songs of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15

Following is a translation of the songs of Moses and Miriam from Exodus 15 into dance and a song presented in the traditional Fang troubadour style (mvét oyeng) by the group Nkuwalong as part of a project by Bethany and Andrew Case. (Note that you can activate English, French and Spanish subtitles.)


The term that is transliterated as “Canaan” in English is translated in American Sign Language with the sign loosely referencing the act of hiding/covering one’s face in shame. The association of “shame” with the name “Canaan” comes from Genesis 9, specifically verse 9:25. This sign was adapted from a similar sign in Kenyan Sign Language (see here). (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)

“Canaan” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

Click or tap here to see a short video clip about Canaan in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

Translation commentary on Exod 15:15

Now in Hebrew is a word that either points to a particular time or gives emphasis to what follows. Some translations using the past tense have “Then” (New English Bible, New American Bible, New Revised Standard Version), while others omit it entirely. Childs translates it as “Indeed.” The chiefs of Edom refers to tribal “leaders,” or “princes” (New American Bible), of a nation to the southeast of Palestine. The word is similar to the word for “clans” (New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh). However, in most languages a term like “chief” or “leader” will be a more natural rendering. Are … dismayed is a word that really means to be “terrified” (Good News Translation). Following New Revised Standard Version with the past tense, it becomes “were dismayed.”

The leaders of Moab uses a word that literally means “rams,” but here it carries the meaning of men of power. Good News Translation has “Moab’s mighty men,” using alliteration to compensate somewhat for the lost metaphor. The word is a poetic synonym for chiefs in the first line. In some languages it will be helpful to combine the first two lines and say “The chiefs [or, leaders] of the countries of Edom and Moab are terrified.” Moab was a nation southeast of Palestine, across the Jordan River. Trembling is a less common word than the one used in verse 14. Seizes them is the same word as verse 14. Past tense, of course, is “seized them.”

All the inhabitants of Canaan refers to the “dwellers” (New American Bible) of central Palestine. The same word is used in verse 14. Have melted away is a word that also means to waver back and forth, so here it carries the meaning of being disheartened. Good News Translation has “lose their courage.” In a number of languages expressions such as “hearts fainted” or even “fainted away” will be possible. (Note that Good News Translation uses the present tense in verses 13-16 in order to make the song meaningful for all generations.) Translators are encouraged, however, to use the past tense in these verses, with the exception of verse 17 (see the comments there).

An alternative translation model for this verse is:

The chiefs [or, leaders] of the countries of Edom and Moab were terrified.
The people of the land of Canaan fainted with fear.

Quoted with permission from Osborn, Noel D. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Exodus. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1999. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .