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 as “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.”

In Southern Birifor it is translated as “funeral husband.” (Source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)

See also redeem / redemption and redeemer.


In a Fang oral adaptation the Hebrew that is translated in English as “gate” or “meeting place at the town gate” or similar is translated in a culturally specific way.

Case / Case (2019) explain: “The gate of a walled town in Old Testament times functioned as the place for business transactions, where the town’s leaders presided, and where visitors might find a host. The Fang traditionally have a similar gathering place at the entrance to each village: a simple roofed enclosure called an abáá. Here the men eat, talk, and make decisions, and here visitors wait for a welcome upon entering the village. Thus, in texts where the town gate functions in a similar way, the translator rendered this as the abáá, conjuring similar associations in the minds of Fang listeners as the town gate would have done for original listeners. Thus, Boaz discussed Ruth’s fate with the unnamed kinsman at the abáá of Bethlehem.”

sit (Japanese honorifics)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way to do this is through the usage (or a lack) of an honorific prefix as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated as “sit” in English is translated in the Shinkaiyaku Bible as o-suwari (お座り), combining “sit” (suwari) with the respectful prefix o-.

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

complete verse (Ruth 4:1 - 4:6)

Following are a number of back-translations of Ruth 4:1-6:

  • Noongar: “So Boaz went to the gate of Bethlehem and sat there. When the other right-way man was passing by, the one whom Boaz told Ruth, Boaz said to him, ‘Come here, brother, sit here.’ So this man came and sat. Then Boaz called ten men of Bethlehem, saying, ‘Sit here.’ So they sat. Then Boaz said to this other right-way man, ‘Naomi has returned from Moab. She wants to sell the land of our brother Elimelech. I know I must tell you, ‘Take this land yourself, in front of the men sitting here and in front of our elders’. If you want this land, buy it for yourself. But if you don’t want this land, tell me so I know. No man can take this land, only you, and I am after you.’ So the man said, ‘I will take this land.’ So Boaz said, ‘The day you take this land, you also take Ruth of Moab, widow of the dead man, so the name of the dead sits with his land.’ Quickly, the other right-way man said, ‘I cannot take this land for myself, because after I must divide all my land with Ruth. You buy this land for yourself, because I can’t!’” (Source: Bardip Ruth-Ang 2020)
  • Eastern Bru: “Boaz went to the place where discussions were held near the gate of the town. In that place he met his kinsman who was of Ruth’s clan but closer than he. He called his kinsman and said: ‘Older brother! Sit here a while. I want to discuss something with you for a bit.’ So they sat together.And Boaz asked ten leaders of the town to come and hear what the two of them were discussing. So the ten leaders came and sat there also. Boaz told his kinsman: ‘Naomi has left the country of Moab already. Now she is wanting to sell a piece of ground belonging to Elimelec, our older brother. So I want to discuss this with you now. If you want to buy this land, then you say so in front of these leaders and other people from the town so they can hear. If you want to buy the land, then you buy it, because you are of Naomi’s clan closer than I am. But if you do not want it, then tell me, so that I will know clearly, because only the two of us can buy this land.’ Then the kinsman said to Boaz: ‘Surely I will buy the land.’Then Boaz said: ‘But if you want do buy this land of Naomi’s, you must also take Ruth to be your wife. Ruth is a Moabite, the wife of our kinsman who has died. So you must take the place of our kinsman and raise up children who can carry on his name and take over his inheritance.’Then the kinsman of Boaz answered: ‘If it is like that, I don’t want to buy the land, because I am afraid I would have to divide my inheritance with her children also. So you can take my place and buy the land, because I do not want to take that woman.’” (Source: Bru Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “Now, Boaz went to the town’s gate and sat there. When the much closer relative of Elimelec that Boaz had-mentioned/had-referred-to passed-by, Boaz said to him, ‘Come-over-here for-a-while friend and sit-down.’ So the man came-over and sat-down. Then Boaz caused-to-gather the ten rulers of the town and had- them -sit there. And when they had-sat-down, Boaz said to his relative, ‘Noemi has- now -come-back from Moab, and she wants to sell the land of our(incl) relative Elimelec. I thought I should-tell this-(matter) to you(sg). So, if you(sg) want, buy it in the presence of the rulers of my fellow-countrymen and of others who-are-sitting here. But if you(sg) do- not -want, just say so, so-that I will-know. The truth is, you(sg) are the first-one that has the responsibility to buy it, and I am just next (in-line).’ The man said, ‘Okay, I will-buy it.’ But Boaz said, ‘On the day you(sg) buy the land from Noemi, you(sg) must also marry the Moabnon widow Ruth, so-that if you(pl) have now a child, the land will-remain in the family of our(incl) dead relative.’ When the man heard it, he said, ‘If that-is-the-case I will- no-longer -buy the land because I might have-problem with my own land because including our(excl) child to-be with Ruth (will)- now -have a share with my land. You(sg) just buy (it) because I can- not -do it.’” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “Meanwhile, Boaz went up to the town gate and sat there. That was the place where people met together to decide important matters. When the man that Boaz had mentioned came there, the close relative of Ruth and Naomi’s dead husbands who had a responsibility to take care of Naomi and Ruth, Boaz said to him, ‘My friend, come over here and sit down.’ So the man went and sat down. Boaz then gathered ten of the elders of the town and asked them to sit down there also. After they sat down, he said to the man who had the responsibility to take care of Naomi, ‘Naomi has returned from Moab region. She wants to sell the field that belonged to our relative Elimelech. I thought that I should tell you about that, and suggest that you buy it, while these elders who are sitting here are listening. If you are willing to buy the property, do that. But if you do not want to buy it, tell me, so that I will know. I am suggesting this to you because you are the one who has the first right to buy it, and I am the one who has the second/next right to buy it.’ The man replied, ‘I will buy it!’ Then Boaz told him, ‘When you buy the land from Naomi, you will also be taking Ruth, the woman who is from Moab, to be your wife, in order that she may give birth to a son who will inherit the property of her dead husband.’ Then the close relative of Ruth’s dead husband said, ‘If that is so, I do not want to buy the field, because then my own children would not inherit the property; Ruth’s children would inherit it. You buy the property!’” (Source: Translation for Translators)

Translation commentary on Ruth 4:1: A Cultural Commentary for Central Africa

The “city gate” (actually the public square within the main gate leading into the city) was where the local Hebrew elders would meet to discuss and decide the major issues affecting the community. The Chichewa functional correspondent would be the mphala, an open area in the village (often situated near the chiefs house) where similar activities are carried out and more; i.e., the men often eat here and gather also to play games and to work at various trades (e.g., basket making, wood carving, carpentry, etc.) Since the “gate” was so important in Hebrew culture, and hence in biblical literature, it would be advisable to retain the reference to form, if possible, coupling this with an indication of its function, either by a descriptive phrase (e.g., “at the meeting place”) or in combination with the culturally specific term (e.g., “at the mphala by the gate of the city”).

Source: Wendland 1987, p. 181.

Translation commentary on Ruth 4:1

The verb employed in the phrase Boaz went is in the perfect tense in Hebrew, and this would indicate that the action described in this verse is not necessarily consecutive or following what has been mentioned at the end of chapter 3. Naomi’s reply to Ruth, however, would seem to indicate that this is the next action, since she assures Ruth that “Boaz will settle the matter today.” Nevertheless, the action described in verse 1 could have taken place earlier, at the same time, or later than the last events mentioned in chapter 3. For this see Brockelmann, Hebräische Syntax, par. 41. In some languages some marker of sequence of action is almost always required. A rendering such as “meanwhile” (Smith-Goodspeed) would seem to be too explicit. New English Bible has “now Boaz had gone,” which would seem to place the action prior to what was recorded at the end of chapter 3. In some languages one is almost required to employ some such expression as “and then,” which does not necessarily mark consecutive action but indicates that this is the next event being related in the story.

In languages which consistently mark certain aspects of direction, the verb went can be more specifically indicated as “went up,” since this is the meaning of the Hebrew expression; but it would be wrong to try to force this type of meaning too specifically at this point.

To the meeting place at the town gate is in Hebrew merely “to the gate,” but a literal rendering would have very little meaning for the average reader. In the first place, people do not think in terms of a gate to a city. Furthermore, the mention of merely a “gate” would imply some ordinary gate within the city and not “the city gate.” Therefore it is important to specify what kind of gate is involved (see New English Bible, Moffatt, and Smith-Goodspeed). The addition of the qualification “city” to “gate” has already been done by early translators. So Syriac version. In many languages it is not enough to state “city gate,” since this too would be relatively meaningless. One must specify the relation between the gate and the city; for example, “the gate leading into the city” or “the gate by which people went in and out of the city.” But what is significant in this context is not the gate itself, but the space immediately inside the town gate which was so important to the social life of the city. It was here that judgments were normally held (Deut 21.19; 25.7; etc.). One must, therefore, in many languages add an expression such as “the meeting place,” so as to indicate clearly the relevant components which occur in the word “gate” used in this kind of context.

The expansion of the Hebrew term “the gate” to a phrase such as the meeting place at the town gate might seem to be an unwarranted addition, but this phrase only makes explicit what is fully implicit in the meaningful components of the Hebrew term “gate.” In this context the meaning of “gate” is not the particular structure in the town wall, but the area inside the gate which was used for important consultations.

In many societies there are no gates to a city; and if there are gates, the area immediately inside the gate may be of no importance to the life of the community. In some societies the closest equivalent may be “the chief’s compound,” where the chief speaks to the people and supervises legal proceedings and where the people of the village often gather for social occasions. In other societies, the functional equivalent is the public square or courtyard, often spoken of as “the plaza,” and generally distinct from the market place. Compare also J. de Waard, “Quelques problèmes de traduction dans le livre des Psaumes,” Flambeau 21, 1969, pages 23-30, ad Psalm 9.14; idem, “The translation of some figures of speech from Psalms in Bamiléké and Bamoun,” The Bible Translator 20, 1969, page 144. For the culture of the Bible the gate was so important that one should avoid, if at all possible, making a complete cultural adaptation by using an expression such as “the chief’s compound.” It is far better to employ something like “to the public square at the town gate” or “to the gathering place of the city near the city gate.”

Elimelech’s nearest relative is literally in Hebrew “he who has the right of redemption.” For an analysis of this expression, see the comments on 2.20 and 3.12. One may use in the present context a designation of proximity in the family line; for example, “he stands closest to Elimelech in the family” or “he sits closer to Elimelech in the family than Boaz does.” Or one may use some designation to indicate function; for example, “he is the first one who should help out as a relative,” “he is the one who has the first right to take Ruth as a wife,” or “he is the first one who should help Naomi and Ruth.”

If the levirate marriage arrangement is the basis for Boaz’s marriage to Ruth, This has been denied by S. R. Driver, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Deuteronomy, 1896, page 285, and by L. M. Epstein, Marriage Laws in the Bible and the Talmud, 1942, pages 86 ff., who distinguishes levirate marriage and geʾullah marriage, and who identifies the marriage of Ruth with the latter. Cf. also E. Lipinski, “Le mariage de Ruth,” Vetus Testamentum 26 (1976):124-127. there are only two passages in the Old Testament outside of the Book of Ruth which deal specifically with the subject: Genesis 38 and Deuteronomy 25.5-10 (References to both of these passages are included within this chapter; see comments on verses 8 and 12.) The passage in Deuteronomy speaks only about a widow’s relation to her brother-in-law, but in the Genesis passage there is an indication that the levirate relation is not limited to the brother-in-law, and when a brother-in-law does not exist, another relative may serve. It may be that the text in Deuteronomy suggests a restriction of something that had a wider practice in earlier times, and that it is this wider practice which is reflected in the Book of Ruth. See the very thorough discussion in Rowley, op. cit. Compare also R. de Vaux, op. cit., I, page 41.

The man who Boaz had mentioned may need to be somewhat more specific in some languages; for example, “it was to Ruth that Boaz had mentioned this man” or “Boaz had mentioned to Ruth this person.” If the expression the man whom Boaz had mentioned must be made a separate sentence, it would normally occur after the sentence “just then Elimelech’s nearest relative came by.”

The Hebrew expression rendered in Good News Translation as my friend literally means “another, or an unknown person.” See Baumgartner, s.v. peloni. This type of expression is used when an author does not wish to mention or cannot name the specific person or place involved in an account. These words are not specifically included in the statement by Boaz, but come from the author of the book. This means that the name of the person involved was not known to the tradition, or that the author simply did not wish to invent a name. It is possible that the person was well known and that the author intentionally omitted his name in order not to embarrass a well-known person. So Hertzberg, op. cit., ad loc. It is also possible that the author had no interest in preserving the name, as there is no emphasis upon this particular relative. So Rudolph, Haller, Gerleman, Century Bible. In the two other places in the Old Testament where this expression occurs (1 Sam 21.2 [verse 3 in Hebrew]; 2 Kgs 6.8) the name is omitted deliberately. Earlier translators already encountered problems with the translation of this term, The Septuagint uses a Greek vocative kruphie, but this appears to be a literal rendering, quite unnatural in Greek. The Syriac translator reading “And he said to him: Why?” must have misunderstood the Hebrew completely, as he also misunderstood the expression in the two other Old Testament places. Vulgate has a free rendering, vocans eum nomine suo, which has been followed by NAB and NEB: “calling him by name”! and in some instances it may be very difficult indeed to find some natural equivalent. An exception could be made in the case of Arabic, where a common expression as shuʾsmuk (“what is your name?”) or ya Fulani is used. Compare also Brockelmann, Grundriß II, par. 44, for other Semitic parallels. In view of the fact that these words do not actually form a part of Boaz’s speech, it is possible to omit them (cf. Smith-Goodspeed), but in many instances it seems far more natural and polite to have some kind of expression of address such as “sir.” In some cases a rendering such as “my friend” appears to be even more satisfactory.

It is important in introducing the last sentence of verse 1 to employ some kind of particle marking result; for example, “so,” “as a result,” or even “hence.” This marks the sentence as the conclusion of what has immediately preceded.

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Ruth. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

imperatives (kudasai / Japanese honorifics)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way Japanese show different degree of politeness is through the choice of an imperative construction as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

In these verses, the honorific form kudasai (ください) reflects that the action is called for as a favor for the sake of the beneficiary. This polite kudasai imperative form is often translated as “please” in English. While English employs pure imperatives in most imperative constructions (“Do this!”), Japanese chooses the polite kudasai (“Do this, please.”).

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )