The Hebrew term for the plant that is translated in a variety of ways in English, including “vine,” “gourd,” or simply “plant” or “bush” has a long history of controversial translations.
Law (2013, p. 170) quotes from one of the letters of Augustine (354-430 AD) who was a strong defender of the Ancient GreekSeptuagint translation: “In Oea [ancient city in present-day Tripoli, Libya], a bishop read from Jerome’s translation of Jonah, and because of the strange new rendering he almost lost his congregation. The [Greek] Bible of the church had ‘gourd’ (kolokýnthi / κολοκύνθῃ) in Jonah 4:6, but Jerome had changed it to the Latin word for ‘ivy’ [hedera]. The congregation in attendance fumed upon hearing the new translation and accused it of being ‘Judaized.’ Jews were called in to explain the rendering, and they claimed that Jerome was wrong and the Septuagint was right all along. Whether this actually happened is irrelevant. Augustine has either reported a real event or has created a literary fiction, but either way he provides a window into the struggle of parting with the church’s Bible in favor of Jerome’s new translation.”
This divergence in opinion can be seen up to the present day. Older Catholic versions that are based one the Latin Vulgate (for instance the EnglishDouay-Rheims or the translation by Knox) will use a word for a climbing plant such as “ivy” or “vine,” other translations use a large variety of translations, including the “safe” choice “plant.” In the UBS handbook Plants and Trees in the Bible, Koops (2012, p. 127) says: “The identity of Jonah’s qiqayon plant has been debated since the days of St. Jerome and St. Augustine. [Several scholars] advocate the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) as the qiqayon. But the King James Version’s ‘gourd’ has a long history, including its use in the Septuagint. The Vulgate translated qiqayon as hedera (‘ivy’) but that rendering has not had further botanical support. In 1955 an in-depth study of the literature going back as far as St. Jerome was made and its author votes hesitantly for the gourd (colocynth). Some scholars even suggest it could be an Assyrian word inserted in the story just to make it sound foreign, or even a made-up word.”
Targumim (or: Targums) are translations of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic. They were translated and used when Jewish congregations increasingly could not understand the biblical Hebrew anymore. Targum Onqelos (also: Onkelos) is the name of the Aramaic translation of the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) probably composed in Israel/Palestine in the 1st or 2nd century CE and later edited in Babylon in the 4th or 5th century, making it reflect Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. It is the most famous Aramaic translation and was widely used throughout the Jewish communities.
In many, but not all, cases the translation of Targum Onqelos avoids anthropomorphisms (attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions) as they relate in the original Hebrew text to God.
The Hebrew of Exodus 15:3 that is translated in English as “warrior” or “man of war” is translated in Targum Onqelos as “the Lord of victory in battles.” (Source: Klein 2011, p. 62)
In the Ancient GreekSeptuagint, it is rendered as “(The Lord, when) he shatters wars” (κύριος συντρίβων πολέμους). (Source: Law 2013, p. 170)
The Hebrew that is translated as “on the seventh day God finished the work” or similar in English is rendered in the Ancient GreekSeptuagint translation as “on the sixth day God finished the work” (συνετέλεσεν ὁ θεὸς ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ἕκτῃ τὰ ἔργα), “reflecting concern known elsewhere in Jewish traditions to resolve the apparent problem, recording in Genesis 2:2 that God finished his work but resting completely.” (Source: Law 2013, p. 46)
Genesis 4:7 is translated in the Ancient Greek Septuagint as follows: “If you offered it rightly, but did not divide it rightly, have you not sinned? Be at peace; he shall turn to you [footnote says: “literally: ‘his course shall be to you,’ an attempt at translating a Hebrew expression that seems to mean that ‘sin’s urge is toward you.”], and you should rule over him.” (Back-translation by Nicholas King, publ. 2014)
Law (2013, p. 46) suggests: “The Septuagint now suggests that Cain sinned because he did not divide the offering correctly.”
Tagbanwa: “initiated-agreement” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Guhu-Samane: “The concept [in Mark 14:24 and Matthew 16:28] is not easy, but the ritual freeing of a fruit and nut preserve does afford some reference. Thus, ‘As they were drinking he said to them, ‘On behalf of many this poro provision [poro is the traditional religion] of my blood is released.’ (…) God is here seen as the great benefactor and man the grateful recipient.” (Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff. )
Law (2013, p. 95) writes about how the Ancient GreekSeptuagint‘s translation of the Hebrew berith was used by the New Testament writers as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments (click or tap here to read more):
“Right from the start we witness the influence of the Septuagint on the earliest expressions of the Christian faith. In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of his blood being a kaine diatheke, a ‘new covenant.’ The covenant is elucidated in Hebrews 8:8-12 and other texts, but it was preserved in the words of Jesus with this language in Luke 22:20 when at the Last Supper Jesus said, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Jesus’s blood was to provide the grounds for the ‘new covenant,’ in contrast to the old one his disciples knew from the Jewish scriptures (e.g., Jeremiah 31:31-34). Thus, the earliest Christians accepted the Jewish Scriptures as prophecies about Jesus and in time began to call the collection the ‘Old Testament’ and the writings about Jesus and early Christianity the ‘New Testament,’ since ‘testament’ was another word for ‘covenant.’ The covenant promises of God (berith in Hebrew) were translated in the Septuagint with the word diatheke. In classical Greek diatheke had meant ‘last will, testament,’ but in the Septuagint it is the chosen equivalent for God’s covenant with his people. The author of Hebrews plays on the double meaning, and when Luke records Jesus’ announcement at the Last Supper that his blood was instituting a ‘new covenant,’ or a ‘new testament,’ he is using the language in an explicit contrast with the old covenant, found in the Jewish scriptures. Soon, the writings that would eventually be chosen to make up the texts about the life and teachings of Jesus and the earliest expression of the Christian faith would be called the New Testament. This very distinction between the Old and New Testaments is based on the Septuagint’s language.”
The Hebrew adonai in the Old Testament typically refers to God. The shorter adon (and in two cases in the book of Daniel the Aramaic mare [מָרֵא]) is also used to refer to God but more often for concepts like “master,” “owner,” etc. In English Bible translations all of those are translated with “Lord” if they refer to God.
In English Old Testament translations, as in Old Testament translations in many other languages, the use of Lord (or an equivalent term in other languages) is not to be confused with Lord (or the equivalent term with a different typographical display for other languages). While the former translates adonai, adon and mare, the latter is a translation for the tetragrammaton (YHWH) or the Name of God. See tetragrammaton (YHWH) and the article by Andy Warren-Rothlin in Noss / Houser, p. 618ff. for more information.
In the New Testament, the Greek term kurios has at least four different kinds of use:
referring to “God,” especially in Old Testament quotations,
meaning “master” or “owner,” especially in parables, etc.,
as a form of address (see for instance John 4:11: “Sir, you have no bucket”),
or, most often, referring to Jesus
In the first and fourth case, it is also translated as “Lord” in English.
Most languages naturally don’t have one word that covers all these meanings. According to Bratcher / Nida, “the alternatives are usually (1) a term which is an honorific title of respect for a high-ranking person and (2) a word meaning ‘boss’, ‘master’, or ‘chief.’ (…) and on the whole it has generally seemed better to employ a word of the second category, in order to emphasize the immediate personal relationship, and then by context to build into the word the prestigeful character, since its very association with Jesus Christ will tend to accomplish this purpose.”
When looking at the following list of back-translations of the terms that translators in the different languages have used for both kurios and adonai to refer to God and Jesus respectively, it might be helpful for English readers to recall the etymology of the English “Lord.” While this term might have gained an exalted meaning in the understanding of many, it actually comes from hlaford or “loaf-ward,” referring to the lord of the castle who was the keeper of the bread (source: Rosin 1956, p. 121).
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Following are some of the solutions that don’t rely on a different typographical display (see above):
Iyansi: Mwol. Mwol is traditionally used for the “chief of a group of communities and villages” with legal, temporal, and spiritual authority (versus the “mfum [the term used in other Bantu languages] which is used for the chief of one community of people in one village”). Mwol is also used for twins who are “treated as special children, highly honored, and taken care of like kings and queens.” (Source: Kividi Kikama in Greed / Kruger, p. 396ff.)
Binumarien: Karaambaia: “fight-leader” (Source: Oates 1995, p. 255)
Warlpiri: Warlaljamarri (owner or possessor of something — for more information tap or click here)
We have come to rely on another term which emphasizes God’s essential nature as YHWH, namely jukurrarnu (see tetragrammaton (YHWH)). This word is built on the same root jukurr– as is jukurrpa, ‘dreaming.’ Its basic meaning is ‘timelessness’ and it is used to describe physical features of the land which are viewed as always being there. Some speakers view jukurrarnu in terms of ‘history.’ In all Genesis references to YHWH we have used Kaatu Jukurrarnu. In all Mark passages where kurios refers to God and not specifically to Christ we have also used Kaatu Jukurrarnu.
New Testament references to Christ as kurios are handled differently. At one stage we experimented with the term Watirirririrri which refers to a ceremonial boss of highest rank who has the authority to instigate ceremonies. While adequately conveying the sense of Christ’s authority, there remained potential negative connotations relating to Warlpiri ceremonial life of which we might be unaware.
Here it is that the Holy Spirit led us to make a chance discovery. Transcribing the personal testimony of the local Warlpiri pastor, I noticed that he described how ‘my Warlaljamarri called and embraced me (to the faith)’. Warlaljamarri is based on the root warlalja which means variously ‘family, possessions, belongingness’. A warlaljamarri is the ‘owner’ or ‘possessor’ of something. While previously being aware of the ‘ownership’ aspect of warlaljamarri, this was the first time I had heard it applied spontaneously and naturally in a fashion which did justice to the entire concept of ‘Lordship’. Thus references to Christ as kurios are now being handled by Warlaljamarri.” (Source: Stephen Swartz, The Bible Translator 1985, p. 415ff. )
Mairasi: Onggoao Nem (“Throated One” — “Leader,” “Elder”) or Enggavot Nan (“Above-One”) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
Obolo: Okaan̄-ene (“Owner of person(s)”) (source: Enene Enene)
Seediq: Tholang, loan word from Min Nan Chinese (the majority language in Taiwan) thâu-lâng (頭儂): “Master” (source: Covell 1998, p. 248)
Thai: phra’ phu pen cao (พระผู้เป็นเจ้า) (divine person who is lord) or ong(kh) cao nay (องค์เจ้านาย) (<divine classifier>-lord-boss) (source: Stephen Pattemore)
Arabic often uses different terms for adonai or kurios referring to God (al-rabb الرب) and kurios referring to Jesus (al-sayyid الـسـيـد). Al-rabb is also the term traditionally used in Arabic Christian-idiom translations for YHWH, and al-sayyid is an honorary term, similar to English “lord” or “sir” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin).
Tamil also uses different terms for adonai/kurios when referring to God and kurios when referring to Jesus. The former is Karttar கர்த்தர், a Sanskrit-derived term with the original meaning of “creator,” and the latter in Āṇṭavar ஆண்டவர், a Tamil term originally meaning “govern” or “reign” (source: Natarajan Subramani).
Burunge: Looimoo: “owner who owns everything” (in the Burunge Bible translation, this term is only used as a reference to Jesus and was originally used to refer to the traditional highest deity — source: Michael Endl in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 48)
Aguacateco: Ajcaw ske’j: “the one to whom we belong and who is above us” (source: Rita Peterson in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 49)
Konkomba: Tidindaan: “He who is the owner of the land and reigns over the people” (source: Lidorio 2007, p. 66)
Law (2013, p. 97) writes about how the Ancient GreekSeptuagint‘s translation of the Hebrew adonai was used by the New Testament writers as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments: “Another case is the use of kurios referring to Jesus. For Yahweh (in English Bibles: ‘the Lord‘), the Septuagint uses kurios. Although the term kurios usually has to do with one’s authority over others, when the New Testament authors use this word from the Septuagint to refer to Jesus, they are making an extraordinary claim: Jesus of Nazareth is to be identified with Yahweh.”