anoint

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated in English as “anoint” is translated in Lakota with azilyA: “to smudge.”

Steve Berneking (in Beerle-Moor / Voinov, p. 121) tells the story of that translation:

“During one visit with the Lakota team, we were reading texts and discussing key biblical terms and how they are best rendered into Lakota. Reference was made to the ritual we label ‘anointing.’ When the Lakota word that had been glossed as ‘anoint’ was read aloud, I heard giggling among the reviewers. Knowing that this reaction called for some explanation, I asked.

“The people there told me that the Lakota verb that was used to translate ‘anoint’ was funny in that context. It is not that the verb is an uncommon one; quite the contrary. Lakota uses that verb frequently, but almost exclusively as a verb of food preparation; the verb belongs to the culinary domain. In other words, the Lakota verb used for ‘anoint’ actually referred to rubbing oil on something that was to be cooked or grilled, in this case, the apostles. The Lakota verb ipáṫaŋṫtaŋ ‘to apply oil on something’ was used quite innocently by the missionaries. The linguistic transfer was understandable: the missionaries needed a verb to translate ‘putting oil on something’; Lakota has a verb; they used that verb. The result was comical. So, during that conversation with the Lakota community, I encouraged the translators to come up with a Lakota verb that is used not simply in ‘the application of oil,’ but more pointedly in the consecration of something or somebody for a special task, or in the appointment of someone for a special purpose. Their response was almost immediate: azilyA or wazílyA ‘to smudge.’ That is how, they told me, warriors and messengers and tribal leaders have always been consecrated (or blessed) before being sent out on a special mission. Sage grass was burned, and the smoke was waved over the person or object. The trans-cultural process of using the traditional Lakota verb azilyA for the biblical notion of ‘anoint’ became, at that moment, part of the Lakota Bible.”

human head hair

The Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew that is translated as “hair” in English is translated in Tzeltal as stsotsil sjol (Tzeltal de Oxchuc y Tenejapa) / stsotsel sjol (Tzeltal Bachajón): “blanket for the head.” (Source: Slocum / Watkins 1988, p. 35)

complete verse (John 12:3)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 12:3:

  • Uma: “While they were eating, Maria came carrying a half liter of fragrant oil. That oil was made from fragrant tree roots, it was very expensive. She poured that oil on Yesus’s feet and wiped them with her hair. How fragrant it was all through the house!” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then Mariyam took fragrant oil called narda, half a kilo it’s weight. This fragrant oil was very valuable and nothing was mixed in with it. Mariyam sprinkled/watered this fragrant oil on Isa’s feet and then she wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And as for Mary, she took a salmon of nard-type perfume which was very expensive, and she came to Jesus, and she applied it to the feet of Jesus, and she wiped the feet of Jesus with her hair. And the smell went through the whole house.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “When that was so, Maria took half a liter of pure nard (loan nardo) which was a most-expensive perfume. And she poured it on Jesus’ feet while wiping-them with her hair. And the house was filled with its fragrance.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “What Maria did, she fetched first-class perfume which was very expensive, about two cupfuls. She poured it on the feet/legs of Jesus. After she’d poured it, she wiped them with her hair. The nice-smell of that perfume went all over the inside of the house.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Mary then bought about half a liter of good oil which smelled good and was very expensive. She anointed Jesus’ feet. Then she wiped them with her hair. There in the house the oil smell filled it.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Jesus

The Greek Iēsous is “only” a proper name but one with great importance. The following quote by John Ellington (in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 401ff.) illustrates this:

“In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus Christ, Joseph is told that when Mary gives birth to a son ‘you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’ (1:21). This name is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name [Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ) which is a short form of a name meaning] ‘the Lord [Yahweh] saves.’ The name is very significant and is in itself especially dear to Christians around the world. (…) Unquestionably great importance is attached to the name of Jesus by Christians of all persuasions and backgrounds.”

While Iēsous (pronounced: /i.ɛː.suːs/) is transliterated as “Jesus” (pronounced /ˈdʒiːzəs/) in English it is transliterated and pronounced in a large variety of other ways as well, following the different rules of different languages’ orthographies, writing systems and rules of pronunciation. The following is a (very partial) list of forms of Jesus in Latin characters: Chesús, Ciisusu, Gesù, Gesû, Gesü, Ġesù, Giêsu, Hesu, Hesús, Iesu, Ihu, Íosa, Ìosa, Isus, Isus, Isus, Isuthi, Îtu, Jasus, Jeesus, Jeesus, Jehu, Jeso, Jesús, Jésus, Jezi, Jézi, Ježiš, Jezus, Jézus, Jėzus, Jēzus, Jezusi, Jėzus, Jezuz, Jisos, Jisọs, Jisas, Jisu, Sisa, uJesu, ŵaYesu, Xesosi, ´Xesús, Ya:su, Yēēsu, Yeso, Yésʉs, Yexus, Yezo, Yezu, Yiisu, Yiitju, Yisufa, Yusu, Zîsɛ, Zjezus, and this (equally incomplete) list with other writings systems: ᔩᓱᓯ, Յիսուս, ᏥᏌ, ኢየሱስ, ܝܫܘܥ, Ісус, 耶稣, იესო, ईसा, イエス, 예수, येशू, യേശു, ජේසුස්, যীশু, ‘ঈছা, இயேசு, ఏసు, เยซู, យេស៊ូ, يَسُوعَ (note that some of these might not display correctly if your computer does not have the correct fonts installed).

Click or tap here to read more).


In some languages the different confessions have selected different transliterations, such as in Belarusian with Isus (Ісус) by the Orthodox and Protestant churches and Yezus (Езус) by the Catholic church, Japanese with Iesu (イエス) (Protestant and Catholic) and Iisusu (イイスス) (Orthodox), or Lingala with Yesu (Protestant) or Yezu (Catholic). These differences have come to the forefront especially during the work on interconfessional translations such as one in Lingala where “many hours were spent on a single letter difference” (source: Ellington, p. 401).

In Chinese where transliterations of proper names between the Catholic and Protestant versions typically differ vastly, the Chinese name of Jesus (Yēsū 耶稣) remarkably was never brought into question between and by those two confessions, likely due to its ingenious choice. (Click or tap here to see more).

The proper name of God in the Old Testament, Yahweh (YHWH), is rendered in most Chinese Bible translations as Yēhéhuá 耶和華 — Jehovah. According to Chinese naming conventions, Yēhéhuá could be interpreted as Yē Héhuá, in which would be the family name and Héhuá — “harmonic and radiant” — the given name. In the same manner, 耶 would be the family name of Jesus and 稣 would be his given name. Because in China the children inherit the family name from the father, the sonship of Jesus to God the Father, Jehovah, would be illustrated through this. Though this line of argumentation sounds theologically unsound, it is indeed used effectively in the Chinese church (see Wright 1953, p. 298).

Moreover, the “given name” of 稣 carries the meaning ‘to revive, to rise again’ and seems to point to the resurrected Jesus. (Source: J. Zetzsche in Malek 2002, p. 141ff., see also tetragrammaton (YHWH))

There are different ways that Bible translators have chosen historically and today in how to translate the name of Jesus in predominantly Muslim areas: with a form of the Arabic Isa (عيسى) (which is used for “Jesus” in the Qur’an), the Greek Iēsous, or, like major 20th century Bible translations into Standard Arabic, the Aramaic Yēšūaʿ: Yasua (يَسُوعَ). (Click or tap here to see more.)

Following are languages and language groups that use a form of Isa include the following (note that this list is not complete):

In German the name Jesus (pronounced: /ˈjeːzʊs/) is distinguished by its grammatical forms. Into the 20th century the grammatical rules prescribed a unique Greek-Latin declination: Jesus (nominative), Jesu (genitive, dative, vocative), Jesum (accusative), from which today only the genitive case “Jesu” is still in active use.

In Lamba the name ŵaYesu consists of a transliteration Yesu and the prefix ŵa, a plural form for “proper names when addressing and referring to persons in any position of seniority or honor.” While this was avoided in early translations to avoid possible misunderstandings of more than one Jesus, once the church was established it was felt that it was both “safe” and respectful to use the honorific (plural) prefix. (Source C. M. Doke in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 57ff.)

Translation: German

Auf Deutsch wird der Name Jesus (ausgesprochen: /ˈjeːzʊs/) durch dessen grammatikalische Formen hervorgehoben. Bis ins 20. Jahrhundert schrieben die grammatikalischen Regeln eine nur hier verwendete Griechisch/Lateinsche Misch-Deklination vor: Jesus (Nominativ), Jesu (Genitiv, Dativ, Vokativ) und Jesum (Akkusativ), von welchen heute nur noch der Genitiv-Kasus „Jesu“ aktiv verwendet wird.

Translator: Jost Zetzsche