That Time When There Were Frogs in the Oven
"The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading bowls." -Exodus 8:3, NIV
We spent about 40 minutes discussing that verse. Yes, that one that looks like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book.
Frogs in your bed! Frogs on your head! Frogs on your king! Frogs on everything!
So which part took the longest to render accurately in translation?
Frogs In the Oven
The translators had rendered 'ovens' as 'food,' correctly inferring that frogs in your oven would mean frogs in your food too. Yum.
When Mary (my consultant mentor) asked them to re-read the English translation, they realized that the text says "oven" instead of "food," so the Waja draft needed to be changed. But some unexpected confusion followed.
Waja Team: Frogs cannot be in the oven. It is too hot!!
Mary: Ok. Where could they be?
Waja Team: [pause]...They cannot jump into where the bread is baked.
Mary: Why? What are the parts of an oven?
This is a scan of my notes, drawn while multiple people simultaneously described an everyday object which I have never seen.
It was like playing Pictionary backwards. With a language barrier. Via Skype.
Artistry aside, do you see the problem? There is a lid on top and fire below! Where do we put the frogs?!
(Spoiler alert: they chose the word for the clay piece at the bottom. Charcoal-roasted frog-legs, anyone?)
Asking Vs. Telling
As this discussion unfolded, I noticed something important about Mary's consulting. She was asking a question nearly every time she spoke.
Part of being a consultant-in-training means I'm learning to ask instead of tell.
After all, it's the Waja translation, not mine or Mary's. So instead of saying, "The frogs were here, not there," we ask questions that create space for the translators to process their own words and decide what will communicate the right image to their audience: an image that's not confusing (frogs where?!) or misleading (frogs for dinner!)
I know frogs in the oven vs. in the food might not be a deeply impactful exegesis. Why even bother?
Because they're part of a larger story that we all need to hear: the true story of a God who listens and responds to the cries of his people.
Even when they don't believe him.
Even when they storm off.
Even when they forget who they are and who he is.
We need to hear it because sometimes we do the same.
So lean in and listen. Ask questions and keep asking! Especially now. You might be surprised by the picture behind the words.
Thanks for learning with me, frogs and all.
Until All Have Heard,
P.S. As I learn to ask, I also have some questions for you! Answer in the comments!
What about bible translation is important or interesting to you?
What parts of scripture have reminded you of a truth you needed to hear recently?
What have you or your church done or hope to do in reaching the Bibleless?
Any good frog recipes to share?