“Elijah” in Spanish Sign Language (source)
“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)
Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 17:3:
- Uma: “Suddenly the disciples saw that there were also two prophets of long ago talking to Yesus. Those two prophets were Musa and Elia.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “So-then suddenly there appeared to them Musa and Nabi Eliyas and they talked with Isa.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And then suddenly they saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “Then (plural) Moses and Elias appeared talking-with Jesus.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “Suddenly/unexpectedly those three disciples saw Moises and Elias who were talking with Jesus.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “The learners then saw that there stood there Moses along with Elijah, speaking with Jesus.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
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.