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)
  • “good luck — have — good fortune — have” (verbatim) ꓶꓼ ꓙꓳ ꓫꓱꓹ ꓙꓳ — ɯa dzho shes zho (Lisu). This construction follows a traditional four-couplet construct in oral Lisu poetry that is usually in the form ABAC or ABCB. (Source: Arrington 2020, p. 58)

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.

anoint

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated in English as “anoint” is translated in Lakota with azilyA: “to smudge.”

Steve Berneking (in Beerle-Moor / Voinov, p. 121) tells the story of that translation:

“During one visit with the Lakota team, we were reading texts and discussing key biblical terms and how they are best rendered into Lakota. Reference was made to the ritual we label ‘anointing.’ When the Lakota word that had been glossed as ‘anoint’ was read aloud, I heard giggling among the reviewers. Knowing that this reaction called for some explanation, I asked.

“The people there told me that the Lakota verb that was used to translate ‘anoint’ was funny in that context. It is not that the verb is an uncommon one; quite the contrary. Lakota uses that verb frequently, but almost exclusively as a verb of food preparation; the verb belongs to the culinary domain. In other words, the Lakota verb used for ‘anoint’ actually referred to rubbing oil on something that was to be cooked or grilled, in this case, the apostles. The Lakota verb ipáṫaŋṫtaŋ ‘to apply oil on something’ was used quite innocently by the missionaries. The linguistic transfer was understandable: the missionaries needed a verb to translate ‘putting oil on something’; Lakota has a verb; they used that verb. The result was comical. So, during that conversation with the Lakota community, I encouraged the translators to come up with a Lakota verb that is used not simply in ‘the application of oil,’ but more pointedly in the consecration of something or somebody for a special task, or in the appointment of someone for a special purpose. Their response was almost immediate: azilyA or wazílyA ‘to smudge.’ That is how, they told me, warriors and messengers and tribal leaders have always been consecrated (or blessed) before being sent out on a special mission. Sage grass was burned, and the smoke was waved over the person or object. The trans-cultural process of using the traditional Lakota verb azilyA for the biblical notion of ‘anoint’ became, at that moment, part of the Lakota Bible.”

Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing how anointing was done in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

covenant

The Hebrew and the Greek that are translated as “covenant” in English are translated in a variety of ways. Here are some (back-) translations:

  • Western Kanjobal: “to put mouths equal” (i.e. “signifying complete assent on the part of all”)
  • Mossi: “helping promise”
  • Vai: “a thing-time-bind” (i.e. “an arrangement agreed upon for a period of time”)
  • Loma (Liberia): “an agreement”
  • Northwestern Dinka: “agreement which is tied up” (i.e. “secure and binding”)
  • Chol: “a word which is left”
  • Huastec: “a broken-off word” (“based on the concept of ‘breaking off a word’ and leaving it with the person with whom an agreement has been reached”)
  • Tetelcingo Nahuatl: “a death command” (i.e. “a special term for testament”)
  • Piro: “a promised word”
  • Eastern Krahn: “a word between”
  • Yaka: “promise that brings together” (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Manikion, Indonesian: “God’s promise” (source: Daud Soesilo)
  • Natügu: nzesz’tikr drtwr: “oneness of mind” (source: Brenda Boerger in Beerle-Moor / Voinov, p. 164)
  • Tagalog: tipan: mutual promising on the part of two persons agreeing to do something (also has a romantic touch and denotes something secretive) (source: G. Henry Waterman in The Bible Translator 1960, p. 24ff.)
  • Guhu-Samane: “The concept [in Mark 14:24 and Matthew 16:28] is not easy, but the ritual freeing of a fruit and nut preserve does afford some reference. Thus, ‘As they were drinking he said to them, ‘On behalf of many this poro provision [poro is the traditional religion] of my blood is released.’ (…) God is here seen as the great benefactor and man the grateful recipient.” (Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff.)

Moses

The name that is transliterated as “Moses” in English is signed in Spanish Sign Language in accordance with the depiction of Moses in the famous statue by Michelangelo (see here). (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)


“Moses” in Spanish Sign Language (source)

Another depiction in Spanish Sign Language (source: Carlos Moreno Sastre):

The horns that are visible in Michelangelo’s statue are based on a passage in the Latin Vulgate translation (and many Catholic Bible translations that were translated through the 1950ies with that version as the source text). Jerome, the translator, had worked from a Hebrew text without the niqquds, the diacritical marks that signify the vowels in Hebrew and had interpreted the term קרו (k-r-n) in Exodus 34:29 as קֶ֫רֶן — keren “horned,” rather than קָרַו — karan “radiance” (describing the radiance of Moses’ head as he descends from Mount Sinai).

Even at the time of his translation, Jerome likely was not the only one making that decision as this recent article alludes to.