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 If the headman failed consistently in raids, he was superceded by a better warrior.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 Deuteronomy 1:4

Verse 4 in Hebrew continues without a break from verse 3, but in many languages it is better to make a break, as Good News Translation does (also New Revised Standard Version). “This was after…,” or we may say “He spoke to the people after….”

He had defeated: the Hebrew text is ambiguous, since the pronominal suffix “he” can mean either Moses or Yahweh. Revised English Bible keeps the ambiguity by using the passive construction “after the defeat of…”; this, however, is not recommended. Good News Translation has “the LORD,” while Contemporary English Version, Bible en français courant, Nova Tradução na Linguagem de Hoje, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, and Spanish common language version (Biblia Dios Habla Hoy) have “Moses,” which is the preferred interpretation and recommended for translators. This does not mean that Moses single-handedly defeated Sihon; it means that the Israelites, commanded by Moses, defeated the Amorites commanded by Sihon. It is a fairly common thing to credit victory (and defeat) to the commander of the fighting troops.

For the defeat of Sihon the king of the Amorites, see Num 21.21-32. These Amorites were the people living in the hill country east of the Jordan (see Num 13.29). Amorites will be expressed in some languages as “people of Amor.” King in certain languages will be rendered as “high [or, great] chief” or just “the great one.” So Sihon the king of the Amorites may also be expressed as “Sihon, the great chief in the town of Heshbon, who ruled over the people of Amor.”

Heshbon was a town some fifteen kilometers (nine miles) east of the northern tip of the Dead Sea. Bashan was the region to the northeast of Lake Galilee. For the location of the towns of Ashtaroth and Edrei, see map, page xii.

Who lived … who lived: since the verbs have a king as subject, in both cases the verb may be rendered “who ruled” (Good News Translation, Revised English Bible; New Revised Standard Version “reigned”). The Hebrew text says that Og had “lived [or, ruled] in Ashtaroth in Edrei”; the Greek translation, the Septuagint, has “in Ashtaroth and in Edrei.” Taking its clue from the account in Num 21.33-35 (see also Deut 3.1), which reports the defeat of Og in Edrei (verse 33), Revised English Bible, Bible en français courant, and others connect “in Edrei” with the verb “he defeated” and translate “defeated Og … (who lived in Ashtaroth) in Edrei.” This is possible, but most, like Good News Translation, New Revised Standard Version, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh, New Jerusalem Bible, translate “lived [or, ruled] in Ashtaroth and Edrei” (see Josh 12.4; 13.12, 31). Biblia Dios Habla Hoy takes Ashtaroth to be a town and Edrei a region, but this does not seem very likely. It is recommended that the translation say “who ruled in the towns of Ashtaroth and Edrei” or “who ruled over the people in the towns of…,” and the first part of the verse may be alternatively expressed as “He [Moses] spoke to the people after he had defeated Sihon, who….”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Deuteronomy. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2000. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .