Original Research

A Bible translation inspired look at the history and ethnography of the Batswana

Sidney K. Berman
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 51, No 1 | a2153 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v51i1.2153 | © 2017 Sidney K. Berman | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 May 2016 | Published: 14 March 2017

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Sidney K. Berman, Department of Theology, Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, North-West University, South Africa

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This article’s point of departure is that, apart from his or her own understanding of the text, the Bible translator is likely to face difficulties that pertain to the audience’s history and ethnography: Some biblical concepts will be difficult or impossible to communicate in the language of the target audience because of mismatches in cultural concepts, limitations of vocabulary in the target language, or the translator’s limited understanding of some elements of the target language and culture. Thus, the article examines some aspects of the history and ethnography of the Batswana from the perspective of Bible translation. For illustration purposes, it raises certain issues from the book of Ruth, in particular looking at how the three existing Setswana Bibles rendered or could have better rendered them. The Setswana Bibles in question are those of Moffat, published in 1857, Wookey, published in 1908 and Bible Society of South Africa (BSSA) – once called the Central Tswana Bible, published in 1970. The article proposes explanations that the translator could have given in order to eliminate or reduce the problems. For that reason, the ultimate argument is that the translators could not have translated the three Bibles satisfactorily without the use of explanatory footnotes akin to those of study Bibles. This proposal arose more frequently for Moffat, who appears to have struggled more, not because of his exegetical understanding of the text, but because his audience’s familiarity with JudeoChristian concepts was nil. The article is made up of the following topics: the three Setswana Bibles, the Batswana, on the use of Ruth, the Setswana language, means of economic production, the Supreme Being and ancestral spirits, and divination and sorcery.


Tswana; History; Bible translation


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