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Translating the "Our Father" into Farsi




Franco Ometto


          The aim of this paper is to present a translation of the "Our Father" into a Persian which is both simple and dignified: two essential features for a prayer directed to the Almighty but here especially important when we consider that this is a prayer composed by the Lord Jesus Himself. So we will avoid all difficult, cacophonous, obscure or polyvalent words and at the same time strive to remain faithful to the meaning and the emotional connotation of each term.
Our source text will be the Greek text of Mt 6, 9-13 and Lk 11, 2-4, from which the Latin Vulgate and presumably all the vernacular translations have been derived. While in many cases these translations represent an ancient Christian tradition of prayer and quoting from them is unavoidable, their use here is secondary to the original Greek text.
         The nine Persian translations of the Lord's prayer which are presently in use and which we are about to discuss here will be referred to as the 9t. We will deal with their positive and weak points and make our suggestions as to what we regard as the most apt choice of words in Persian.
In this way we hope to arrive at a dignified prayer, euphonically smooth, solemn in its simplicity; a prayer which is uttered first from the heart, then by our voice. In Persian, we would say that our prayer should be ﺪﻋﺎ ﺌﻰ ﻜﻪ ﺑﻪ ﺪ ﻞ ﺒـﻧـﺸـﻴـﻧﺪ

     1) The first invocation ﺍى ﭙـﺪ ﺭ ﻤﺎ ﮐﻪ ﺪ ﺮ ﺁ ﺳـﻤﺎ ﻧﻰ is common to all the 9t.

     2) αγιασθητω το ονομα σου : (Mt & Lk). The Vulgate gives us a significant hint, translating it "sanctificetur", i.e., "may be made or declared holy". Some of the Persian translations use the expression ﻤﻗـﺪ ﺲ ﺑﺎ ﺪ , i.e. "may be holy". (Actually it is holy. So why are we going to express a wish about something that is real and already existing? )
         Others say ﺨﺠـﺴـﺘﻪ ﺑﺎﺪ . This word means "be glorified", but has been used copiously for the shah or for some athletic champions. Again others use the words ﺳـﺗﻮﺪﻩ ﺒﺎ ﺪ which is of the same root as ﺳـﺘﺎ ﻳـﺶ ; it means "be praised" and is the expression to be preferred when speaking of God.
       Therefore, ﻧﺎم ﺗﻮ ﺳـﺗﻮﺪﻩ ﺑﺎ ﺪ would appear to be a good translation. However there is a difficulty: the expression may in fact sound too weak. We have to consider the 14 passages of Ezechiel where God complains that the people of Israel, by their idolatry, have defiled or "made profane" His Holy Name among the nations. The behaviour of the new Israel should be quite the opposite, i.e. they are to "sanctify" His Name.
      As far as we know, there is only one word which can convey the meaning of "sanctifying": ﺘـﻗـﺪ ﻳـﺲ , the second form or causative form of the root ﻗـﺪ ﺲ , meaning "to make holy". Though the word is from the Arabic, its use appears unavoidable here. The term reflects a commitment to adore the One God, so that His name be "sanctified " among the nations.
Therefore a good translation could prove ﻧـﺎم ﺘـﻮ ﺘـﻗـﺪ ﻳـﺲ ﺸـﻮﺪ/ ﺑُﻮَﺪ/ ﺑـﺎ ﺪﺍ . Of the three verbs cited here, the best choice may be ﺑـﺎ ﺪﺍ , it being solemn, full of dignity and particularly fitting to emphasize the act of adoration of the majesty of God.

     3) ελθετω (Mt & Lk). The verb ερχоμαι clearly means to go or to come. It conveys movement or relocation. It is translated . ﺒـﻳﺎ ﻳـﺪThis isn't a great translation: it is too commonplace, not fitting for the solemnity of the coming of the kingdom of God. Others translate it ﺒﺮﺳـﺪ , but this is more or less similar to ﺒـﻴـﺎ ﻴـﺩ . Furthermore we have to consider that the kingdom of God has already come; it is within us, as the Gospel says (Lk 17, 21). Thus ελθετω can mean "let the full accomplishment of the kingdom of God come". So we suggest ﻓـﺮﺍ ﺮﺳـﺪ , because ﻓـﺮﺍ conveys the sense of "reinforcing", i.e. a fuller meaning of the simple ﺒـﺮﺴـﺪ . (As with all the other invocations, we place the verb at the end of the sentence).

    4) η βασιλεια σου : the 9t give ﭘﺎ ﺪ ﺸـﺎﻫﻰ or ﻓـﺮﻣـﺎ ﻨـﺮﻮﺍ ﺋﻰ or ﻤﻠـﻜـﻮﺖ . The first two translations are also used for worldly kingdoms or political establishments, while the third one is exclusively the celestial kingdom of God and the dwelling place of the angels. For this reason it is preferable, though it is Arabic.

     5) γενηθητω το θελημα σου (only in Mt). The verb γιγνομαι means "to become or to be made", just as the Latin verb "fio". In the 9t we find ﺍ ﺠـﺮﺍ ﺷـﻮﺪ : it has overtones of bureaucratic routine. Another say ﻜـﺮﺪﻩ ﺷـﻮﺪ which is really very bad Persian. Another: ﺷـﻮﺪ ﺠـﺎﺮﻯ very similar to ﺍ ﺠـﺮﺍ ﺷـﻮﺪ , giving furthermore the impression of water, of a flood, of a tradition or a law. Four out of 9t, use ﺮﻮﺍﻥ ﺑـﺎﺪ , which conveys the concept of a continuous and steady movement. But it sounds quite impersonal, as something that is going on by itself. Therefore our suggestion is ﺍ ﻧـﺟـﺎﻡ ﻴـﺎﺑـﺪ which in addition to being a very smooth and euphonic expression, includes the notion of the carrying out of God's will by His creatures.

     6) θελημα , from the Greek verb θελω, corresponding to the Latin "volo". Four out of 9t versions use ﺍ ﺮﺍ ﺪﻩ , which is the Arabic term to expreess a will which will have effect; we can define it as "efficient will" i.e. God wants to create the world and He makes it. It differs from the similar word ﻣـﺷـﻴـﺌـﺖ used also in the Arabic translation of the Our Father, and derived from the verb ﺸــﺎء(we use this verb in the saying ﺍﻧـﺸــﺎء ﺍﷲ ), which denotes a will not necessarily fulfilled absolutely: God wants all men to be saved, but many of them are lost (through their own free choice). Moreover both terms are Arabic.
In Persian we have ﺨـﻮﺍ ﺳـﺖ which has been used by four out of 9t versions. It is suitable, because it is generic; not mentioning expressly which kind of will is intended – efficient or inefficient.

     7) ως εν ουρανω και επι γης : there is no doubt that God's will is performed in heaven; we ask Him that the same may occur among men on the earth.
This concept of "the same as" is expressed by one of the 9t in the following way: ﻫـﻤـﺎ ﻧﻃﻮﺮ , meaning "in the same manner"; it seems to imply a "modality". Six of the 9t use ﭽـﻧـﺎ ﻧـﮑـﻪ : it conveys the same sense as the last term.
We suggest ﺁ ﻧـﺳـﺎ ﻧﮑـﻪ , because it means "similarity". So, by this adverb, we mean a parallelism between the celestial reality and the worldly one, not the same manner. Furthermore it is far more euphonic than ﻫـﻤـﺎ ﻧﻃﻮﺮ or ﭽـﻧـﺎ ﻧـﮑـﻪ .

     8) τον αρτον ημων (Mt) : the word ﻧﺎ ﻥ seems the most appropriate, because the term embraces all our needs, clothing, housing etc..., needs to which, throughout the whole Gospel, Our Lord showed Himself to be deeply sensitive. In Persian the father of a family is called ﻧﺎ ﻥ ﺁ ﻮﺮ , meaning not only the one who provides them with bread, but also for all other needs.
Of course a more appropriate word could be ﺮﻮﺰﻯ which has the merit of conveying both the idea of the satisfaction of all human needs and the advice not to be worried about the provision for the following day (vide Mt 6, 34). However in Persian ﻧﺎ ﻥ has a very comprehensive meaning and its use is quite appropriate.

     9) τον επιουσιον . This adjective has been translated in two ways by St. Jerome in the Vulgate: "supersubstantialem" (Mt) and "cotidianum" (Lk). Now, επι means "over" and ουσια "nature or substance", thus the compound results as "super-natural or super-substantial" bread, i.e. the Eucharist. Now is that, what Our Lord really meant, at a time when the Eucharist had not yet been instituted? What would the Apostles and the people have understood by such an expression? Of course such a meaning cannot be excluded, but it cannot be regarded as the original sense of what was intended. It is a further understanding which later events would have permitted them to add. If we translate ﺁ ﻥ ﻧﺎ ﻥ or ﻧﺎﻥ ﺁﻥ ﺮﻮﺰ , as some have suggested (an idea borrowed from a French rendition), we put the stress on the additional meaning, not on the first one. It is an important point and the commentaries of the Fathers of the Church should, of course, be examined with regard to the deeper meaning which they drew from the expression because it concerns what exactly we are requesting of the Heavenly Father. On the other hand, five out of 9t use ﻧﺎ ﻥ ﺮﻮﺰﺍ ﻧﻪ following the Vulgate translation of Luke. But επι is also used to convey the idea of movement "towards". Thus it could be translated as meaning the bread which comes "towards our nature" which is in need of daily sustenance. This is the idea conveyed by the term "cotidianum" which St. Jerome used in the Vulgate translation of Luke.
    Two of the 9t use ﻧـﺎ ﻥ ﻜـﻓـﺎ ﻒ . It sounds as if one wishes to establish or determine the quantity which is guaranteed by God. The expression ﻧﺎ ﻥ ﻤﻮﺮﺩ ﻧـﻳـﺎﺰ is almost the same as the last one, is but quite far from the Greek text. It could be considered a loose translation.
Furthermore we see that Mt uses σημερον i.e. "today", while Luke uses καθ'ημεραν i.e, "for the day" which strengthens the idea of God providing us with whatever is necessary for the present day, where we need not concern ourselves about the future. I think that the translation ﺍ ﻤـﺮﻮﺰ ..... ﻧـﺎﻥ ﺮﻮﺰﺍ ﻧﻪ covers both Mt and Lk's expressions, without excluding the idea of a supernatural bread. The adjective ﺮﻮﺰﺍ ﻧﻪ also, to a certain extent, includes the concept explicitly conveyed by ﻜـﻓـﺎ ﻒ and ﻤﻮﺮﺩ ﻧـﻳـﺎﺰ , implying sufficient food.

     10) δος ημιν (Mt); διδου ημιν (Lk): all the 9t say ﺑـﻤﺎ ﺩﻩ or ﺑـﻤﺎ ﺑـﺪﻩ . It is a very commonplace and trite phrase that one uses in human affairs, such as in bargaining, making purchases, requests etc... It does not seem fitting to use it with reference to God, from Whom we beseech something over which we have no claim but which is granted in His bountiful generosity. Now ﺍ ﺮﺰﺍ ﻧﻰ ﺪﺍ ﺷـﺘـﻥ is the usual verb used when referring to something given by God and that is the term which should be preferred here.

     11) αφες ημιν τας αμαρτιας ημιν is the expression used by Luke and the term means "sins"; Mt, on the other hand, uses οφειληματα which can be translated "debts". In using this expression Mt adopts a metaphor which was quite common in contemporary Jewish society. It was the term used by Jesus Himself in another context when speaking of the sins committed by a prostitute (Lk, 7, 42). Again in the parable of the two debtors, there is a hint of the equivalence of the terms debt and sin.
      However the task of translating does not mean transferring a cultural tradition which belonged to a specific place and time. So why should we use a word which needs explanation instead of a word the meaning of which is clear in itself? The outward appearance of the word had meanings in a context which this form may no longer have. So it's better to avoid confusing and equivocal statements and use clearer expressions, as far as possible. A word can be regarded as a container of many meanings; but we have to translate the most suitable meaning, not the container. Nowadays nobody would dare equate debt and sin.
Now six out of the 9t translate ﮔـﻧـﺎﻫـﺎﻥ ; only three of them stick to the idea of debt which we reject as not being culturally appropriate (vide infra, No.12).

     12) For the expression "those who have offended us" all the 9t have used the plural those. St Luke however used the singular παντι αφειλοντι: "every debtor". It is as strong as the plural, perhaps even stronger, because it is more general. This form can be expressed by ﻫـﺮﻜـﻪ , a vigorous and generalized form which does not exclude anybody.
As for αφειλοντι, following the argument above with regard to "debtor", first of all we reject the five translations which connect the word "sin" to the concept of "debt", as ﺑـﺪﻫـﻜﺎﺮﺍ ﻥ - ﻤـﻗـﺮﻀﺎ ﻥ - ﻗﺮﻀـﺪﺍﺮﺍ ﻥ which throughout all Persian literature and in everyday use today has only one meaning, namely, "those who owe somebody a sum of money". Then again it should be noted that the words ﻤـﻗـﺮﻀﺎ ﻥ - ﻗﺮﻀـﺪﺍﺮﺍ ﻥ and ﻤـﺪ ﻴـﻮﻧـﺎﻥ have too much of Arabic flavour to them and such terms should only be used when there is no equivalent word of sufficient clarity in the Persian language. We should be sensitive to the desire of Iranians to rid their language of Arabic words and replace them with Persian ones even if at times in doing so, they are forced to coin neologisms.
      Another word used is ﻤـﺪ ﻴـﻮﻧـﺎﻥ , which in Persian means one who has the duty of being grateful towards a benefactor. Here it sounds absolutely unreasonable. Furthermore I challenge anyone to point out the use of the term ﻤـﺪ ﻴـﻮﻧـﺎﻥ even once in all the centuries of Persian literature, with its millions of verses.
     Eventually we criticize also the translation ﻜـﺴـﺎ ﻧـﻰ ﮐﻪ ﺒـﻤﺎ ﺨـﻃـﺎ ﻜـﺮﺪﻩ ﺍ ﻧــﺩ , because the concept of "sin" must be primarily regarded as an offence against God.
The use of ﺨـﻃـﺎ - the Arabic word to say "sin" ـ to express both an offence against God and against men would be equivocal. When human beings do us evil or offend us, they don't sin against us but against God. On the other hand ﺑـﻤﺎ ﺨـﻃﺎ ﻜـﺮﺩﻩ ﺍﻧـﺪ used by the ﻤـژﺩﻩ version, is not at all Persian: ﺒـﻪ ﮐـﺴـﻰ ﺨـﻃـﺎ ﮐـﺮﺩﻥ has no meaning.
     When we ask God to forgive our sins, we prefer to use ﮔـﻧـﺎﻫـﺎﻥ , whereas for the offences of our fellowmen against us, our suggestion is ﺑـﺪﻯ .
Thus we can use ﻫـﺮﻜـﻪ ﺑـﻤـﺎ ﺑـﺩﻯ ﻨـﻤـﻮﺩ (anybody who has done us evil). As for the tense of the verb ﻨـﻤـﻮﺩ , we must emphasize that, although it is in the past tense, it can refer also to a present and to a future action. That is the current use of the past when it is joined with a generic adjective ﻫـﺮ . For instance ﻫـﺮﻜـﻪ ﺁﻤـﺩ means "whoever comes, will come or might come". This expression could sound a commitment to forgive not only our past offenders but also the future ones.

      13) ως και ημεις (Mt), και γαρ αυτοι (Lk): Mt's text may be translated: "to the same extent as we", and Luke: "in fact we also". Luke uses a softer expression, whereas Mattews sounds stronger. Either way, the pardon granted by God cannot correspond exactly to how we pardon our neighbour, because there is a difference between God's pardon and ours: indeed an offence against God is of infinite consequence, whereas to offend man is not (It could be per accidens, not per se). We can however establish a similarity between these two forgiving actions. Such similarity can be conveyed by ﺁ ﻧـﺳــﺎ ﻧــﮑـﻪ as in the above no. 7 of this paper.

      14) For the verb indicating forgiveness, the 9t use ﺑـﺨـﺸـﻳـﺩ ﻥ . It's a very classical expression, but we could also use ﮔـﺬ ﺷـﺘـﻥ , which enhances God's magnanimity.

      15) περασμον - temptation, can be translated in Persian as ﺁ ﺯﻤـﻮﻥ or ﺁ ﺯﻤـﺎ ﻳـﺵ . Four out of the 9t use the term ﻮﺳـﻮﺳـﻪ , which the Dictionary of today's current Persian defines as "a recurrent thought, usually in the sentimental sphere, urging a person to act in a certain direction". It seems to reflect the Greek meaning of περασμον and is more eloquent and generic than ﺁ ﺯﻤـﺎ ﻳـﺵ. By the way ﺁﺯﻤـﺎ ﻳـﺵ means also a test for a mechanical device. One version has used ﮔـﻤـﺮﺍﻫـﻰ - Now "losing one's right path" is the effect of surrendering to a temptation, while the temptation is a cause. On the other hand we often know clearly which the right path is, though we yield to a moral transgression.
       One has usedﺒـﻭﺘـﻪ ﻯ ﺁﺯﻤــﺎ ﻴـﺶ which means a crucible. By this term we usually mean a test which God allows a creature to undergo (as in the case of Job); it is not a temptation related to sin as we can collect from the original text and the usual interpretations.

      16) ) μη εισενεκγης ημας εις περασμον (Mt & Lk). Here we are faced with the old debate of how we can speak of God leading us into temptation. The question has been discussed at length by the Church's Fathers and theologians. We accept the most common consensus, namely that God has always allowed man to be tested as Adam was tested in the beginning.
       The verb used with ﻮﺳـﻮﺳـﻪ , by four of the 9t, i.e. ﻤـﺒـﺮ or ﻧـﻴـﺎ ﻭ ﺮ can be easily misunderstood, because in modern languages (following the Latin translation of the Vulgate) the expression seem to suggest that God is a malevolent being leading men into a sinful situation: an activity which is the specific behaviour of the devil. Thus, to avoid all equivocal and direct divine action with regard to temptations, we can pray God "not to allow us to be dominated by" or "to agree with" temptations. This is a classical interpretation of the verb εισενεκγης .
In Persian it can be expressed by ﺘـﻥ ﺩﺍ ﺩ ﻥ ﺒـﻪ which doesn't limit the meaning to the sphere of physical temptation, as some may object, but it means ﭘـﺬ ﻳـﺮﻓـﺘـﻥ , (according to the above quoted dictionary, page 394), i.e. to accept the seduction of temptation. Some modern vernacular versions have adopted this solution of the problem.

       17) In the translation of he last invocation, there is general agreement among the 9t versions: The verb is ﺮﻫـﺎ ﺋـﻰ ﺪﻩ . On the other hand, the phrase απо τоν πоνηρоν shows four of the 9t using ﺒـﺩﻯ and one ﺸـّﺮ . These are both abstract nouns alluding to evil in general. They seem to quite different from the Greek text which seems to refer to a concrete reality, a person.
Thus ﺸـﺮﻳـﺮ , although it is an Arabic word, gives the correct idea of the evil spirit that has being enticing man to evil since the time of Adam

       18) Our suggested text for the translation of the Lord's prayer into Persian is the following. (It contains only three Arabic words: ﻤـﻠـﮑﻮﺖ ﺘـﻗـــﺩ ﻳـﺱ ، and ﺷـﺮﻳـﺮ ):

ﺍﻯ ﭘـﺪﺮ ﻤـﺎ ﮐـﻪ ﺩﺮ ﺁ ﺴـﻤـﺎ ﻧـﻰ
ﻧـﺎﻡ ﺘــﻭ ﺘـﻗـﺪ ﻳـﺲ ﺒـﺎ ﺪﺍ
ﻤـﻠــﮑـﻮﺖ ﺘـﻭ ﻓـﺮﺍ ﺮﺴــﺪ
ﺨﻮﺍﺴـﺖ ﺘـﻭ ﺍﻧـﺟـﺎﻢ ﻴـﺎﺒـﺩ
ﺮﻭﻯ ﺰﻤـﻴـﻥ ﺁﻧـﺳـﺎﻧـﮑـﻪ ﺪﺮ ﺁﺳـﻤـﺎﻥ.
ﺍﻤــﺮﻭﺯ ﻧـﺎﻥ ﺮﻭﺯﺍ ﻧـﻪ ﻤـﺎ ﺮﺍ ﺍ ﺮﺯﺍ ﻧﻰ ﺪﺍ ﺮ
ﻭ ﺍ ﺯ ﮔـﻧـﺎﻫـﺎﻥ ﻤـﺎ ﺒـﮕـﺬ ﺮ
ﺁ ﻧـﺴـﺎ ﻧـﮑـﻪ ﻤـﺎ ﻧـﻴـﺯ ﻤـﻰ ﮔـﺫﺮﻴـﻢ ﺍ ﺯﻫـﺮﮐـﻪ ﺒـﻤـﺎ ﺒـﺩﻯ ﻧـﻤـﻭ ﺪ
ﻭ ﻤـﮕـﺫﺍ ﺮ ﺘـﻥ ﺒﻪ ﻭﺴـﻭﺴـﻪ ﺩﻫـﻴـﻢ
ﺒـﻠــﮑـﻪ ﻤـﺎﺮﺍ ﺍ ﺰ ﺷـﺮﻴـﺮ ﺮﻫـﺎﻴﻰ ﺩﻩ .


ای پدر ما كه در آسمانی
نام تو ستوده باد،

ملكوت تو فرا رسد،
خواست تو انجام يابد

روی زمين آن سان كه در آسمان
امروز نان روزانه ی ما را ارزانی دار و از بدی های ما بگذر
آن سان كه ما نيز می گذريم از هر كه به ما بدی كرد
و مگذار تن به وسوسه دهيم بلكه ما را از بدی رهايی ده. آميــــــن




By kind permission of Franco Ometto



Singing of the above second version of the "Our Father" in St Abraham's
with the musical arrangemt also by Franco Ometto