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Saturday, May 31, 2008

head of a family

Up until now I have always thought that it was best to translate κεφαλη kephale in 1 Cor. 11 as "head" by default. I still think this is likely the only solution, but I am not happy with the conclusions drawn from this translation.

In fact, "head of the family" of "head of the household" is a common phrase in English and in Latin as "caput familiae." In Greek it was οἰκοδεσποτέω and is found in 1 Timothy 5:14,

    βούλομαι οὖν νεωτέρας γαμεῖν τεκνογονεῖν οἰκοδεσποτεῖν μηδεμίαν ἀφορμὴν διδόναι τῷ ἀντικειμένῳ λοιδορίας χάριν

    So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.
The LSJ lexicon clearly offers only one definition for οἰκοδεσποτέω oikodespoteo and that is "to be master of a house or head of a family." However, it is never translated that way.

Let's see what happens when we do find "head of a family" in the original language. First you won't find that kephale is ever used in such an expression in the scriptures. It is carefully avoided. Here is the pattern in Hebrew in Joshua 22:14, (head of a paternal house - rosh beit-avotam)
    וַעֲשָׂרָה נְשִׂאִים, עִמּוֹ--נָשִׂיא אֶחָד נָשִׂיא אֶחָד לְבֵית אָב, לְכֹל מַטּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְאִישׁ רֹאשׁ בֵּית-אֲבוֹתָם הֵמָּה לְאַלְפֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

    καὶ δέκα τῶν ἀρχόντων μετ αὐτοῦ ἄρχων εἷς ἀπὸ οἴκου πατριᾶς ἀπὸ πασῶν φυλῶν Ισραηλ ἄρχοντες οἴκων πατριῶν εἰσιν χιλίαρχοι Ισραηλ LXX

    et decem principes cum eo, singulos de tribubus, unusquisque erat caput familiae in cognationibus Israel. Vulgate

    and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel,(A) every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel. ESV
Clearly Greek breaks the pattern. It is the word for the physical "head" in Hebrew, Latin and English. However, in Greek the word αρχων archon (ruler) is used instead and not kephale. So when Paul uses κεφαλη he knows very well that he is not using the normal Greek word for what we understand when we hear "head of the family." κεφαλη is not the way to say "head of state," "head of the nation" and "head of the family." There is a perfectly good Greek word for that - archon. Or, of course, οἰκοδεσποτέω.

I am therefore concerned about lack of clarity when someone writes about Sarah Sumners,
    She also calls into question attempts by fellow egalitarians to reinterpret 1 Corinthians 11:3 as if kephale in that passage means “source” and not “head.”
That is not enough. What does one mean in English by the term "head?" Clearly the English word has a similar range of meaning as the Hebrew rosh and the Latin caput, but, in fact, none of this informs the meaning of κεφαλη in Greek. So egalitarians rightly point out that kephale does not have the same semantic range as "head" does in English. That point was not made clear in the post I refer to.

Anyway, laugh all you like, I would prefer to see a lot more precision and attention to the original languages in discussions like these. Possibly Sumners does a much better job than this quote taken out of context would imply. The truth is that I have only read a couple of famous studies on kephale and I remain puzzled at why anyone associates kephale with "governing authority." I haven't decided about "source" yet. Maybe five years down the road I'll have a better idea.

Moses, his two dads and ...

and his two brothers.

I don't have to ask myself why people laugh at me. But by now, it is fun and gives me a focus for browsing a lot of ancient literature - gender language.

Here is how I see the family of Moses - two fathers, three sons, and many male relations.
    καὶ υἱοὶ Αμβραμ Ααρων καὶ Μωυσῆς καὶ Μαριαμ 1 Chron. 6:3 (1 Chron 5:29 LXX) ESV

    the children of Amram: Aaron, Moses, and Miriam

    πίστει Μωϋσῆς γεννηθεὶς ἐκρύβη τρίμηνον ὑπὸ τῶν πατέρων αὐτοῦ Heb. 11;23

    By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, Heb. 11:23 ESV

    ἀνέβη ἐπὶ τὴν καρδίαν αὐτοῦ ἐπισκέψασθαι τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς αὐτοῦ τοὺς υἱοὺς Ἰσραήλ

    it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. Acts 7:23 ESV
Here is the problem. I don't think that the Bible literally or otherwise, tells us that Miriam was a son of Amram, or that Moses was hidden by his fathers. I just don't think we can lay down a list and say that πατηρ (pl) cannot be translated as "parent" and υιος (pl) cannot be translated as "children." It is eminently clear that if υιος (pl) refers to male and female then it can be translated by a gender neutral term and likewise for πατηρ (pl) and αδελφος (pl).

So, in seeking consensus, in coming together as readers of the scriptures, we should be able to agree to a certain latitude, and acceptance of the fact that these words, in Greek and Hebrew, had a legitimate gender neutral use which cannot be applied to the masculine terms in English.

At present the use of gender neutral language in Bible translation is causing unnecessary contention. The two statements against the TNIV are still posted. I suggest that first step towards communication between complementarians and egalitarians must be the ability to acknowledge the scriptures of the others as valid.

And so I attempt to demonstrate that gender neutral language is one valid way to translate the gender terms of Greek and Hebrew. We really cannot say in English that Donny and Marie are brothers, Joe and Mary are my two sons, and I was raised by my two fathers. We can't do it in ordinary speech, so can we not agree that gender neutral terms, when referring to groups of mixed gender is accurate.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Show and tell

Note: I have removed the text of the Translators Handbook from my previous post. Because of copyright restrictions I thought it best to not leave that information up indefinitely.

And now for a question.

What English translation of the Bible has helped you to see God's word in a new way?

Show and tell.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I do not allow that a BBB contributor should speak but remain silent

Suzanne is going to be away for a bit and I am deep in the middle of a translation checking session so I thought perhaps we could allow you the readers of Better Bibles Blog to have your say.

Serendipitously, I will be checking 1 Timothy 2 with the translators and a consultant and this passage is a key one for the anthropos/aner and authority controversies that we have been discussing recently. Perhaps the most important reference work that translators around the world consult is the Translator's Handbook series by the United Bible Societies. To give you a flavor of this work, I thought I would just give you the Translator's Handbook for 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and let you chew on it:

(We'll see whether the rest of the BBB contributors are able to resist commenting!)

[Text removed]

Source: Handbook For Paul's Letters to Timothy and to Titus by Daniel C. Arichea and Howard A. Hatton, UBS Handbook Series, UNITED BIBLE SOCIETIES, New York, © 1995 by the United Bible Societies

Note: I reserve the right to remove the text of this handbook (but not your comments) after a few days.

Mutual Affection

I have really enjoy having Dave blog along with me. I'll be away for a bit so I hope he will have more great insights. Just before I pack I want to mention a few comments and responses that I have noticed.

Jane commented recently,
    On a more general point I live in one francophone country - France - and work in another - Switzerland - they have rather different approaches to inclusive language - the Swiss churches certainly make much more effort to use inclusive language and to use the term La pasteure for a woman minister. Try to find a French translation of sisterly in a dictionary though and you'll come up with "fraternité"!
I blogged on Sisters in Resistance last year remarking,
    One of the central quotes in this movie is from André Malraux, "Face au mal absolu, une seule réponse : la fraternité." This phrase is often translated "The only response to absolute evil is fraternity."
I am happy to report that the TV translator of this piece chose not to translate the relationship of real sisterhood in time of intense suffering as fraternité but as a 'bond of friendship' or just 'friendship.' Tim suggested at the time, that 'solidarity' would be an excellent choice.

And in a related post, TC writes,
    With all these exciting and, at times, controversial discussions surrounding gender-accuracy in bible translations, I wonder if we need to reinterpret Philly, you know, Philadephia, that city on the East coast, "The City of Brotherly Love"?

    Well, both the NRSV and TNIV have "mutual affection" or something like that for the Greek φιλαδελφία, philadelphia, wherever it appears in the New Testament (Rom 12:10; 1 Thess 4:9; Heb 13:1; 1 Pet 1:22; 2 Pet 1:7).
Now some may wonder why all this fuss. For a start, I was raised Plymouth Brethren and understood that the Brethren were the collective, the group as a whole. But as boys turned 18, they began to attend the "brothers" meetings and they were recognized as "brothers." A young woman was recognized as a sister, but only as a silent and covered attendee. There were no "sisters" meetings.

I was, in many ways, very happy raised in the Plymouth Brethren since there were many university educated women in my own family and a lot of Bible teaching was centred in the home, where, in my case, women were not subordinated. As I get older, I am more and more aware of how blessed I was to have parents who, although they had different roles, operated without hierarchy, as functional equals. (It was not until later that I experienced complementarianism in an extremely negative way.) But I digress.

In the Brethren, the word "brothers" was a term of absolute exclusion. A woman could never attend a "brothers" meeting and could never have the privilege of speaking that a "brother" had. It was impossible. In fact, I have never been part of a group where the term 'brothers" included women.

Now I realize that it is incredibly petty for me to want the Bible to speak to me as an individual, but oddly I do. I am not aware of anyone who would feel excluded by the use of "brothers and sisters" although clearly this offends some people, but does not exclude them. However, an old fashioned fundy-raised woman like myself can probably attend a reeducation retreat and be instructed in how "brothers" means women also, as long as they do not want to do any of the things that "brothers" who are men get to do.

But I was especially encouraged and touched by Nathan's post on this topic,
    While I have my own opinion on how to translate adelphoi I can hardly claim to be an expert on Greek vocabulary and grammar. I believe that the generic masculine still has a place in the English language, and will for some time. However, I view inclusive renderings as having an eye to the future when this will cease to be the case.
Of particular interest in Nathan's post are his scripture comparisons of the TNIV, ESV, NEB and the Inclusive Bible. I highly recommend his insightful post.

I am really grateful for all the great posts on Bible translation and have been reading, well, everyone on our blogroll. Thanks for all the "mutual affection."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Candles for your Birthday

Happy Birthday, Peter, I can't put candles on a cake, but I have found a birthday poem for you in Greek. A little meditative but true to life.


Του μέλλοντος η μέρες στέκοντ' εμπροστά μας
σα μια σειρά κεράκια αναμένα --
χρυσά, ζεστά, και ζωηρά κεράκια.

Η περασμένες μέρες πίσω μένουν,
μια θλιβερή γραμμή κεριών σβυσμένων·
τα πιο κοντά βγάζουν καπνόν ακόμη,
κρύα κεριά, λυωμένα, και κυρτά.

Δεν θέλω να τα βλέπω· με λυπεί η μορφή των,
και με λυπεί το πρώτο φως των να θυμούμαι.
Εμπρός κυττάζω τ' αναμμένα μου κεριά.

Δεν θέλω να γυρίσω να μη διώ και φρίξω
τι γρήγορα που η σκοτεινή γραμμή μακραίνει,
τι γρήγορα που τα σβηστά κεριά πληθαίνουν.

Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης (1899)


The days of our future stand in front of us
like a row of little lit candles --
golden, warm, and lively little candles.

The days past remain behind us,
a mournful line of extinguished candles;
the ones nearest are still smoking,
cold candles, melted, and bent.

I do not want to look at them; their form saddens me,
and it saddens me to recall their first light.
I look ahead at my lit candles.

I do not want to turn back, lest I see and shudder
at how fast the dark line lengthens,
at how fast the extinguished candles multiply.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1899)

This poem made me think of John 1:9,

ἦν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν ὃ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. TNIV

Look ahead at your lit candles and at the true light.

Aner as person

One of the major complaints that the CBMW has against the TNIV is that it sometimes translates aner as "person." Grudem writes the most delicious comments sometimes. I just have to share this,
    I could add a note here on the Greek word aner: Greek scholars for hundreds of years have known that aner means "man" not "person." Recently, with no new evidence, but under cultural pressure, some have discovered a new meaning, "person."
There has been no cultural pressure to establish that aner means person. That is utterly ridiculous! Aner always did mean person. Let's look back at some Loeb classics and other good stuff. I don't have these books on hand but they are available, I understand. This is not some secret cache of books on the index and unavailable to CBMW. This is Plato and this is the way he has been translated from beginning to end of the last century. What cultural pressure?

a) ἀνήρ(singular) as ‘person’

i) εὐφήμει: οὐ μεντἂν καλῶς ποιοίην
οὐ πειθόμενος ἀνδρὶ ἀγαθῷ καὶ σοφῷ.

Hush, hush! Why, surely it would be wrong of me
not to obey a good and wise person. Plato. Hipparchus. 228b

ii) ἀλλ' ἴσως, ὦ βέλτιστε, φαίη ἄν τις ἀνήρ,
ὃς ἐμοῦ τε καὶ σοῦ σοφώτερος ὢν τυγχάνοι,
οὐκ ὀρθῶς ἡμᾶς, λέγειν, οὕτως εἰκῇ ψέγοντας ἄγνοιαν,

But perhaps, my excellent friend, some person who is wiser
than either you or I may say we are wrong to be so free
with our abuse of ignorance. Plato. Alcibiades 2. 143b

b)ἀνήρ (singular) as ‘everyone’

πᾶς ἀνήρ, κἂν δοῦλος ᾖ τις, ἥδεται τὸ φῶς ὁρῶν

Slave or free, every one is glad to gaze upon the light. Euripides. Orestes. 1523.

c) ἀνήρ (singular) as ‘they’

ὅταν ἀγασθῶσι σφόδρα του, σεῖος ἀνήρ φασιν,
οὕτω καὶ ὁ θηριώδης ἐν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις σπάνιος:

‘Yon mon's divine, ’they say--, so a bestial character
is rare among human beings; Aristotle. Nic. Ethics. 1145a 25.

d) ἀνήρ (singular) as ‘citizen’, either male or female

ποτὲ ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς γίγνοιτ' ἄν,
τὴν ἀνθρώπῳ προσήκουσαν ἀρετὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ἔχων .... ,
εἴτε ἄρρην τις των συνοικούντων
οὖσα ἡ φύσις εἴτε θήλεια, νέων ἢ γερόντων

… in which a member of our community--
be he of the male or female sex, young or old,--
may become a good citizen, possessed of the excellence of soul
which belongs to man. Plato's Laws 6. 770d.

(In this sentence, the Greek word ανθρωπος is translated as "man" generic, "the excellence of soul which belongs to man", that is, the human, either male or female; and the word ανηρ is translated as citizen, either male or female.)

e) ἀνήρ as ‘individual’

ἀλλὰ διὰ τὴν τοῦ χρυσοῦ τε καὶ ἀργύρου
ἀπληστίαν πᾶσαν μὲν τέχνην καὶ μηχανήν ...
ἐθέλειν ὑπομένειν πάντα ἄνδρα, εἰ μέλλει πλούσιος ἔσεσθαι

every individual, because of his greed for silver and gold,
is willing to toil at every art and device, noble or ignoble,
if he is likely to get rich by it, Plato's Laws. 8.831d.

f) ανδρες as ‘friends’

ὦ πάντων ἀνδρῶν ἄριστοι

Most excellent friends, … Plato's Laws. 5.741a.

g) ανδρες as ‘citizens’

νείμασθαι δὲ δὴ καὶ τοὺς ἄνδρας δώδεκα μέρη

And he must divide the citizens also into twelve parts, … Plato's Laws. 5.745d.

I hope this gives readers some idea of why aner can sometimes be translated into English as "person." This move is motivated by scholarship and not feminist presuppositions. I have lots of those, but the notions about language that I share with some of the complementarian translators of the TNIV are not due to my "feminist presuppositions." No, they are due to my advanced age, as a matter of fact! ;-)

PS This is only the evidence from Plato. It was a good day for reading Plato when I did this study. There are lots more examples elsewhere.

I pray that one day CBMW will take down the signatures against the TNIV and write a letter of apology to the translators of the TNIV.


Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 8 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1955. (1914) Alcibiades 2. line 143b

Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 8 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1955. (1914) Hipparchus. 228b

Plato. Laws. In Two volumes, tr. By R. G. Bury. Loeb Classical Library. 1926.

Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 10 & 11 translated by R.G. Bury. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1967 & 1968.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Grammatical Gender

If you don't want a grammar lesson just skip all this blue stocking stuff and go below.

I have been asked to post on further issues regarding gender language in the Bible. One of my goals has always been to be able to establish a version of the Bible which would be acceptable to everyone. This is not about persuading others to share one's own gender ideology. This is not about having a common hermeneutic. There must be as many interpretations as there are people.

This is nostalgia for the LXX, the Vuglate, the Masoretic text and the King James Version. I feel that Christendom has experienced an enormous loss, having moved into an era where there is no longer one version of the Bible that is acceptable to all major denominations.

In my view this problem reached its extreme point with the statement against the TNIV. However, I am very encouraged that there are both complementarians and egalitarians who can work together on reaching a better understanding of how this breach in sharing a common text came about and perhaps work towards something better.

In my post on Rahab, I argued that the literal meaning of αδελφοι is "siblings," or "brothers and sisters." Αδελφοι is the plural of αδελφος, a word meaning "of the same womb" and has a masculine grammatical ending. Αδελφη is the same word with a feminine grammatical ending and has the plural form of αδελφαι.

Many languages do not have gender as a distinguishing feature. English does not. However, English has two separate words, "brother" and "sister." Many languages have words for younger sibling and older sibling without designating gender. There simply are not two separate words for male and female of siblings.

Some languages have neither separate words for male and female people in certain categories, nor do they have sex as a determiner of gender. Gender, which simply means "type" or "class" may be divided into animate and inanimate. This is also considered grammatical "gender" but has no relation to biological or any other kind of sex.

Bantu languages do not use sex as a way to mark words and the Algonquian languages of North America have animate and inanimate as I have indicated. Marking words for sex is in no way universal, or even predominant. It does happen to be a characteristic of Greek and Hebrew, although in different ways.

Here are a few basic ways to talk about siblings,

1. as English does - brother and sister
2. as Cree does - as older and younger siblings
3. as Greek does - as "sibling" marked male or female by the grammatical ending
4. French and German both have different words for brother and sister and mark words for gender.

Since all words in Hebrew, Greek, French and German have gender, and tables, chairs and everything else, do not have sex, it is usually considered that there is no reason to translate grammatical gender.

Many languages consider that the basic way to talk about a person is by emphasizing that they are not beast or god, they are human. So in these languages a person is called by a sex neutral word, such as human being.

By default this word most likely, but not always, has a masculine grammatical ending. For example, in French the word for person, la personne, is grammatically feminine, although it is used equally for a man or woman. In Greek the word for person, ο ανθρωπος, is masculine. Typically grammatical gender is never translated.

Here is a pretty fun example of how both ανθρωπος and ανηρ are sometimes used in Greek. I hope it will also elucidate the discussion on this post. This is from Numbers 31:25-26 and 32-34.
    25The LORD said to Moses, 26"Take the count of the plunder that was taken, both of man and of beast, you and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the congregation,

    καὶ ἐλάλησεν κύριος πρὸς Μωυσῆν λέγων 26 λαβὲ τὸ κεφάλαιον τῶν σκύλων τῆς αἰχμαλωσίας ἀπὸ ἀνθρώπου ἕως κτήνους σὺ καὶ Ελεαζαρ ὁ ἱερεὺς καὶ οἱ ἄρχοντες τῶν πατριῶν τῆς συναγωγῆς

    vaiyomer hashem, el-mosheh lemor sa, et rosh malkoach hashevi, ba'adam, uvabbehemah--attah ve'el'azar hakkohen, verashei avot ha'edah.
From this passage we can make a few tentative conclusions about language and gender.

1. First ἀνθρώπου, the translation of the Hebrew adam, is used to designate the human spoil in contrast to the animals that were spoil. Looking at the passage below, one can see that these adam are, every one of them, young girls who have never lain with a man. There is no nuance of maleness to these girls although the word adam and anthropos have masculine grammatical gender.

2. Next, the Hebrew word rosh appears twice in this passage. Once it applies to the count of the plunder. The next time it refers to the "head" of the tribe. In the first place, it is translated into Greek as κεφάλαιον, and in the second, where it refers to the leader of the fathers' houses, it is translated as ἄρχοντες - leader.

I am not aware of even one place where the rosh, the leader, of a family or tribe is translated into Greek as κεφαλη. Whatever κεφαλη means, it is never used to translate the rosh of a tribe or family. There is poor evidence for believing that the word κεφαλη should be understood as leader.

Here is a little more from the same chapter.
    32Now the plunder remaining of the spoil that the army took was 675,000 sheep, 3372,000 cattle, 3461,000 donkeys, 35 and 32,000 persons in all, women who had not known man by lying with him.

    καὶ ἐγενήθη τὸ πλεόνασμα τῆς προνομῆς ὃ ἐπρονόμευσαν οἱ ἄνδρες οἱ πολεμισταί ἀπὸ τῶν προβάτων ἑξακόσιαι χιλιάδες καὶ ἑβδομήκοντα καὶ πέντε χιλιάδες καὶ βόες δύο καὶ ἑβδομήκοντα χιλιάδες 34 καὶ ὄνοι μία καὶ ἑξήκοντα χιλιάδες 35 καὶ ψυχαὶ ἀνθρώπων ἀπὸ τῶν γυναικῶν αἳ οὐκ ἔγνωσαν κοίτην ἀνδρός πᾶσαι ψυχαὶ δύο καὶ τριάκοντα χιλιάδες

    vayhi, hammalkoach--yeter habbaz, asher bazezu am hatzava: tzon, shesh-me'ot elef veshiv'im elef--vachameshet alafim. uvakar, shenayim veshiv'im alef vachamorim, echad veshishim alef. venefesh adam--min-hannashim, asher lo-yade'u mishkav zachar: kol-nefesh, shenayim usheloshim alef.
From this we can see that,

3. οἱ ἄνδρες, from ανηρ, was added in the Greek and does not exist in the Hebrew. It is a redundant word in some ways and when found in this kind of construction elsewhere, ie the New Testament, it is not always translated into English, but is simply dropped out, as TC has noted. However, the second time ανηρ appears in this passage it is translated.

4. Once again the phrase ψυχαὶ ἀνθρώπων means "human persons." The word ψυχαὶ is feminine and the word ἀνθρώπων is masculine. This is irrelevant to the meaning. Men also are ψυχαὶ ἀνθρώπων.

TC. I hope this helps explain why ανηρ goes untranslated in Luke 24:19. I hope it also explains why ανθρωπος should be translated as "human" or "person" most of the time. And I hope one can also see why it is extremely difficult to establish the exact metaphorical meaning of κεφαλη in the New Testament. The Septuagint certainly suggests that when leadership is in view, the word ἄρχοντες would most likely be used. The Hebrew and the English both have the word "head" for leader, the Greek does not. κεφαλη and the English word 'head' are not metaphorically equivalent.

One of my hopes is that people will be able to see that as an egalitarian, I read the Bible carefully and do not twist the scriptures to fit my supposed presuppositions. I feel that complementarians also understand that gender accurate language is an improvement in accuracy, and not a concession to anything but the truth.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rahab and her sisters

I can think of a dozen reasons to blog about Rahab. First, the wondrous scarlet of Leviticus, the scarlet that cleanses the leper, reappears in Rahab's window. But weave the scarlet back into the tapestry of Ps. 51, and look at other features of Rahab's narrative. She is kind to the spies. She is the means of escape and preservation for her parents and siblings. She marries a Hebrew, possibly one of the spies, and becomes an ancestor of Christ. What is not to love?

And yet, I have read that Rahab's sisters were not saved. I have read that her sisters were not saved because they bore the sin of pride. They were apparently too proud to enter her house of ill repute and be saved by the scarlet thread. Because, again apparently, sisters would take more offense than brothers at the prostitution of a sister - in the average Middle Eastern setting, that is. Here is why,


    11We know that the LORD your God rules heaven and earth, and we've lost our courage and our will to fight. 12Please promise me in the LORD's name that you will be as kind to my family as I have been to you. Do something to show 13that you won't let your people kill my father and mother and my brothers and sisters and their families. Jos. 2

    The Spies:

    17The men said to her, ‘We will be released from this oath that you have made us swear to you 18if we invade the land and you do not tie this crimson cord in the window through which you let us down, and you do not gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your family. Jos. 2.

    The Narrator:
    23So the young men who had been spies went in and brought Rahab out, along with her father, her mother, her brothers, and all who belonged to her—they brought all her kindred out—and set them outside the camp of Israel. Jos. 6.
So does "brothers" also mean "siblings" or do the sisters not rate being mentioned? Or are Rahab's sisters, in fact, not saved because of their pride.

I would suggest, that for Hebrew, the male terms for "sons," "brothers," and "fathers" refer, in the plural, to both male and female equally, and that is the usual way to do it. I don't think we can do that in English.

However, for Greek, I would argue a stronger case, that the plural of the male form, is probably the literal equivalent of a gender neutral form in English, either "brothers and sisters" or "siblings". Here's why.

First, the lexicon. The Liddell, Scott, Jones lexicon of ancient Greek provides several examples for αδελφοι, the first two are for brother and sister pairs.

1. The first reference to αδελφοι are Electra and Orestes, a sister and brother pair. Orestes is a Greek Hamlet character, but is much supported by his strong sister Electra, who has no parallel that I can think of in Shakespearean literature. In any case, these are a real sister and brother and are called αδελφοι.

2. The second reference is to the θεοι αδελφοι. These were the Pharoahs of Egypt, called the "Sibling Gods." They were brother - sister married couples who ruled Egypt for several hundred years. In imitation of Osiris and Isis, a married brother-sister pair among the gods, the Pharoahs of Egypt married a sibling. The famous Cleopatra, coming to the throne at 17, married her younger brother, Ptolemy, and later took Julius Caesar as a lover. She and her brother were αδελφοι.

3. This third example is from the Rahab narrative translated into Greek in the LXX. Here is how the translator, presumably someone who spoke Greek well enough, treated the problem.
    τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρός μου καὶ τὴν μητέρα μου καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφούς μου καὶ πάντα τὸν οἶκόν μου

    my father and mother and my brothers and sisters and their families Jos. 2:13

    τὸν δὲ πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα σου καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφούς σου καὶ πάντα τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρός σου

    your father and mother, your brothers, and all your family Joshua 2:18
I have argued for a long time that the literal equivalent of adelphoi is not "brothers" but "brothers and sisters" and that to translate adelphoi consistently as "brothers" as if it were some sort of formal equivalent renders the texts of classical Greek incomprehensible. However, some have suggested that my understanding of ancient Greek is motivated by feminist presuppositions, and others have simply asked me to surrender all desire for truth and hold my peace.

It happens that this week more than one request was made for the real story on gender language in the Bible. This seems like a good place to start. I argue that an essentially literal Bible must translate adelphoi as "brothers and sisters" until the Countess of Pembroke and her brother Philip go down in history as a pair of "brothers."

Paul's Prenatal Pains

"These are the beginning of birth pains."

That phrase from Mark 13:8 gave a table of men in Mozambique quite a few pains. But our suffering was turned to delight as anguished study gave birth to a new reading of Jesus' dark prophecy about the end times. Instead of "birth pangs" the Nyungwe translators had used a word meaning, "beginning of a major crisis." The consultant, Hessel, thought it should say "birth pains." I turned to the handy dandy "Biblical Analysis & Research Tool" known affectionately as BART, and looked for every occurrence of the word ὠδίν, birth pains.

ὠδίν and ὠδίνω, "birth pains" in the New Testament

(Let me know if I've omitted any occurrences. All Scripture NIV unless noted)

  • Matt 24:8: All these are the beginning of birth pains.
  • Mar 13:8: These are the beginning of birth pains.
  • Act 2:24: But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
  • Gal 4:19: My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,
  • Gal 4:27: For it is written:
    “Be glad, O barren woman,
    who bears no children;
    break forth and cry aloud,
    you who have no labor pains"
  • 1 Thes 5:3:  While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
  • Rev 12:2: She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.

Clearly this word refers to labor pains. But the question is, "Do we need to translate it like that?"  My two favorite idiomatic translations don't have any pains:

  • NLT: But all this will be only the beginning of the horrors to come.
  • CEV: But this is just the beginning of troubles.

Old Testament Birth Pains

As a naughty little boy in Sunday school, one of my favorite Old Testament verses was this one:

"We were with child, we writhed, but we gave birth only to wind." (Is. 26:18, NRSV)

I'll leave an analysis of this and Isaiah 54:1 to those of you who are studying Hebrew.

After Hessel had made his case, we were all convinced that it was a good option. But then his face lit up like he'd just had a vision of the heavens and he said, "I never noticed that before. The reason that they are birth pains is that they are a temporary difficulty that results in something good." And I added, "Of course! The birth pains result in the coming of the Son of Man." Hessel wasn't quite so crazy about that idea and threatened to report me to my director if I blogged about it. But, think about it. Labor leading to a child. And that motif comes up again in Galatians 4:19, only this time it is Paul who is pregnant with the Christ who is being "formed" in the Galatians. The idea pops out one more time in Revelation 12:2, where the woman gives birth to a child who would destroy the dragon.

That one little word turns out to be hugely thematic for the entire Gospel of Mark. Mark is the Gospel of the Son of Man, or as they say in Nyungwe, the child of a person. (There is no grammatical gender in Bantu languages that differentiates between male and female.) The whole book depicts Jesus as a model for suffering Christians in Rome. The narrative is pregnant with meaning as believers hear Jesus promise in Mark 13 that they will suffer terrible tribulation and then that their Savior is coming: "the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory."

These were some of the words available in the Nyungwe dictionary that describe labor:

-bvulumukidwa vt. to begin the pains of childbirth, to be fearful or apprehensive.
bzwade adj. she who gave birth.
kubala n. delivery, the act of giving birth, parturition.
kubereka n. the act of giving birth, delivery a child.
nyakhulukutu n. pain of the uterus that some women feel after the birth of a baby.
ubzwade n. the quality of being in labor, ready to give birth, the state of she who is giving birth in a short time.
ukidwa vt. to begin the pains of childbirth, to be fearful or apprehensive.

The translators chose the first one.

Psalm 51 doesn't mention birth pains but it does talk about birth.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Text and notes

There has been a discussion about the NET Bible here. It got me thinking again of the relationship between the text and the footnotes. Here are a couple of examples from Psalm 51 which I have been working on. First, let me say that these notes are excellent. There is no doubt and I wish I had made more use of them in writing my paper.

However, the question is, do the notes justify the translation? What do people think about this? The translation is less than literal, somewhat interpretive and does not always follow the notes. Let me just say, yes, I like the notes, not always, but they for the most part great to have.
    Psalm 51:7

    Sprinkle me19 with water20 and I will be pure;21
    wash me22 and I will be whiter than snow.

      20 tn Heb “cleanse me with hyssop.” “Hyssop” was a small plant (see 1 Kgs 4:33) used to apply water (or blood) in purification rites (see Exod 12:22; Lev 14:4-6, 49-52; Num 19:6-18. The psalmist uses the language and imagery of such rites to describe spiritual cleansing through forgiveness.

    Psalm 51:10

    51:10 Create for me a pure heart, O God!
    Renew a resolute spirit within me!30
    Do not reject me!31
    Do not take your Holy Spirit32 away from me!33
    Let me again experience the joy of your deliverance!
    Sustain me by giving me the desire to obey!34

      34tn Heb “and [with] a willing spirit sustain me.” The psalmist asks that God make him the kind of person who willingly obeys the divine commandments. The imperfect verbal form is used here to express the psalmist’s wish or request.

    1 Tim 2:12 But I do not allow19 a woman to teach or exercise authority20 over a man. She must remain quiet.21

      20tn According to BDAG 150 s.v. αὐθεντέω this Greek verb means “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to” (cf. JB “tell a man what to do”).
I am feeling pretty ambivalent about these examples. What do you think?


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Puzzling the Bible 3

This is the third post in a series. (See 1 and 2)

puzzle after

Image: The Wrath of Saul by Gary Locke, Clubhouse Magazine, March 2006, p. 18.

I started off this series with one idea in mind, and instead have ended up thinking about a lot of other things! First, let me give a shot at the original idea.

Here are my original questions:

  1. What does this picture represent?
  2. What do jigsaw puzzles have to do with the discussion on Psalm 51 that Suzanne has been facilitating?

Now that we have the full image it's pretty easy to tell what we're looking at. It is the face of King Saul as he asks Jonathan why David isn't at the meal:

24 So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon festival came, the king sat down to eat. 25 He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David's place was empty. 26 Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, “Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean--surely he is unclean.” 27 But the next day, the second day of the month, David's place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn't the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”
28 Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king's table.”
30 Saul's anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don't I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?

(1 Samuel 20:24-30, NIV)

So, that's the answer to the first question.

The answer to the second question is a bit more difficult partly because my thinking is a little muddled at this stage! I think my intention in asking the question was to call attention to our own cultural viewpoint when we look at stories in the Bible. If you look at the full image above, what do you see? I see a king with a golden crown on his head. I also notice the fork on his plate. What's wrong with this picture? It's pretty unlikely that Saul ever sat at a table on a red velvet throne! Imagine the art director for Clubhouse Magazine talking to the illustrator and saying, "For this story we want a picture of King Saul sitting at the table at the moment when he discovers that David is missing in 1 Samuel 20." Then the illustrator went to the drawing board and thought to himself, "What kind of picture can my young readers understand?" The result was this comical fellow looking like Good King Wenceslas on the Feast of Stephen. Does this image have any relation to the actual historical event?

On one hand, the illustration is helpful because it helps the young readers to imagine the scene. What's less helpful about it of course is that for many of the readers, they will forever imagine King Saul looking like this. And I think that happens to us a lot. It's hard for me to think about Jesus without seeing something like this:

Image: Christ in Gethsemane by Warner Sallman, Sallman Archives, Anderson University

And in the same way when we imagine the color of sin or purity in Psalm 51 we use our own culture to read back into the original text meaning that may or may not be there. For my Mozambican students, the image in the puzzle was a complete mystery. One student was able to identify Saul as a king because he was wearing um chapeu dum rei, a king's hat. But other than that, they didn't really know what the picture was supposed to refer to. Interestingly enough, Mozambicans probably have in their mind's eye a closer image of the original scene because African culture is in this case much closer to the culture at the time of Saul than American culture.

I ended the previous post with a few questions that I'll ask again here:

  1. How close is this image to your mental image of the original story? And would a Better Bible link the original story to our culture or help us bridge the cultural and historical divide? How would it do that?
  2. How do we exegete a text without creating a caricature? How do we translate a text without transmogrifying it?
  3. Did you discover the truth about the puzzle by assembling the pieces in your mind or by putting together the text?  How do text and images interact?
  4. How did The Lord Of The Rings movies affect your enjoyment of the book? What about The Passion Of The Christ?

Today, I begin two intensive weeks of checking the Nyungwe translation of Mark and 1 Timothy. Each of us brings to the table a different image of the original text which affects the way we translate the text. Imagine the trouble we had several years ago translating this strange scene from Luke:

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

(Luke 7:36-38, RSV)

How do you stand behind someone sitting "at the table" (36) and wash his feet and dry them with your hair?

Well, sorry to be rambling on incoherently like this but I have to run. I look forward to hearing your answers to the questions above.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Missing puzzle piece

Today we got new furniture! Hand-me-downs from a departing missionary. Our first time to have real sofas with springs in them in ten years of living in Africa. But with all the moving and arranging I didn't get the next installment of the puzzle series put up (parts 1 and 2). I promise to publish it on Monday. In the meantime you might want to head over to my Lingamish blog and see some funny pictures of Mr. Bean.

Happy Weekend!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Puzzling the Bible 2

Yesterday, I posted the first piece of this Bible puzzle. Today, I give you all the pieces and allow you to have a go at deciphering the picture and its source. Tomorrow I promise to post the whole image assembled.

puzzle before

Take up your harp from the willow and sing of the puzzle:

  1. How close is this image to your mental image of the original story? And would a Better Bible link the original story to our culture or help us bridge the cultural and historical divide? How would it do that?
  2. How do we exegete a text without creating a caricature? How do we translate a text without transmogrifying it?
  3. Did you discover the truth about the puzzle by assembling the pieces in your mind or by putting together the text?  How do text and images interact?
  4. How did The Lord Of The Rings movies affect your enjoyment of the book? What about The Passion Of Christ?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Puzzling the Bible 1

This week with my exegesis students I have been using the metaphor of a puzzle to show how we need to understand a piece of Scripture in its context before we can fully understand it. This metaphor has succeeded and failed on a large scale. First, the failure. None of my students knew what a jigsaw puzzle was. In Portuguese it is called a quebra-cabeça, that is a "head breaker." It's the same word used for riddles and any type of puzzle. None of them had ever seen or heard of a jigsaw puzzle.

I ripped a page out of a magazine and glued it on to construction paper and then cut it into nine pieces. Below is one of the pieces. I will ask you what I asked my students: What does this picture represent? And then I'll ask you a question that has to do with Better Bibles: What do jigsaw puzzles have to do with the discussion on Psalm 51 that Suzanne has been facilitating?

puzzle piece

Tomorrow I'll give you the rest of the puzzle pieces.

In the meantime, please share your guess about this piece.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I have been thinking about how clearly the imagery of blood was understood in Ps. 51. In fact, not once in the Bible is black associated with sin. And in the 16th century, Psalm 51 was particularly popular among the poets. I have been looking at this psalm through the ages, when I suddenly realized that the plot had been borrowed by no less than Shakespeare.

The story of David and Bathsheba becomes the background for Shakespeare's most famous play, Hamlet. King Claudius, however, does not feel that God will forgive him for the murder that he has committed,
    What if this cursed hand
    Were thicker than itself with brother's blood,
    Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
    To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
    But to confront the visage of offence?
And Shakespeare makes it very clear that the hand is stained with blood. Here is Lady MacBeth,
    Out, damned spot! out, I say!

    Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?

    Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! oh! oh!
So, the vividness of blood as the colour of sin should be kept in mind when reading this psalm.
    Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD:
    though your sins be as scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
    though they be red like crimson,
    they shall be as wool. Is. 1:18.
Blood is mentioned explicitly in verse 14,
    Deliver me from bloodguiltiness,
    O God, thou God of my salvation:
    and my tongue shall sing aloud
    of thy righteousness. KJV
But I feel that this word, bloodguiltiness, comes across as an abstraction of what the Hebrew actually says, which is "bloods," דמימ . Much better than "bloodguiltiness," is the simple and effective "bloodshed" found in the NRSV and Alter's version.

    Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. NRSV
The concrete presence of blood is much better expressed using this word. What I have been writing about in the last few posts is not watering down the language in this psalm but making it more vivid. What is surprising is that Spurgeon seemed not to have a vivid image in his mind of sin as red and not black. He was not familiar with his Shakespeare.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The colour of sin

Spurgeon on Psalm 51. As a follow up to Bright as Snow

4 That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

    As much as to say, "I make this confession of sin, which is so black, that if thou shouldest judge me, however severely, or sentence me to however exemplary a punishment, thou wilt be quite clear and quite just. I could put in no plea against whatever thou shouldest command. I richly deserve all thy wrath can bring upon me."
5. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin, did my mother conceive me.

    The black stream leads him to look at the black fountain. How can we expect from parents who have sinned that there should be born unto them pure and spotless children. No! the tendencies in us all towards evil are there at the very first. He does not at all venture to excuse himself, but rather to aggravate his sin, that he had been a sinner from his very birth.
7. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

    Yet what can be whiter than snow? Snow is not like a whited wall that is but white on the surface: it is white all through. And yet when God washes the believer, he makes him whiter than snow, for the snow soon becomes tainted, soon loses its purity; but we never shall if God shall wash us. There was no provision made for the cleansing of an adulterer under the law. David, therefore, had to look beyond all the sacrifices of the law to the cleansing power of the great coming sacrifice, and he so believed in it that with a brave faith--(I know no more brave expression in all Scripture than this)--he says, "Wash me, filthy as I am, and I shall be whiter than snow."
A few questions.

1. What colour does Spurgeon teach that sin is?
2. What colour is sin in the Bible?

I have a ton of questions about what is, and what is not "PC" or "unPC" (which is the new "PC" BTW) so just come along and comment.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


One of the things that I was trying to communicate in my last post is that words have meaning according to the semantic field within which they exist. For example, white when contrasted with red, has a different metaphorical meaning and reader impact than white contrasted with black. These meanings themselves are not fixed but contextual.

White is purity and scarlet is sin. Or white may represent death and red happiness. Or white beauty and red blood. And so on. So, what is the colour being contrasted with, and what is the context? And if the context is lost can we keep the metaphor?

In Psalm 51, white may be contrasted with dirt or even blood. Blood is a hard stain to remove from clothes. So the context is clothing, and the contrast red or scarlet. (Is. 1:18) The stain, of course, is murder - blood. My guess is that some of this is lost in translation. We do what we can.

Now, for hyssop.

Hyssop was used in several cleansing ceremonies as well as in the Passover. It was used to sprinkle water or blood, and to clean from leprosy or touching a dead body. However, there is another tradition descended from the mention of hyssop.

Hyssop is contrasted with cedar.
    He would speak of trees, from the cedar that is in the Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall 1 Kings 4:33
Cedar is the tallest and noblest of all living things. Hyssop is a lowly plant, the opposite of cedar, and is trampled underfoot or deliberated crushed as an herb. In this illustration, another plant is contrasted with cedar.
    But Jehoash king of Israel replied to Amaziah king of Judah: "A thistle in Lebanon sent a message to a cedar in Lebanon, 'Give your daughter to my son in marriage.' Then a wild beast in Lebanon came along and trampled the thistle underfoot. 19 You say to yourself that you have defeated Edom, and now you are arrogant and proud. But stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?" 2 Chron. 25:18
Rabbi Isaac bar Tavlai, ca. 280-320 CE, said:
    “What is the relation between the cedar and hyssop on one hand…, and leprosy on the other hand?” The reply was: “In general, we are proud like the cedar, and the Holy One, Blessed Be He, makes us humble like the hyssop that we tread upon with our feet.” Midrash ha-Gadol, Metzora 14
Rashi's notes on Lev. 14:4 also indicate that cedar represents pride and hyssop humility,
    a cedar stick Because lesions of tzara’ath come because of haughtiness [symbolized by the tall cedar]. — [Arachin 16a]
    a strip of crimson [wool], and hyssop What is the remedy that he may be healed [of his tzara’ath]? He must humble himself from his haughtiness, just as [symbolized by] the תּוֹלַעַת [lit., “a worm,” which infested the berries from which the crimson dye was extracted to color wool], and the [lowly] hyssop. — [Tanchuma 3]
From the Jewish Heritage Magazine Online,
    This symbolism of the hyssop versus the cedar also helps us to understand the entreaty of King David after the prophet Nathan rebukes him for his deeds with Bathsheba: “Cleanse me with hyssop that I may be pure; wash me that I may become whiter than snow.” By taking Bathsheba as he did, David arrogantly accorded himself the unjust privileges assumed by foreign kings, thus “he became proud above his people.” David’s prayer for forgiveness can be understood like the plea of the leper: I was proud and haughty like the cedar, and now I beseech you to make me humble like this hyssop with which I ask to be cleansed. 1
There is no reason to restrict a literary allusion to only one referent. It could well be that hyssop represents cleansing from leprosy as uncleanness by the sprinkling of blood, and, cleansing from the sin of pride.

From Zim's commentary on the English Metrical Psalms,
    Wyatt saw his poem as a kind of de remedia amoris, but within the the poem David's sin is presented as pride rather than lechery.
In a footnote the author refers to the view that David's sin is abuse of power rather than sexual aggression. A greater understanding of the commentary on hyssop supports this.

This post does not refer directly to a translation issue except to show the importance of knowing the allusion of a Biblical metaphor thoroughly, and weighing what will be lost if certain words are not translated. There are some translations which dispense with translating hyssop in this verse: NET Bible, NLT, The Message.

1. Hareuveni, Nogah. The lowly hyssop: mother of the za'tar spice. From Tree and Shrub in our Biblical Heritage by Nogah Hareuveni. Translated from Hebrew and adapted by Helen Frenkley. A publication of Neot Kedumim Ltd., The Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel. (cited from the Jewish Heritage Online Magazine.

2. Zim, Rivkah, English Metrical Psalms: Poetry as Praise and Prayer, 1535-1601 (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1987)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bright as Snow


Before leaving the question of "wash me whiter than snow" I would like to summarize my point. The Hebrew word kabas, strictly speaking, means to "launder" clothes and make them white. When kabas is translated as "wash" the reference to clothes is lost and the English translation now refers by default to the skin in the metaphor. It sounds as if the skin is being washed and made whiter than snow. However, the Hebrew does not say that.

To avoid mistranslating, alternate translations would be

"Launder me and make me whiter than snow."

"Wash me and make me purer than snow."

"Wash me and make me brighter than snow."


In Ps. 51:7
    Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
part of the imagery of washing is the simile “whiter than snow” וּמִשֶּׁלֶג אַלְבִּין. This occurs in Is. 1:18 in a similar phrase “be as white as snow” JPS כַּשֶּׁלֶג יַלְבִּינוּ. Snow is used a variety of ways, in association with leprosy, as an element in nature, and with reference to purity. It is also a mark of health in Lam. 4:7.
    Her princes were purer than snow,
    whiter than milk;
Snow is specifically described as “white.” For people who consider their skin to be white, this is unproblematic. However, this line “wash me and I shall be whiter than snow” may have some negative associations for people who describe their skin as black or in some other manner.

There are, however, different thoughts on the metaphorical meaning of black and white in diverse cultures. It would not necessarily be appropriate to suppose that using white in this simile is not the best choice in any particular culture but perhaps leave it open for discussion. Yet it is still possible to investigate the semantic field in search of alternative vocabulary to suggest as an option.

First, it does seem straightforward that “white” is the colour, rather than simply “cleanliness” or “brightness.” However, as discussed, the colour white does not always have a positive association: it is the distinctive colour of leprosy. Among those things which are white in colour, there is snow, wool, Is. 1:18, Dan. 7:9, Rev. 1:14; milk, teeth, Gen. 49:12; garments, Ecc. 9:8; hair, and horses, Zech. and the healthy skin of the princes in Lam. 4:7.

On the other hand, Mark 9:3 does give us reason to associate whiteness with brightness.
    and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.
Colours also do not have any fixed metaphorical value, but gain value in context. In Is. 1:18 clean whiteness is contrasted with scarlet sins. In Lam 4:7-8 white skin is healthy and black skin is not. In Song of Solomon black skin is beautiful, and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible white skin is a symptom of leprosy. Adam is red. Black, white and red are also the colours of horses.

It is quite possible then to communicate that the colour white is not invariably associated with a positive value, and black only rarely with a negative value. However, it is also fairly simple to find an acceptable alternative to “white” in this psalm.

In Lam. 4:7 the similes are “purer than snow, whiter than milk.” זכך, “clean” or “pure” is also found in Job 9:30, 15:15, 25:5. HALOT has “be clear, bright” for זכך. Considering the central role that this psalm plays in the liturgy it would be helpful to have a version without “white,” a version in which one could recite,
    wash me and I shall be brighter than snow
This is, in fact, how the line is translated in the inclusive translation of Zimmerman, Harmon. 1993.*

Since “wash” כּבס , “snow” שׁלג and “bright,” or “pure” זכך occur together in the associated passages in Lamentations and Job, this appears to be a suitable translation for this line. The related word זכה also occurs in verse 4 and in Job 15:14, 25:4, Ps. 73:13, 119:9, Prov. 20:9, Is. 1:16 and Micah 6:11.

*Zimmerman, Joyce and Ann Kathleen Harmon Delphine Kolker, Pray Without Ceasing: Prayer for Morning and Evening. Liturgical Press. 1995

I apologize for the dry as bones style here. It is called "homework." I thought it might be of interest to a few.

Whirled English Bibles

I am a bit confused about two different versions of the English Bible:

Worldwide English (New Testament): Is available at Bible Gateway (text only, no audio). It is a translation produced by the late Canadian missionary Annie Cressman in Liberia because "she found that she was spending more time explaining the meaning of the English than she was teaching the Bible itself."


Acts 2 (Worldwide English (New Testament))

1 On the day of Pentecost these people were all in one place.

2 Then, suddenly, a sound came from heaven. It was like a very strong wind blowing. It went all through the house where they were sitting.

3 And then they saw tongues like fire. These were divided and came on each one of the people there.

4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to speak the words of God in other languages as the Spirit spoke through them.

World English Bible: Is available at (Old Testament) as text or audio mp3 and the whole Bible is available at Unbound Bible. Wayne mentioned this version briefly on this blog: WEB (World English Bible).


World English Bible / Acts of the Apostles 2

1. Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place.

2. Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

3. Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them.

4. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak.

I find both of these translations to be relatively intelligible and if, like the Worldwide English version, these are meant to be updates of the AV, I'd say that they have admirably updated the language while still retaining the flavor of the predecessor. That would make these very useful in a context where there is a strong tradition of use of the Authorized Version but there are many readers who are not accustomed to the archaisms yet still want to follow along during public reading.

Another thing that I think is really appealing about these translations is that they are freely downloadable and made available in a variety of non-print formats. I first was exposed to the World English Bible by a version on my cell phone which I downloaded here: MyMobible.

Speaking of "world English" I should mention that the CEV is probably the most widely available common language version in English. There are American, British and Global versions which are heavily promoted by the Bible Societies around the English-speaking world.

I just wanted to call to your attention to the possible confusion resulting from these two "World" versions and encourage anyone who would like to provide a fuller critique of these translations.


Thursday, May 08, 2008


No, its not that I have eaten too much for dinner or had too much of the blogosphere. But rather, returning to Ps. 51 after a few weeks break, I find myself trying to define the verb "to full."

In Ps. 51:4 and 9,
    Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

    Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. JPS
the verb for "wash" is כּבס but it applies only to washing clothes, not to the body. In fact, I was rather surprised (I don't know why) to find that the Gesenius Lexicon has,
    pr. to tread or trample with the feet, to wash garments by treading on them when underwater
and in Holladay,
    To full, ie. clean cloth by treading, kneading or beating
I found very little for "to full" in the Concise
Oxford dictionary,
    to cleanse and thicken cloth
and in an online form of Webster's offers,
    *Full Foil. ... [F. fouler] to tread or trample under one's feet, to press, oppress. 1. To tread under foot; to trample.
This is how you get felt, of course. But now we call the action of making felt "felting." I don't know how this meaning could be translated but it certainly does not mean that God daintily wipes away the stains. It does not evoke an image of gently pouring water over our bodies in a peaceful cleansing ritual.

It is a harsh metaphor for drubbing the dirt out of something with one's fists and washboard or feet and pebbles. The Greek for this, πλύνω, has the English meaning "to launder." (This word is not used in the Greek New Testament for "washing in the water of the word." Eph. 5. )

It is camping time again and this recalls times at the beach with a bacon greasy frypan, swirling water and grit round and round until its clean - it does a surprisingly effective job without detergent. Who knew? Keep a bucket of gritty sand by the kitchen sink and kiss good-bye to detergent forever!

Most translations are content with "wash." However, The Message has,
    scrub away my guilt,
    soak out my sins in your laundry.
    I know how bad I've been;
    my sins are staring me down.
Does anyone know of any other translation that has a distinctive translation of כּבס in this psalm? I thought I remembered a post about this last year but I can't find it.

*Full. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. (accessed: May 08, 2008).

PS We have a new member of our elite 'those who are interested in Bible translation' club. Jane has posted her insights on Isaiah 32.16-18.

Iyov mentions that he intends to post more on the Geneva Bible and he even hands out a copy of the text before class.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Wicked Prodigal

I haven't seen anyone else mention it so I'll draw your attention to the fact that I was mentioned on the latest Biblical Studies Carnival as the newest member of the Better Bible Blog contributors. I was feeling a bit overlooked since I hadn't been mentioned anywhere else on the Carnival for my brilliant Biblical studies efforts on my Lingamish blog. I thought maybe something like Learn New Testament Greek By Singing, or If Heaven Is So Exciting, Why Are Your Sermons So Dull?, or 10 Reasons Blogging Is Better Than Going To Church would have surely been listed for their transcendent theological insights. But it did warm my heart to get several lines of copy in the Carnival:

Another member of the blogging community, David Ker, has been added to the list of those participating in the Better Bibles Blog (a group blog). Without seeming irreverent, I do have a question for the folk over there: ‘What the devil are you thinking adding Ker to your happy family??? ‘ You’ve invited the wicked prodigal to the supper table and he’s sure to steal the rolls off the children’s plates. He makes up Psalms of his own, for pete’s sake… he’s quite mad!

Thanks, Jim, for the mention.

P.S. I plan to follow up my last post as soon as I recover from a cold and get my life back on track after the long weekend at the beach.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

digital Bibles and literal translation

Hall Harris, Managing Editor of the NET Bible, has blogged on the question: Does a Literal Translation Matter with a Digital Bible?

Hall writes:
My point here is not to discuss the relative merits of formal versus dynamic (or functional) equivalence as a translation theory. That debate is ongoing and is much broader than the point I want to make, which is simply this: With the development of digital Bible text, if the desire of those wanting a literal or word-for-word translation is transparency to the original language texts of the Bible, that can be achieved through the software and not through the translation itself.
Read the rest of Hall's post to understand what he means by accessing literal translation through software.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

de-versify chat

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