in heaven above or on the earth beneath

The Hebrew that is translates as “in heaven above or on the earth beneath” or similar in English, presented a challenge for Iloko translators. It eventually was translated as iti langit wenno iti daga or “in/on/at heaven or in/on/at earth.”

Noel Osborn (in The Bible Translator 1980, p. 239ff. ) explains: “In some expressions, Iloko requires more information about position or direction to be included than both Hebrew and English. For example, the appropriate Iloko demonstrative is normally used in place of a neutral English preposition of place. Thus, the phrase “on the mountain”, often becomes idiay bantay (‘there on the mountain’) or ditoy bantay (‘here on the mountain’), depending on whether the speaker is far from the mountain or on the mountain himself. If a neutral expression is desired, then the indefinite ‘preposition’ iti is used, which specifies neither the location of the speaker nor whether a person or object is on, in, at, or by the mountain.

“The translation of the second commandment into Iloko, and particularly Ex 20:4, thus presents a problem which does not exist for translation into English. The sweeping ban against making a ‘graven image’ extends to ‘any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’ Since the typical situation of utterance is egocentric, meaning that the speaker is the center of reference, and since Iloko tends to include information about the position of the speaker, the normal rendering of the words ‘in heaven’ and ‘in earth’ would be idiay langit (‘there in heaven’) and di toy daga (‘here on earth’).

“This rendering, in fact, is what the Iloko translators had at first decided to use, following the old version as well as the customary reference to heaven and earth, until it was pointed out to them that the speaker in this Sinai context is God himself. If we include this sort of information about the position of the speaker, which is not present in the original, it would place God on earth rather than in heaven. Furthermore, he would be represented as speaking from the mountain, which, in a sense, would be neither in heaven nor on the earth. The translators decided to follow the neutrality of the Hebrew, even though it is not as warm and natural as their earlier choice, and have now rendered it as iti langit wenno iti daga (‘in/on/at heaven or in/on/at earth’).”

Leave a Reply