close relative, kinsman-redeemer, next-of-kin

The Hebrew that is translated as “kinsman-redeemer” (or “next-of-kin” or “close relative”) is translated in Yasa as “a near family member who has responsibility for protecting the family.”

Joshua Ham explains why: “One of the most important terms in the book of Ruth is the Hebrew word go’el. This word is often translated kinsman-redeemer in English Bibles. In ancient Hebrew culture, the go’el could play many roles. If a married man died without children, his brother (acting as go’el) was expected to marry the widow and carry on the dead man’s lineage. If someone was forced to sell their family land (keeping in mind that family land was very important in the Old Testament), a family member (again acting as go’el) was supposed to eventually restore the family’s title to the land. If a family member was murdered, it was up to the go’el to seek justice.

“As you can imagine, there’s just no way we’re going to find a single word in any language that covers all of those cultural aspects. And if we tried to explain all of those aspects in the text itself, it would get unwieldy pretty fast. So in translating a word like go’el, we try to pick out the most salient points. In the Yasa text of Ruth, we ended up with something like ‘a near family member who has responsibility for protecting the family.’ It’s a bit smoother in Yasa than it sounds in English!”

In Cusco Quechua it is translated “close relative of a corpse.”

The translation consultant Bill Mitchell (in Omanson 2001, p. 428) tells this story: “The translators struggled to translate the idea [of the near relative responsible for helping a family or clan member hit by misfortune, for example, loss of property, liberty or life]. The translation consultant asked them, ‘Is there anyone in your wider family who takes responsibility for a relative in such circumstances?’ They replied, ‘Yes, of course.’ ‘What do you call that person,’ the consulted asked. ‘There is no special name,’ they said. The consultant replied, ‘If a widow or an orphan needed help, what would they say to this person?’ ‘It will probably seem a bit strange to you, but they would say: ‘You are my close relative and I am your corpse.’’ The translators introduced this into their translation. When they tested it out with different groups, they found that it communicated the Hebrew concept of go’el very well.”

See also redeem / redemption and redeemer.

bless(ed)

The Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic that is translated into English as “(to) bless” or “blessed” is translated into a wide variety of possibilities.

The Hebrew term barak (and the Aramaic term berak) also (and originally) means “to kneel” (a meaning which the word has retained — see Gen. 24:11) and can be used for God blessing people (or things), people blessing each other, or people blessing God. While English Bible translators have not seen a stumbling block in always using the same term (“bless” in its various forms), other languages need to make distinctions (see below).

In Bari, spoken in South Sudan, the connection between blessing and knees/legs is still apparent. For Genesis 30:30 (in English: “the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned”), Bari uses a common expression that says (much like the Hebrew) , ‘… blessed you to my feet.'” (Source: P. Guillebaud in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 189ff.)

Other examples for the translation of “bless” when God is the one who blesses include:

  • “to think well of” (San Blas Kuna)
  • “to speak good to” (Amganad Ifugao)
  • “to make happy” (Pohnpeian)
  • “to-cause-to-live-as-a-chief” (Zulu)
  • “to sprinkle with a propitious (lit. cool) face,” (a poetic expression occurring in the priests’ language) (Toraja Sa’dan) (source for this and above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • “give good things” (Mairasi) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • “asking good” (Yakan) (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • “praised, saying good things” (Central Yupik) (source: Robert Bascom)
  • “greatly love” (Candoshi-Shapra (source: John C. Tuggy)

In Tagbanwa a phrase is used for both the blessing done by people and God that back-translates to “caused to be pierced by words causing grace/favor” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).

Ixcatlán Mazatec had to select a separate term when relating “to people ‘blessing’ God” (or things of God): “praise(d)” or “give thanks for” (in 1 Cor. 10:16) (“as it is humans doing the ‘blessing’ and people do not bless the things of God or God himself the way God blesses people” — source: Robert Bascom). Eastern Bru also uses “praise” for this a God-directed blessing (source: Bru back translation) and Uma uses “appropriate/worthy to be worshipped” (source: Uma back translation).

When related to someone who is blessing someone else, it is translated into Tsou as “to speak good hopes for.” In Waiwai it is translated as “may God be good and kind to you now.” (Sources: Peng Kuo-Wei for Tsou and Robert Hawkins in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff. for Waiwai.)

Some languages associate an expression that originally means “spitting” or “saliva” with blessing. The Bantu language Koonzime, for instance, uses that expression for “blessing” in their translation coming from either God or man. Traditionally, the term was used in an application of blessing by an aged superior upon a younger inferior, often in relation to a desire for fertility, or in a ritualistic, but not actually performed spitting past the back of the hand. The spitting of saliva has the effect of giving that person “tenderness of face,” which can be translated as “blessedness.” (Source: Keith Beavon)

See also bless (food and drink), blessed (Christ in Mark 11:9), and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Ruth 2:20)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). 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 inclusive pronoun, including everyone.