Funny Business | Sojourners

Funny Business

Beware of Wolverines in Caribou Clothing

Jesus of Nazareth was a master at using images and parables to convey truths to his friends. But what went over well in the Middle East doesn't necessarily play in northern Canada. Bible translators who are trying to serve native people there are having a tough time in a land without mustard trees, sheep, or wheat, according to a report by the Religious News Service.

One translator, groping for a word to describe "joy," was struck by the excitement of sled dogs at feeding time and decided to borrow the native word that described it. Translated into English, it came out, "When the disciples saw Jesus, they wagged their tails."

Another translator, looking for a way to describe a person of high importance, discovered that the most important person in many villages was the man who owned the largest boat. For some Canadian natives, the Lord's Prayer now begins with the phrase "Our boat owner, who lives in heaven...."

Anglican Bishop John Sperry, who recently completed a tour of western Canada on behalf of the Canadian Bible Society, is familiar with problems of translation. In his translation of the gospels and the book of Acts into the native Coppermine language, he changed Jesus' description of Herod. Foxes in biblical times were considered cunning, rapacious animals, but in northern Canada they are known as small, timid creatures. So in Sperry's Bible, when Jesus is warned that Herod is out to kill him, Jesus responds, "Go tell that wolverine ..."

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