elder (of the community)

The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that is typically translated as “elders” in English is translated in the Danish Bibelen 2020 as folkets ledere or “leaders of the people.”

Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators, explains: “The term ‘elder’ turned out to pose a particularly thorny problem. In traditional bibles, you can find elders all of over the place and they never pose a problem for a translator, they are just always elders. But how to find a contemporary term for this semi-official, complex position? This may have been our longest-standing problem. A couple of times we thought we had the solution, and then implemented it throughout the texts, only to find out that it didn’t work. Like when we used city council or village council, depending on the context. In the end we felt that the texts didn’t work with such official terms, and throughout the years in the desert, these terms didn’t make much sense. Other suggestions were ‘the eldest and wisest’, ‘the respected citizens’, ‘the Israelites with a certain position in society’, ‘the elder council’ –- and let me point out that these terms sound better in Danish than in English (‘de fremtrædende borgere,’ ‘de mest fremtrædende israelitter,’ ‘alle israelitter med en vis position,’ ‘de ældste og de klogeste,’ ‘ældsterådet’). In the end we just said ‘leaders of the people.’ After a lot of hand-wringing, it turned out that we actually found a term that worked well. So, we had to give up conveying the fact that they were old, but the most important point is that they were community leaders.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )

The German das Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022) translates likewise as “leader of the people” (Anführer des Volkes).

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 4:2

The Hebrew text of verse 2 begins “and he took ten men of the elders of the city.” Since, however, Elimelech’s nearest relative is the subject of the last sentence of verse 1, it is normally important to mark the shift of actors so that Boaz should be introduced as the subject of the first sentence of verse 2. The fact that this action by Boaz is subsequent to the preceding should be marked by some kind of transitional device such as Then, “And next,” or “Immediately afterwards.”

Certain problems are involved in translating the verb got, which represents in Hebrew a verb often translated as “took.” One should not imagine that Boaz had to go through the town in order to find or select ten of the town’s elders; what he no doubt did was to ask ten of the town’s elders to stop as they were going in or out of the town gate. In many languages an appropriate translation would be “and Boaz caused ten of the town elders to stop” or “Boaz asked ten of the town elders to remain.” It is also possible to use an expression such as “selected” or “picked out” (cf. New American Bible), but this might imply too formal an activity.

The leaders mentioned in this context would have been the heads of leading families, who formed the aristocracy of the town. As local authorities they were largely responsible for legal matters (see Deut 25.7; 1 Kgs 21.8-14). See also R. de Vaux, op. cit., I, pages 108-109, 212-213. There would certainly have been more than ten elders in Bethlehem, though the exact number is not known. A town such as Sukkoth had seventy-seven elders, according to Judges 8.14. In finding an appropriate term for “elders,” it is important not to use a word which merely means “older men,” though in many societies the older men are the leaders of the town. A more natural expression in many languages is “ten important men in the town,” “ten of the leaders in the town,” or “ten of the men in the town to whom people showed respect.”

The direct discourse employing an imperative expression, as in the Hebrew, “… said, ‘Sit down here,’ ” might seem to be rather impolite in some languages. For that reason Good News Translation introduces indirect discourse, asked them to sit down, which may seem more natural in such a setting. If direct discourse is used, the imperative force of the request may be somewhat altered by the use of some particle showing proper politeness, equivalent to “please” in English: “please sit down here.”

When they were seated translates what is literally in Hebrew “and they sat down.” If an independent clause is used, it should be observed that their sitting down is a result of Boaz’s request, and therefore it must be rendered as “so they sat down” or “hence they sat down.”

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 .