singular vs. plural (Neh. 2:12-15)

The narrative in Nehemiah 2:12-15 mentions that Nehemiah is accompanied by a number of other people. Yet, the verb forms (and pronouns) in this and the preceding verses are all singular in the Hebrew text. In the Chuj translation everything is retold in plural forms, except the verb forms of “inspect” in verses 13 and 15 since Nehemiah “had not confided in the men what his plans are, so presumably only he is inspecting walls.”

For the Mam on the other hand, translation consultant and the translators reached a different decision: “The team and I discussed this issue in depth and concluded that the level of leadership of the other men was so extremely low (they are only mentioned once and were not even aware of the purpose of the trip) that the singulars could stand.”

blot out

For the phrase that is that is translated into English as “name blotted out” Mam (Ostuncalco) has a nice phrase “the bowl will be overturned” which corresponds very closely to “the name will be blotted out”–i.e., that the family will completely die out.

clothe with cursing as a coat

The English New Revised Standard Version translates this as “he clothed himself with cursing as his coat, may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones.” Mam (Ostuncalco) has an expression which comes from the way liquor enters into the entire body to warm it, and they used this idiom to replace the two figures for complete identification of the curse with the person. “May the curse saturate him as liquor saturates the one who drinks it.”

incline your heart

The phrase that is translated in English versions as “incline your heart” is translated into Mam (Ostuncalco) as “throw your stomach.”

See also Seat of the Mind for traditional views of “ways of knowing, thinking, and feeling.”

cry out

The Hebrew that is rendered with “cry out” in English translation is translated into Mam (Ostuncalco) as “call out with all your stomach” (for emphasis).

discern, understand

The Hebrew term that is translated as “you will understand” (or “discern”) in English versions is translated into Mam (Ostuncalco) as “understand in your eye/face” (= understanding, insight.)

his word

The Hebrew that is rendered in English as “his word” is translated into Mam (Huehuetenango) as “his action.” Word and action may seem contrasting to us, but actually biblically word and action are closely related, especially in the context of a promise to do something, as here (whether God or Hannah).

insects that fly, swarming insects

The Hebrew that is translated as “insects that fly” or “swarming insects” in English is translated as “small animals with wings like flies” in Mam, “insects that fly in big groups” in Chuj, and “animals that fly and have more than two legs” in Kaqchikel. None of these languages has a pre-existing category for insects.

See also birds of the air / fish of the sea.