Quote of the Day: The Lord’s Prayer

 

“Give us this day our daily seal.” — Hans Egede’s translation of the Lord’s Prayer for Greenland aboriginal people.

Translating the Bible is difficult. Frankly, translating any work can be difficult. Different languages put more freight on certain words than others. It can be difficult to capture all of the metaphorical meanings of a given word or phrase when rendering it into another language. This becomes truer as the languages are further apart, coming from different language families. Moreso, when the language one is translating into, has no word for the word in the original language.

Hans Egede was a Danish Lutheran minister who took on the challenge of a mission to Greenland. As he started translating Christian concepts, one that stymied him was the simple concept of bread. The Inuit natives of Greenland had no word for bread. They grew no grains because the land was too cold. They lived off the sea. In translating The Lord’s Prayer, Egede had to use a concept they were familiar with, and so in the Inuit translation, seal meat replaced bread.

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  1. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Does this mean that if you translate it for a tribe of headhunters, you have to say, “give us this day our daily missionary”?

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Does this mean that if you translate it for a tribe of headhunters, you have to say, “give us this day our daily missionary”?

    I like the idea.

    • #2
  3. George Townsend Member
    George Townsend
    @GeorgeTownsend

    Arahant:

    Give us this day our daily seal.—Hans Egede’s translation of the Lord’s Prayer for Greenland aboriginal people.

    Translating the Bible is difficult. Frankly, translating any work can be difficult. Different languages put more freight on certain words than others. It can be difficult to capture all of the metaphorical meanings of a given word or phrase in rendering it into another language. This becomes more true as the languages are further apart, perhaps coming from different language families. Moreso when the language one is translating into has no word for the word in the original language.

    Hans Egede was a Danish Lutheran minister who took on the challenge of a mission to Greenland. As he started translating Christian concepts, one that stymied him was the simple concept of bread. The Inuit natives of Greenland had no word for bread. They grew no grains, because the land was too cold. They lived off the sea. In translating The Lord’s Prayer, Egede had to use a concept they were familiar with, and so in the Inuit translation, seal meat replaced bread.

    Nice Post, Charlie. Very Interesting.

    • #3
  4. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    This conversation is an entry in our Quote of the Day Series. We have many openings on February’s schedule. If this reminds you of a quotation that is important to you, why not sign up today?

    • #4
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    You gotta do what you gotta do.

    • #5
  6. Muleskinner Member
    Muleskinner
    @Muleskinner

    Percival (View Comment):
    You gotta do what you gotta do.

    No word for “bread” but 50 words for “snow.”

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Fascinating! Translations can be so complex: how do we stay true to the original text? Do we have words that retain the original meaning? There are many controversies about the Bible’s translations–the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and of course, English. Thanks, A.

    • #7
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Fascinating! Translations can be so complex: how do we stay true to the original text? Do we have words that retain the original meaning? There are many controversies about the Bible’s translations–the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and of course, English. Thanks, A.

    There was a gent who came from an area of Iraq where his native language was Aramaic, the modern version of the language Jesus spoke, to America last century. Not only was he speaking the same language, but his culture was very similar to the Middle-Eastern culture of Jesus’ day. Not exactly the same, but enough to give him a lot of insight into what was going on in the Bible. After attending American churches and coming away thinking, “These folks are nuts!,” he wrote several books in English to bring this cultural understanding to Bible interpretation. His name was George Lamsa, and some of his books include: Idioms of the Bible Explained, Old Testament Light, and Gospel Light.

    • #8
  9. George Townsend Member
    George Townsend
    @GeorgeTownsend

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Fascinating! Translations can be so complex: how do we stay true to the original text? Do we have words that retain the original meaning? There are many controversies about the Bible’s translations–the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and of course, English. Thanks, A.

    Well put, Susan!

    One thing I do like about Dennis Prager is that he seems to understand the various translations of the Bible. I leaned a few years ago that the Commandment I grew up thinking was “Thou Shalt not Kill” turned out to be “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” It does make more sense.

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    George Townsend (View Comment):
    One thing I do like about Dennis Prager is that he seems to understand the various translations of the Bible. I leaned a few years ago that the Commandment I grew up thinking was “Thou Shalt not Kill” turned out to be “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” It does make more sense.

    What’s also fascinating, @georgetownsend, is that the Jews argue amongst themselves about the meanings of word and passages. It’s actually quite wonderful. My Torah study partner often talks about different views and meanings, the meaning for Chabad, and that one isn’t necessarily superior to another.

    • #10
  11. George Townsend Member
    George Townsend
    @GeorgeTownsend

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    George Townsend (View Comment):
    One thing I do like about Dennis Prager is that he seems to understand the various translations of the Bible. I leaned a few years ago that the Commandment I grew up thinking was “Thou Shalt not Kill” turned out to be “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” It does make more sense.

    What’s also fascinating, @georgetownsend, is that the Jews argue amongst themselves about the meanings of word and passages. It’s actually quite wonderful. My Torah study partner often talks about different views and meanings, the meaning for Chabad, and that one isn’t necessarily superior to another.

     I subscribe to Commentary, Susan, and I just finished reading their piece “Judaism Beyond Slogans”. It is fascinating!

    • #11
  12. Bob W Member
    Bob W
    @WBob

    I’ve heard the Chinese translation for the “logos” of John 1 is “Tao”… “In the beginning was the Tao.” I don’t know if that’s because there isn’t a better word in Chinese for what logos means in Greek, or if the word was chosen instead as a means of connecting Chinese religious traditions like Taoism to Christianity.

    • #12
  13. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Does this mean that if you translate it for a tribe of headhunters, you have to say, “give us this day our daily missionary”?

    I saw this hours ago and it keeps coming into my head and making me laugh. :) :)

     

    • #13
  14. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Does this mean that if you translate it for a tribe of headhunters, you have to say, “give us this day our daily missionary”?

    I saw this hours ago and it keeps coming into my head and making me laugh. :) :)

    Picture it with the classic cartoon of two guys talking in the giant cook pot.

    • #14
  15. Rick Poach Member
    Rick Poach
    @RickPoach

    I would think that, if you’re eating a seal a day, you might want to cut back.

    Interesting post. Thanks, A.

    • #15
  16. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    I came across this one yesterday on Amazon.  I’ve added it to my wish list as something to read through once I’m slightly less behind in my reading.  David Bentley Hart is an Orthodox scholar that @midge put me onto, and he did his own translation of the New Testament, with a similar goal to the author that @arahant cited: to bring to life the idiom and individual writing styles of the NT authors.

    From the book description (emphasis mine):

    David Bentley Hart undertook this new translation of the New Testament in the spirit of “etsi doctrina non daretur,” “as if doctrine is not given.” Reproducing the texts’ often fragmentary formulations without augmentation or correction, he has produced a pitilessly literal translation, one that captures the texts’ impenetrability and unfinished quality while awakening readers to an uncanniness that often lies hidden beneath doctrinal layers.

    Some of the reviews shed some interesting light:

    Every good scholar of Greek knows that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John shift tense haphazardly in ways that good writers never did. Luke, who was a good writer, didn’t make a mess of it the way the other evangelists do.

    At last, we have a translation that captures the different voices of the original authors. Paul’s Greek is rushed and broken, Mark’s is rough, and Luke’s is smooth and appealing. The language in Hebrews is elegant and elevated, that in 2 Peter and Jude is purple and bombastic, that in Revelation tangled, that in John’s gospel simple but mysterious, etc.

    • #16
  17. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Does this mean that if you translate it for a tribe of headhunters, you have to say, “give us this day our daily missionary”?

     

    • #17
  18. Weeping Member
    Weeping
    @Weeping

    From this article:

    A Bible translator was working with a tribal group in Southeast Asia. The translator, as all good translators do, would regularly read his work to a group of informants to see if they understood his translation and to ensure that what he had written was conveying accurately to them what he thought the original text meant.

    The translator had come to Luke 13:32 where Jesus is said to have referred to Herod as a “fox.” As he read his translation of Luke 13:32, the men who were listening burst forth with laughter. And not just a little laughter. Some of the men were holding their bellies as they rolled around on the ground.

    “‘Herod, that fox’ is a funny turn of phrase,” the Bible translator thought to himself, “but it is not that funny! I wonder why these men are laughing so hard?” –So he asked them: “Why are you laughing?”

    One of the men was able to control himself long enough to choke out a reply: “If a man is a ‘fox,'” he said, “it means”–and here the informant spoke in a high falsetto–“he speaks with a high voice.” And the implications of a man speaking with a high voice? Why, he is effeminate!

    “No! No!” the missionary protested. “Jesus didn’t mean that! He was saying Herod was sly, crafty, deceitful.”

    “Oh!” the men replied. “Well, in that case, then, you need to say ‘that mountain lion‘! Herod was a mountain lion.”

     

    ****************************************************

     

    Arahant (View Comment):
    There was a gent who came from an area of Iraq where his native language was Aramaic, the modern version of the language Jesus spoke, to America last century. Not only was he speaking the same language, but his culture was very similar to the Middle-Eastern culture of Jesus’ day. Not exactly the same, but enough to give him a lot of insight into what was going on in the Bible. After attending American churches and coming away thinking, “These folks are nuts!,” he wrote several books in English to bring this cultural understanding to Bible interpretation. His name was George Lamsa, and some of his books include: Idioms of the Bible Explained, Old Testament Light, and Gospel Light.

    Thanks for mentioning these books. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes is a book I’ve read that I think is along similar lines. I’ll have to look up the ones you mentioned as well.

    • #18
  19. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Weeping (View Comment):
    “Oh!” the men replied. “Well, in that case, then, you need to say ‘that mountain lion‘! Herod was a mountain lion.”

    This is good.

    Weeping (View Comment):
    One of the men was able to control himself long enough to choke out a reply: “If a man is a ‘fox,’” he said, “it means”–and here the informant spoke in a high falsetto–“he speaks with a high voice.” And the implications of a man speaking with a high voice? Why, he is effeminate!

    I knew a fellow named Mark, who would have been a fox according to them. He was also a fox in the henhouse when it came to women.

    • #19
  20. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Since you brought up the Lord’s Prayer in the context of language, I’ll share my favorite intersection of the two topics.

    We are instructed by Jesus in Matthew 6:7-9 (KJV):

     

    But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

    Use not vain repetitions, Jesus tells us, for prayer is a conversation with our Father. And so we are given, not a prayer, but rather a way of praying. Predictably, the followers of Jesus took that example and formalized it, turning  it into a thing, a specific prayer, arguably the central prayer of Christianity today.

    Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

    In Latin, the language of the early Church in the Roman Empire, that line translates to:

    Pater noster, qui es in cœlis, sanctificatur nomen tuum

    Those first two words, pater noster, give the prayer one of it’s popular names — the paternoster.

    What I find wonderfully ironic, however, is that this way of praying given to us by Jesus as an example of how not to endlessly repeat a single prayer over and over in a mechanical way, was so often repeated in just that way that the very word we have for rapid empty speech — patter — is derived from the first word of the prayer itself.

     

     

    • #20
  21. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    Predictably, the followers of Jesus took that example and formalized it, turning it into a thing, a specific prayer, arguably the central prayer of Christianity today.

    Yeah, there might be more than a few things like that in some branches of Christianity.

    • #21
  22. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    Predictably, the followers of Jesus took that example and formalized it, turning it into a thing, a specific prayer, arguably the central prayer of Christianity today.

    Yeah, there might be more than a few things like that in some branches of Christianity.

    We are evolved to find patterns and create structures and systems. I think it’s charming — even when it occasionally leads well-meaning people astray.

    • #22
  23. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I think it’s charming — even when it occasionally leads well-meaning people astray.

    But never us. ?

    • #23
  24. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I think it’s charming — even when it occasionally leads well-meaning people astray.

    But never us. ?

    Are you kidding? Ask my kids: they keep an index of phrases they can’t use around me for fear they’ll trigger, Pavlovian style, a deluge of Shakespeare or bad poetry. I’m a verbal minefield.

    • #24
  25. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I think it’s charming — even when it occasionally leads well-meaning people astray.

    But never us. ?

    Are you kidding? Ask my kids: they keep an index of phrases they can’t use around me for fear they’ll trigger, Pavlovian style, a deluge of Shakespeare or bad poetry. I’m a verbal minefield.

    *makes note for future use*

    • #25
  26. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I think it’s charming — even when it occasionally leads well-meaning people astray.

    But never us. ?

    Are you kidding? Ask my kids: they keep an index of phrases they can’t use around me for fear they’ll trigger, Pavlovian style, a deluge of Shakespeare or bad poetry. I’m a verbal minefield.

    Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.

    • #26
  27. E. Kent Golding Member
    E. Kent Golding
    @EKentGolding

    This post has the Seal of Approval.

    • #27
  28. Paul Erickson Member
    Paul Erickson
    @PaulErickson

    Arahant: They grew no grains because the land was too cold.

    So, no vegans?  Maybe I should consider moving there for my retirement.

    • #28
  29. Muleskinner Member
    Muleskinner
    @Muleskinner

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):

    Arahant: They grew no grains because the land was too cold.

    So, no vegans? Maybe I should consider moving there for my retirement.

    Not unless you want to find yourself sitting on an ice flow….

    • #29
  30. Richard Finlay Member
    Richard Finlay
    @RichardFinlay

    Rick Poach (View Comment):
    I would think that, if you’re eating a seal a day, you might want to cut back.

    Well, it goes “Give US this day OUR daily seal” so maybe they are sharing.

    • #30

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