Shake your ‘booty’ out of the Bible

Who says the Godbeat ain’t fun?

I mean, really, check out the front page of today’s USA Today. No kidding — there’s this headline:

‘Booty’ booted from revised Bible

For a journalist, does it get any better than that?

In all seriousness, it’s a solid, newsworthy story by veteran religion writer Cathy Lynn Grossman. Here’s the top of the piece:

Catholic bishops have kicked the “booty” out of the Bible.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has ordered up a new translation of the Bible, one it says is more accurate, more accessible and more poetic.

Now “booty,” a word that sets off snickers in Sunday school, will be replaced by the “spoils” of war when the newest edition of the New American Bible, the English-language Catholic Bible, comes out on Ash Wednesday, March 9.

It’s a relatively short story — less than 500 words — the kind for which USA Today is famous.

Still, Grossman manages to catch the high points and reference a few specific changes in the new Bible edition:

Some of the changes:

– The word “holocaust,” now associated with World War II genocide, has been replaced by “burnt offering.”

– The 1970s version of the 23rd Psalm — “even when I walk through a dark valley” — becomes a “walk though the valley of the shadow of death.”

– Proverbs 31:10, the ode to “The Ideal Wife,” is now a “Poem on the Woman of Worth.”

At the risk of setting off snickers of my own … I did find myself wanting just a bit more context and detail on the term “booty,” given its use in the lede. I liked the cutesy approach but wished the story had made later reference to a specific passage and the number of times “booty” shows up in the current Bible.

Also, given the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible (where “booty” remains), it might be interesting for follow-up reports to explore how other modern translations have handled that word. The New International Version, a popular translation among evangelical Christians, appears to use “spoils” like the new Catholic edition.

Catholic News Service reported on the Bible revisions last month. In Googling for other coverage of this news, it appeared that the USA Today story represented the first major mainstream media coverage. If I missed another story, please don’t hesitate to share the link. I did find a story by the Daily Mail, a British newspaper, that contains several quotes verbatim from USA Today and Catholic News Service.

Hmmmmmmm …

I’ll be interested to see reactions to the USA Today piece from GetReligion’s regular Catholic readers. Did it hit the mark? Did the emphasis on “booty” come at the expense of focusing on more serious issues related to the revisions?:

One change may set off alarms with traditionalists, in a passage many Christians believe foreshadows the coming of Christ and his birth to a virgin. The 1970 version of Isaiah 7:14 says “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

The 2011 text refers to “the young woman” instead. It elaborates that the original Hebrew word, almah, may, or may not, signify a virgin.

Shake your booty on over to the full story, read the whole thing and then feel free to comment.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    For those that are interested, Wikipedia has a comparison of translations of almah in various passages:

  • Kyle

    There are several aspects of the story that could have been covered but would have required more space. The story did not mention various angles relating to how this new translation relates to the lectionary, the Scripture passages read at Mass, and the various changes that have been required in that lectionary text which is itself based on the NAB in the United States. (Hint: The changes to the lectionary are not, as a rule the same as those in the new NAB, if I understand correctly.)

    There are critical questions about the notes which accompany the NAB, which are probably more controversial than the translated texts themselves due to the particular approach they take toward biblical scholarship. That’s something I would like to read more about, and I’m sure many other Catholics would as well.

    The treatment of the Isaiah 7:14 passage left something to be desired in my opinion. That word “traditionalists” is interesting – perhaps a bit like the word “devout” in other contexts. What does it mean there? Not, I gather, people who frequent the Traditional Latin Mass or eat fish on Fridays, for instance. Rather, perhaps, people who have a certain perspective about how to read Scripture? And what perspective would that be? What relation does it have to the teaching found in, say, Dei Verbum, the Vatican II constitution on divine revelation? How would it relate to the pope’s recent document Verbum Domini on the study of Scripture? To his private views as a theologian on the proper understanding of Scripture most famously in his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” the sequel of which is very timely just now? I offer a clue: the current NAB has a footnote for that particular passage in Isaiah which already does hint at a certain imprecision in the word in question but also notes: “The church has always followed St. Matthew in seeing the transcendent fulfillment of this verse in Christ and his Virgin Mother.” That’s why “traditionalists” might care about such a thing: They think St. Matthew is a writer inspired by the Holy Spirit who wasn’t wrong when he explicitly cited this passage as a prophecy regarding the birth of Christ. What do the notes in the revised edition say?

    Then there’s this sentence: “Sklba expects no change in Catholic teaching.” Really, now. Which teaching exactly? The virgin birth? The inspiration of Matthew 1:22-23? What, exactly? What was the bishop’s quote? Surely Grossman is aware that the Catholic Church teaches officially that some doctrines not only won’t but more importantly can’t change. It’s one of those steady drips of editorial decisions which insinuate Catholic doctrine is just another set of policy positions up for revision at the next meeting. That, of course, just so happens to chime very nicely with the kicker paragraph Grossman chooses to follow it with, the “voice of God” (irony intended) biblical expert (from a non-Catholic organization, I think?) who says the kids are all about change, with no context or rebuttal from anyone who finds anything at all permanent in Scripture.

  • Dave

    For any interested … at Catholic Bibles.

    The translation of almah struck me as odd in the NABRE.

  • Dave


    You articulated beautifully what I lamely tried to get at on my post at the Catholic Bibles Blog. Especially your item 2. But of course it is a USA Today editorial. For me a delightful distraction on this rather mundane day. But for the average Catholic who “relies” on mainstream media” … well we work out our salvation in fear and trembling …


  • Christian

    I don’t see why Matthew would have bothered to quote Isaiah if not for what I regard as a Holy-Spirit-inspired refinement of Almah into Parthenos.

  • gfe

    I thought the writer did a decent job for the space she had.

    One thing I’m curious about, though, that wasn’t addressed in the story was the extent to which gender inclusiveness was an issue in the translation process. That’s been a hot topic in the various Protestant translations in recent years.

  • SouthCoast

    The revision of almah to “young woman” rather than “virgin” does not make contextual sense. It is not at all remarkable that a young woman should give birth, but it is entirely remarkable that a virgin should so do. What were they thinking?

  • Passing By

    Pretty much what Kyle said, with the added note that I remember the virgin/young woman debate back in the 70s (maybe even the 60s).

    It might be worth noting that Catholics are going through another language-related matter in the revised English translation of the Mass. You could probably dig up some parallel arguments that texts should reflect changing language, or, that people should stretch out beyond the common, everyday language into the poetic, figurative, and classic language forms. If the new translation draws people out of linguistic ruts, they might actually think about the meaning of the text.

    Journalism comment: me, I thought the booty lede was silly, and the closing riff on youth and change clichéd. But maybe that’s just me.

  • Bobby

    Journalism comment: me, I thought the booty lede was silly, and the closing riff on youth and change clichéd. But maybe that’s just me.

    I’m sure you’re not alone in thinking it was silly. With a more serious lede and approach, however, this story is probably buried inside the paper rather than used as a front-page “bright” (is that the right word? … I know there’s a proper term for it, but it escapes me at the moment).

  • Passing By

    Fair point, Bobby, but is it really front page news anyway?

  • Bobby

    Fair point, Bobby, but is it really front page news anyway?

    Now, you raise a really philosophical question. :-) What is front-page news anyway?

    When I worked for AP, I’d be amazed that what I thought was big news might get cut to 300 words on the national wire, while something that impressed me as quirky and interesting but not front-page news might make AP’s daily Page 1 recommendations (a story I did one time on contemporary Christian artists invading Nashville’s honky-tonks during Christian Music Week comes to mind).

    In reality, what’s front-page news varies from paper to paper and within individual papers from day-to-day given what else is happening in the world. For USA Today, this story seems like front-page news — I mean, it certainly has a watercooler topic aspect to it. At the same time, I don’t think the same approach would be front-page news for The New York Times.

    I think newspapers would be pretty boring if every story on the front page had to be about war or famine or Washington politics.

  • Jay

    Every one — not just USA Today — seemed to pursue the same angle. See NPR

    So I looked for something more detailed. Catholic News Service ran their story a month ago.

    Not surprisingly, it was adulatory without any acknowledgement of controversy.

    Are there any Bible scholars who find this controversial? In other words, for a discussion of Bible translation, could you find two sides, the way you might over tax policy or women priests? (assuming of course the reporter believes are actually two sides to the latter).

  • Dan Berger

    Off topic, but I don’t see why Matthew would have bothered to quote Isaiah if not for what I regard as a Holy-Spirit-inspired refinement of Almah into Parthenos.

    That’s because Matthew was working from the understanding of his day; the Jewish translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek (the Septuagint) rendered “almah” as “parthenos” when they did their work, somewhere around 100 BC.