land flowing with milk and honey

The phrase that is rendered in English versions as “land flowing with milk and honey” is translated into Afar as niqmatak tan baaxoy buqre kee lacah meqehiyya: “a blessed land good for fields and cattle.” (Source: Loren Bliese)

In the interconfessional Chichewa translation (publ. 1999) it is translated with the existing proverb dziko lamwanaalirenji or “a land of what (type of food) can the child cry for?” (i.e. there is more than enough to eat). (Source: Ernst Wendland in The Bible Translator 1981, p. 107)

In Kwere it is “good/fertile land.” (Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Num 13:27)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse, the Jarai and the Adamawa Fulfulde translation both use the exclusive pronoun, excluding those who did not go to Canaan.

Translation commentary on Numbers 13:27

And they told him introduces the report of the spies, which is given in verses 27-29. The pronoun him refers to Moses, which Good News Translation makes explicit. Although Aaron and the other Israelites are present, as verse 26 makes clear, the spies address the words of their report to Moses as leader (so Alter, page 747).

We came to the land to which you sent us: The spies report that they explored the land of Canaan, as Moses requested. The Hebrew pronoun for you is singular, referring to Moses.

It flows with milk and honey: This figurative expression occurs frequently in the Pentateuch to describe the land of Canaan as “rich and fertile” (Good News Translation), abundant in fruits and crops (see, for example, Exo 3.8; Lev 20.24; Deut 6.3). New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh translates this clause more accurately by including the Hebrew focus particle gam in its rendering, saying “it does indeed flow with milk and honey.” Other translations that include it are De Nieuwe Bijbelvertaling with “Really, it flows with milk and honey,” and Alter with “and it’s actually flowing with milk and honey.” Moses repeatedly used this idiom (see, for example, Exo 13.5). Now the eyewitnesses confirm that it is actually (gam) true. We advise translators to keep this idiom as New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh, De Nieuwe Bijbelvertaling and Alter have done, or at least to render this clause with a natural idiom of the target language; for example, Chewa says “it is a land of what could a child cry for.”

And this is its fruit: At this point the spies visibly show the fruit they took from Canaan to the gathered assembly. Good News Translation makes this clear by saying “and here is some of its fruit.”

Quoted with permission from de Regt, Lénart J. and Wendland, Ernst R. A Handbook on Numbers. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2016. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .