cardinal directions

The cardinal directions “east” and “west” are easy to translate into Maan here since the language uses “where the sun comes up” and “where the sun goes down.” For “north” the translator had “facing toward the sun rising to the left,” and for “south” she had “facing toward the sun rising to the right.” So the listener had to think hard before knowing what direction was in view when translating “to the north and south, to the east and west.” So, in case all four directions are mentioned, it was shortened by saying simply “all directions.” (Source: Don Slager) Likewise, Yakan has “from the four corners of the earth” (source: Yakan back-translation) or Western Bukidnon Manobo “from the four directions here on the earth” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo back-translation).

Kankanaey is “from the coming-out and the going-away of the sun and the north and the south” (source: Kankanaey back-translation), Northern Emberá “from where the sun comes up, from where it falls, from the looking [left] hand, from the real [right] hand” (source: Charles Mortensen), Amele “from the direction of the sun going up, from the direction of the sun going down, from the north and from the south” (source: John Roberts), Ejamat “look up to see the side where the sun comes from, and the side where it sets, and look on your right side, and on your left” (source: David Frank in this blog post ).

In Lamba, only umutulesuŵa, “where the sun rises” and imbonsi, “where the sun sets” were available as cardinal directions that were not tied to the local area of language speakers (“north” is kumausi — “to the Aushi country” — and “south” kumalenje — “to the Lenje country”). So “north” and “south” were introduced as loanwords, nofu and saufu respectively. The whole phrase is kunofu nakusaufu nakumutulesuŵa nakumbonsi. (Source C. M. Doke in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 57ff. )

“West” is translated in Tzeltal as “where the sun pours-out” and in Kele as “down-river” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel).

In Morelos Nahuatl, “north” is translated as “from above” and “south” as “from below.” (Source: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)

The Hebrew text that gives instructions where to place items in the tabernacle with the help of cardinal directions (north and south) had to be approached in the Bambam translation specific to spacial concepts of that culture.

Phil Campbell explains: “There are no words in Bambam for north and south. In Exodus 26:35, God instructs that the table is to be placed on the north side and the lamp on the south side inside the tabernacle. The team wants to use right and left to tell where the lamp and table are located. In many languages we would say that the table is on the right and the lampstand is on the left based on the view of someone entering the tabernacle. However, that is not how Bambam people view it. They view the placement of things and rooms in a building according to the orientation of someone standing inside the building facing the front of the building. So that means the table is on the left side and the lampstand is on the right side.”

See also cardinal directions / left and right.

tabernacle (noun)

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated as “tabernacle” in English is translated in San Blas Kuna as “house of prayer that can be carried.” (Source: Ronald Ross)

In Bandi it is translated as “holy sitting place.” The “sitting place for the Bandi is where you live.” Therefore the tabernacle is the place where God lived. (Source: Becky Grossmann in this newsletter )

In Vidunda it is translated as “God’s tent” (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext) and in Tibetan as gur mchog (གུར་​མཆོག) or “perfect tent” (source: gSungrab website )

In American Sign Language it is translated with with a sign for “tent” combined with a sign referring to the outer court surrounding the tent (see Exodus 27:9 and following). (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)


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

See also tabernacle (verb) / dwell, festival of Tabernacles and ark of the covenant.

Translation commentary on Exod 26:35

And you shall set the table uses a different word for set, but it means “to place,” the same as in verse 34. The table is described in 25.23. It will be helpful to make it explicit that this table was for the sacred bread; for example, “Put the table for the bread dedicated to the LORD outside the Most Holy Place.” Outside the veil means “outside the Most Holy Place” (Good News Translation) but within the larger room called the Holy Place (see verse 33). However, it is possible to give the precise location by saying “outside the curtain” (so also Contemporary English Version).

The lampstand is described in 25.31. The south side of the tabernacle refers to the inside wall on the right, as one faces east. (For the geographical orientation, see the remarks before verse 15.) Opposite the table means directly across from the table. And you shall put the table here uses the other word meaning “to place.” On the north side refers to the left side of the tabernacle as one faces the east.

In some cultures it is more natural to think in terms of right and left from the perspective of one standing at the entrance to the tabernacle and looking in, that is, toward the west. In this case the placement of the lampstand will be on the left (south side), and the table will be on the right (north side). Contemporary English Version follows this orientation. The distinction between north and south, however, will be readily understood in many cultures.

An alternative translation model for this verse is:

• Put the table for the sacred bread outside the inner curtain but inside the north wall of the tabernacle on the right. Put the lampstand across from the table and against the south wall on the left.

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 .