wash your feet

In a Fang oral adaptation the Hebrew that is translated in English as “wash your feet” is translated in a culturally specific way by Lot offering warm water for bathing.

Case / Case (2019) explain: “In Fang culture, as a sign of good hospitality, a host would bring guests warm water to bathe with. Therefore, in Genesis 19:2 the translator specified that Lot offered the two messengers warm water for bathing.”

lords (Japanese honorifics)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way Japanese show different degree of politeness is through the choice of a formal prefix and a formal plural suffix to the second person pronoun (“you” and its various forms) as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

In these verses, the Hebrew that is translated as “lords” in English is translated as go-shujin-gata (ご主人がた), combining “lord” — shujin — with the formal prefix go- and the honorific plural suffix -gata.

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

See also master (Japanese honorifics).

complete verse (Genesis 19:2)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 19:2:

  • Kankanaey: “‘Sirs, here-I-am to serve you. Please come to my-home so-that there- you -will-wash your feet. You will also sleep there so-that you will then depart early tomorrow.’ ‘No,’ they said. ‘Never-mind-if-only the plaza (Eng. loan) is where- we -sleep.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Newari: “Favor us and come to your servant’s house. Wash your feet there. And stay the night. Then tomorrw in the morning get up and go.'” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “‘If possible [you (pl.)] drop-by for-awhile at my house. You (pl.) can-wash your feet there and can-sleep tonight. And tomorrow early-morning you (pl.) can-continue on your journey.’ But they replied, ‘Just no, we (excl.) will- just -sleep there in the plaza tonight.'” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “He said to them, ‘Gentlemen, please stay in my house tonight. You can wash your feet, and tomorrow you can continue your journey.’ But they said, ‘No, we will just sleep in the city square.'” (Source: Translation for Translators)

Japanese benefactives (otomari)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way Japanese show different degree of politeness is through the choice of a benefactive construction as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

Here, otomari (お泊まり) or “stay overnight” is used in combination with kudasaru (くださる), a respectful form of the benefactive kureru (くれる). A benefactive reflects the good will of the giver or the gratitude of a recipient of the favor. To convey this connotation, English translation needs to employ a phrase such as “for me (my sake)” or “for you (your sake).”

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

Japanese benefactives (tsuzukete)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way Japanese show different degree of politeness is through the choice of a benefactive construction as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

Here, tsuzukete (続けて) or “continue” is used in combination with kudasaru (くださる), a respectful form of the benefactive kureru (くれる). A benefactive reflects the good will of the giver or the gratitude of a recipient of the favor. To convey this connotation, English translation needs to employ a phrase such as “for me (my sake)” or “for you (your sake).”

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

Translation commentary on Genesis 19:2

My lords is the same expression Abraham addressed to his visitors in 18.3 and which is translated “my lord.” The translation requires an address form in the plural of an inferior addressing a superior, if such is available. Otherwise the greeting may be a recognition of the high status of the visitors; for example “You two important chiefs.”

Turn aside, I pray you, to your servant’s house: turn is used in the sense of “turn into,” which is expressed in English as “come to” (Good News Translation), “spend the night,” or “stay with.” I pray you translates the word commonly rendered in Revised Standard Version as “behold” followed by a particle of entreaty, a form meaning “please,” “if it pleases you.” This may also be rendered “I beg you” or “please” followed by an invitation. In languages that do not have words like “please,” the invitation should be expressed in humble and courteous terms; for example, “You two have come, now let us [inclusive] go along to my house.”

Your servant’s house: Lot’s expression is aimed to present himself as humble and lowly, honored to be of service to his guests. Bible en français courant says “Do me the honor of coming to my house.” Nova Tradução na Linguagem de Hoje says “Sirs, I am here to serve you, please accept my invitation and come lodge in my home.”

Spend the night translates a verb meaning to spend, sleep, or pass a night, with the expectation that the guests will continue their journey in the morning.

Wash your feet is the same as in 18.4. See there for explanation of this custom. Note that washing the feet would be done before spending the night, and Good News Translation has placed them in that order.

Then you may rise up early and go on your way: Lot’s offer of hospitality is to refresh the travelers and provide them with safety so that they can go on their way in the morning.

The strangers appear to turn down Lot’s offer of hospitality. This is not to be understood as a rejection but as a conventional manner of accepting by degrees. A too quick acceptance of hospitality was considered in Middle Eastern cultures as impolite and ungrateful. Many societies have similar refusal forms that actually show that a polite response of acceptance is being given.

They said, “No; we will spend the night in the street”: street is an inadequate rendering of the Hebrew words referring to the town square or open place. It is used in Judges 19.15, 17, 20; Isa 59.14; Jer 9.21; Amos 5.16, and it refers generally to the area where Lot was sitting as the men arrived. Note that New Revised Standard Version has changed from street to “square.” Good News Translation has “the city square,” Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch “in the open.” The verb translated spend the night is the same as in the first part of this verse. The form of this reply should take into account local idiom and custom. One translation, for example, says “No, it’s all right. We’ll just go and sleep in the park.”

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. and Fry, Euan McG. A Handbook on Genesis. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .