John came neither eating nor drinking

The Greek that is translated in English as “John came neither eating nor drinking” had to be supplemented in Yalunka with bayo a yi sunni waxatin birin: “because he was fasting all the time.”

Greg Pruett tells why this had to be done:

“One year we were testing whether the Yalunka people understood the way we translated ‘John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ I asked, ‘What kind of man was John the Baptist?’ The Muslim leaders of the village said, ‘He was a great sorcerer.’ I said, ‘Why do you say that?’ They replied, ‘It says right there that John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking.’

“In Yalunka culture, there are night people who learn magic techniques so that their soul can leave their body at night and consume the souls of other people. When they awake the next morning, they intimidate people by saying, ‘I don’t need any rice today because… you know.’ And everyone knows they have been out eating souls all night. They understood the translation to mean that John the Baptist’s soul was leaving his body at night and he was consuming the souls of other people thereby causing chronic disease. So we had to add implied information: bayo a yi sunni waxatin birin (‘because he was fasting all the time’). Once we had added the implied information of the idea of ‘fasting’ the readers were able to seize on the proper frame of reference and no longer misunderstood.”