During the Danish Colonization of Greenland, missionary Hans Egede found that local Inuit had no concept for what bread was and so he changed the Lord’s Prayer to say “Give us this day our daily seal”.

Hans Egede

Statue of Hans Egede by August Saabye, outside Frederik’s Church (the Marmorkirken) in Copenhagen

Hans Poulsen Egede (31 January 1686 – 5 November 1758) was a Dano-Norwegian Lutheran missionary who launched mission efforts to Greenland, which led him to be styled the Apostle of Greenland. He established a successful mission among the Inuit and is credited with revitalizing Dano-Norwegian interest in the island after contact had been broken for hundreds of years. He founded Greenland’s capital Godthåb, now known as Nuuk.

Background

Hans Egede was born into the home of a civil servant in Harstad, Norway, nearly 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. His paternal grandfather had been a vicar in Vester Egede on southern Zealand, Denm… Continue Reading (6 minute read)

13 thoughts on “During the Danish Colonization of Greenland, missionary Hans Egede found that local Inuit had no concept for what bread was and so he changed the Lord’s Prayer to say “Give us this day our daily seal”.”

  1. TheWhiffler

    Similarly in Papua New Guinea the natives had no concept of sheep, priests referred to their congregations as a flock of swine.

  2. twiggez-vous

    The phrase ‘Jesus, Lamb of God’ was also adapted for the Inuit, inhabitants as they were of places without sheep.

    The Moravian missionaries’ solution for this in Labrador and Newfoundland was to substitute this phrase with the word *kotik*, or white seal (or, in other interpretations, baby harp seal).

    Thanks to u/Yodatsracist’s [comment](https://www.reddit.com/r/askhistorians/comments/7117t6/_/dn7ghbh), answering the r/AskHistorians post titled ‘Did Christian missionaries localize the Lord’s Prayer when they sought to convert new peoples?’. u/Yodatsracist also goes into Creole versions of the Lord’s Prayer.

  3. TriZeven

    Improvise, adapt, christianize

  4. VarsH6

    This is a great example of equivalence translation vs a more literal approach to translation. Might be more difficult when he gets to the portions about the Eucharist, though….

  5. jbkjbk2310

    Another fun fact, Hans Egede apparently regretted his actions in Greenland. He apparently figured that, while them becoming Christian was cool, it probably wasn’t worth it considering all the diseases (e.g syphilis) they also brought to Greenland.

  6. MurderousRooster

    Imagine if “seal” just stuck, and they started reprinting the Bible with “seal” and thousands of years later we just worship giant seal statues and bark and clap our hands instead of pray and have zero idea why. *seal is life*

  7. Kasern77

    Couldn’t he have just made it into ‘meal’?

  8. Truckerontherun

    *As I walk through the shadow of the valley of the Polar Bear, I shall fear no disembowelment*

  9. lrdwrnr

    Or famously the “apple” from the Garden of Eden.. Not a lot of date og fig palms around Europe (southern parts excluded!) and certainly no apple-trees in the Middle East.

    Fruit/date/fig became apple, and malum (evil) mistaken for malus (orchard apples) gave Europe a tree they knew.

  10. Bjarken98

    I’m not sure if this is correct, but i remember reading about a conversation going like this with a missionary and an Inuit:

    Missionary: “Convert to Christianity or go to hell!”

    Inuit: “So if we don’t convert to Christianity, we will go to hell?”

    Missionary: “Yes”

    Inuit: “What if you had not come and told us about it, would we go to hell then?”

    Missionary: “No, you would not have known”

    Inuit: “Then why did you tell us?”

    It is just a funny story i remember reading some time ago

  11. NotJimmy97

    *You’re making things up again, Arnold!*

  12. The_wolf2014

    “And the people did feast upon the lambs, and sloths, and carp, and anchovies, and orangutans, and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats, and large chu…”

  13. Rogergonzalez21

    This is pretty common among Bible translators. My mom is currently working to translate the Bible to an indigenous tounge in the Venezuelan Amazonas. She had to translate Isaiah 1:18 from “they shall be white as snow” (talking about sins), to “they shall be white as cassava starch”, since the indigenous tribe didn’t knew snow, but they eat cassava almost every day.

    She also had to change instances where the Bible says “Lion” to another cat (I think Panthers or Tigers, but I don’t remember much about that one). She has many of this anecdotes, I might ask her to see if she can tell more about them.

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