inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (2Sam 18:3)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse, the Jarai and the Adamawa Fulfulde translation both use the exclusive pronoun, excluding the king.

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 Samuel 18:3

But: the common conjunction here marks a contrast between David’s firm resolution to go out into battle and his soldiers’ equally firm statement to the contrary. A conjunction of contrast will be called for in most languages.

You shall not go out: the troops respond to David’s expressed intention to go with them into battle by stating that this should not happen. Their advice was logical, since Absalom’s primary purpose was to get rid of his rival to the throne. While the advice is imperative, it will have to be couched in more polite form in some languages, since the men are speaking to their king. In some cases this will mean beginning with a word like “Pardon…” before making the imperative statement.

The soldiers then give two possible disastrous scenarios that, in spite of their seriousness, would not be so bad if David himself were spared being captured or killed. The first involves the running away of the entire army, and the second supposes the death of half of David’s loyal soldiers. In languages where there is no precise word for half, translators may say “one of every two of us” or possibly “very many of us.”

The insignificance of the serious hypothetical losses is highlighted by saying that David alone is worth ten thousand ordinary soldiers. In some languages this may have to be expressed “it is better for you to live than for ten thousand of us to live” or “your death would be more important than the deaths of ten thousand of us.”

The expression they will not care about us, which occurs twice in this verse, is more literally “they will not set [their] heart on us.” The implied subject of the verb is the enemy. Some other translations are “they will not even bother about us” (New Jerusalem Bible), “no one will pay attention to us” (Anchor Bible), and “it makes no great matter [to the enemy]” (Knox).

But you: nearly all manuscripts of the Masoretic Text plus most of the manuscripts in the Septuagint tradition read “but now….” But two Hebrew manuscripts and some manuscripts of the Septuagint have the same meaning as found in Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation, and this is recommended by Critique Textuelle de l’Ancien Testament, which gives a {B} rating to the reading But you. In Hebrew manuscripts the words “you [singular]” and “now” are frequently mixed up with each other, since they are similar in spelling. The emphatic pronoun, you, also fits the context better than the adverb of time, “now.” Nearly all modern translations, including New International Version and even New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh, agree with the text found in Revised Standard Version, but a few continue to follow the Masoretic Text. Traduction œcuménique de la Bible, for example, says “even if half of us die, they won’t care; but now there are ten thousand like us.”

An alternative to David’s going into battle himself is suggested by the troops. David should stay in the town of Mahanaim and be prepared to send out reinforcements and supplies as they are needed. This proposal is introduced by saying therefore it is better …. Such an expression may prove difficult for some translators. Some languages will have to express this idea in two separate sentences as follows: “So please stay here and send us help if we need it. That will be good surpassing your going into battle with us.”

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 .