poetry in Ecclesiastes 6:4-5

The Hebrew poetry in Eccl. 6:4-5 is translated by the German Gute Nachricht Bibel (last rev. 2018) in poetic form:

»Als ein Nichts kommt sie,
in die Nacht geht sie,
namenlos und vergessen.
Das Sonnenlicht sieht sie nicht,
was Leben ist, weiß sie nicht;
doch Ruhe hat sie gefunden.«

(Literal translation:
“She comes as a nothing,
she goes into the night,
nameless and forgotten.
She doesn’t see the sunlight,
She doesn’t know what life is;
but she has found peace.”)

The syllable count of the lines is 5-5-7-7-7-7 and lines 1 and 2 as well as lines 4 and 5 rhyme. Lines 2 and 6 don’t rhyme but provide an interesting counter-balance with the words vergessen (“forgotten”) and gefunden (“found”).

Source: Jan P. Sterk in OPTAT 1989/1, p. 36ff.


The Greek that is translated in English as “devil” is sometimes translated with indigenous specific names, such as “the avaricious one” in Tetelcingo Nahuatl, “the malicious deity” in Toraja-Sa’dan (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel), or in Yoruba as èṣù. “Èṣù is thought of as bringing evil, but also as giving protection. The birth of a child may be attributed to him, as the names given to some babies show, Èṣùbiyi (Èṣù brought this forth), and Èṣùtoyin (Èṣù is worthy of praise).” (Source: John Hargreaves in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 39ff. )

Other translations include:

  • Muna: Kafeompu’ando seetani or “Master of the evil-spirits” (source: René van den Berg)
  • Mairasi: owe er epar nan or “headman of malevolent spirits” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Central Subanen: Palin or “Perverter” (incl. in 2 Cor. 6:15) (source: Robert Brichoux in OPTAT 1988/2, p. 80ff. )
  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “chief of demons”
  • Ojitlán Chinantec: as “head of the worldlings” (source for the last two: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125).
  • Mandarin Chinese móguǐ (魔鬼), literally “magical ghost.” This is a term that was adopted from Buddhist sources into early Catholic writings and later also by Protestant translators. (Source: Zetzsche 1996, p. 32)
In Lak and Shughni it is translated with terms of feminine gender. Vitaly Voinov tells this story (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

“In the Lak language of Dagestan, the names ‘Iblis’ and ‘sheytan’ (referring to Satan and his minions, respectively) in this language were borrowed from the Arabic Islamic tradition, but they entered Lak as feminine nouns, not masculine nouns. This means that they grammatically function like nouns referring to females in Lak; in other words, Laks are likely to think of Iblis as a woman, not a man, because of the obligatory grammatical patterning of Lak noun classes. Thus, when the team explained (in Russian) what the Lak translation of Jesus’ wilderness temptation narrative at the beginning of Matthew 4 said, it sounded something like the following: ‘After this, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Iblis… .The temptress came to Jesus, and she said to Him…’

“Since this information (that the devil is a female spirit) is part of the very name used for Satan in Lak, nothing can really be done about this in the translation. The Lak translator did not think that the feminine gender of Iblis should cause any serious misunderstandings among readers, so we agreed to leave it in the translation. Prior to this, I had never heard about languages in which the devil is pictured as a woman, but recently I was told by a speaker of the Shughni language that in their language Sheytan is also feminine. This puts an interesting spin on things. The devil is of course a spirit, neither male nor female in a biologically-meaningful sense. But Bible translators are by nature very risk-aversive and, where possible, want to avoid any translation that might feed misleading information to readers. So what can a translator do about this? In many cases, such as the present one, one has to just accept the existing language structure and go on.”

See also unclean spirit / evil spirit, demon, and Beelzebul.

idol / idols

The Hebrew, Greek and Latin that is translated as “idol(s)” in English is translated in Central Subanen as ledawan or “images.” (Source: Robert Brichoux in OPTAT 1988/2, p. 80ff. )

In German, typically the term Götze is used. Originally this was used as a term of endearment for Gott (“God” — see here ), later for “icon” and “image, likeness.” Luther started to use it in the 16th century in the meaning of “false god, idol.”

Other terms that are used in German include Götzenbild(er) (“image[s] of idols”) or Bildnis (“image” — Protestant) / Kultbild (“cultish image” — Catholic) (used for instance in Exodus 20:4 and Deuteronomy 5:8). The latest revision of the Catholic Einheitsübersetzung (publ. 2016) also uses the neologism Nichtse (“nothings”) in 1 Chron. 16:26 and Psalm 96:5. (Source: Zetzsche)

See also worthless idols.

poetry in Isaiah 5:1-6

The Hebrew poetry in Isaiah 5:1-6 is translated by the German Gute Nachricht Bibel (last rev. 2018) in poetic form:

Auf fruchtbarem Hügel,
da liegt mein Stück Land,
dort hackt ich den Boden
mit eigener Hand,
ich mühte mich ab
und las Felsbrocken auf,
baute Wachtturm und Kelter,
setzte Reben darauf.
Und süße Trauben
erhofft ich zu Recht,
doch was dann im Herbst wuchs,
war sauer und schlecht.
Jerusalems Bürger,
ihr Leute von Juda,
was sagt ihr zum Weinberg,
was tätet denn ihr da?
Die Trauben sind sauer –
entscheidet doch ihr:
War die Pflege zu schlecht?
Liegt die Schuld denn bei mir?
Ich sage euch, Leute,
das tue ich jetzt:
Weg reiß ich die Hecke,
als Schutz einst gesetzt;
zum Weiden solln Schafe
und Rinder hinein!
Und die Mauer ringsum –
die reiße ich ein!
Zertrampelnden Füßen
geb ich ihn preis,
schlecht lohnte mein Weinberg
mir Arbeit und Schweiß!
Ich will nicht mehr hacken,
das Unkraut soll sprießen!
Der Himmel soll ihm
den Regen verschließen!
Literal translation:
“On a fertile hill,
lies my piece of land,
I hoe the ground there
with my own hand,
I worked hard
and picked up boulders,
I built watchtower and wine press,
put vines on it.
And for sweet grapes
I had reason to hope for
but what then grew in the fall,
was sour and bad.
Jerusalem’s citizens,
you people of Judah,
what do you say about the vineyard,
what were you doing there?
The grapes are sour –
you decide:
Was the care too bad?
Is the fault all mine?
I’m telling you, people,
this is what I’m going to do now:
I’ll tear the hedge away,
once placed as protection;
Sheep ill enter to graze
and so will cattle come!
And the wall all around –
I’ll tear it down!
I’ll open it up to
trampling feet,
My vineyard didn’t warrant
my work and sweat!
I don’t want to hoe anymore,
let the weeds sprout!
the sky shall block
the rain form falling”

The syllable count of the lines is 5 and 6 and the rhymes are highlighted (note: the highlights are not in the original).

Source: Jan P. Sterk in OPTAT 1989/1, p. 36ff.

See also word play in Isaiah 5:7.

poetry in Micah 2:4b

The Hebrew poetry in poetry in Micah 2:4b is translated by the German Gute Nachricht Bibel (last rev. 2018) in poetic form:

»Unser Ende ist gekommen,
Gott gab Fremden unser Land.
Alles haben sie genommen,
nichts mehr blieb in unserer Hand!«

Literal translation:
“Our end has come near,
God gave our land to strangers.
They took everything
nothing remained in our own hands!”

The syllable count of the lines is 8-7-8-7 and the rhyming pattern is A-B-A-B.

Source: Jan P. Sterk in OPTAT 1989/1, p. 36ff.

righteous, righteousness

The Greek, Hebrew, and Latin terms that are translated in English mostly as “righteous” as an adjective or personified noun or “righteousness” (also as “justice”) are most commonly expressed with concept of “straightness,” though this may be expressed in a number of ways. (Click or tap here to see the details)

Following is a list of (back-) translations of various languages:

  • Bambara, Southern Bobo Madaré, Chokwe (ululi), Amganad Ifugao, Chol, Eastern Maninkakan, Toraja-Sa’dan, Pamona, Batak Toba, Bilua, Tiv: “be straight”
  • Laka: “follow the straight way” or “to straight-straight” (a reduplicated form for emphasis)
  • Highland Puebla Nahuatl, Kekchí, Muna: “have a straight heart”
  • Kipsigis: “do the truth”
  • Mezquital Otomi: “do according to the truth”
  • Huautla Mazatec: “have truth”
  • Yine: “fulfill what one should do”
  • Indonesian: “be true”
  • Navajo: “do just so”
  • Anuak: “do as it should be”
  • Mossi: “have a white stomach” (see also happiness / joy)
  • Paasaal: “white heart” (source: Fabian N. Dapila in The Bible Translator 2024, p. 415ff.)
  • Nuer: “way of right” (“there is a complex concept of “right” vs. ‘left’ in Nuer where ‘right’ indicates that which is masculine, strong, good, and moral, and ‘left’ denotes what is feminine, weak, and sinful (a strictly masculine viewpoint!) The ‘way of right’ is therefore righteousness, but of course women may also attain this way, for the opposition is more classificatory than descriptive.”) (This and all above from Bratcher / Nida except for Bilua: Carl Gross; Tiv: Rob Koops; Muna: René van den Berg)
  • Central Subanen: “wise-good” (source: Robert Brichoux in OPTAT 1988/2, p. 80ff. )
  • Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “live well”
  • Mezquital Otomi: “goodness before the face of God” (source for this and one above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
  • Eastern Huasteca Nahuatl: “the result of heart-straightening” (source: Nida 1947, p. 224)
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “entirely good” (when referred to God), “do good” or “not be a debtor as God sees one” (when referred to people)
  • Carib: “level”
  • Tzotzil: “straight-hearted”
  • Ojitlán Chinantec: “right and straight”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “walk straight” (source for this and four previous: John Beekman in Notes on Translation November 1964, p. 1-22)
  • Aari: The Pauline word for “righteous” is generally rendered by “makes one without sin” in the Aari, sometimes “before God” is added for clarity. (Source: Loren Bliese)
  • North Alaskan Inupiatun: “having sin taken away” (Source: Nida 1952, p. 144)
  • Nyamwezi: wa lole: “just” or “someone who follows the law of God” (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • Venda: “nothing wrong, OK” (Source: J.A. van Roy in The Bible Translator 1972, p. 418ff. )
  • Ekari: maakodo bokouto or “enormous truth” (the same word that is also used for “truth“; bokouto — “enormous” — is being used as an attribute for abstract nouns to denote that they are of God [see also here]; source: Marion Doble in The Bible Translator 1963, p. 37ff. ).
  • Guhu-Samane: pobi or “right” (also: “right (side),” “(legal) right,” “straightness,” “correction,” “south,” “possession,” “pertinence,” “kingdom,” “fame,” “information,” or “speech” — “According to [Guhu-Samane] thinking there is a common core of meaning among all these glosses. Even from an English point of view the first five can be seen to be closely related, simply because of their similarity in English. However, from that point the nuances of meaning are not so apparent. They relate in some such a fashion as this: As one faces the morning sun, south lies to the right hand (as north lies to the left); then at one’s right hand are his possessions and whatever pertains to him; thus, a rich man’s many possessions and scope of power and influence is his kingdom; so, the rich and other important people encounter fame; and all of this spreads as information and forms most of the framework of the people’s speech.”) (Source: Ernest Richert in Notes on Translation 1964, p. 11ff.)

See also respectable, righteous, righteous (person), and She is more in the right(eous) than I.