The Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek that is translated as “cubit” or into a metric or imperial measurement in English is translated in Kutu, Kwere, and Nyamwezi as makono or “armlength.” Since a cubit is the measurement from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, one armlength (measured from the center of the chest to the fingertips) equals two cubits or roughly 1 meter. (Source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
In Klao it is converted into “hand spans” (app. 6 inches or 12 cm) and “finger spans” (app. 1 inch or 2 cm) (Source: Don Slager)
The Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin that is transliterated “Levites” in English (only the Contemporary English Version translates it as “temple helpers”) is translated in Ojitlán Chinantec as “temple caretakers,” Yatzachi Zapotec as “people born in the family line of Levi, people whose responsibility it was to do the work in the important church of the Israelites,” in Alekano as “servants in the sacrifice house from Jerusalem place,” and in Tenango Otomi as “helpers of priests.” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
In American Sign Language with a sign that combines “temple” + “servant.” (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)
Many languages use a “body part tally system” where body parts function as numerals (see body part tally systems with a description). One such language is Angguruk Yali which uses a system that ends at the number 27. To circumvent this limitation, the Angguruk Yali translators adopted a strategy where a large number is first indicated with an approximation via the traditional system, followed by the exact number according to Arabic numerals. For example, where in 2 Samuel 6:1 it says “thirty thousand” in the English translation, the Angguruk Yali says teng-teng angge 30.000 or “so many rounds [following the body part tally system] 30,000,” likewise, in Acts 27:37 where the number “two hundred seventy-six” is used, the Angguruk Yali translation says teng-teng angge 276 or “so many rounds 276,” or in John 6:10 teng-teng angge 5.000 for “five thousand.”
This strategy is used in all the verses referenced here.
The pasture lands of the cities … shall reach from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits all round. And you shall measure, outside the city, for the east side two thousand cubits …: A thousand cubits is equivalent to about 450 meters or 500 yards, and two thousand cubits is equivalent to about 900 meters or 1,000 yards (see 11.31). There seems to be a contradiction between a thousand cubits (verse 4) and two thousand cubits (verse 5). Most translations are based on one of the following four interpretations of these two measurements:
1. According to Alter (page 859), this contradiction is most simply resolved by assuming that the two thousand cubits in verse 5 are the breadth of the pasture land, with the breadth of the city itself excluded from the calculation. Good News Translation‘s model for these two verses seems to follow this interpretation: “4 The pasture land is to extend outward from the city walls five hundred yards in each direction, 5 so that there is a square area measuring one thousand yards on each side, with the city in the middle” (similarly Contemporary English Version, Bible en français courant, Parole de Vie, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, SPCL, La Biblia: Traducción en Lenguaje Actual). The problem with this interpretation is that there is no room for the city itself. It omits the Hebrew phrase rendered outside the city (michuts laʿir) in verse 5.
2. According to Rashi and Rashbam, there was an area extending two thousand cubits beyond the town walls as follows: an inner zone of one thousand cubits for open grazing space and an outer zone of another thousand cubits for planted fields and vineyards. New Living Translation seems to follow this interpretation by rendering these two verses as “4 The pastureland assigned to the Levites around these towns will extend 1,500 feet from the town walls in every direction. 5 Measure off 3,000 feet outside the town walls in every direction—east, south, west, north—with the town at the center. This area will serve as the larger pastureland for the towns” (similarly Nueva Traducción Viviente). However, the distinction in New Living Translation between two zones of pastureland cannot be found in the Hebrew, since the Hebrew expression for pasture lands of the cities (migreshey heʿarim) in verse 4 is the same one rendered pasture land for … cities in verse 5. Instead, it would make more sense to read “two thousand cubits” already in verse 4 (following the Septuagint), as do Die Bibel: Einheitsübersetzung der Heiligen Schrift and Willibrordvertaling. A model based on New Living Translation that does this is “4 The pastureland assigned to the Levites around these towns will extend 3,000 feet from the town walls in every direction. 5 Measure off 3,000 feet outside the town walls in every direction—east, south, west, north—with the town at the center. This area will serve as the pastureland for the towns.”
3. Budd (page 376) has suggested that there was a block of land on each side of the city with a frontage of two thousand cubits (verse 5) and a depth of one thousand cubits (verse 4; so also Gispen, pages 291-292). Bijbel in Gewone Taal follows this interpretation by rendering these two verses as follows: “4 The pastureland must extend outward from the city walls five hundred meters in each direction. 5 On the east, south, west as well as north side, plots [that is, a plot of land on each side] should measure five hundred by a thousand meters as pastureland.” However, this rendering seems to make use of a thousand cubits from verse 4 in a rather strange way.
4. According to Levine (page 552), the city itself was a square measuring two thousand cubits on each side. All around the city wall, the pastureland was a thousand cubits wide. This interpretation works well, as long as the demonstrative pronoun this in the last sentence is taken in the translation to refer to verses 4-5 as a whole, not just to the preceding sentence. Levine does this by rendering these verses as follows: “4 The urban plots that you shall allocate to the Levites: From the town wall and outside [they shall extend] one thousand cubits, all around. 5 You shall measure off, outside of the town, two thousand cubits as the eastern limit, and two thousand cubits as the southern limit, and two thousand cubits as the western limit, and two thousand cubits as the northern limit, with the town at the center. Such shall be your town plots.”
In some languages it may be helpful to translate outside the city as “outside each city.”
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 .