dome, expanse, firmament

The Hebrew that is translated as “firmament,” “expanse,” or “dome” in English is translated in Roviana as galegalearane: “the open space between the earth and the sky” and in Moru as “empty space.”

In Idoma it is translated as okpanco — “the top of the sky.” “According to tradition, when the world began, the okpanco was low. A woman was pounding yams and her pestle kept hitting okpanco and it started going higher and higher.”

In Naskapi it is translated as “sky skin” — “like a caribou skin.”

(Sources: Roviana: Carl Gross; Moru: Jan Sterk; Idoma: Rob Koops; Naskapi: Doug Lockhart in Word Alive 2013)

In Lingala it is translated as “surface.” Sigurd F. Westberg (in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 117ff.) explains: “The ‘firmament’ in Genesis 1 gave us another problem. Its meaning in English is certainly not immediately obvious. The dictionary tells us that the Hebrew means something close to our English word ’expanse.’ It seems, however, that the Hebrew idea may not always have been as abstract as that, for Isaiah says that the Lord ‘stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.’ But the Greek word used in the Septuagint gives the idea of a firm and solid structure, and this is the idea that is carried out in our English word ‘firmament.’ Modern translations into English, Swedish, Norwegian and French take one or the other of these two leads. It is the predicament of the translator that he dare not hesitate too long between ideas. (…) In this case we tried to arrive at ’expanse’ by the use of a word meaning ’width,’ but we found that it is not really understandable except as it is associated with the noun of which it indicates the width. It cannot be used alone. The word we finally used means ‘surface,’ but it also has the idea of something stretched out or smoothed out. It is more concrete than we should like, but it does not require identity with a concrete object as does the word for width’.’

In Newari it is translated as “upper part of water” (Gen. 1:6 is translated “height between two portions of water.”) (Source: Newari Back Translation)

In Tenharim a translation for “firmament” was not deemed possible because there were no overlaps in the world view of the Tenharim speakers and that of the cosmology of Genesis. LaVera Betts (in: Notes on Translation, September 1971, p. 16ff.) explains: “[In their view,] heaven’s edge is curbed and solid. It can become meshed releasing the water above it onto the clouds, which to the Parintintín [the Tenharim speakers] are gathered wind, in order for this water to be dispersed in the form of rain. An entrance, position and description unknown, is available to the occupants of the layers of heaven through which they may pass to the world. To each layer of heaven and heaven as a whole they apply the same word: yvaga.

“The sun, moon, and stars attach to the world’s side of heaven’s edge. The sun and moon have separate paths-the moon making a half revolution and returning, and the sun making a complete revolution. No all-inclusive term for the heavenly bodies, earth, and the expanse between them so far has been encountered in Parintintín. Nor has there been found a suitable term for this expanse alone. During the day the expanse could be called the open/clear space: mytuêa; but at night it disappears into heaven and night takes its place. Its occurrence, then, is contingent on the presence of light and therefore inappropriate for expressing firmament (Gen 1:6).

“To translate ‘firmament’ as a vault the translator possibly could have used heaven’s edge which, although suiting their world view grandly, poses problems in the translator’s mind especially as to the restricted meaning it would force on the translation for them. That a good shaman is believed to be able to bring heaven down immediately over the earth reveals that to them the expanse over the earth is empty, or compressible and flexible, and the ‘vault’ movable.

“The possible translation of atmosphere for firmament was settled upon and the term used was ‘wind’: yvytua. The phrase ‘and God called the firmament heaven’ was deleted. A possible alternate ‘and God called the place of the wind heaven’ also was not used as Coriolano [the indigenous translator] did not know where the wind went when it is not seen in the form of clouds nor felt; however, he insisted the wind is everlasting — unlike one’s breath which is not lasting. Animates do not breathe air/wind but their hearts pump their own breath.”

light

The Hebrew that is translated in English as “light” is translated in Newari as “white light.” (Source: Newari Back Translation)

In Tenharim the translation is mytuêa or “open/clear space”. LaVera Betts (in: Notes on Translation, September 1971, p. 16ff.) explains: “According to Catarina, the chief’s wife, the moon is a woman and the stars, also considered snails, are her children. In Gen 1:14, therefore, ‘the lights in the firmament of heaven’ is translated literally ‘the lamps/illuminating things on the heaven’ to eliminate the idea of the moon, etc. being animate. To express the idea of light (Gen. 1:3), then, without the presence yet of the sun, moon, or stars, the term open/clear space: mytuêa, was used. Neither the heavenly bodies nor artificial lights nor their obvious rays have to be seen in order for this term to be appropriate. It is a term indicating merely the opposite of no light, that is, the opposite of darkness; and since there were no objects to fill in the space, it still is true in the other sense of the term. Other terms meaning light involved the presence of the sun, moon, stars, or artificial lighting.”

See also let there be light.

lights in the dome of the sky

The Hebrew that is translated as “lights in the dome of the sky” or similar in English is translated in Tenharim as “the lamps/illuminating things on the heaven.” LaVera Betts (in: Notes on Translation, September 1971, p. 16ff.) explains: “According to Catarina, the chief’s wife, the moon is a woman and the stars, also considered snails, are her children. In Gen 1:14, therefore, ‘the lights in the firmament of heaven’ is translated literally ‘the lamps/illuminating things on the heaven’ to eliminate the idea of the moon, etc. being animate.”