By Martha Wade
“Why did they do that? Was that change really necessary?” I thought to myself as I looked at the revised text of Matthew 3:4. The more I looked, the more I began to see the possibilities and soon I was chuckling at the image of John the Baptist in the rough draft. The poor guy was eating one grasshopper and one bee egg [the cultural equivalent of honey in the Apal language] – or at least the text didn’t specifically say that he was filling up on grasshoppers and bee eggs. The national translators had noticed this and decided that John probably would have eaten lots of grasshoppers and bee eggs to keep from starving and so they added little words that indicate that the items were both plural. A minor change, but a good one since John’s diet was strange enough without being limited to one of each item.
In Mat 3:12, the poor thresher of lots of grain was left putting only one seed into the house for storing grain. The national translators could not imagine someone doing all that work for one seed, so they changed it to putting seeds (plural) into the house for storing grain – again a wise choice. In a similar way, in Mat 6:30, the national translators caught the fact that Jesus was telling the people not to think about one set of clothing – that would have definitely been a bad scene with everyone fighting to get one thing. Instead he was telling all of them not to think about all kinds of clothing – definitely better when a plural marker is used on the object. In Mat 7:17, however, they had changed a plural verb form to a singular and I wanted to say “Why did they do that?” but I knew that I would find a logical reason – Jesus was just using one tree as the example and not talking about all kinds of trees.
I was relieved to see that there was finally a real content change in Mat 7:15 (changing “hair” to “skin”) rather than changing a singular to a plural or a plural to a singular. The change from “pig sheep hair (singular)” to “pig sheep skin (singular)”, however, made me want to ask, “Why did you do that?” After further analysis (trying to envision what it would look like), however, I quickly decided that a wolf would be much better disguised by putting on the full skin of a sheep than by putting on one hair of a sheep or even a handful of wool and trying to disguise himself with it – picture a wolf in a little tutu of wool. After trying to envision things from their perspective, I decided to accept that change and many other changes they had made. I did, though, reject some of the revisions as inaccurate and sent them back to the drawing board to “try, try again” on those passages.
Normally when I am back here in the USA, all translation work comes to a grinding halt, but this time has been different. Lindy Pate just completed a 3 week work session with the Apal translation team in which we shared the data regularly via a computer program that allows us to send and receive changes easily. I would write questions to Lindy and she would write answers and more questions to me that I would then try to answer. It generally worked well because while they were working, I was sleeping and visa-versa. It still feels like “magic” to me because I remember the days of typewriters and carbon paper. Praise God with me for technology that allows us to interact with work sessions on the other side of the world.
Martha is a Bible Translator among the Apal language group.