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” — 掣 籤 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).

Other solutions include:

  • Purari: “throw shells” (source: David Clark)
  • Kwara’ae (in Acts 1:26) “they played something like dice to find out who of the two God chose (God revealed his will that way)” (source: Carl Gross)
  • Navajo: “draw straws”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec “raffle”
  • Chol “choose by a game” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125)
  • Chichimeca-Jonaz: “threw one or two little hard things that had a sign…to see which person it would be”
  • Kekchí: “tried with luck
  • Lalana Chinantec: “there were little things they played with that made evident who it would be who would be lucky”
  • Chuj: “entered luck upon them”
  • Ayutla Mixtec: “put out luck” (Source for this and five above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p 86ff.)

In North Alaskan Inupiatun a term for “gambling” is used. The same Inupiatun 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.)