birds or four-footed animals or reptiles

The Greek that is translated as “birds or four-footed animals or reptiles” in English presented an obstacle in the translation into Western Parbate Kham so that it was dropped from the translation.

D. E. Watters (p. 226f.) tells that story:

“Khams see things differently. It’s not that they don’t observe the same traits that we do; it’s just that the distinction between giving birth to living young or laying eggs doesn’t matter a lot to them. Babies are babies. They’re more concerned with other factors, such as “is the animal naughty or nice?” Their classification system comprises things like laa-gaa: ‘leopard-eagles,’ syaa-baa: ‘deer-pheasants,’ baza-biza: ‘bird-rats,’ and rwihza-wanza: ‘bug-worms.’

“’Leopard-eagles’ cause harm; it doesn’t matter if they’re mammals or birds. They prey on the domain of man, stealing his chickens and sheep; they are what we would call predators. ‘Deer-pheasants’ are the opposite, providing food for man; these are the game animals. ‘Bird-rats’ are the little critters, things that scurry around on the forest floor and flit through the village. ‘Bug-worms’ are the creepy-crawlies, things that make your skin crawl. They’re mostly bugs, snakes, and lizards, but they also include a few unexpected creatures like the river otter (which is regarded as a slimy creature, similar to Gollum from The Lord of the Rings).

“So what were we to do with a passage like Romans 1:22—23, in which a Greek classification is assumed: ‘Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things’?

“Any attempt to translate this passage verbatim in Kham, which we tried, only makes it seem that four-footedness is the point of the passage. Khams have no such classification, and the mere novelty of singling out ‘four-footed’ beasts makes it a highly marked expression, the focus of assertion. It’s like saying, ‘If only they had made images of three-footed beasts, it wouldn’t have been so bad. But these fools made four-footed beasts!’

“The point of the passage is clear enough: ‘professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.’ This is not a treatise on biological classification; it’s a statement about the foolishness of idolatry. Even the Khams laugh at the idolatry of the Hindus, so when the passage is rendered in their language, the absurdity is heightened: “In those very things in which they claimed to ‘know it all,’ they became totally ignorant. In place of the glorious, living, and eternal God, they made images of man, animal-beasts, bird-rats, and bug-worms, and worshiped them instead of God.

“Who but a fool would stoop to worship a bird-rat or a bug-worm?”

See also birds of the air and every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature.

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