Translating the colors of the Bible

In preparation for the reviewer’s workshop this week, the members of the advisory committee for the Shekgalagari project met today. We’ll be reviewing Revelation this week, so there will be lots to discuss; it’s a tricky book!

One unexpected thing that came up in our discussions today came from Revelation 6, where the 4 horses it talks about are described as: white, red, black and “pale”. We had a problem with “pale” because there’s not a good word for it in Shekgalagari.

So we had to talk about colors, which can often be a tripping spot for translation. What I call “orange” might just be called “red” in another language. Setswana has the same word for green and blue; they differentiate by calling something botala ja lethare “color of tree” or botala ja loapi “color of sky”. Colors are often referenced by something else as well; the color orange in Setswana is borolwana, which means “color of this specific flower”. There’s lots of issues to sort out when it comes to color!

We tried to come up with a color that would fit, but ultimately we had to describe the horse as looking “sickly” instead. Which is the point of the verse; the horse that Death is riding looks “sick”; the Greek word there is translated here as “pale” in most English versions, but other places in the New Testament as “pale green” instead.

Pray for the reviewers in Hukuntsi this week as they struggle through Revelation. There are many pitfalls and sticky spots to deal with in this complicated book. Pray for wisdom, clarity and most of all, a desire to bring God’s Word to life in Shekgalagari!

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