmanbio.htm (you’ll have to scroll down near the bottom). I couldn’t upload the still to this post, but it connects with my actual reason for this post: I thought of “Batman” when I read the incredible news that a computer has decoded Ugaritic script in only a few hours. A few hours! This breakthrough means that we will finally be able to crack, hopefully, important languages like Etruscan which, unbelievably, have so far eluded us.
Amazingly, part of the discovery came when an axe was recovered from a dig and they realized that the axe apparently was labeled with the word “Axe”! According to the lead researcher Regina Barzilay,
“the decipherment of Ugaritic took years and relied on some happy coincidences—such as the discovery of an axe that had the word “axe” written on it in Ugaritic.”
Evidently there were some cheeky folks living in that era too!
The use of software, including intuitive artificial intelligence techniques, has been a boon to Bible translators too, especially those who work with dialects in remote areas. Hopefully these new developments will help to promote these new translations of the Gospel so that more ears can hear the Good News in their own tongue.
Though the Spirit is able to reverse Babel (Romans 8:26) on our behalf, there will come a day when Babel will be reversed in a new way, when the name of “man” no longer is self-exalted (Gen. 11:4), as every tongue, in every language, will lift up the rightful name, confessing that “Jesus is Christ Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-12). Perhaps this software will help to hasten this declaration for more people.