Translation commentary on Amos 2:6

(1-2) The LORD says … punish them. See 1.3. Since the message is addressed d tod* Israel, and is not simply d aboutd* Israel (as the previous messages were about the other peoples), the use of the people of Israel and them may cause misunderstanding in some languages. It may sometimes be necessary to translate so that God speaks directly here: “You people of Israel … I will punish you.” To do so brings up to verse 6 the change which the Hebrew makes in verse 10.

However, if some way can be found to continue the style of the previous messages, as though God were still talking about someone else, and then switch dramatically to the more direct form later, as the Hebrew does, this may be very effective in many languages. Good News Translation makes the switch in verse 9, one verse before the Hebrew. In some languages it might be best to bring it up even into the second part of verse 6. This would strongly emphasize that although the message begins the same way as the earlier ones, the implications for the hearers are not the same at all.

Wherever the change is made, special attention should be given to the way in which it is made, with special emphasis in its wording. For example: “you, my people, sell honest men into slavery…” or “and you, the people of Israel, have sinned again and again.”

(3) The third part of the message to Israel, containing the specific illustrations of Israel’s crimes, starts with the familiar because they, with the crimes introduced in the usual way in the Hebrew grammar (2.6b), but there the similarity ends. Interwoven are social crimes and the fact that these are also crimes against God. The way in which these are organized may be seen in the Appendix, Section 3.1.

That the crimes against people are also crimes against God must be clear in the translation.
Because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes (Hebrew: sandals) /They sell into slavery honest men who cannot pay their debts, poor men who cannot repay even the price of a pair of sandals. The Hebrew does not say who (in Israel) did the selling, which causes difficulty for translating into many languages. How this is decided depends on how the rest of the passage is understood. Did the same people sell the righteous as sold the needy, or did judges sell the righteous (by taking bribes) and creditors sell the “needy” into slavery to recover their debts?

It does not seem likely that different people are doing the selling in the two cases, or even that one general group such as the corrupt upper classes are here divided into judges and creditors. It certainly is also unlikely that the same verb to sell should have been used once as picture language (for bribery) and once with its regular meaning. So there are two possible solutions: the ones who did the selling are either judges or creditors in both cases.

The easiest way of understanding the passage seems to be with the meaning of creditors. With it goes natural use of sell in both cases. Furthermore, the same people carry on into verse 7, and the rich can be understood as acting in both verses. Finally, it is not necessary to take righteous in a legal sense (compare Moffatt: “honest folk”).

In Hebrew the emphasis is first on the righteous, and then on a pair of sandals. So the point is first that for rich creditors money has more value than the personal qualifications of people, and second that even people who need help are victims for insignificant reasons. Translations of this passage should express a lot more of these meanings than they normally do. To sell has to be qualified as “to sell into slavery” or “to sell as slaves,” and the meaning of “for money” and “for a pair of sandals” has to be stated clearly. Good News Translation has done many of these things well, but who cannot repay even the price of a pair of sandals does not completely show that selling into slavery is the result of not repaying. Another way might be “because they can’t pay back the small sum they owe for a pair of sandals.”

A pair of sandals will have to be translated as “two sandals for two feet,” or some other idiomatic way, in some languages.

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan & Smalley, William A. A Handbook on Amos. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1979. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Amos 4:7

I also withheld the rain from you/I kept it from raining. God’s control over the weather is expressed differently in different languages. One may have to say “I caused (made/gave) that it did not rain” or “I did not allow rain to fall (arrive).” The same type of problem comes later in the verse, where it can be translated “I would cause the rain to fall on one city, but would not allow it to fall on another city.”

When there were yet three months to the harvest/when your crops needed it most. This means that the “latter rain” of the spring (March-April), which is so necessary for the grain harvest three months later (May–June), did not fall. However, the timing is related to the climate in the Middle East and will not necessarily be understood in other areas. For that reason Good News Translation qualities the information by saying when your crops needed it most. In such a translation something about the Middle Eastern culture is left out, but it could easily be included as well: “three months before the harvest, when your crops needed it most.”

There may be no specific word for harvest in a language, but it can be described as “the time when grain was cut.”

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan & Smalley, William A. A Handbook on Amos. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1979. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Amos 5:26

You shall take up (Hebrew: did you take up [?]) Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god your images (Hebrew: your images, the star of your god), which you made for yourselves/But now, because you have worshiped images of Sakkuth, your king god, and of Kaiwan, your star god, you will live to carry these images. Considerable restructuring of this verse will be necessary in any translation. For the relationships of this verse with the immediate context and for other major problems in the translation, especially when this verse is connected with the preceding one, see 5. 25-27. When this verse is taken together with the following one, Good News Translation can be used as a model.

God will have to be rendered as “idol.” In this context the gods must be portable. Most languages do not make a distinction between images and gods. In addition, in many cases it is extremely difficult to express such a notion as king god or star god. One possible translation: “your idols, which you call Sakkuth and Kaiwan.”

Take up/carry. Some languages have at least twenty different terms depending on the method of carrying: in the hand, on the shoulders, on the head, with the help of something, alone or sharing the load, etc. They may even have different vocabulary for carrying sacred items. In this case the Hebrew word probably implies that the idol was on the end of some kind of upright support.

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan & Smalley, William A. A Handbook on Amos. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1979. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Amos 7:17

Therefore/And so, Amaziah. The relationship between verses 16 and 17 must be clear, both its change of speakers and in the fact that verse 17 results from what happens in verse 16. “For that reason, (the LORD says to you) Amaziah…” “because you say that, Amaziah.”

Thus says the LORD/the LORD says to you. See 1.3.

By the sword/in war. See verse 11.

Your land shall be parceled out by line/Your land will be divided up and given to others.

This means that Amaziah’s private property becomes the property of the conquerors, who will divide it among the new families of immigrants. The (measuring) line is not important to the meaning so that it does not need to be included if it is a problem. However the information and given to others is important to the meaning, though it is not stated directly in Hebrew. To show who is doing the action, it is possible to use an impersonal subject “someone will divide…” or “the conquerors of the land will divide….”

An unclean land/a heathen country. Neither of the two translations is very helpful for other languages. In most cases one should simply say: “a foreign country” (Moffatt).

And Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land/And the people of Israel will certainly be taken away from their own land into exile. See verse 11b. For some languages this promise of punishment will be much clearer if the order of events in translation fits the order in which they will happen: “Your children will die in war, your country will be conquered, and your land will be divided up and given to those who conquer you; your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and you yourself will be taken away to die in a foreign land. Yes, the people of Israel will be taken away into exile.”

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan & Smalley, William A. A Handbook on Amos. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1979. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Amos 3:1

Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt/People of Israel, listen to this message which the LORD has spoken about you, the whole nation that he brought out of Egypt. Because of the important relationship between this passage and the previous one (see 3.1-2), it would be helpful in many languages to show the relationship with a word like “so.”

The Hebrew gives translators a problem because it changes from Amos speaking to God speaking right within the same sentence. Such a rapid change happens often in prophetic writings, and the reason may be that the prophet identifies himself completely with the message of the LORD.

However, this kind of change is often awkward and grammatically unacceptable in other languages. There are three ways of dealing with it in translation: (a) the LORD may speak from the beginning: “I, the LORD”; (b) the LORD may begin to speak in the second half of the verse, as in Hebrew, with a change to indicate whose family is being talked about: “I led your whole family out of Egypt”; (c) the LORD does not begin to speak until the next verse so that Amos continues speaking throughout verse 1: the whole nation that he brought out of Egypt. (c) is the best solution. It is a simple matter of a change of pronoun and gives little problem.

People of Israel. Good News Translation moves this to the first of the sentence. In each translation it should be given a natural position in keeping with language usage.

Message which the LORD has spoken. To “speak” a message is not fully natural in English, and other wordings may be better in other languages as well: “Listen to this message from the LORD about you, people of Israel!”, “Listen to what the LORD has to say about you.”

Brought out. One way in which the sorrowful tone of this passage can be strengthened in some languages is through the use of a word which is warmer than brought out in English: “rescued” or “led out” or some other term that implies personal involvement.

Whole family/whole nation. Whole nation or “whole race” (Moffatt) or “all the people” is the meaning of the Hebrew.

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan & Smalley, William A. A Handbook on Amos. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1979. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Amos 5:5

This verse is a real challenge to the translator because it should not only be clear but should also deal effectively with the balance of ideas (see 5.4). For an example of how the balance can be unnecessarily destroyed, see New English Bible.

On the other hand, if this kind of organization would have the effect of weakening the force of the message in a language, the translation must be restructured. Good News Translation does this by putting the middle part about Beersheba first, since this is the only part which does not have a matching part. Then the two parts about Bethel are combined, and the ones about Gilgal are combined. This may be a very useful way to translate in other languages (see the second restructuring in 5.4-6, and Translating Amos, Section 2.2).

However, the order in which these different parts are translated may differ from language to language, and in some cases the ways of showing directions which are characteristic of the language may influence the order. Bethel is the viewpoint place of the book (see Translating Amos, Section 3), and Gilgal is 30 kilometers southwest of Bethel in the Jordan Valley. Beersheba, on the other hand, is in the extreme south of the neighboring territory of Judah (see the map|fig:Map_Amos.jpg ). So the normal ways of showing such relationships in some languages may favor the order Bethel–Gilgal–Beersheba, or the reverse.

It is not only the balanced arrangement of the Hebrew which strengthened the message for the original hearer and reader, but also the play upon words and the repetition of sounds in Gilgal shall surely go into exile. Even those who do not know Hebrew can see the repetition if the Hebrew sounds are written out as follows: haggilgal galoh yigleh. The sequence gl is repeated four times, and each word begins or ends with h.

It is very hard, if not impossible, to translate with equivalent sound combinations in other languages. The effect is usually silly rather than forceful. So Moffatt: “for Gilgal shall have a galling exile.” The best example can perhaps be found in Wellhausen’s German translation: “Gilgal wird zum Galgen gehn” (“Gilgal will go to the gallows”). If the translator can find a dynamic pun in his language, it may be very helpful, but the pun should not be an artificial one, because an artificial pun is worse than no pun at all. What makes the play on words even more difficult is that the Hebrew reminds the people of Israel of things the modern reader may not know. Gilgal was the place where the land was symbolically given to Israel (Josh 4.20 and following) and now becomes the place where the land is to be lost. It may be very difficult to make this important part of the meaning clear without a footnote. Also, in many languages it is impossible to say for Gilgal shall surely go into exile, since a place cannot go into exile. One often has to say: “The people of Gilgal” (The Translator’s Old Testament) or her people. One could identify Gilgal: “Where you first entered this land” and balance “gate into exile” against “entered.”

Bethel shall come to nought/Bethel will come to nothing. Here the impact comes from the fact that Bethel means “the house of God” in Hebrew, and it will come to nothing. In many languages will come to nothing has to be translated something like “be annihilated” or “be destroyed,” unless, again, the translator is able to create an effective contrast in his language. A good example of such a contrast is again Wellhausen’s translation: “Bethel wird des Teufels werden” (“Bethel will become the devil’s,” or perhaps better, “Bethel will go to the devil”). Another translation which can perhaps be used as a cultural model is “Bethel becomes a house of ogres,” drawing on the idea that ogres and demons dwell in the ruins of destroyed cities. But none of these will really work unless the reader knows that Bethel means “house of God” or such information is supplied in the translation. It could be possible, for instance, to translate: “the house of God (the place called ‘house of God’) will become a place where bad spirits live,” or “haunted.”

In translation, the different verbs for “going” should be chosen in relation to Bethel as the viewpoint place and the directional system of the receptor language. It may not be enough to say Do not go to Beersheba to worship. It is true that go is not particularly emphasized here, but the precise meaning is “to cross the border (to go to),” and such precise geographical information may have to be clear. Also, instead of saying Do not try to find me at Bethel, one may have to say something like “do not go/come for help to Bethel” (The Translator’s Old Testament), “do not go/come to pray at Bethel.” In some cases such information as “the sanctuary (holy place) of Beersheba,” etc., may have to be stated.

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan & Smalley, William A. A Handbook on Amos. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1979. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Amos 6:10

This verse is not at all clear. None of the very different English translations can definitely be considered the right one.

One of the major problems is that we do not know who the story is about or who the people are that speak to each other in it.

And when a man’s kinsman, he who burns him (Hebrew: and will take him his uncle and he who burns him), shall take …/The dead man’s relative, who was also in charge of the funeral, will take … In most English translations the uncle does the thing, and “him” refers to one of the dead people. In that case the general statement of verse 9 is being developed with an example. In spite of the problems, this is the best solution.

However, two uncertainties remain. Does “his uncle and he who burns him” refer to the same person or to two different people, and does the Hebrew grammatical construction, which occurs only here, really mean “he who burns him?”

If “uncle” and “he who burns him” are different people, then the conversation can be between them, as one of them searches inside the house. If not, the relative must speak to a survivor. The only English translation which has the uncle and “embalmer” as two different people (New English Bible), has them both speak to a survivor. It is impossible to know from the Hebrew which interpretation is correct. However, the translator must make a decision, perhaps on the basis of the dominant translation in the area.

As to the meaning of “he who burns him,” the Hebrew has been taken to mean several sometimes-unrelated things: (a) corpse-burner (Revised Standard Version); (b) the one who burns spices in honor of the dead (alternative reading of Revised Standard Version: “who makes a burning for him”); Smith-Goodspeed: “who is to burn a sacrifice for him”; and, more generally expressed, who was also in charge of the funeral, “who performs his funeral rites” (The Translator’s Old Testament); (c) embalmer (New English Bible); (d) relative in general, or specifically the mother’s brother along with the father’s brother, who is mentioned first.

Of these, meaning (c) seems unlikely. In spite of the English translations, (b) is also improbable, since the custom of burning spices in honor of the dead was probably used only for royal people. Each of the remaining meanings, “corpse-burner” and “relative,” is supported by one of the ancient translations. Here again, it is impossible to tell which of the two meanings to choose. Against the meaning “corpse-burner” is the fact that cremation was never an accepted funeral practice among the Israelites, except in the case of an epidemic. It would have to be assumed that at a time of plague corpses could be burned because of the unusual disaster.

Meaning (a), “he who burns him;” combined with the preceding “uncle,” can be translated: “When a dead man’s uncle comes to take out the body and burn it….” This “uncle” is the “father’s brother.” In societies where only the mother’s brother has any role in funeral ceremonies, a short cultural note will be necessary.

If meaning (a) is accepted, but “he who burns him” is combined with a second person, the translation may be something like “When a dead man’s uncle comes to take out the body together with him who will burn it….”

For meaning (d) the translation would be something like “When the uncle and another member of the family of a dead man come to take out the body…” or “When a dead man’s relative comes to take out the body….”

And shall say to him who is in the innermost parts of the house/The relative will call to whomever is still left in the house. The conversation should be translated according to the decisions made about who is involved. The person speaking may be outside at the door or just inside the house. The person who answers is inside the house, and if he is taken to be a survivor, it may be that he is hiding there.

“Is there still anyone with you?” he shall say, “No”; and he shall say, “Hush! We must not mention the name of the LORD”/“Is anyone else there with you?” The person will answer, “No!” Then the relative will say, “Be quiet! We must be careful not even to mention the LORD’s name”. For some translations, like New English Bible, New American Bible, Smith-Goodspeed and Dhorme, the conversation ends with Hush (spoken by the uncle and not by a survivor, as in New English Bible), and then the prophet adds a kind of commentary: “For the name of the LORD must not be mentioned.” In other translations, such as Revised Standard Version, The Translator’s Old Testament, Good News Translation, Jerusalem Bible, the last sentence is still spoken by the relative. Whichever interpretation is followed, the translation should be clear, not just from the use of quotation marks (which cannot be heard when the passage is read aloud). When the last sentence is taken as part of the conversation, the statement is as true for the speaker as it is for the person spoken to. Therefore Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation use we. If the receptor language makes such a distinction, the word for we should, of course, be the one which includes the person spoken to.

Why the relative says what he does is also not very clear, but he seems to be afraid that the person hiding there may for some reason carelessly use the LORD’s name and so call the LORD’s attention to them and bring destruction upon them: “We must be careful not to call the LORD’s attention to us by mentioning his name.”

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan & Smalley, William A. A Handbook on Amos. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1979. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Amos 8:11

Says the Lord GOD/I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken. See 8.9-10. Here the indication of speaker covers the whole subsection, verses 11-14.

Behold. See 2.13.

The days are coming/The time is coming. See 8.3. Here the expression has days instead of day; but the meaning of “the time of God’s judgment/punishment” is the same.

When I will send a famine on the land/when I will send famine on the land. I will send always refers to the LORD causing a disaster. Often a word meaning “cause” can be used instead: “I will make/cause a famine” or “I will cause hunger to fall on/enter the land,” etc.

On the land may have to be translated “in the country” or “among the people.”

Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water/People will be hungry, but not for bread; they will be thirsty, but not for water. It may not always be necessary to break up the Hebrew sentence into a number of shorter sentences as has been done in Good News Translation. In some languages a sentence closer to Revised Standard Version would be more effective. This would be especially true when a word can be used which means both “hunger” and “need.” If hunger for food and thirst for water are not suitable metaphors for the lack of a message from God, it may be necessary to strengthen the picture by using a word for “lack” here and in the rest of the verse: “not a lack of bread or water, but a lack of a message from me.”

Bread. If “bread” is not the basic food, a general word meaning “food” should be used or else the word for the most important food, like “rice” or “yams.”

But of hearing the words of the LORD/They will hunger and thirst for a message from the LORD. Since the LORD is speaking, it may be best to translate “my message” or “a message from me, the LORD.”

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan & Smalley, William A. A Handbook on Amos. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1979. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .