Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why Don't Bible Translators Have The Balls?

1 Kings 12:10 says this:

The young men who had grown up with him replied, "Tell these people who have said to you, 'Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter'-tell them, 'My little finger is thicker than my father's waist.'"
1 Kings 12:10, NIV

Except it doesn't.

A literal translation of the Hebrew of the end of the verse is this:

My little one is thicker than my father's loins.

I think it's pretty clear what that actually means. Here's Iain Provan's (restrained) comment on the verse:

If the "little one" is a finger, this is the only place in the OT where it is so. Given the location of the loins in the lower part of the body, and the fact that power and sexual potency were very much associated in the Ancient Near East, it may well be that the "little one" is in fact the male sexual organ. It is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that young men might respond to a challenge by using language containing fairly basic sexual imagery. Whatever is the case, the claim is that Rehoboam is a bigger man than his father - a power to be reckoned with.

Iain Provan, 1 and 2 Kings (NIBC)

So why do Bible translators avoid sexual imagery when it seems to be there in the Bible? The Bible wasn't written by a bunch of prudish ivory tower academics, so why do we make it sound as if it was? Are we trying to be holier than God?

Here's the offending question in lots of different translations:

My little finger is thicker than my father's loins! (NASB)

My little finger is thicker than my father's waist. (Message)

My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins. (Amplified)

My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! (NLT)

My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins. (KJV)

My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. (ESV)

Compared to me, my father was weak. (CEV)

My little [finger] is thicker than the loins of my father. (Young's Literal)

My little finger is thicker than my father's waist. (TNIV)

If I was going for a non-literal translation, I might go for something like "I've got the balls to do stuff my father could never do." For a literal translation, how about Provan's "My little one is thicker than my father's loins"? At least it leaves the probable innuendo in.

Why don't translators have the balls to translate the Bible properly? It might help people realise that the Bible is about God interacting with real people in the real world.

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