Translation commentary on Ruth 2:4

In Hebrew verse 4 begins with an adverbial expression often translated “behold.” This is primarily a device to call special attention to the following expression, which in this case is the name of Boaz. However, in other languages a term denoting “behold” or “note” or “look” is often not appropriate. In English an equivalent expression might be “and there was Boaz coming” (New English Bible).

The verb arrived translates a perfect tense form in Hebrew, which suggests that the arrival of Boaz took place several hours after the events described in verse 3. This suggestion is confirmed by the statement in verse 7, which indicates that Ruth had already worked for some time in the field. Because of the lapse of time between verses 3 and 4, Good News Translation introduces a temporal transition at the beginning of verse 4, Some time later. This could also be expressed as “Then after several hours Boaz himself came.”

The expressions The LORD be with and The LORD bless you are conventional formulas of greetings still current in some related Semitic languages. There is no reason to see in these greetings an expression of a pious attitude (so Bertholet, op. cit., ad loc.) or to evaluate them as typical “harvest greetings” (so H. Gunkel, Ruth, Reden und Aufsätze, 1913, pages 65-92). Compare Arabic allah ma‘akum (“Allah be with you”) and the answer allah yachphadak (“may Allah protect you”). In the nominal phrase in Hebrew a verbal form with optative mood is implicit. See Joüon, par. 163. The Hebrew verb translated “bless” sometimes has the meaning of “greet,” as in 1 Samuel 13.10 and 2 Samuel 13.25 (a parting salutation). The expressions The LORD be with you and The LORD bless you have a strictly liturgical value in present-day language, and they may seem quite strange in receptor languages as expressions of greeting. Some translators feel that it may be useful to introduce at this point typical indigenous greetings and responses—Boaz might say, for example, to the harvesters, “Did you work well?” or even “How are you today?”—but this type of cultural adaptation fails to provide the religious setting to the greetings which is so important to this context. The fact that these expressions are greetings can, of course, be identified by the verb chosen to introduce them; for example, “Boaz greeted the workers by saying, ‘The LORD be with you,’ and the workers responded by greeting him in turn, ‘The LORD bless you.’ ” It is interesting to note that the Syriac translator in reading “peace with you” makes a type of cultural adaptation.

It seems perfectly appropriate to us to say in English The LORD be with you, but in some languages this is quite impossible, both semantically and grammatically; one cannot make this kind of command in the third person. It is possible, however, in some languages to employ an expression of direct discourse; for example, “I ask the LORD to be with you” or “I pray to the LORD that he will be with you.” Simply having the LORD “with a person” may not imply any special relationship, and therefore in some languages one must say “I pray that the LORD will help you” or “I ask that the LORD be good to you.”

Similarly, in the translation of The LORD bless you, it may be necessary for the workers to respond: “We pray that the LORD will be good to you” or “We ask that the LORD will show you favor.” The choice of an appropriate term for bless is particularly difficult in some languages, since there may be at least three different terms which render the English expression “bless”: (1) the blessing of a superior to an inferior (for example, “do good to” or “show favor to”); (2) the blessing of an inferior to a superior (for example, “praise”); and (3) a request for God to bless some object or person.

The position of expressions introducing direct discourse (in this case, the blessing formulas) must be determined by what is natural in the receptor language. More often than not, expressions introducing direct discourse (even such formulas as blessing and greetings) must occur before the direct discourse, rather than after it as in Good News Translation.

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Ruth. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ruth 3:16 - 3:17

In Hebrew Naomi’s question to Ruth is “Who are you, my daughter?” This could be interpreted as Naomi’s question as Ruth knocked at her door. The Syriac version seems to have taken the question in this sense, as is clear from the answer added to the text: “And she answered her, ‘I am Ruth.’ ” That even early translators had difficulties in understanding the Hebrew, can be seen from the Septuagint text, which simply omits the question and maintains the word “daughter.” Gerleman (op. cit., ad loc.) takes mi as a question marker in the sense of Latin num, and defends this use in referring to Amos 7.2, 5. Compare also H. S. Nyberg, Hebreisk Grammatik, 1952, par. 28., note 2. Most scholars, however, believe that the interrogative pronoun “Who” is to be interpreted as a question about Ruth’s condition or circumstances. Such a meaning is already attested in the Rash Shamra texts: bʿl mt … my hmlt ʾatr bʿl (“Baal is dead … What of the multitudes, the followers of Baal?”). Hence, in English one could render this Hebrew question as How did you get along? “How did things go with you?” or “How did things turn out for you?” In some receptor languages it may even be necessary to employ a more specific question such as “How did Boaz receive you?” or “How did you make out with Boaz?”

As in other passages in the Book of Ruth, Naomi’s use of the expression daughter may need to be changed in some languages to “my daughter-in-law” or “my dear one.”

It is important to indicate that Ruth communicated more to Naomi than simply the contents of verse 17. Evidently she described to Naomi everything that Boaz had done for her, and then she added what is recorded in verse 17. For this reason Good News Translation introduces the direct quotation in verse 17 by She added. One may also use an expression such as “She also said,” “In addition she said,” or “Furthermore, she said.”

All this barley translates the Hebrew expression “these six measures of barley” (see comments on 3.15), and most modern translations follow a literal rendering of the Hebrew text. In this context the emphasis is not upon the exact measure, but upon the unusually large quantity of barley, thus symbolizing Boaz’s generosity and his concern for Ruth and Naomi. Some biblical scholars have even seen in this gift a kind of dowry. As suggested by Haller, op. cit., ad loc. For other explanations see Stasson, pages 97-98. In any case Naomi’s confidence in the happy ending to the events is certainly reinforced by this rich gift. In order to show the relation between the gift and Naomi’s confidence, it is important to emphasize the quantity: all this barley. One may also employ such expressions as “so much barley” or “this large load of barley.”

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Ruth. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ruth 2:18

Most modern translations begin a new paragraph with verse 17, as Good News Translation does, but some have a new paragraph begin with verse 18 (see Jerusalem Bible). It is even possible to divide verse 18 and to take the first part as constituting a conclusion to the previous section. A new paragraph would then begin after the first clause took … back into town (see Moffatt). If this is done, it will be important to introduce the following clause with “Then Ruth showed to her mother-in-law how much she had gathered.” A break in the structure at this point obviously requires a more specific indication of who does what, and proper nouns must be used in place of pronouns, even as in some of the ancient versions. So Septuagint.

Showed her mother-in-law how much she had gathered is the reading of the Hebrew text in a few manuscripts, but all other manuscripts have “her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned.” The reading found in TEV is attested by two Hebrew manuscripts, according to C. H. H. Wright, The Book of Ruth in Hebrew with a Critically Revised Text, 1864, ad loc. Moreover, this reading is followed by the Syriac and Vulgate versions. The difference in the two readings involves merely a different way in which the vowels of the Hebrew verb are understood. Although the majority reading is no doubt more original, So Barthélemy, page 133. it is better to follow in this instance the text employed in Good News Translation, since this produces a far smoother sequence of events. It avoids the suggestion that after Ruth took the grain back into the town, her mother-in-law discovered how much she had gleaned, with the implication that Ruth did not tell her exactly what she had done.

She also gave her the food renders what is literally in Hebrew: “she brought out and gave her.” “Brought out” does not indicate the place from which she took the food. The term “cupboard” has been suggested, So Brown-Driver-Briggs, s.v. yatsaʾ (“food from one’s cupboard”). but there is no indication whatsoever as to what place is involved. It would be possible to translate the clause simply as “she also showed her mother-in-law the food that was left over from the meal.” So rightly Dhorme and BJ.

The last clause of the Hebrew text of verse 18 is literally “gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied.” This is a reference to what has already been stated in verse 14. A literal rendering of the Hebrew text may, however, lead to misunderstanding, since it could imply in some languages that Ruth was inconsiderate of Naomi and therefore had only reserved for Naomi what she did not want. It is better, therefore, to translate as “gave her the remainder of the food,” “gave her what she had left over from lunch” (New American Bible), or “gave her what she had saved from her meal” (New English Bible). New English Bible employs a very useful device of placing the modifying clause concerning the food earlier in the verse and stating in the last clause merely “gave it to her.”

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Ruth. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ruth 4:10

The phrase In addition may be rendered in some languages as “also,” but a fuller form may be required in certain instances; for example, “in addition to the property” or “but after the property also.”

It may be useful in this context to retain the expression the Moabite, perhaps in the form “the woman from Moab” or “the Moabite woman,” so as to emphasize satisfactorily the fact that Ruth was not of Jewish background.

For the translation of becomes my wife, see the comment on verse 5.

For the expression This will keep the property in the dead man’s family, see the notes on verse 5. It would be wrong, however, to suggest that Ruth becomes the wife of Boaz only in order to keep the property in the dead man’s family. Hence it may be useful to indicate clearly that this is a type of result; for example, “and as a result the property will remain in the dead man’s family” or “… in the family of Mahlon.”

And his family line will continue among his people is literally in Hebrew “that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren.” Good News Translation changes the passive expression to an active one and eliminates the rather difficult figurative expression “cut off from among” (a very common Hebrew figure).

In some languages it is essential to specify whose name is involved. This could be “the name of Mahlon.” But the focus throughout this passage has been upon the relationship of the various persons to Elimelech, and therefore one may translate “the name of Elimelech.”

In a number of languages one cannot speak about a “name continuing,” but it may be possible to employ some related expression, such as “that the name of Elimelech will not be missing (lacking, failing) among his brothers.”

For some languages the whole concept of name as a substitute for a person (or as in this context, for descendants) may be impossible, and therefore one may translate “that his descendants will not be lacking” or “that he may have descendants.” Semantically, the “cutting off of the name” remains in the same domain as the “cutting off of hope” (Pro 23.18; 24.14). See Kutsch’s article in THAT I, s.v. krt. On the other hand, shem is sometimes synonymous to zeraʿ so that “to cut off a name” means “to extirpate a family.” However, in this connection the verb krt is only used once, Isaiah 14.22.

In his hometown is literally in Hebrew “from the gate of his place.” For the significance of this expression, see the comments on 3.11.

You are witnesses to this today may be rendered as “You have seen this today and you can speak of it tomorrow.” In this way participating in an event and being able to confirm it at a later time are clearly indicated as the double role of a witness.

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Ruth. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ruth 1:15

The Hebrew text at the beginning of verse 15 has simply “and she said.” However, it is important to indicate clearly the translation between this paragraph and what has preceded by introducing some such particle as So. It may also be necessary to specify the participants, both Naomi and Ruth, Septuagint has “and Naomi said”; in the Syriac version we read: “and her mother-in-law said.” Compare also Moffatt and NEB. as in Good News Translation.

In a number of languages sister-in-law is rendered as “co-wife,” since in many societies the wives of brothers call each other “co-wives” or “co-spouses.” In some instances one may have to use a descriptive expression; for example, “the wife of your husband’s brother.” In a number of languages there are two quite distinct expressions for sister-in-law, one term designating a brother’s wife and the other term specifying the sister of one’s wife. These quite distinct relations may be marked by entirely different terms.

In some languages one cannot speak of her people or her god, for one does not possess a people or a god. The first expression may be rendered in some languages as “the tribe to which she belongs,” “the people of which she is a part,” or “the people with whom she is counted”; and her god may be rendered as “the god whom she worships” or “the god to whom she prays.”

Though a few translations have “gods,” there is no firm basis for using the plural. The god of the Moabites was Chemosh The Syriac translator of Ruth did not like the mention of pagan gods and therefore changed the expression into “to the house of her parents.” (see 1 Kgs 11.33).

In translating the term god one should generally use the most generic term for deity. See the discussion in Nida, Bible Translating, 13.1. However, if one normally uses an expression such as “the Eternal Spirit” as a translation of “God,” it would not be possible to use the same expression in this context. It might then be necessary to use some such expression as “the spirit whom she worships.”

The expression Go back home with her is emphatic, and some ancient translations even have an additional expression emphasizing the return. Septuagint manuscripts and Syriac version read: “return also yourself.” In order to show the relation between the advice to Ruth and what Orpah had already done, it may be useful to introduce an emphatic pronoun: “you yourself should go back home with her.”

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Ruth. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ruth 3:6

What Good News Translation has rendered as went is in Hebrew more specifically “went down.” See the comments on verse 3.

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Ruth. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ruth 2:5

In Hebrew the term translated asked is simply “said,” but since a question follows, most languages require an introductory verb of speaking which indicates the kind of direct discourse, namely, a question.

The man in charge translates the Hebrew phrase: “his servant who had been appointed over the reapers.” This expression may be translated in some languages as “the head man of his reapers,” “the chief of his reapers,” or “the man who commanded his reapers.” New American Bible has “the overseer of his harvesters,” and Moffatt has “the foreman of the reapers in his service.” The man in charge may be translated as “the servant who worked for him” or “the servant who worked for Boaz,” and “his workers” may be “those who worked for him.” In other languages, however, a possessive case of reapers may be required. In some ancient versions, possessive constructions seem to have been considered as redundant in both cases. See Vulgate iuveni qui messoribus præerat and Septuagint.

Who is that young woman? is an attempt to focus properly upon the age of Ruth rather than to render literally “girl” as in some translations (New American Bible, New English Bible). There is no doubt about the emphasis upon her youth in the Hebrew reference to Ruth. At the same time, Ruth had been married, and her general appearance would certainly have merited the designation of “young woman.”

Some translators may wish to employ a question such as “Who is this girl?” but this is really not sufficient for translating the Hebrew text, since the emphasis here is upon Ruth’s relationship to some family or person. One may, therefore, employ a question such as “To which family does this young woman belong?” or “To which people does this young woman belong?” This is precisely the text according to the Targum.

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Ruth. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ruth 3:18

Be patient translates what is literally in Hebrew “sit down,” with emphasis upon being quiet and unworried. The implicit location is “here,” and therefore one may translate, as in New American Bible, “wait here.” However, the focus of attention is not so much upon the location as upon the attitude which Naomi thinks Ruth is justified in having. Accordingly, a translation such as be patient (as in Good News Translation) is recommended. One may also use a negative equivalent; for example, “do not worry” or “do not be concerned.”

How this all turns out is a very general expression and may be rendered as “what will happen,” “what will be the result,” “what will happen to you,” or “what will happen which concerns you.”

All turns out must suggest that the results will be known very shortly, and therefore in languages which have more than one future tense, it is important to use a future which designates activity or an event of the same day.

Will not rest today until he settles may be altered into an affirmative expression: “today he will certainly settle,” “he will surely take care of today,” or “he will today most surely arrange for.”

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Ruth. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .