cast lots

The Greek that is translated as “casting” or “drawing lots” in English is often translated with a specific idiom, such as “to take out bamboo slips” — 規 矩 掣 籤 guījǔ chè qiān (in most Chinese Bibles), “each to pick-up which is-written (i.e. small sticks inscribed with characters and used as slots)” (Batak Toba), a term for divination by means of reed stalks (Toraja-Sa’dan). In some cases a cultural equivalent is not available, or it is felt to be unsuitable in this situation, e.g. in Ekari where “to spin acorns” has the connotation of gambling, one may have to state the fact without mentioning the means, e.g. “it came to him,” (source for this and all above: Reiling / Swellengrebel). In Shipibo-Conibo there was no equivalent for “casting lots” so the translation for Mark 15:24 is descriptive: “they shook little things to decide what each one should take” (source: Nida 1952, p. 47).

In Purari it is translated as “throw shells” (source: David Clark), in Kwara’ae (in Acts 1:26) as “they played something like dice to find out who of the two God chose (God revealed his will that way)” (source: Carl Gross), in Navajo as “draw straws,” in Yatzachi Zapotec as “raffle,” in Chol “choose by a game” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.), and in Inupiaq a term for “gambling” is used. The same Inupiaq term is also used in Esther 3:7, “though there winning and losing is not in view, but rather choosing by chance” (source: Robert Bascom)

The stand-alone term that is translated “lots” in English is translated as “two pieces of potsherd” in Highland Totonac. (Source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.)

spit upon

The Greek that is translated in English as “spit” is translated in Chipaya as “eject saliva” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.).

See also spit and touched.

leaven

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “leaven” (or “yeast”) in English is translated in Tzotzil as “the thing that swells the stomach of bread.”

In the occurrences in Mark 8:15 it is translated in Wantoat as “salt.”

(Source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.)

boat, ship

The Greek that is translated “boat” or “ship” in English is translated in Chichimeca-Jonaz as “that with which we can walk on water” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.) and in Kamwe as “water vehicle” (“people have never seen a large body of water, let alone a boat” — source: Roger Mohrlang in this article).

In Kouya it is translated as ‘glʋ ‘kadʋ — “big canoe.”

Philip Saunders (p. 231) explains how the Kouya team arrived at that conclusion:

“Acts chapter 27 was a challenge! It describes Paul’s sea voyage to Italy, and finally Rome. There is a storm at sea and a shipwreck on Malta, and the chapter includes much detailed nautical vocabulary. How do you translate this for a landlocked people group, most of whom have never seen the ocean? All they know are small rivers and dugout canoes.

“We knew that we could later insert some illustrations during the final paging process which would help the Kouya readers to picture what was happening, but meanwhile we struggled to find or invent meaningful terms. The ‘ship’ was a ‘big canoe’ and the ‘passengers’ were ‘the people in the big canoe’; the ‘crew’ were the ‘workers in the big canoe’; the ‘pilot’ was the ‘driver of the big canoe’; the ‘big canoe stopping place’ was the ‘harbour’, and the ‘big canoe stopping metal’ was the ‘anchor’!”

See also harbor, anchor, and sailor.

yoke

The Greek and Hebrew term that is translated into English as “yoke,” the Afar translation uses koyta (poles of camel pack) which refers to two poles in front of the hump and two behind; elsewhere in agricultural Ethiopia the yoke is only in front of the hump.

In Chol it is translated with tajbal, a term for “headband” (for carrying) (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.). Likewise, in Kele, it is translated with njɛmbɛ, “a carrying strap worn around the head and across the chest or shoulders to support a burden of firewood, garden produce or even a child carried by this on the back or hip” (source: William Ford in The Bible Translator 1957, p. 203ff.).

In Kwasio it is translated with a term that refers to a “bulky piece of wood attached to the neck of a goat, preventing it from roaming freely in the brushy undergrowth.”

Joshua Ham explains: “When checking this verse in Kwasio, I was surprised to find that the Kwasio had a word for yoke. You see, none of the language groups we have worked with have a tradition of using animals to pull carts or plows. Since yokes don’t exist in the culture, there’s no need for a word for that concept in these languages.

“When I asked the Kwasio team about their word for yoke, they said that they don’t use yokes to help animals pull plows; rather, their word for yoke refers to a bulky piece of wood attached to the neck of a goat, preventing it from roaming freely in the brushy undergrowth. So while the exact use of a Kwasio yoke is not the same as a biblical yoke, there are a lot of similarities: in both cases, it’s a piece of wood around an animal’s neck that serves to keep the animal under control. While the overlap isn’t perfect, it’s pretty good — and almost certainly better than trying to squeeze in a distracting explanation of how yokes function in the biblical cultures.”

Adam Boyd (in The PNG Experience) tells this story about finding the right term in Enga: “Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:29-30 are some of the most difficult to translate into the Enga language. From the time that I became a Christian, I was taught that a yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the neck of two animals and attached to a plough or cart that they are to pull. This is an easy enough concept to understand for people who come from societies that make use of beasts of burden, but in Papua New Guinea, there are no beasts of burden. Consequently the concept of a yoke placed on animals is completely foreign. Thus, we have struggled greatly in our attempt to translate Matthew 11:29-30.

“Recently, however, I came to learn that a yoke can also refer to a wooden frame that a person places on his neck or shoulders to make it easier to carry a heavy load. Indeed, the Bible often makes figurative use of the word ‘yoke’ as it refers to people and not to beasts of burden (see 1 Kings 12:4-14). As I was pondering that idea, I began to notice that when Engan men carry heavy logs on one shoulder, they often balance the load by supporting it with a small stick placed across the other shoulder. A few weeks ago, it clicked in my mind that the small stick they use to make it easier to carry a heavy log is like a yoke.

“Excited by this realization, I quickly asked my friend Benjamin if the stick that men use to make it easier to carry a heavy log has a name in Enga. Sure enough it does. It is called a pyakende. With great anticipation, I asked the translation team if we could use the word pyakende to translate the word ‘yoke’. After wrestling with the phrasing for a little while, we came up with the following translation: ‘In order to remove the heaviness from your shoulders, take my pyakende. When you have taken it, you will receive rest. As my pyakende helps you, what I give you to carry is not heavy and you will carry it without struggling.’”

right hand of

The Greek and Hebrew that is typically translated as “(to the) right hand of” is often translated much more descriptively in other languages. In Yakan it is translated as “at the right side, here in the greatest/most important/most honored place/seat,” in Mezquital Otomi as “the right hand, at the place of honor,” in Chuj as “exalted at the right hand,” in Chichimeca-Jonaz as “in a high place there at the right,” in Lalana Chinantec as “make great,” in Isthmus Mixe as “given great authority,” in Morelos Nahuatl as “placed big” (source: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August, 1966, p. 1ff), and in Teutila Cuicatec as “in all authority at the right side” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.).

leprosy

The Greek and Hebrew terms that are often translated as “leprosy” in English is translated in Mairasi as “the bad sickness,” since “leprosy is very common in the Mairasi area” (source: Enggavoter 2004).

In Tzotzil the translation is “rotting sickness” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.).

See also leprosy healed.

insulted him and shook their heads

The Greek that is translated as “(they) insulted him and shook their heads” in English is translated in Dobel with the culturally equivalent “(they) continuously bit their lips at him and abused him.”

In Nüpode Huitoto “shake their heads” is translated with the cultural equivalent “stick out their chins” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.) in Chol with “spitting on the ground,” and in Copainalá Zoque with “clapping the hands” (source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation, March 1965), p. 2ff.).

See also shake the head.

rudder

The Greek that is translated as “(small) rudder” in English is translated in Yatzachi Zapotec as “(a small) stick,” in Mezquital Otomi as “a (little) metal,” in Rincón Zapotec as “(little) wooden hand” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.), and in Tetelcingo Nahuatl as “board to steer” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.).

See also ship and anchor.

locust

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated in English as “locust” is translated in Ayutla Mixtec as “insect like flying ants” because locusts are not known locally (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.).