God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Girl Animals, Boy Animals, and Neuter Animals

CNN’s belief blog has an interesting story about a request by PETA not to call animals “it” in Bible translations:

PETA is hoping the [NIV’s] move toward greater gender inclusiveness will continue toward animals as well.

“When the Bible moves toward inclusively in one area [human gender -JMH] … it wasn’t much of a stretch to suggest they move toward inclusively in this area,” Bruce Friedrich, PETA’s vice president for policy, told CNN.

Friedrich, a practicing Roman Catholic, said, “Language matters. Calling an animal ‘it’ denies them something. They are beloved by God. They glorify God.”

I think it’s an interesting and complex question, and I’ll try to post some reactions when I have time. For now, read the article.

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March 24, 2011 - Posted by | translation practice, translation theory | , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. Interesting. Seems that the new NIV does have to gender animals (as it does humans) in some places:

    “Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock.”

    “These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.”

    “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”

    John Hobbins already has expressed some thoughts at his blog:

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2011/03/peta-is-right-about-the-bible.html

    He’s argued, rightly I think, to retain the Hebrew gendering of animals in the English translation. He attends to Proverbs 6, as PETA’s Bruce Friedrich points us to, to discuss the ant as feminine. (I’m interested in how the LXX translators rendered the animal ambiguously as either masculine or neutered, and how English translators of the Septuagint’s Proverbs 6 go both ways. Brenton the Greeked ant there a “he” but Johann Cook for the NETS calls the an an “it.” As we all know, Aristotle considered the ant and wrote copiously about this species. Did the LXX follow his conceptions in reworking the Hebrew? In other words, was there a masculine / neuter case — even a grammatical one only — for the animal that the Hebrew-to-Hellene translators used? Isn’t the Hebrew feminine gender purposeful, signifying much?)

    Looking forward to your posted reactions!

    Comment by J. K. Gayle | March 24, 2011 | Reply

  2. I find your misspelling of PETA as “PITA” kinda funny! A symptom of too much time in the Middle East?!

    However, I disagree that the neuter (gender-neutral) term “it” is necessarily demeaning or “de-animalizing.” For example:

    Joh 21:7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

    Funny verse! It reminds of an episode of “30 Rock”!

    “It” stands in for “the one we are talking about.”

    But ISTM that there is at least one genuine expression of disdain for animals in the scriptures:

    1Co 9:9 For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
    1Co 9:10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.

    This is typical of Paul, to reinterpret the Torah in a brazen way, as if it was never anything but a “stepping stool” for Christianity. Never mind Matthew’s “this is to fulfil what was written…” – Paul *scoffs* at the literal reading of the Torah by asking the rhetorical “Does God [really] care about oxen?” For the blondes and others who don’t quite “get” rhetorical questions, he explicitly says:

    1Co 9:10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.

    Paul *clearly* thinks that the Torah’s “PETA” type sensibilities have no bearing on mere slave animals and beasts of burden. Every word in the Torah is for God’s pride and joy: Christians.

    Small wonder that Christians have seen for so long, men and beasts as divinely subjugated to their Roman-empowered sword.

    Comment by WoundedEgo | March 24, 2011 | Reply

    • I find your misspelling of PETA as “PITA” kinda funny! A symptom of too much time in the Middle East?!

      Oops. Thanks. I’ve fixed it.

      Comment by Joel H. | March 25, 2011 | Reply

      • Joel, I’m of the opinion that the passover animal was most certainly not a lamb, and I’m wondering if you might agree. The phrase is “a flock animal, a son of a year” – which, as I understand it, would almost certainly have been a goat, and, since goats mature at a year, not an kid but an adult goat:

        Exo 12:5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats:

        Do you agree with my reading?

        Comment by WoundedEgo | March 25, 2011

  3. Brenton the Greeked ant there a “he” but Johann Cook for the NETS calls the an an “it.” As we all know, Aristotle considered the ant and wrote copiously about this species. Did the LXX follow his conceptions in reworking the Hebrew? In other words, was there a masculine / neuter case — even a grammatical one only — for the animal that the Hebrew-to-Hellene translators used?

    Comment by skin tag | September 24, 2011 | Reply


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