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  • Writer's pictureTim Robinson

Cheap Perfume?

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While we were running all over the Great Britain during the past couple of months folks in Nigeria were still working alongside language communities. My good friend Jono spent about three weeks checking the draft of the book of John in the Gbari language. He always enjoy doing these consultant checks.He says;

It’s really fun to dig a bit deeper into some passages that I know so well, but often just gloss over when reading.

This is how he described one of the challenges they faced.

In the story of Mary washing Jesus’ feet with her hair and some expensive perfume in John 12, we had an interesting time figuring out the best thing to do with ‘denarii.’ English versions do various things with it. The ESV transliterates the Greek ‘300 denari’, while the NET Bible and CEV explain what a denarius is by saying ‘300 silver coins’. The NIV  and NLT try to give the reader an understanding of how much this actually was worth and they both say ‘a year’s wages.’

Initially the team had translated something like ‘300 metal money’. Strictly speaking, this sounds like an accurate rendering of the Greek text. However, as we explored this a bit more, we realized that as people read it, it would probably lead to some misleading assumptions. In Nigeria ‘kobo’ or coins are no longer used and represent a very small amount of money. (TR- 1 £1 = 450 Naira and 1 Naira = 100 kobo. So 1 Kobo = about 0.002p) You actually wouldn’t be able to even by a candy for 300 metal coins in Nigeria. So, by using this translation, we would be probably give the opposite of the intended meaning – that the perfume that Mary used was just some cheap perfume – a case where a literal rendering is actually inaccurate!

Another option we thought about was using a Naira equivalent. However, this option lead to many other potential problems, like what would such a number mean in  5 or 10 years when inflation has changed what a year’s wages would be? And with a very broad range of salaries, what is an ‘average’ year’s wages?

In the end, we settled on the using something similar to the NIV’s rendering by saying ‘the amount that a person would earn in a year’.

Please pray with us that this book will be used by Gbari people and it will change people’s lives.

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