grass

The Greek that is translated as “grass” in English is translated as the very specific kind of grass diyau in Samo.

Daniel Shaw (in: Scriptura 96/2007, p. 501ff.) explains (click here to see more):

“When we translated the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand the first question the Samo asked was, ‘What kind of grass did Jesus tell the people to sit on?’ This was not a question I had anticipated and, of course I did not have an answer. We solved the problem by going for a walk and collecting grasses. We brought the grass home and I asked my assistants to sort the grasses into piles on my porch. By doing a semantic analysis of the way the Samo categorized those piles of grass I discovered their classification was based on placement in the environment: In the forest or in open places. After much deliberation, the Samo decided that the hillside in Galilee must have been an open space for that many people to sit down. The grass must have been soft enough not to hurt anyone sitting on it. Therefore, the grass name used in the translation is the same as that found on airstrips – one of the few open spaces the Samo know.

“Of about forty different types of grass in the Samo repertoire, they singled out a type called diyau. It matched their expectations and enabled them to make inferences that avoided images of people sitting in the forest or other inappropriate places. Using the right nomenclature met with audience expectations and allowed them to focus on the miracle rather than on the type of grass. Using the wrong grass name could have derailed the translation because of the wrong conceptual information it suggested to the Samo.

“Illustrating from the Samo conceptualization of ‘grass’ in the translation of Matthew 14, the term, diyau is both the name of a specific type as well as a generic for non-forest grasses. Thus, it serves as a prototype of ‘open space’ grass. By using this term, the Samo receive a considerable amount of information that triggers an elaborate ‘mental space’ or schema (I will return to this shortly) which connects their ‘knowledge’ of grasses in the jungles of Papua New Guinea with the hillside above the Sea of Galilee. While by no means a one-to-one connection, it enables the Samo to envision a large crowd of people sitting on comfortable grass enjoying a meal provided by Jesus. At the very least, the use of this prototypical term does not create dissonance and, therefore, allows the Samo to focus attention on the miracle rather than on what people were sitting on. Had we used a term associated with forest grasses, many of which have thorns, the Samo would have had a very different (and wrong) impression of this important event in the life of Jesus and his disciples.

“Whether it was the same type of grass that actually existed on that hillside above the Sea of Galilee is immaterial, as is what went through the minds of those who actually experienced that moment. What is critical for a translation to communicate, how¬ever, is the need to focus on what happened irrespective of the grass-type. The fact that the Samo immediately asked a question focusing on the type of grass, indicated that it was an important trigger to a broader schema that provided the context for the miracle of Jesus feeding more than five thousand people (5000 was the number of men — women and children were over and above). The Samo instinctively knew it was men because of the junction of the respective schema which created a new conceptual blend.

“When [in the experience of the Samo] there is a large crowd (such as occurs for an initiation or other ceremonial event) meals are eaten in the cleared space in front of a longhouse with a focus on men feeding their allies. Allies are friends who gather to help each other, often ceremonially. Furthermore, men are the ones who prepare and distribute the food in such a context. And the food that people consume is the result of prolonged garden preparation and hunting (two or more years in the case of initiation ceremonies). As the disciples passed out the food in the translation, so Samo men hand out food to those who have gathered at the house; it is not right that people should go home hungry. So when Jesus blesses the five small loaves and two fish and begins to pass them out, the Samo are not surprised that a man would do this. What is a surprise is the instant food — Jesus blesses it and the bread and fish multiply. Jesus’ ‘blessing’ is somewhat comparable to a shaman’s chant over a small loaf of roasted sago or plantains at an initiation. Clearly there is a spiritual aspect to this event; something important is happening here. That was true in the original context as well. When Jesus told the people to sit down, there was an expectation that something was about to happen. And Jesus did not disappoint, he blessed the food and gave it to the disciples who, in turn handed it out. As they did so the food multiplied and there was sufficient for all with plenty left over; everyone was satisfied.”

five thousand, four thousand

The Greek terms that are translated as “five thousand” and “four thousand” in these verses have to be translated descriptively in some languages, such as “ant heap” (Shona) or “large/uncountable number” (Nyanja, Yao).

John as a first-person evangelist (John 6:10)

In the Yatzachi Zapotec translation of the Gospel of John, any reference to the evangelist and presumed narrator is done in the first person.

The translator Inez Butler explains (in: Notes on Translation, September 1967, pp. 10ff.):

“In revising the Gospel of John in Yatzachi Zapotec we realized from the start that the third person references of Jesus to himself as Son of Man had to be converted into first person references, but only more recently have we decided that similar change is necessary in John’s references to himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ As I worked on those changes and questioned the informant about his understanding of other passages in the Gospel, I discovered that the reader misses the whole focus of the book as an eyewitness account unless every reference to the disciples indicates the writer’s membership in the group. In view of that we went back through the entire book looking for ways to cue in the reader to the fact that John was an eyewitness and a participant in a many of the events, as well as the historian.

“When the disciples were participants in events along with Jesus, it was necessary to make explicit the fact that they accompanied him, although in the source language that is left implicit, since otherwise our rendering would imply that they were not present.”

In this verse, the Yatzachi Zapotec says: “Then Jesus said to us . . .”

complete verse (John 6:10)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 6:10:

  • Uma: “Yesus said: ‘Tell them to sit down!’ So they said down using the grass as a mat, because there was much grass there. In the midst of those people, there were five thousand just counting men.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then Isa said to his disciples, ‘Tell the people to sit down.’ In that place there was a wide expanse of grass. They all sat down there. The men only, their number was five thousand. Women and children were still extra.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And Jesus said, ‘Tell the people to sit down.’ And then they told them to sit down. It was a wide grassy place there, and five thousand was the number of the men alone.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “‘Please have-them -sit-down,’ Jesus said to his disciples. There was much grass in their location there, and that’s where the many-people sat-down. The number of grown-men and young-men, it was about five thousand.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “‘Have those people sit down,’ said Jesus. There was a wide expanse of clear ground there. The people sat down, their number being about five thousand if the men alone were counted.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Then Jesus said, ‘Tell all of the people to sit down.’ There were about five thousand men who sat there in the grass.” (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, 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