fox (Herod)

The Greek term that is translated in virtually all English translations as “fox” (exceptions: Passion Translation of 2014 with “deceiver” and The Voice of 2012 with “sly fox”) presents an intriguing example of the complexity of translation and meaning across different cultures.

Edward Hope (2003, p. 64ff.) describes the occurrence of the fox and its meaning in the Bible as an inferior rather than crafty animal (click or tap here to see the details)

“In biblical times, and even today, there are three species of fox found in Israel and one type of jackal. An additional type of fox was found in Egypt. In the Bible the Hebrew word shu’al and its Greek equivalent alōpēx refer to any of these animals. These are members of the same animal family, which includes the wolf and the dog. The word “jackal” was borrowed from the Arabic jakal, which is from the same Semitic root as the Hebrew word shu’al. In the days of the King James Version the word “jackal” had not yet been introduced into the English language, and so in that version “fox” is used throughout for shu’al. (…)

“Both foxes and jackals are extremely intelligent animals, and their quick-witted, crafty opportunism is legendary in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. The fables of Aesop, a North African philosopher and storyteller, which feature the crafty fox, date from about the time of Daniel. The fox also figures in Greek and Roman fables. Similar fables about opportunistic jackals have been widespread in Africa and the Middle East for centuries.

“In ancient Arabic literature and in the Talmud and Midrash, the word ‘lion’ stands for a truly great and powerful person. In contrast, ‘jackal’ is used to designate an insignificant but self-important person. Since this figurative usage of ‘lion’ (or ‘lioness’) is also common in the Bible, there is a strong probability that the term ‘jackal’ or ‘fox’ used as a metaphor in the Bible for a person carries the connotation of self-important insignificance.

“However, the main symbolism associated with the jackal in the Bible is related to its habit of living among ruins and feeding on carcasses. To say that a certain place would become the dwelling place of jackals meant that the place would become deserted and lie in ruins, as the result of war. The jackal was thus a symbol of death and desolation, as well as insignificance and opportunistic craftiness. (…)

“[When in Luke 13:32 the term] alōpēx is used figuratively, it is more important to retain the inference associated with the word than to signify the exact animal. The word is slightly insulting, and the main exegetical decision to be made here is whether Jesus is using the term with the Greek connotation of ‘crafty opportunist’ or with the Semitic connotation of ‘insignificant but self-important person.’ Either would fit the context. If the former is in focus, Jesus is inferring that even though Herod Antipas is a crafty opportunist, his plans are known. If the latter sense is intended, as seems more likely, then Jesus is inferring that Herod does not have the power to stop him doing what he has to do. Some commentators have argued that both inferences are intended since both the Greek and Hebrew metaphors would have been known.

“If the Greek inference is decided upon, then the word alōpēx could be translated ‘crafty fox’ or ‘crafty jackal.’ If the Semitic inference is preferred, the word could be translated ‘insignificant jackal.’ In either case the word for a local animal that symbolizes crafty opportunism (for example, baboon) or self-important insignificance (for example, rabbit) can be used in the text, with a footnote to indicate that the original word means fox or jackal.”

Due to a lack of understanding of the above-described differences in the meaning of “fox” as a metaphor in Hebrew and Greek culture, early versions of translations tended to emphasize the craftiness of the metaphor:

Harry McArthur (in Notes on Translation 1992, p. 16ff), who had worked on a translation of the Aguacateco New Testament in the 1970s and then revised that version in the 1990s describes the original translation of this passage as one of “the few places where, when I was translating, I did not understand the original text (or the translations of it). (…) The helps we had at that time told us that the point of comparison was that Herod was a ‘cheater.’ We have since come to understand from the use of the word ‘fox’ on many other Biblical passages that Jesus was calling him a small or inconsequential man: a better rendering would be “go tell that poor benighted soul…”

An early Swati version translates “fox” as nyoka: “snake” (in the 1996 Swati translation it says mphungutja: “jackal”). Eric Hermanson comments on this:

“This change, however, rather than bringing out what was intended in the original utterance, made it suggest even more strongly that Jesus was calling Herod a twisty schemer than is indicated when ‘fox’ is used as a metaphor in English. What happened in this case. then, was that replacing a metaphor from the original language with a different metaphor from the second language resulted in readers and hearers having different thoughts and ideas than were intended by the original author. (…)

“In Zulu and other African languages, however, itnpungushe (‘the jackal’) is also seen as an insignificant animal; and referring metaphorically to a king as itnpungushe instead of as iSilo or iNgonyama (‘the lion’), the normal praise-names of a paramount chief, has the same effect (…) that was intended by Jesus.” (Source: Eric Hermanson in The Bible Translator 1999, p. 235 ff. .)

The German translation by Jörg Zink (1965) translates “dieser Fuchs, dieser Verderber”: “that fox, that spoiler (or: destroyer).”

In Meyah, it is translated as “evil person” (source: Gilles Gravelle in Kroneman 2004, p. 502).

For other translations, see complete verse (Luke 13:32). See also fox.

demon

The Greek that is typically translated/transliterated in English as “demon” is translated in Central Mazahua as “the evil spirit(s) of the devil” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.).

In Sissala it is translated with kaŋtɔŋ, which traditionally referred to “either a spirit of natural phenomena such as trees, rivers, stones, etc., or the spirit of a deceased person that has not been taken into the realm of the dead. Kaŋtɔŋ can be good or evil. Evil kaŋtɔŋ can bring much harm to people and are feared accordingly. A kaŋtɔŋ can also dwell in a person living on this earth. A person possessed by kaŋtɔŋ does not behave normally.” (Source: Regina Blass in Holzhausen 1991, p. 48f.)

In Umiray Dumaget Agta it is translated as hayup or “creature, animal, general term for any non-human creature, whether natural or supernatural.” Thomas Headland (in: Notes on Translation, September 1971, p. 17ff.) explains some more: “There are several types of supernatural creatures, or spirit beings which are designated by the generic term hayup. Just as we have several terms in English for various spirit beings (elves, fairies, goblins, demons, imps, pixies) so have the Dumagats. And just as you will find vast disagreement and vagueness among English informants as to the differences between pixies and imps, etc., so you will find that no two Dumagats will agree as to the form and function of their different spirit beings.” This term can also be used in a verb form: hayupen: “creatured” or “to be killed, made sick, or crazy by a spirit.

In Yala it is translated as yapri̍ija ɔdwɔ̄bi̍ or “bad Yaprija.” Yaprijas are traditional spirits that have a range presumed activities including giving or withholding gifts, giving and protecting children, causing death and disease and rewarding good behavior. (Source: Eugene Bunkowske in Notes on Translation 78/1980, p. 36ff.)

See also devil and formal pronoun: demons or Satan addressing Jesus.

complete verse (Luke 13:32)

Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 13:32:

  • Nyongar: “Jesus said to them, ‘Go and you tell that dog, ‘I am driving evil spirits out of people and healing sick people today and tomorrow and after three days I will finish all my work’.” (Source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uma: “Yesus said saying to them: ‘Go, say like this to that strategy-maker: today and tomorrow I still work, expelling demons and healing the sick. And on the third day, my work is finished.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Isa said to them, ‘Go, tell Herod that deceiving one there that today and tomorrow I continue my work driving out demons and healing the sick and on the third day my work is finished already.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And Jesus said to them, ‘As for Herod, that person who really knows how to deceive, you tell him that I will not yet leave here because today and tomorrow I will drive away the demons that are afflicting people, and I will cure the sick, and two days from now, then I will finish my work here.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “But Jesus said to them, ‘Go tell that tricky-one that I will be continuing still to cause-spirits -to-leave and heal the sick, but it won’t be long, because I have almost finished my work.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Jesus replied, saying, ‘Go to that king Herodes, what he is like being a deceiving wildcat. Tell him that I won’t be frightened by him into leaving here in a hurry. I will indeed continue my work of driving out evil spirits and healing the sick, for I still have time even though it’s not long now. And then it really will come that I will have fulfilled everything.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)