cherub

Some key biblical terms that were directly transliterated from the Hebrew have ended up with unforeseen meanings in the lexicons of various recipient languages.

Take, for example, the English word “cherub,” from Hebrew “kĕrȗb.” Whereas the original Hebrew term meant something like “angelic being that is represented as part human, part animal” (…), the English word now means something like “a person, especially a child, with an innocent or chubby face.” Semantic shift has been conditioned in English by the Renaissance artistic tradition that portrayed cherubim in the guise of cute little Greek cupids. This development was of course impossible to foresee at the time when the first English translations borrowed this Hebrew word into the English Bible tradition, following the pattern of borrowing set by the Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament.

In Russian, the semantic shift of this transliteration was somewhat different: the -îm ending of “kĕrūbîm,” originally signifying plurality in Hebrew, has been reanalyzed as merely the final part of the lexical item, so that the term херувим (kheruvim) in Russian is a singular count noun, not a plural one. (A similar degrammaticalization is seen in
English writers who render the Hebrew plural kĕrūbîm as “cherubims.”) Apparently, this degrammaticalization of the Hebrew ending is what led the Russian Synodal translator of Gen 3:24 to mistakenly render the Hebrew as saying that the Lord God placed a kheruvim (accusative masculine singular in Russian) to the east of the garden of Eden, instead of indicating a plural number of such beings.

Source: Vitaly Voinov in The Bible Translator 2012, p. 17ff.

In Ngäbere the Hebrew that is translated in English as “cherub” is translated as “heavenly guard” (source: J. Loewen 1980, p. 107).

shepherd

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “shepherd” in English is translated in Kouya as Bhlabhlɛɛ ‘yliyɔzʋnyɔ — ” tender of sheep.”

Philip Saunders (p. 231) explains:

“Then one day they tackled the thorny problem of ‘shepherd’. It was problematic because Kouyas don’t have herdsmen who stay with the sheep all the time. Sheep wander freely round the village and its outskirts, and often a young lad will be detailed to drive sheep to another feeding spot. So the usual Kouya expression meant a ‘driver of sheep’, which would miss the idea of a ‘nurturing’ shepherd. ‘A sheep nurturer’ was possible to say, but it was unnatural in most contexts. The group came up with Bhlabhlɛɛ ‘yliyɔzʋnyɔ which meant ‘a tender of sheep’, that is one who keeps an eye on the sheep to make sure they are all right. All, including the translators, agreed that this was a most satisfactory solution.”

In Chuj the translation is “carer” since there was no single word for “shepherd” (source: Ronald Ross), in Muna dhagano dhumba: “sheep guard” since there was no immediate lexical equivalent (source: René van den Berg), and in Mairasi “people who took care of domesticated animals” (source: Enggavoter 2004)

See also I am the good shepherd.