The Hebrew and Greek that are translated as “fear (of God)” (or: “honor,” “worship,” or “respect”) is translated as “to have respect/reverence for” (Southern Subanen, Western Highland Purepecha, Navajo, Javanese, Tboli), “to make great before oneself” (Ngäbere), “fear-devotion” (Kannada — currently used as a description of the life of piety), “those-with-whom he-is-holy” (those who fear God) (Western Apache) (source for this and above: Reiling / Swellengrebel), “obey” (Nyanja) (source: Ernst Wendland), or with a term that communicates awe (rather than fear of an evil source) (Chol) (source: Robert Bascom).
Following are a number of back-translations of Hebrews 12:21:
- Uma: “What the Yahudi people faced was very terrifying. Even the prophet Musa said: ‘I am afraid and shaking [emphatic].'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “What they saw was really frightening and even Musa was compelled-to-speak, he said, ‘I am shaking because of fright.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And as for what they saw at that time, it was very frightening. And even Moses, he said that he was trembling because of his fear.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “What could be seen and heard was extremely frightening, so even Moses said, ‘I admit I’m trembling with my fear.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “When (one) looked at that mountain it really made- the-hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck -stand-on-end. That’s why, even Moises, he spoke saying, ‘I’m trembling with fear.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “It was a very fearful thing which the people saw. Also even Moses said: ‘As for me, I am even shaking from fear.'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
The name that is transliterated as “Moses” in English is signed in Spanish 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)
Another depiction in Spanish Sign Language (source: Carlos Moreno Sastre):
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.