Some languages do not have a concept of kingship and therefore no immediate equivalent for the Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin that is translated as “king” in English. Here are some (back-) translations:

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  • Piro: “a great one”
  • Highland Totonac: “the big boss”
  • Huichol: “the one who commanded” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Ekari: “the one who holds the country” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Una: weik sienyi: “big headman” (source: Kroneman 2004, p. 407)
  • Pass Valley Yali: “Big Man” (source: Daud Soesilo)
  • Ninia Yali: “big brother with the uplifted name” (source: Daud Soesilio in Noss 2007, p. 175)
  • Nyamwezi: mutemi: generic word for ruler, by specifying the city or nation it becomes clear what kind of ruler (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • Ghomála’: Fo (“The word Fo refers to the paramount ruler in the kingdoms of West Cameroon. He holds administrative, political, and religious power over his own people, who are divided into two categories: princes (descendants of royalty) and servants (everyone else).” (Source: Michel Kenmogne in Theologizing in Context: An Example from the Study of a Ghomala’ Christian Hymn))

Faye Edgerton retells how the term in Navajo was determined:

“[This term was] easily expressed in the language of Biblical culture, which had kings and noblemen with their brilliant trappings and their position of honor and praise. But leadership among the Navajos is not accompanied by any such titles or distinctions of dress. Those most respected, especially in earlier days, were their headmen, who were the leaders in raids, and the shaman, who was able to serve the people by appealing for them to the gods, or by exorcising evil spirits. Neither of these made any outward show. Neither held his position by political intrigue or heredity. If the headman failed consistently in raids, he was superceded by a better warrior. If the shaman failed many times in his healing ceremonies, it was considered that he was making mistakes in the chants, or had lost favor with the gods, and another was sought. The term Navajos use for headman is derived from a verb meaning ‘to move the head from side to side as in making an oration.’ The headman must be a good orator, able to move the people to go to war, or to follow him in any important decision. This word is naat’áanii which now means ‘one who rules or bosses.’ It is employed now for a foreman or boss of any kind of labor, as well as for the chairman of the tribal council. So in order to show that the king is not just a common boss but the highest ruler, the word ‘aláahgo, which expresses the superlative degree, was put before naat’áanii, and so ‘aláahgo naat’áanii ‘anyone-more-than-being around-he-moves-his-head-the-one-who’ means ‘the highest ruler.’ Naat’áanii was used for governor as the context usually shows that the person was a ruler of a country or associated with kings.”

(Source: Faye Edgerton in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 25ff. )

large numbers in Angguruk Yali

Many languages use a “body part tally system” where body parts function as numerals (see body part tally systems with a description). One such language is Angguruk Yali which uses a system that ends at the number 27. To circumvent this limitation, the Angguruk Yali translators adopted a strategy where a large number is first indicated with an approximation via the traditional system, followed by the exact number according to Arabic numerals. For example, where in 2 Samuel 6:1 it says “thirty thousand” in the English translation, the Angguruk Yali says teng-teng angge 30.000 or “so many rounds [following the body part tally system] 30,000,” likewise, in Acts 27:37 where the number “two hundred seventy-six” is used, the Angguruk Yali translation says teng-teng angge 276 or “so many rounds 276,” or in John 6:10 teng-teng angge 5.000 for “five thousand.”

This strategy is used in all the verses referenced here.

Source: Lourens de Vries in The Bible Translator 1998, p. 409ff.

See also numbers in Ngalum and numbers in Kombai.

Translation commentary on 1 Kings 5:13

Several versions make verses 13-18 a separate section, focusing on Solomon’s organization of forced labor from among his own people. Parola Del Signore: La Bibbia in Lingua Corrente and Bible en français courant say “Solomon organizes the forced labor” andParola Del Signore: La Bibbia in Lingua Corrente has “The [forced] conscription of the workers.” Contemporary English Version says more simply “Solomon’s Workers.” La Bible du Semeur calls this section “The preparations for the construction of the Temple.”

King Solomon raised a levy of forced labor: The Hebrew verb rendered raised a levy may be difficult to translate in certain languages. It is literally a causative form meaning “to cause to go up.” But the meaning of the whole clause is clearly that he forced people to work. But even words like “drafted” (Good News Translation) and “conscripted” (New Revised Standard Version, New American Bible) may prove troublesome to the translator. Some possible models are “… ordered people to cut logs” and “… compelled men to work for him without pay.”

For forced labor, see the comments at 1 Kgs 4.6. Some translations use the technical expression “corvée” (Traduction œcuménique de la Bible, De Vries, Gray). A “corvée” is unpaid labor that a subject is forced to provide to the person who rules over him.

The interpretation of this verse is difficult. It seems to mean that Solomon forced 30,000 Israelite men to work as forced laborers. The words rendered out of all Israel are most naturally read as meaning “from the Israelite people.” But since 1 Kgs 9.15-23 states explicitly that Solomon used only Canaanite people who continued to live among the Israelites as the forced laborers, that passage seems to contradict what verse 13 says here. Perhaps 1 Kgs 9.15-23 is referring to a permanent status as forced laborers for the Canaanite people (see 1 Kgs 9.21), while this forced labor among the Israelite people was only temporary. All Israel refers, as in 1 Kgs 4.7, to the northern kingdom of Israel.

Quoted with permission from Omanson, Roger L. and Ellington, John E. A Handbook on 1-2 Kings, Volume 1. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2008. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .