Passover

The Hebrew and Greek pesach/pascha that is typically translated in English as “Passover” (see below) is translated in a variety of descriptive ways of various aspects of the Jewish festival. (Click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

  • Ojitlán Chinantec: “the feast of the passing by of God’s angel”
  • Lalana Chinantec: “the day would come which is called Passover, when the Israel people remember how they went out of the land of Egypt”
  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “the celebration when they ate their sheep”
  • Umiray Dumaget Agta: “the celebration of the day of their being brought out of bondage”
    (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Obolo: ijọk Iraraka — “Festival of Passing” (source: Enene Enene)
  • Guhu-Samane: “special day of sparing” (source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff. )
  • Yakan: “The festival of the Isra’il tribe which they call For-Remembering” (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Wolof: “Festival of the day of Salvation” (“the term ‘pass over’ brings up the image of a person’s crossing over a chasm after death”) (source: Marilyn Escher)
  • Bura-Pabir: vir kucelir fəlɓəla kəi — “time-of happiness-of jumping-over house”
  • Berom: Nzem Gyilsit Nelɔ — “Festival-of jumping-of houses”
  • Nigerian Fulfulde: Humto Ƴaɓɓitaaki / Humto Sakkinki — “Festival-of passing-over”
  • Hausa: Bikin Ƙetarewa — “Festival-of going-over” (source for this and three above: Andy Warren-Rothlin)
  • Jula: “Feast of end of slavery” (source: Fritz Goerling)
  • Bafanji: laiŋzieʼ — “pass-jump over” (source: Cameron Hamm)
  • Tiéyaxo Bozo / Jenaama Bozo: “Salvation/Rescue (religious) feast” (source: Marko Hakkola)
  • Sabaot: Saakweetaab Keeytaayeet — “Festival of Passing-by” (source: Iver Larsen)
  • Language spoken in India and Bangladesh: “Festival of avoidance”
  • Vlax Romani: o ghes o baro le Nakhimasko — “the Day of the Passing”
  • Saint Lucian Creole: Fèt Délivwans — “Feast of Deliverance” (source: David Frank)
  • Finnish: pääsiäinen (“The term is very probably coined during the NT translation process around 1520-1530. It is connected to a multivalent verb päästä and as such refers either to the Exodus (päästä meaning “to get away [from Egypt]”) or to the end of the Lent [päästä referring to get relieved from the limitations in diet]. The later explanation being far more probable than the first.”)
  • Northern Sami: beas’sážat (“Coined following the model in Finnish. The Sami verb is beassat and behaves partly like the Finnish one. Many Christian key terms are either borrowed from Finnish or coined following the Finnish example.”)
  • Estonian: ülestõusmispüha — “holiday/Sunday of the resurrection” — or lihavõttepüha — “holiday/Sunday of returning of meat”
  • Karelian: äijüpäivü — “the great day” (“Here one can hear the influence of the Eastern Christianity, but not directly Russian as language, because the Russian term is Пасха/Pasha or Воскресение Христово/Voskresenie Hristovo, ‘[the day of] the resurrection of Christ,’ but the week before Easter is called as the great week.”) (Source for this and three above: Seppo Sipilä)
  • Russian (for Russian speaking Muslims): праздник Освобождения/prazdnik Osvobozhdeniya — “Festival of-liberation” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)
  • Spanish Sign Language: pass through + miracle (source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)


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

  • English: Passover (term coined by William Tyndale that both replicates the sound of the Hebrew original pesah — פסח as well as part of the meaning: “passing over” the houses of the Israelites in Egypt) — oddly, the English Authorized Version (King James Version) translates the occurrence in Acts 12:4 as Easter
  • Low German: Osterfest “Easter” (translation by Johannes Jessen, publ. 1933, republ. 2006)

Many Romance languages follow the tradition from Latin that has one term for both “Easter” and “Passover” (pascha). Portuguese uses Páscoa for both, Italian uses Pascha, and French has Pâque for “Passover” and the identically pronounced Pâques for “Easter.”

In languages in francophone and lusophone (Portuguese speaking) Africa, indigenous languages typically use the Romance word for “Easter” as a loanword and often transliterate pesach/pascha. In Kinyarwanda and Rundi Pasika is used, in Swahili and Congo Swahili Pasaka, and in Lingala Pasika. In some cases, the transliteration of “Passover” is derived from the European language, such as Umbundu’s Pascoa (from Portuguese) and Bulu’s Pak (from French).

As John Ellingworth (in The Bible Translator 1980, p 445f. ) points out “in most contexts only the presence or absence of the definite article distinguishes them [in French la pâque for Passover and Pâques for Easter]. Since most African languages do not have definite articles, there remains no way to distinguish between the two terms where the general population has borrowed the word for Easter and the Bible translators have borrowed the word for Passover to use in their translation. Some even consider the references to [Passover] before the death of Christ as prophetic!”

See also this devotion on YouVersion .

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

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).

LORD of hosts

The Hebrew that is translated as “Lord of hosts” in English (or: “Yahweh of Armies” [translation by John Goldingay, 2018], “Hashem, Master of Legions” [ArtScroll Tanakh translation, 2011]) is translated in various ways: It’s translated as “God the Highest Ruler” in Kankanaey, as “Lord Almighty” in Newari, as Mndewa Imulungu or “Lord with all power” in Kutu (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext), as Wànjūnzhī Yēhéhuá (万军之耶和华) or “Jehovah of 10,000 [=all] armies” in Mandarin Chinese, as “Yawe God of the universe” in Mandinka, and in the German (Luther) Bible the second part of the name is transliterated: Herr Zebaoth or “Lord Zebaoth” (Swedish, Finnish and Latvian use the same translation strategy). The Russian Orthodox Synod translation uses a transliteration of the second part of the designation as well: Господь Саваоф / Gospod’ Savaof.

The traditional French translation of l’Eternel/Yahve/le Seigneur/Seigneur des armées (“Lord of the armies”) presents a problem when listened to, as Jean-Marc Babut explains (in The Bible Translator 1985, p. 411ff. ):

“For the hearer, the traditional translation l’Eternel/Yahve/le Seigneur des armées can easily be taken in a bad sense: there is nothing, in fact, to prevent the listener from hearing l’Eternel désarmé, ‘the Eternal One disarmed’ or ‘stripped of his power’! (…). Thus the Bible en français courant [publ. 1997] has decided to use the expression Seigneur/Dieu de l’univers, “Lord/God of the Universe”. This formula, which has an undeniably liturgical ring, seems to have been favorably received by users.”

Other, later French Bibles who have chosen a similar strategy, include Parole de Vie (publ. 2017) with Seigneur de l’univers or Bible Segond 21 (publ. 2007) with l’Eternel, le maître de l’univers.

See also Lord of hosts, host / powers, Pantokrator, and Lord Almighty.

Three Men visit Abraham (icon)

Following is a Russian Orthodox icon of the Three Men visiting Abraham which are depicted as the Trinity by Andrei Rublev (c. 1360 – c. 1430). The icon was likely painted between 1400 and 1410 (it is today located in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow).

 

Michael Stevens (in: The Word on Fire Bible, Vol 1, 2020, p. 118f.) comments on this icon:

“This depiction of the three persons of the Trinity is considered to be one of the finest works ever produced in the ancient tradition of Eastern iconography. Its creator, Andrei Rublev, is widely considered to be the greatest iconographer of all time, and this is one of the few panels of his that has been verified beyond doubt as his original work. Within this panel is contained a world of theological insight—a complex network of symbolism that is easily overlooked without careful study.

“Rublev’s representation of the Trinity is strikingly different from the typical Western Christians visualization of the Trinity, with God the Father as an elderly man, God the Son as a young man, and God the Holy Spirit as a dove. Here the artist uses the image of three conversing angelic figures to illustrate the relationship of the persons of the Trinity. The figures are drawn directly from Genesis 18, wherein three mysterious angelic figures visit the house of Abraham and receive his hospitality. While this biblical account from the Old Testament was written long before the Christian doctrine of the Trinity was understood, it has been interpreted as a Trinitarian foreshadowing by many of the Church Fathers. Flowing from this interpretation, Rublev gives us many clues that the three figures in his icon are not meant to represent mere angels, but are in fact the three persons of the Holy Trinity.

“The Father is shown on the left. His outer garment appears to shimmer elusively in the light, somewhere between gold and violet. This symbolizes his incorporeal (immaterial) nature, as well as his majesty over creation. Under this is a robe of blue, symbolizing his divinity. Across from him, the Son and the Holy Spirit bow their heads in acknowledgment that the Father is the unbegotten source of the Trinitarian processions.

“Christ sits in the middle and wears two contrasting garments — one an earthy red, and the other blue. The red represents Christ’s human nature and ministry on earth as well as his blood poured out for sinners. Like the Father’s inner robe, the blue portion of Christ’s clothing also signifies his divinity. The two garments’ colors are harmonious and pithily capture the two natures of Jesus. Finally, the gold stripe on Christ’s shoulder symbolizes his sharing in the kingship of God the Father.

“The Holy Spirit also wears the same divine blue as the others showing his nature as God- but outside he wears a robe of lush green, representing his role in the creation of the world. This harkens back to Genesis, where we are told that the Spirit ‘swept over the face of the waters’ (Gen. 1:2) before the creation of the universe and living things.

“The three persons are arranged inside a perfect circle, which symbolizes their Trinitarian oneness and perfection. The circle also helps to guide the viewer’s eye around the painting, creating a focal point in the space between the conversing figures.

“The Father and the Son’s wings overlap one another, signifying their familial relationship.

“The three primary background elements are borrowed from the biblical story of the angels’ visit to Abraham’s house, and each symbolizes a person of the Trinity. The house of Abraham behind God the Father represents his patriarchal authority by linking him to the character of Abraham, who was the father of the Hebrew people. The tree behind God the Son represents the cross of Jesus and new life offered by his Resurrection. The mountain behind the Holy Spirit (faintly seen) represents the soul’s journey to holiness, which is possible only through his divine power.”

Orthodox Icons are not drawings or creations of imagination. They are in fact writings of things not of this world. Icons can represent our Lord Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints. They can also represent the Holy Trinity, Angels, the Heavenly hosts, and even events. Orthodox icons, unlike Western pictures, change the perspective and form of the image so that it is not naturalistic. This is done so that we can look beyond appearances of the world, and instead look to the spiritual truth of the holy person or event. (Source )

See also let us make / become like one of us / let us go down.

Ham

In the Tuvan Bible translation project, the official policy (…) was to keep the spelling of names of major characters the same as in the Russian Synodal translation. However, the translation team and representatives of local Tuvan churches agreed that deviation in proper name spelling from the RST would be allowed on a case-by-case basis if there was a concrete need to do so.

Such a need arose with the name of Noah’s son Ham (חָ֥ם) in Genesis and elsewhere in the Old Testament.

In Russian, as in English, this is transliterated with three letters — Хам (Kham). In Russian, the name of this character has entered the language with the meaning of “boorish lout, impudent person” because of how Ham treated his father; in Tuvan, however, the word Хам (Kham) already means “shaman.” Since the Tuvan people continue to practice their traditional religion in which shamans play a major role, the translation team felt that leaving the transliteration of this name with the exact spelling as in Russian might cause needless offense to Tuvan sensibilities by unwittingly causing the text of Gen. 9:20-27 to portray shamans as the targets of Noah’s curse. Therefore, the translation team chose to avoid this potential stumbling block while continuing to maintain a close sound correspondence with the name of the biblical character as Tuvan Christians already knew it from the RST text. This was done by doubling the vowel — Хаам. Tuvan has long vowel phonemes that are written with a double vowel, so this is perfectly acceptable from the point of view of Tuvan orthographic conventions.

The correspondence of the Tuvan version of the name to the Russian Synodal spelling is still recognizable, but hopefully, the wrath of Tuvan shamans and their supporters has been averted by this small disliteration.

The rationale behind such an approach to spelling changes in names is concisely described in the foreword to the Tuvan Bible for the sake of transparency

Apparently, the similarity of the English version of this name to the food item (as in “I’ll have a ham and cheese sandwich”) is not deemed offensive enough to the meat-packing industry for a similar disliteration to be performed in English Bible translations.

Source: Vitaly Voinov in The Bible Translator 2012, p. 17ff.

In Spanish Sign Language it is translated with a sign that signifies “African,” referring to passages like Psalm 105:23. (Source: Steve Parkhurst)


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

See also Shem and Japheth.

truly truly - I tell you

The Greek that is often translated in English as “truly, truly, I tell you” or similar is translated in the Russian BTI translation (publ. 2015) as Поверьте Мне (Pover’te Mne) or “trust me.” (Source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)

See also Amen.

cherub

Some key biblical terms that were directly transliterated from the Hebrew have ended up with unforeseen meanings in the lexicons of various recipient languages.

Take, for example, the English word “cherub,” from Hebrew “kĕrȗb.” Whereas the original Hebrew term meant something like “angelic being that is represented as part human, part animal” (…), the English word now means something like “a person, especially a child, with an innocent or chubby face.” Semantic shift has been conditioned in English by the Renaissance artistic tradition that portrayed cherubim in the guise of cute little Greek cupids. This development was of course impossible to foresee at the time when the first English translations borrowed this Hebrew word into the English Bible tradition, following the pattern of borrowing set by the Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament.

In Russian, the semantic shift of this transliteration was somewhat different: the -îm ending of “kĕrūbîm,” originally signifying plurality in Hebrew, has been reanalyzed as merely the final part of the lexical item, so that the term херувим (kheruvim) in Russian is a singular count noun, not a plural one. (A similar degrammaticalization is seen in English writers who render the Hebrew plural kĕrūbîm as “cherubims.”) Apparently, this degrammaticalization of the Hebrew ending is what led the Russian Synodal translator of Genesis 3:24 to mistakenly render the Hebrew as saying that the Lord God placed a kheruvim (accusative masculine singular in Russian) to the east of the garden of Eden, instead of indicating a plural number of such beings. (Source: Vitaly Voinov in The Bible Translator 2012, p. 17ff.)

In Ngäbere the Hebrew that is translated in English as “cherub” is translated as “heavenly guard” (source: J. Loewen 1980, p. 107), in Nyamwezi as v’amalaika v’akelubi or “Cherubim-Angel” to add clarity, in Vidunda as “winged creature” (source for this and before: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext), and in Bura-Pabir as “good spirit with wings” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin).

In Northern Pashto it is either translated as “heavenly creature” (Afghan Pashto Bible, publ. 2023) or “winged creature” (Holy Bible in Pakistani [Yousafzai] Pashto, publ. 2020) (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin).

In French Sign Language it is translated with a sign that combines “angel” and “spinning sword” (referring to Genesis 3:24):


“Cherub” in French Sign Language (source: La Bible en langue des signes française )

See also seraph and ark of the covenant.

James (brother of Jesus)

The Greek that is transliterated as “James” is translated in Swiss-German Sign Language with a sign that depicts putting faith into action.


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

In Spanish Sign Language it is translated with the sign for “tongue,” referring to James 3:5 and following. (Source: Steve Parkhurst)


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

Following is a Russian Orthodox icon of James from the 16th century.

Orthodox Icons are not drawings or creations of imagination. They are in fact writings of things not of this world. Icons can represent our Lord Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints. They can also represent the Holy Trinity, Angels, the Heavenly hosts, and even events. Orthodox icons, unlike Western pictures, change the perspective and form of the image so that it is not naturalistic. This is done so that we can look beyond appearances of the world, and instead look to the spiritual truth of the holy person or event. (Source )