cherub

Some key biblical terms that were directly transliterated from the Hebrew have ended up with unforeseen meanings in the lexicons of various recipient languages.

Take, for example, the English word “cherub,” from Hebrew “kĕrȗb.” Whereas the original Hebrew term meant something like “angelic being that is represented as part human, part animal” (…), the English word now means something like “a person, especially a child, with an innocent or chubby face.” Semantic shift has been conditioned in English by the Renaissance artistic tradition that portrayed cherubim in the guise of cute little Greek cupids. This development was of course impossible to foresee at the time when the first English translations borrowed this Hebrew word into the English Bible tradition, following the pattern of borrowing set by the Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament.

In Russian, the semantic shift of this transliteration was somewhat different: the -îm ending of “kĕrūbîm,” originally signifying plurality in Hebrew, has been reanalyzed as merely the final part of the lexical item, so that the term херувим (kheruvim) in Russian is a singular count noun, not a plural one. (A similar degrammaticalization is seen in
English writers who render the Hebrew plural kĕrūbîm as “cherubims.”) Apparently, this degrammaticalization of the Hebrew ending is what led the Russian Synodal translator of Gen 3:24 to mistakenly render the Hebrew as saying that the Lord God placed a kheruvim (accusative masculine singular in Russian) to the east of the garden of Eden, instead of indicating a plural number of such beings.

Source: Vitaly Voinov in The Bible Translator 2012, p. 17ff.

In Ngäbere the Hebrew that is translated in English as “cherub” is translated as “heavenly guard” (source: J. Loewen 1980, p. 107).

covenant

The Hebrew and the Greek that are translated as “covenant” in English are translated in a variety of ways. Here are some (back-) translations:

  • Western Kanjobal: “to put mouths equal” (i.e. “signifying complete assent on the part of all”)
  • Mossi: “helping promise”
  • Vai: “a thing-time-bind” (i.e. “an arrangement agreed upon for a period of time”)
  • Loma (Liberia): “an agreement”
  • Northwestern Dinka: “agreement which is tied up” (i.e. “secure and binding”)
  • Chol: “a word which is left”
  • Huastec: “a broken-off word” (“based on the concept of ‘breaking off a word’ and leaving it with the person with whom an agreement has been reached”)
  • Tetelcingo Nahuatl: “a death command” (i.e. “a special term for testament”)
  • Piro: “a promised word”
  • Eastern Krahn: “a word between”
  • Yaka: “promise that brings together” (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Manikion, Indonesian: “God’s promise” (source: Daud Soesilo)
  • Natügu: nzesz’tikr drtwr: “oneness of mind” (source: Brenda Boerger in Beerle-Moor / Voinov, p. 164)
  • 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.)