The Hebrew and Greek that is translated with “clothes” or similar in English is translated in Enlhet as “crawling-in-stuff” (source: Jacob Loewen in The Bible Translator 1971, p. 169ff. ) and in Nyongar as bwoka or “Kangaroo skin” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).


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 If the headman failed consistently in raids, he was superceded by a better warrior.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 2 Kings 5:5

Go now is literally a double imperative using both the verbs “come” and “go.” Since Naaman had requested permission to have dealings with the country of Israel, the Syrian king gives his authorization quite definitely. The two imperative verb forms are to be understood in this way. Some modern renderings of this are “Go ahead” (New Century Version, Contemporary English Version), “By all means, go” (New International Version), and “Certainly you may go” (Revised English Bible).

I will send a letter: The wording of Revised Standard Version might make the reader think that the letter would be sent ahead of Naaman by another person, but it becomes very clear in the following verse that Naaman himself was to be the bearer of the letter. For this reason it may be better to avoid temporary confusion by translating “I will send a letter with you” or “take this letter” (Good News Translation). New Living Translation refers to the letter as “a letter of introduction for you,” and this may be helpful in other languages.

The king of Israel is Joram (2 Kgs 3.1).

So he went: The referent of the pronoun he should be made clear. It is Naaman and not the king of Syria who sets out on the journey.

Ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold: Revised Standard Version has added the word shekels, which is implicit in the Hebrew text. For talents see the comments on 1 Kgs 9.14; for shekels see 1 Kgs 10.16. Good News Translation refers to “pieces” instead of talents and shekels (see the comments on 1 Kgs 16.24). The silver and gold here represents an enormous amount of money. In modern terms the weight of the silver would have been about 340 kilograms (750 pounds) and the gold approximately 68 kilograms (150 pounds). New Living Translation reads “750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold.” At today’s prices this would approach a million U.S. dollars! While this is a very large amount today, it would have been excessively large in Old Testament times. Naaman brought this money and the clothes as a gift. It shows the lengths to which he was willing to go in order to be rid of his affliction.

Ten festal garments: While the Revised Standard Version rendering is shared by New American Bible and New Jerusalem Bible, many modern versions consider this to be a mistranslation of the meaning of the Hebrew. The Hebrew word translated festal comes from a verb that sometimes means “to change,” so this word may also mean “a set,” “an assortment,” or “an outfit.” The whole phrase has therefore been translated “ten sets of garments” (New Revised Standard Version), “ten changes of clothing” (Revised English Bible, New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh), and “ten new outfits” (Contemporary English Version). This is probably the better alternative to follow. The same Hebrew term for festal is found in Gen 45.22 and Jdg 14.12, 13, 19.

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