years (age)

In Aekyom, years are counted as “turtles” (ambum).

Norm Mundhenk tells this story:

“Recently I was checking some New Testament material in the Aekyom language of western Papua New Guinea. It seemed relatively clear until suddenly we came to a passage that started, ‘When Jesus had 12 turtles, …’ Surely I had misunderstood what they said.
“‘Did you say that Jesus had 12 turtles?’
“‘Let us explain! Around here there is a certain time every year when river turtles come up on the banks and lay their eggs. Because this is so regular, it can be used as a way of counting years. Someone’s age is said to be how many turtles that person has. So when we say that Jesus had 12 turtles, we mean that Jesus was 12 years old.’
“It was of course the familiar story of Jesus’ trip with his parents to Jerusalem. And certainly, as we all know, Jesus did indeed have 12 turtles at that time!”

In Tok Pisin, krismas (derived from “christmas”) is taken as the fixed annual marker, so Jesus had 12 “christmases” (Jisas i gat 12-pela krismas pinis) or Abram (in Gen. 12:4) had 75 (Abram i gat 75 krismas) (source: Norm Mundhenk). In Noongar it is biroka kadak or “summers had” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

See also advanced in years.

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.


The name that is transliterated as “Moses” in English is signed in Spanish Sign Language and Polish Sign Language in accordance with the depiction of Moses in the famous statue by Michelangelo (see here ). (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)

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

American Sign Language also uses the sign depicting the horns but also has a number of alternative signs (see here).

In French Sign Language, a similar sign is used, but it is interpreted as “radiance” (see below) and it culminates in a sign for “10,” signifying the 10 commandments:

“Moses” in French Sign Language (source )

The horns that are visible in Michelangelo’s statue are based on a passage in the Latin Vulgate translation (and many Catholic Bible translations that were translated through the 1950ies with that version as the source text). Jerome, the translator, had worked from a Hebrew text without the niqquds, the diacritical marks that signify the vowels in Hebrew and had interpreted the term קרו (k-r-n) in Exodus 34:29 as קֶ֫רֶן — keren “horned,” rather than קָרַו — karan “radiance” (describing the radiance of Moses’ head as he descends from Mount Sinai).

Even at the time of his translation, Jerome likely was not the only one making that decision as this recent article alludes to.

In Swiss-German Sign Language it is translated with a sign depicting holding a staff. This refers to a number of times where Moses’s staff is used in the context of miracles, including the parting of the sea (see Exodus 14:16), striking of the rock for water (see Exodus 17:5 and following), or the battle with Amalek (see Exodus 17:9 and following).

“Moses” in Swiss-German Sign Language, source: DSGS-Lexikon biblischer Begriffe , © CGG Schweiz

In Estonian Sign Language Moses is depicted with a big beard. (Source: Liina Paales in Folklore 47, 2011, p. 43ff.)

See also Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration.

Translation commentary on Deuteronomy 34:7

One hundred and twenty years old: see 31.2.

His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated: the noun translated “natural force” occurs only here in the Old Testament; perhaps it refers to sexual power. New Revised Standard Version translates “his sight was unimpaired, and his vigor had not abated.” If the idea of natural force or “vigor” is hard to translate, we may follow Good News Translation, with “was as strong as ever,” or Contemporary English Version “his body was still strong.”

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 .