king

Some languages do not have a concept of kingship and therefore no immediate equivalent for the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic 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)
  • Pass Valley Yali: “Big Man” (source: Daud Soesilo)

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 If the headman failed consistently in raids, he was superceded by a better warrior.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.)

cast lots

The Greek that is translated as “casting” or “drawing lots” in English is often translated with a specific idiom, such as “to take out bamboo slips” — 規 矩 掣 籤 guījǔ chè qiān (in most Chinese Bibles), “each to pick-up which is-written (i.e. small sticks inscribed with characters and used as slots)” (Batak Toba), a term for divination by means of reed stalks (Toraja-Sa’dan). In some cases a cultural equivalent is not available, or it is felt to be unsuitable in this situation, e.g. in Ekari where “to spin acorns” has the connotation of gambling, one may have to state the fact without mentioning the means, e.g. “it came to him” (source for this and all above: Reiling / Swellengrebel). In Shipibo-Conibo there was no equivalent for “casting lots” so the translation for Mark 15:24 is descriptive: “they shook little things to decide what each one should take” (source: Nida 1952, p. 47).

In Purari it is translated as “throw shells.” (Source: David Clark)

In Kwara’ae (in Acts 1:26) it is translated as “they played something like dice to find out who of the two God chose (God revealed his will that way).” (Source: Carl Gross)

In Inupiaq a term for “gambling” is used. The same term is also used in Esther 3:7, “though there winning and losing is not in view, but rather choosing by chance.” (Source: Robert Bascom)