Moses during the Transfiguration

“In a number of languages, including Yanesha’ of Peru, there is an obligatory morpheme that must be suffixed to the name of any person referred to after his death. An interesting problem arises in the transfiguration account as to whether or not Moses’ name should have the ‘dead’ suffix. The translators have decided to leave the suffix off the name of Moses in the transfiguration story, since his obvious physical presence would be contradictory to the reference to his death. They are using it with the names of the characters of the Old Testament when they are mentioned in the New in other contexts and with the names of characters of the New Testament only if they have reason to believe that the person was dead when the record was written.” (Source: Larson 1998, p. 46)

complete verse (Mark 9:4)

Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 9:4:

  • Uma: “The disciples saw, there were two prophets of long ago talking with Yesus. Those prophets were Elia and Musa.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then there appeared/came-out to them Nabi Eliyas and Musa and they spoke with Isa.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Then they saw Elijah and Moses talking with Jesus.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Then Elias and Moses appeared conversing-with Jesus.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Suddenly/unexpectedly those three disciples saw Moises and Elias talking with Jesus.” (Source: Tagbanwa 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 (partial) list of forms of Jesus in Latin characters: Cecoc, Chesús, Ciisahs, Ciise, Ciisusu, Gesù, Gesû, Gesü, Ġesù, Ghjesù, Giêsu, Hesu, Hesús, Hisuw, Iesu, Ihu, Iisus, Ijeesu, Iosa, Íosa, Ìosa, Isus, Isus, Isus, Isuthi, Îtu, Izesuq, Jasus, Jeesus, Jeesus, Jehu, Jeso, Jesosy, Jesús, Jésus, Jesúsu, Jethu, Jezi, Jézi, Ježiš, Jezu, Jezus, Jézus, Jėzus, Jēzus, Jezusi, Jėzus, Jezuz, Jíísas, Jiizas, Jisase, Jisesi, Jisos, Jisọs, Jisas, Jisasi, Jisu, Jizọs, Sisa, uJesu, ŵaYesu, Xesosi, ´Xesús, Yasu, Ya:su, Yecu, Yeesso, Yēēsu, Yeso, Yeshu, Yésʉs, Yexus, Yezo, Yezu, Yiisu, Yiitju, Yisufa, Yitati, Yusu, Zezi, Zîsɛ, Zjezus, and this (much more 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, ယေရှု, เยซู, យេស៊ូ, ᱡᱤᱥᱩ, ယေသှု, యేసు, އީސާގެފާނު, YE-SU, 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. Likewise, in Seediq (Taroko), the morphological treatment of “Jesus” also occupies a special category by not falling under the normal rule of experiencing a vowel reduction when the object-specific suffix an is added “since it was felt that the readers might resent that the name has been changed that drastically.” (Compare Msian for “Moses” (Mosi) as an object, but Yisuan for “Jesus” (Yisu).) (Source: Covell 1998. p. 249)

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.)

In sign languages, including American Sign Language, Costa Rican Sign Language, Spanish Sign Language, Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and German Sign Language “Jesus” is signed with the middle finger of each hand pointing to the palm (or wrist) of the other in succession (signing the nails of the cross). In the context of Bible translation this has been pointed out as theologically problematic since the “semantic connections of the original name Jesus do point towards ‘salvation,’ they do not naturally lead to crucifixion.” (Source: Phil King in Journal of Translation 1 (2020), p. 33ff)


“Jesus” in German Sign Language (source)

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

Moses

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.