John the Baptist

The name that is transliterated as “John (the Baptist)” in English is translated in Spanish Sign Language and Mexican Sign Language as “baptize” (source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff. )


“John the Baptist” in Mexican Sign Language (source: BSLM )

In German Sign Language (Catholic) it is translated with the sign for the letter J and the sign signifying a Catholic baptism by sprinkling on the head.


“John” in German Sign Language /catholic, source: Taub und katholisch

In American Sign Language it is translated with the sign for the letter J and the sign signifying “shout,” referring to John 1:23. (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)


“John” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

Similarly, in French Sign Language, it is “prepare the way.” (Source: Lexique – Explications en langue des signes)

In Vietnamese (Hanoi) Sign Language it is translated with the sign for leaping in the womb (see Luke 1:41) and baptism. (Source: The Vietnamese Sign Language translation team, VSLBT)


“John” in Vietnamese Sign Language, source: SooSL

A question of cultural assumptions arose in Tuvan. The instinctive way to translate this name denotatively would be “John the Dipper,” but this would carry the highly misleading connotation that he drowned people. It was therefore decided that his label should focus on the other major aspect of his work, that is, proclaiming that the Messiah would soon succeed him. (Compare his title in Russian Orthodox translation “Иоанн Предтеча” — “John the Forerunner.”) So he became “John the Announcer,” which fortunately did not seem to give rise to any confusion with radio newsreaders! (Source: David Clark in The Bible Translator 2015, p. 117ff. )

In Noongar it is translated as John-Kakaloorniny or “John Washing” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

See also John the Baptist (icon).

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: John the Baptist .

Abram

The term that is transliterated as “Abram” in English is translated in American Sign Language with the sign signifying sojourning with a staff, clearly differentiating it from Abraham. (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)


“Abram” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

Similarly, in Vietnamese (Hanoi) Sign Language it is translated with a sign that demonstrates that he has to wander from his home. (Source: The Vietnamese Sign Language translation team, VSLBT)


“Abram” in Vietnamese Sign Language, source: SooSL

Seer also Abraham.

Abraham

The name that is transliterated as “Abraham” in English is translated in the vast majority of sign languages, including American Sign Language with the sign signifying “hold back arm” (referring to Genesis 22:12).


“Abraham” in American Sign Language (source )

In Vietnamese (Hanoi) Sign Language it is translated with a sign for that demonstrates his new destiny. Previously, he had been called to wander from his home, and the name “Abram” reflected this movement (see here). The new sign name is in one location and stays there, showing Abraham will be given a land to call his own. At this time, Abraham was in the southern part of Canaan, which is shown on the base arm by the location near the elbow. (Source: The Vietnamese Sign Language translation team, VSLBT)


“Abraham” in Vietnamese Sign Language, source: SooSL

In Tira it is transliterated as Abaram. The choice of this, rather than the widely-known “Ibrahim,” as used in the Tira translation of the Qu’ran, was to offset it against the Muslim transliteration which originates from Arabic. (Source: J.A. Naudé, C.L. Miller Naudé, J.O. Obono in Acta Theologica 43/2, 2023, p. 129ff. )

Click or tap here to see two short video clips about Abraham (source: Bible Lands 2012)

See also our ancestor Abraham and Abram.

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Abraham .

Moses

The name that is transliterated as “Moses” in English is signed in Spanish Sign Language and Polish Sign Language in accordance with the depiction of Moses in the famous statue by Michelangelo (see here ). (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff. )


“Moses” in Spanish Sign Language, source: Sociedad Bíblica de España

American Sign Language also uses the sign depicting the horns but also has a number of alternative signs (see here).

In French Sign Language, a similar sign is used, but it is interpreted as “radiance” (see below) and it culminates in a sign for “10,” signifying the 10 commandments:


“Moses” in French Sign Language (source )

The horns that are visible in Michelangelo’s statue are based on a passage in the Latin Vulgate translation (and many Catholic Bible translations that were translated through the 1950ies with that version as the source text). Jerome, the translator, had worked from a Hebrew text without the niqquds, the diacritical marks that signify the vowels in Hebrew and had interpreted the term קרו (k-r-n) in Exodus 34:29 as קֶ֫רֶן — keren “horned,” rather than קָרַו — karan “radiance” (describing the radiance of Moses’ head as he descends from Mount Sinai).

Even at the time of his translation, Jerome likely was not the only one making that decision as this article alludes to.

In Swiss-German Sign Language it is translated with a sign depicting holding a staff. This refers to a number of times where Moses’s staff is used in the context of miracles, including the parting of the sea (see Exodus 14:16), striking of the rock for water (see Exodus 17:5 and following), or the battle with Amalek (see Exodus 17:9 and following).


“Moses” in Swiss-German Sign Language, source: DSGS-Lexikon biblischer Begriffe , © CGG Schweiz

In Vietnamese (Hanoi) Sign Language it is translated with the sign that depicts the eye make up he would have worn as the adopted son of an Egyptian princess. (Source: The Vietnamese Sign Language translation team, VSLBT)


“Moses” in Vietnamese Sign Language, source: SooSL

In Estonian Sign Language Moses is depicted with a big beard. (Source: Liina Paales in Folklore 47, 2011, p. 43ff. )

See also Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration.

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Moses .