Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration

“In a number of languages, including Yanesha’ of Peru, there is an obligatory morpheme that must be suffixed to the name of any person referred to after his death. An interesting problem arises in the transfiguration account as to whether or not Moses’ name should have the ‘dead’ suffix. The translators have decided to leave the suffix off the name of Moses in the transfiguration story, since his obvious physical presence would be contradictory to the reference to his death. They are using it with the names of the characters of the Old Testament when they are mentioned in the New in other contexts and with the names of characters of the New Testament only if they have reason to believe that the person was dead when the record was written.” (Source: Larson 1998, p. 46)

In Yatzachi Zapotec the translators encountered the same grammatical requirement but decided differently. Otis Leal (in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 164ff.) explains: “Zapotecs never refer to a person who has died without indicating this fact. Thus the sentence. In Mark 9:4 Moses and Elijah spoke with Christ. Moses was obviously dead and was so designated in the translation. The question arose regarding Elijah. The informant was positive that he also should be referred to as dead since he no longer inhabited this mortal world. Should that be conceded, however, it would seem that Christ would also have to be referred to as dead at any time after the ascension. Thus Paul would be represented as beginning Romans, ‘Paul, a servant of the dead Jesus Christ.’ But because of the resurrection of Jesus, He is always spoken of as alive.”

See also Moses and Elijah.