large numbers in Angguruk Yali

Many languages use a “body part tally system” where body parts function as numerals (see body part tally systems with a description). One such language is Angguruk Yali which uses a system that ends at the number 27. To circumvent this limitation, the Angguruk Yali translators adopted a strategy where a large number is first indicated with an approximation via the traditional system, followed by the exact number according to Arabic numerals. For example, where in 2 Samuel 6:1 it says “thirty thousand” in the English translation, the Angguruk Yali says teng-teng angge 30.000 or “so many rounds [following the body part tally system] 30,000,” likewise, in Acts 27:37 where the number “two hundred seventy-six” is used, the Angguruk Yali translation says teng-teng angge 276 or “so many rounds 276,” or in John 6:10 teng-teng angge 5.000 for “five thousand.”

This strategy is used in all the verses referenced here.

Source: Lourens de Vries in The Bible Translator 1998, p. 409ff.

See also numbers in Ngalum and numbers in Kombai.

Translation commentary on Judges 7:3

Here the LORD’s speech includes a play on words and the use of key terms. The Hebrew words rendered fearful and trembling sound like the name of the spring where the Israelites gathered in preparation for war (verse 7.1). The key verb return occurs twice, along with the verb remained. All these words evoke memories of Israel’s past history.

Now therefore renders a strong Hebrew expression (weʿattah), literally “And now.” This phrase shows that God is drawing a conclusion based on what he has just said. We could say “So” (Contemporary English Version), “Because of this,” or “In view of this.” In choosing an expression, however, translators need to remember that this is a dialogue between God and Gideon and not a formal written argument.

Proclaim in the ears of the people: Proclaim renders a forceful Hebrew imperative, which is literally “Call out.” We might say “Announce” or “Cry out.” Contemporary English Version takes this verb literally by rendering this clause as “call your troops together and tell them.” This verb is followed by the Hebrew politeness marker naʾ (“please”), which is quite unusual since God is speaking here. Most versions omit this particle, but it is good to keep it by beginning this clause, for example, with “Please tell….” In some languages repeating Gideon’s name may be a way to show politeness: “Gideon, announce….” In the ears of the people is part of a Hebrew idiomatic expression, which does not need to be rendered literally. Good News Translation says simply “the people.” Once again the people refers to Gideon’s soldiers, though all the Israelites would be concerned with this announcement.

Saying introduces another quote within a quote. Contemporary English Version uses indirect speech, which other languages may find helpful.

Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home: This statement may be slightly ironic, since Gideon himself has hesitated several times to fight. In the Old Testament fear is sometimes a justification for leaving the battle scene and returning home (see Deut 20.8). Whoever may be rendered “Anyone who” (Good News Translation, New International Version), “Any person who,” or “All those who.” The Hebrew words for fearful (yareʾ) and trembling (chared) sound alike and are very close in meaning, so there is a play on words here. Both refer to being frightened or scared. Fearful comes from the verb meaning “to be afraid.” Translators should look for equivalent idiomatic expressions in their language, for example, “fear grabs” or “fear hits.” The Hebrew word for trembling can refer to any kind of shaking, such as earthquakes, but here it describes a person trembling from fear. The Hebrew word for trembling sounds just like the name “Harod” in verse 7.1, the spring where the Israelites were camped. Contemporary English Version decides to capture some of the humor by calling the place “Fear Spring.” The wordplays here seem to poke fun at the frightened state of the majority of the Israelites. For Whoever is fearful and trembling, we could say “Anyone trembling with fear” (New Jerusalem Bible) or “anyone who is really afraid” (Contemporary English Version).

Let him return home means those who are afraid can go back home. The pronoun him refers to the person who is trembling with fear. But since many people fall into this category, we could say “them.” Return home renders the key Hebrew verb shuv (see comments on verse 2.19, where it is translated “turned back”). Here the Hebrew verb is jussive, expressing a wish or soft command. Translators should find a natural equivalent, for example, “have them go back home.” This whole sentence may be rendered “Have anyone who is really afraid return home” or “Anyone who is trembling with fear can/should go home.”

The first half of this verse may be rendered:

• Because of this, tell your men, ‘All those who are really scared should go back home.’ ”

• In view of this, make an announcement to all the warriors at Fear Spring that if anyone is trembling with fear, they should go back home.”

And Gideon tested them: This clause poses problems for translators since the Hebrew verb for tested only occurs here in the Old Testament and its meaning is uncertain. The Hebrew text reads “and let him depart from Mount Gilead,” which Hebrew Old Testament Text Project gives a {B} rating. Many versions follow this reading, with the meaning “leave Mount Gilead [to go home]” (so Contemporary English Version, New International Version, New Living Translation, NET Bible, Revised English Bible). Good News Translation gives yet another interpretation of the Hebrew text, saying that those afraid should go back home, while the more courageous ones will “stay at Mount Gilead.” However, Mount Gilead is east of the Jordan River and the location described here is west of the river. Furthermore, this mountain has not been mentioned in this part of the story. This leads some versions to emend the text to read Gideon tested them (similarly New American Bible) or “Gideon sifted them out” (New Revised Standard Version). New Jerusalem Bible also emends the text and suggests the fearful ones are to return home “and watch from Mount Gilboa,” which was a mountain near the battle site. Some translators adopt one of the readings and put the alternatives in a footnote. However, it is advisable to follow the Hebrew text here, as Contemporary English Version and New International Version have done.

Twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained: There is a chiastic structure here in Hebrew, which is literally “and he returned from the people twenty-two thousand, and ten thousand were left.” This is the first time the text mentions how many people were actually following Gideon. The figures here suggest there were 32,000 soldiers in all.

Twenty-two thousand returned begins with a Hebrew waw conjunction, which could simply show sequence of action. However, since what happens here is a result of what Gideon said, this conjunction may be rendered “So” (Good News Translation, New International Version) or “At that.” In many languages writing out numbers such as twenty-two thousand in words will be long and complicated. If so, translators can just write the figure “22,000.” Many versions include words, but put the figures in parentheses. One method for handling such numbers should be adopted and used throughout the book. Returned renders the same Hebrew verb translated return home above. Some languages will prefer to be explicit by saying “returned home” or “turned around and went back home.” For ten thousand, see verse 1.4. The Hebrew verb rendered remained means “were left over.” Though these events precede the exile and return of the remnant, the verbs returned and remained curiously evoke these events. For this whole sentence Contemporary English Version says “Twenty-two thousand men returned home, leaving Gideon with only ten thousand soldiers.” We could also say “So 22,000 went back home, but 10,000 stayed behind to fight.”

Biblical scholars point out that according to archaeological evidence, the numbers cited here do not seem realistic, since they far exceed the presupposed number of people in these tribal groups. As noted in the comments on verse 1.4, the Hebrew word rendered thousand can mean “military unit,” so that is one possible explanation. This would mean that twenty-two units went home, with ten units remaining. Another way of expressing this sentence is “Two-thirds of the soldiers returned home, leaving only one-third.” However, since references to thousands of men occur throughout this book, the numbers here can be rendered as they are given.

Translation models for this verse are:

• So announce in everyone’s hearing that anyone who is afraid and trembling should leave Mount Gilead* and go back home.” At that, 22,000 men turned back and went home, and Gideon was left with only 10,000 men.
* Usually “Gilead” refers to an area east of the Jordan River, but in this verse it refers to a place near Jezreel Valley west of the Jordan.

• Therefore tell all the people, ‘Those of you who are really scared should leave Mount Gilead* and go back home.’ ” And 22,000 soldiers left, leaving only 10,000 men.
* The Hebrew is uncertain here.

Quoted with permission from Zogbo, Lynell and Ogden, Graham S. A Handbook on Judges. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2019. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .