God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Disaster, Unloved, and Unwanted: Hosea’s Children

The prophet Hosea, we read, has three children, named yizrael, lo-ruchama, and lo-ammi in Hebrew, but in Greek their names are Yezrael, Ouk-Ileimeni, and Ou-Laos-Mou. What’s going on? Normally Greek names are simple transliterations of the Hebrew sounds.

The answer is that the second two Hebrew names are actually phrases that mean “not loved” and “not my people,” respectively. The Greek translates the meaning of the words, rather than preserving the sounds. Ouk-Ileimeni means “not-loved” and Ou-Laos-Mou means “not-people-mine.” The first name, Jezreel in English, is taken from the disaster at the Jezreel valley — vaguely similar would be living in New Orleans and calling your daughter “Katrina” — and because that’s a place, not just a word, the Greek transliterates the sounds.

English translations, though, usually ignore what the words mean, as in the NRSV’s Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi. The CEB and others take a different route, with Jezreel, No Compassion, and Not My People.

Some translations walk a middle ground, as in the latest NIV, which gives us, “Lo-Ruhamah (which means ‘not loved’)” and “Lo-Ammi (which means ‘not my people’),” explaining things for the English reader.

Though this is perhaps the most extreme example of names that are words or phrases, it’s not the only one. The famous passage in Isaiah 7:14 has a kid whose name is emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” When the name appears in Isaiah, it remains untranslated in English, though many versions provide a footnote with an explanation of the name. But when Matthew (in 1:23) cites the verse, he adds, “…which translates as ‘God is with us.'”

What should we do with these names in English translations? Certainly a story about “Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi” paints a markedly different picture than one about, say, “Disaster, Unloved, and Unwanted.” Does it do the narrative justice if we strip it of the jarring names “Unloved” and “Unwanted”?

Is turning “Jezreel” into “Disaster” going too far? What about a translation that calls yizrael “Gettysburg,” which, like the Valley of Jezreel, was the site of bloodshed? Should we respect the fact that Hosea has one kid named after a place and two with phrases for names?

And what about Emmanuel? If we translate lo-ruchamma as “Unloved,” shouldn’t Emmanuel be “God-Is-With-Us?”

What do you think? How would you translate Hosea’s kids, Isaiah 7:14, and Matthew 1:23?


May 9, 2012 - Posted by | translation practice, translation theory | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Definitely a good time for footnotes!

    Comment by bibleshockers | May 9, 2012

  2. I agree with BibleShockers: footnotes. Or Torah-style commentary. I would not want to translate Jezreel into Disaster (or Katrina). You lose the context. What type of disaster was Jezreel–a battle loss or a natural disaster? Merely translating as “disaster” loses all the frisson that an actual name can give.

    Comment by marian42 | May 10, 2012

    • What about Unloved and Unwanted?

      Comment by Joel H. | May 10, 2012

      • Those two names work for me.
        Considering the names that some parents give their children…. I can see the Blues (or Country music) hit being born right now: “When Unloved met Unwanted”. (excuse the levity)

        Comment by marian42 | May 10, 2012

  3. Regarding the name Jezreel, sometimes there’s just no substitute for actually reading scripture. The text itself gives an immediate explanation of the meaning of the name. This renders a footnote redundant and an attempt at translation over transliteration unnecessary.

    Comment by Steve Driediger | May 11, 2012

  4. I think the translation in parentheses is ideal. A footnote could be added to reference the disasters that occurred in Jezreel for further detail. It is important to understand the meaning of the name without having to search for it. Providing an American (English) substitute would be very misleading and likely confusing…

    Comment by Jeff Themm | May 15, 2012

  5. Is lo-ruchama (לֹא רֻחָמָה) better translated “no-pity” instead of “no-love”? The corresponding Greek word in the LXX is Οὐκ-ἠλεημένη which I would have thought corresponds better with “no-pity”.

    Comment by lukemurphey | May 15, 2012

    • Maybe. It’s exceedingly hard to tease these kinds of nuances apart. Even among English speakers, “love,” “pity,” “mercy,” etc. are used differently by different people, with overlapping but unique senses. We have no reliable way of knowing exactly what similar words in ancient Hebrew and Greek conveyed.

      Comment by Joel H. | May 16, 2012

      • If I was going to try and translate the Greek agape into Hebrew, I would use ahavah (not Ruhamah). As the other poster said, agape has a much broader sense than is often associated with it and ahavah in Hebrew is very broad as well. Ruhamah has more of a sense of compassion i.e. a mother’s love. It comes from the same root as “womb”.

        Comment by Mike Tisdell | July 20, 2012

    • From what I recall of my hebrew classes back in the day, lo-ruchama is closely associated with a hebrew word for love. It is, if I recall correctly, and please someone correct me if you know better, the hebrew word which most closely connects to the greek “agape” -that is an all-encompassing love, such as the Love of God for us (as opposed to “Dode”, with the greek corresponding “phileo” or brtoherly love, or “a-hava”, Greek -“eros”, the intimate sexual love between a man and woman).
      I would say that since the original language is most closely translated to “love”, it would be better to retain this word in english, rather than translating from the Greek, which already is a translation.
      I think the most important key to passages like this is to be educated, we need to study the bible, not just read it, and sharing articles like this one (thanks, by the way) help us to understand the context and nuances of the bible as they would have been understood by the original hearers.

      Comment by Kendra | May 16, 2012

      • Language is so weird… I mean, agaph doesn’t “mean” anything like what people have come to think it “means”… it was a non-descript word like “like” or “been nice to” but has developed a mythology…

        Comment by bibleshockers | May 16, 2012

  6. […] as I just pointed out, the names “Lo-ruhamah” and “Lo-ammi,” Hosea’s children, mean […]

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  7. This is all contrary to the word. The word of god says that any man who calls on the Lord Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior is borned again and is a new creature in Christ. Your earthy name, or earthly inheretance doesn’t matter. This is all going back to old school religion of cursed families and cursed nations. Christ came and died for the benfit of us all both the jew and the gentile. This is the same religious spirit that Jesus came to defeat and overcame thru his resurection.

    Comment by Aaron | May 21, 2012

    • Are you saying that Hosea got it wrong?

      Comment by WoundedEgo | May 21, 2012

  8. A more realistic translation of Jezreel would be “God will sow” not disaster. That being said, I would still translate it as the transliteration Jezreel. The text of Hosea makes some interesting distinctions between Jezreel and his siblings that I believe are important to the story. First, Jezreel was a reasonably common name, lo-Ruhama and Lo-Ami were not. Second, the texts states that lit. “she conceived and she birth to him a son” Ho. 1:3, but the phrase “to him” is notably absent in 1:6 and 1:8 when it speaks of the birth of lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ami. Their is a subtle indication by the absence of this phrase and the unusual names that these two were illegitimate children. Beginning in chapter two (Hebrew) we see the renaming of these two children to Ruhamah (loved) and Ami (my people); their redemption by Hosea becomes the picture of God’s redemption of the illegitimate Gentile people (a theme picked up on by both Paul and Peter in the NT). Because there unusual names were so key to the story of Hosea, I believe that they should be treated differently than the name Jezreel.

    Comment by Mike Tisdell | July 20, 2012

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