In a Fang oral adaptation the Hebrew that is translated in English as “the barren has borne seven” is translated in a culturally specific way with “The barren woman has become the mother of nine.”

Case / Case (2019) explain: “Much like the number 7 in Israelite culture, the number 9 signifies completion and perfection to the Fang. For example, in 1 Samuel 2:5 Hannah says: ‘The barren has borne seven.’ [The oral interpreter] Acacio, understanding the poetic, symbolic context, said, ‘The barren woman has become the mother of nine.'”

See also seven times.


The Hebrew and Greek that is translated in English as “hungry” is translated in Noongar as koborl-wirt or “without stomach” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang) and in the Kölsch translation (publ. 2017) it is often translated as nix zo Käue han or “have nothing to chew on” (note that zo Käue han or “something to chew on” is also used for “eat” — see Mark 6:37). (Source: Jost Zetzsche)

See also famished.

Translation commentary on 1 Samuel 2:5

This verse is made up of two sets of contrasting statements. The first set has to do with hunger and satisfaction, while the second centers around childbearing. Both are concrete examples of “the first will be last and the last first” (Matt 19.30).

Those who were full: that is, the people who had plenty of food to eat. This phrase renders a single word in the Masoretic Text, an adjective meaning “full.” Both Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation have expanded this for clear English style. The past tense of the verb is important because it contrasts with have hired themselves out, a more recent action. In some languages the latter expression may be worded quite differently: “went to work for other people in order to get food” or “had to look for work to be able to continue eating.”

The word bread in the Bible is often used for food in general. But the meaning here may be “only a piece of bread” (Contemporary English Version) or “a crust” (Revised English Bible), emphasizing the need to work for even the most insignificant bit of food.

The barren has borne seven: to the people of Israel, the number seven symbolized perfection (see Job 1.2; 42.13; Jer 15.9). See the similar thought in Psa 113.9. According to verse 21 Hannah had three more sons and two daughters after the birth of Samuel.

She who has many children may be better translated “she who had many children,” since the following line makes it quite clear that none of the children are left. The Hebrew, which does not have a verb here, is literally “many of sons.” In some languages it will be most natural to say something like “the woman who gave birth to many children.”

Is forlorn: the Hebrew verb means “to waste away,” “to dry up,” “to wither,” “to languish.” The meaning is that the woman who had had many children will be very sad and lonely because her children have died. See the similar thought in Jer 15.9, where Revised Standard Version renders this same Hebrew verb “has languished.” Other translations of this verb here in verse 5 include “is left desolate” (New Jerusalem Bible) and “now is sad” (New Century Version).

Quoted with permission from Omanson, Roger L. and Ellington, John E. A Handbook on the First and Second Books of Samuel, Volume 1. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2001. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .