Nativity (image)

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Nativity scene (icon)

Following is a Macedonian Orthodox icon of the Nativity scene from 1865 (found in Saint George Church in Kočani, North Macedonia).

Down below is a modern icon from the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

Orthodox Icons are not drawings or creations of imagination. They are in fact writings of things not of this world. Icons can represent our Lord Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints. They can also represent the Holy Trinity, Angels, the Heavenly hosts, and even events. Orthodox icons, unlike Western pictures, change the perspective and form of the image so that it is not naturalistic. This is done so that we can look beyond appearances of the world, and instead look to the spiritual truth of the holy person or event. (Source )


The Greek, Latin and Hebrew that is translated with “joy” or “gladness” in English is translated with various associations of “sweetness” or taste: Bambara has “the spirit is made sweet,” Kpelle translates as “sweet heart,” and Tzeltal as “the good taste of one’s heart,” Uduk uses the phrase “good to the stomach,” Baoulé “a song in the stomach,” Mískito “the liver is wide open” (“happily letting the pleasures flooding in upon it”) (source: Nida 1952), Mairasi says “good liver” (source: Enggavoter 2004), Nyongar has koort-kwabba-djil or “heart very good” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang), and Chicahuaxtla Triqui “refreshed heart” (source: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.).

See also Seat of the Mind for traditional views of “ways of knowing, thinking, and feeling” and exceeding joy.

complete verse (Matthew 2:10)

Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 2:10:

  • Uma: “So off they went. On the way, they saw again the star that they had seen in the east earlier. No kidding their joy at seeing that star. That star went ahead of them until it stopped right above the dwelling-place of that Child.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then, when the king had finished speaking, those men from the east went. While they were walking they saw the star again that they had seen in the country in the east. When they saw the star they were very happy indeed. They followed the star and then/eventually the star rested above the place where the child was.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Then the stargazers left. And when they were on the road they saw the star again which was the same star which they saw when it appeared in the east. And they were overjoyed when they saw the star again. And that star went ahead of them, and it stopped there over the house where the child was.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Upon their hearing what the king instructed them, they started out, and their happiness was great, because they saw again the same star that they saw appear before. It went-ahead-of them until it arrived directly-above the house where the baby was and then it stopped.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “When they again saw that star, they really became very happy.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Upon seeing where they were to arrive at, they very much rejoiced.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Translation commentary on Matthew 2:10

In very strong terms Matthew describes the response of the men when they saw the star: they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. It is impossible to overtranslate the reaction of the men to the seeing of the star; the translation should express the greatest possible joy. Good News Translation has “how happy they were, what joy was theirs” and New English Bible “they were overjoyed.” New Jerusalem Bible reads “The sight of the star filled them with delight.”

Every language has its own way of expressing happiness or joy, and translators should use the most natural expressions they have. Some languages refer to parts of the body, as in “their hearts (or, their stomachs) were happy (or, sweet),” and so forth. Others say something like “happiness seized them” or “happiness came to them.” Another way may be “their happiness was too great to measure.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Stine, Philip C. A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1988. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .