Anton Thor Helle (1683 – 24./13. IV 1748) was a Baltic-German theologian, linguist and Bible translator. The complete translation of the Bible into North Estonian under his supervision, which appeared in 1739, was the chief model for the Estonian literary language for at least the next century.
Thor Helle ('Thor' is a particle, like 'von' or 'de') was born in Tallinn, the son of a German merchant. He attended the Tallinn Gymnasium ad studied theology at the University of Kiel. From 1713 he worked as pastor of the parish of Jüri, near Tallinn, where in 1721 he established a sacristan school. In 1715 he was elected Assessor of the Consistorium of Estonia. In 1740 he also became pastor of Kose, and in 1742 was made Dean of Ida-Harjumaa county.
The New Testament appeared for the first time in its entirely in the South Estonian language (Wastne Testament) in 1686, in North Estonian in 1715. The main translator of the latter was Eberhard Gutsleff senior. In 1729 second print of the North Estonian translation was published which was thoroughly revised by Thor Helle and Heinrich Gutsleff (son of Eberhard Gutsleff senior). Thor Helle, H. Gutsleff and his brother Eberhard Gutsleff junior belonged to a group of Pietist pastors active in Tallinn and its environs at the beginning of the 18th century who knew Estonian well and were enthusiastically devoted to propagating the Word of God and spiritual literature in Estonian. As a result of this group’s activity, in 1739 the first translation of the entire Bible into Estonian appeared on the initiative and under the leadership of Anton Thor Helle. There were many translators, and Thor Helle translated only some parts, but he did edit and collate the whole translation.
A prerequisite for translating the Bible was to compile a new prescriptive Estonian grammar to be used in the translation. Thor Helle began writing his Kurzgefaßte Anweisung zur Ehstnischen Sprache ('Concise Guide to the Estonian Language') in 1713, but since he was occupied with editing the Bible translation, his clerical colleagues, mainly Eberhard Gutsleff junior, contributed to compiling the grammar. The grammar appeared in 1732, 419 pages long. It also contains proverbs, sayings, riddles, names for flora and a list of Tallinn street-names and Estonian parishes, as well as an Estonian dictionary. The ten instructive tales in dialogue form at the end of the grammar, written by Thor Helle, Eberhard Gutsleff junior and others, may be regarded as the beginning of narrative writing in Estonian.
Largely, albeit with several alternations, the 1729 Bible translation and the aforementioned grammar follow the so-called old orthography, which had been inaugurated in 1693 by the Forselius / Hornung grammar. For more than a century the Bible translation applied the orthographic standard. In the mid-19th century the criticism of the old orthography began, because of its German-based origin and its unnaturalness, and as a result of Eduard Ahrens’ work, the new orthography, based on Finnish grammar, came into being, largely supplanting the old one by the late eighteen-seventies. Thor Helle’s translation, however, remained as the Estonian Bible until the mid-20th century. An edition of the same translation in the new orthography appeared in 1889, but the full new Bible translation only appeared in 1968. The appearance of Thor Helle’s Bible translation also meant that the South Estonian written language, having been in an equal position with the North Estonian literary language, began to be marginalised, and it was the North Estonian language that became the basis of the unified Estonian literary language.
Thor Helle directed the development of the Estonian language with other books as well. For example, with his participation, beginning in 1700-1702 there appeared Ma Kele Koddo- nink Kirko-Ramat ('The Home and Church Book in the Vernacular'), reissued in 1721 in a revised form, and by 1850, altogether 46 reprints of it had appeared. The editorial board of this handbook also published a translation of a work by the German Pietist J.A. Freylinghausen, Jummala Nou Inimesse iggawestesse õnnistussest ('God’s advice to Humanity for Eternal Blessing', 1727).
S. V. (Translated by C. M.)
Works in Estonian
Kurtzgefaszte Anweisung Zur Ehstnischen Sprache, in welcher mitgetheilet werden I. Eine GRAMMATICA. II. Ein VOCABULARIUM. III. PROVERBIA. IV. AENIGMATA. V. COLLOQUIA. Zuvörderst Denen, welche das Evangelium Christi der Ehstnischen Nation deutlich und verständlich zu predigen von GOtt beruffen werden; ... Zur Anleitung Mit Fleisz zusammen getragen; un nebst einem erwecklichen Sendschreiben Herrn D. Joh. Jacob Rambachs, ... an den EDITOREM, Auf Gutbefinden des Herrn AUTORIS [Anton thor Helle], mit einer Vorrede herausgegeben von Eberhard Gutsleff, Diacono bey der Ehstnischen Stadt-Gemeine in Reval. Tallinn: Eestimaa Konsistooriumi kirjastuskassa, 1732, 42+419 lk.
Lühike sissejuhatus eesti keelde 1732. Saksa keelest tõlkinud ja järelsõnad kirjutanud Annika Kilgi ja Kristiina Ross. Tallinn: Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2006, 540 lk. ['Kurtzgefaszte Anweisung Zur Ehstnischen Sprache'.]
As an editor
Eesti-Ma Kele Koddo- ning Kirko-Ramat. Mis sees on I. Önsa Öppetaja Luterusse Katekismus lühhikesse Selletussega; II. Keik Ewangeliummid ja Epistlid, ning ka 1. Meie Issanda Jesusse Kristusse Kannataminne ning Surm; 2.Jerusalemma Liñna Ärrarikminne; III. Üks Laulo-Ramat; ning IV. Üks Palwe-Ramat; Jummala Auuks, ning Eesti-Ma Rahwa Öppetusseks walmistud. Trükkitud 1721. Aastal. Tallinn: Eestimaa Konsistooriumi kirjastuskassa, 1721, 40+288+306+34+94 lk.
Meie Issanda JESUSSE KRISTUSSE uus Testament ehk Ue Seädusse Ramat, mis pärrast Meie Önnisteggia Sündimist neist pühhaist Ewangelistidest ja Apostlidest on ülleskirjotud, ja nüüd Ma Kele selgeste üllespandud, ja teiste pühha kirja paikadega ärraselletud; Ning ka Ausa Keisrilikko Ma Kunstoriummi Maenitsussed, mis Ma- ja Saksa Kele on seie ettepandud. Teistkorda trükkis Joan Köler. Tallinn: Eestimaa Konsistooriumi kirjastuskassa, 1729, 46+832 lk. [2. trükk.]
Piibli Ramat, se on keik se Jummala Sanna, mis Pühhad Jummala Mehhed, kes pühha Waimo läbbi juhhatud, Wanna Seädusse Ramatusse Ebrea Kele ja Ue Seädusse Ramatusse Kreka Kele essite on ülleskirjotanud, nüüd agga hopis, Jummala armo läbbi, meie Eesti- Ma Kele Essimest korda üllespandud, ja mitme sündsa salmiga ärraselletud. Essimesses otsas on Üks öppetus ja maenitsus nende heaks, kes Jummala sanna omma hinge kassuks püüdwad luggeda. TALLINNAS, Trükkis sedda Jakob Joan Köler. 1739. Aastal. Tallinn: 1739, 14+1087+308 lk.