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The language of food

Simon Crisp talks about the challenges of translating food references in the Bible

The language of food © VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM, LONDON

Altar Dossal by Edmund Harrison

Altar Dossal by Edmund Harrison

EATING AND DRINKING are very important in the Bible. Just think of the lamb eaten at Passover, the manna in the wilderness, the bread and wine at the Last Supper, or the meat sold in the market which caused such problems for the early Christians in Corinth. 

It is not always straightforward, though, to translate references to food and eating in the Bible. What should a translator do, for instance, when the people for whom the translation is being made do not eat bread? Is it permissible to use “rice” instead, as would be natural in many Asian cultures? In this case Luke 4:4 would read “One does not live by rice alone.” And indeed, there are translations like Korean, where a local rice cake “teok” is used instead of “bread”, as well as translations like Indonesian where the more generic term “food” is used.

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