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2013-07-15

Many of the more recently copyrighted bibles include vast footnoting. The NIV, for example, offers up a plethora of footnotes to help understand the bible. Some of these footnotes convert ancient measurements into modern equivalents or point out when words can have multiple meanings. For example, in Leviticus 27:26-27, the translation uses the word “ox” and puts a footnote on it telling us that the Hebrew word used can mean both male and female. To the indiscriminate reader, this is proof that the translators are trying their best to be as transparent as possible, but it doesn’t take long to see a problem in their footnote use.

To begin with, an ox means a castrated male designated for work. A non-castrated male, kept intact for breeding is called a bull, and a female is called a cow. However, the generic term for all of these animals is cattle. The translators could have saved themselves a footnote by simply using the word “cattle,” which is precisely what is implied by the Biblical Hebrew. Did the translators make this footnote to purposely appear more transparent than they really are? Well, it may have been that they just kept the word “ox” out of tradition, but then, the NIV ruined many translation traditions, so that seems unlikely.

Now, I do give them props for having a footnote to point out that “gopher wood” is unknown and that the Red Sea is actually the “sea of reeds” (they still wrongly translate each term in the main section), but these translation errors are so well-known that they would embarrass themselves if they didn’t include them. There are hundreds of examples of words that nobody can agree on, yet the NIV doesn’t bother to give a footnote. Sometimes they do give a footnote, like when they point out that scapegoat comes from the word “azazel,” but they don’t bother to elaborate on what azazel means!

I think a big part of their lack of transparency is to make sure that their translations still fit with the modern Christian interpretation of scripture (rather than what it actually means). However, another reason not to include a footnote on every word that is in dispute is that you would seriously have to have a footnote on about half the words in the bible!

 

Comments

Maju writes:

 

Per Wikitionary (which is generally better than Wikipedia in this matter of word meanings), "cattle" may also mean other types of livestock (and etymologically means wealth, being cognate of capital). Hence using "cattle" would be ambiguous.

"Ox" instead means any kind of bovine cattle which is used as beast of burden (although this was often the castrated bull). Incidentally in ancient times, including the Middle Ages, this was the main use of oxen (domestic bovines), milk being largely obtained from goats, unlike what happens today. Beef (incidentally from French "boeuf": ox) would also have been an expensive meat, being these animals so important for pulling plows and carts.

In this case I have to side with the translator: oxen is a good translation, better than cattle, which, unless annotated could also mean sheep, pigs, goats or even horses and camels.

And what happens if you sacrifice a pig to Yaveh? The Great Jewish Revolt! (Yes, that happened to the Romans).

"Bovines" could also be an OK choice but there are wild bovines as well such as bison or the African buffalo. Also it is an unusual, somewhat erudite word.

There's also the musk ox (not castrated and applied to both genders) but it is a "goat" in fact (Caprinae family, not Bovinae), although admittedly it looks more like an ox.

In non-US English (England, Australia, India, New Zealand...) the castrated bull is called "bullock", it seems.

Baughbe writes:

 

Reminds me of the old story (whether true or not) about the professor who gave lectures without writing anything on the board. And the students couldn't keep up with taking notes. They got together and requested he write down the important points on the board. He agreed. The next day after going through a complex explination without writing anything on the board, he remarked, "See that's a simple as two plus two equals four." Then he turned around, picked up the chalk, and wrote 2 + 2 = 4 on the board, then went back to lecturing like he always did.

Someguy writes:

 

Well done Maju.

 

Oh the irony!