Joab the son of Zeruiah

The Hebrew that is translated as “Joab (also: Abishai) the son of Zeruiah” in English presented a problem in Maan. “In a patriarchal society like Mano, Zeruiah is assumed to be the father of Joab. Since we know that she was his mother (see 2Sam 17:25), we expressed this phrase as ‘Joab whose mother was Zeruiah.'” (Source: Don Slager)

In Batak Karo Zeruiah also has to be identified as a woman. M.K. Sembiring (in The Bible Translator 1991, p. 217ff. ) explains: “Unlike the Hebrew language, nouns in Batak Karo have no gender. The literal translation of the biblical names therefore does not indicate whether they are female or male names. Names are generally understood as male names when they occur in expressions like ‘the son of…’ or ‘the daughter of…,’ because in the Karo culture, if ever the names of the parents are mentioned, it is usually the name of the father that is used in identifying the children. For example, 1 Sam 26:6 says, ‘Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah,’Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” In Hebrew, Zeruiah will be recognized as a female name because of its ending, but in Karo the name will be considered as a male name for the reason given above. It is necessary then to identify Zeruiah as a female name by saying that Zeruiah was the mother of Joab and Abishai. The translation of the first part of that verse into Batak Karo is as follows,’Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai (the mother of these two is Zeruiah)…'”


The name that is transliterated as “David” in English is translated in Spanish Sign Language with the sign signifying king and a sling (referring to 1 Samuel 17:49 and 2 Samuel 5:4). (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)

“Elizabeth” in Spanish Sign Language, source: Sociedad Bíblica de España

In German Sign Language it is only the sling. (See here ).

“David” in German Sign Language (source )

The (Protestant) Mandarin Chinese transliteration of “David” is 大卫 (衛) / Dàwèi which carries an additional meaning of “Great Protector.”

Click or tap here to see a short video clip about David (source: Bible Lands 2012)

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: David .


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. )

See also king (Japanese honorifics).

Translation commentary on 2 Samuel 18:2

And: the conjunction here merely serves to tie together the two verses by introducing a further explanation of the organization of David’s forces. There were three groups that were probably more or less equal in number; and the overall commanders of the three groups were the usual military leaders, Joab and his brother Abishai, and Ittai the Gittite, who was rewarded for his faithfulness to the king (see 15.19-22) by being made one of the three most powerful men in David’s army. In some languages it may be distracting to repeat the information the son of Zeruiah when Abishai is mentioned, since this was already said several times (see, for example, 2.18; 16.9).

David sent forth the army: one part of the Septuagint tradition has “David divided the people [army] into three [parts or groups]…,” and this is recommended by Critique Textuelle de l’Ancien Testament, which gives a {C} rating to this reading. This meaning is adopted by New Jerusalem Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Revised English Bible, An American Translation, Moffatt, and Anchor Bible as well as Good News Translation. In addition to textual considerations, the context also favors the recommendation of Critique Textuelle de l’Ancien Testament. In Hebrew the verbs “send forth” and “divide into three parts” are nearly identical in spelling, and a scribe probably misread the Hebrew text and created the new reading “sent forth.” Translators are therefore advised to follow the advice of Critique Textuelle de l’Ancien Testament.

The division of the army into thirds may be difficult to describe in some languages. A possible model for those languages that do not easily deal with fractions is “All the soldiers were divided into three [equal] groups. And these three chiefs were made leaders of the three groups: Joab, Abishai who was the brother of Joab, and Ittai who was from Gath.” Revised Standard Version says that each third was placed under the command of, which is a faithful translation of the Hebrew, which says literally “in the hand of” (so Fox).

To the men: literally “to the people.” “People” here, as frequently in 1 and 2 Samuel, refers specifically to the troops. Modern versions have translated “to the soldiers” (New Jerusalem Bible) and “[to] the troops” (New International Version, New American Bible). In some languages it will be more natural to say simply “to them” (New Century Version), since the army has already been specifically mentioned earlier in this verse.

I myself will also go out: the pronoun is emphatic, and this emphasis should be retained in translation if it can be done naturally. There is additional emphasis in the verbal expression used, which is actually made up of two forms of the same verb. A more literal rendering is “Going out I will go out,” but the usual meaning of such a construction is “I will surely go forth” (Goldman). Aside from the special construction, the meaning of the verb itself may be more clearly translated as “go into battle” (Knox). In an attempt to reflect the various emphases here, the whole phrase may be translated “As for me, I will certainly go into battle with you.”

In some languages, however, it may be wise to follow the model of Revised English Bible and make this direct quotation into an indirect one: “The king announced to his troops that he himself was coming out with them.”

Quoted with permission from Omanson, Roger L. and Ellington, John E. A Handbook on the First and Second Books of Samuel, Volume 2. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2001. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

formal second person plural pronoun

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way Japanese show different degree of politeness is through the choice of a formal plural suffix to the second person pronoun (“you” and its various forms) as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

In these verses, anata-gata (あなたがた) is used, combining the second person pronoun anata and the plural suffix -gata to create a formal plural pronoun (“you” [plural] in English).

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )