Mischief follows in partisan Bible translations

Remember Junias? He was the imaginary male apostle with the unique and implausible name. “Junias” was invented by patriarchal Bible translators and inserted into the text of scripture because those translators didn’t like what the text actually said.

The text in question, Romans 16:7, says:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Junia is a woman’s name and it just wouldn’t do to have people reading about a woman who was an apostle — let alone one who was “prominent among the apostles.” For patriarchal Christians who insisted on a male-only hierarchy, Junia was intolerable. So they got rid of her. They translated her into an imaginary man with an imaginary name.

Politics — specifically, the political desire to control women — shaped the translation of that text. The translators changed the words of the Bible to make it seem like it supported their political agenda. They changed the words of the Bible so that others reading it would not be able to see that its actual words challenged and contradicted their political agenda.

This is something that happens sometimes.

Let me share another, more recent, example. Junias was invented and inserted into the Bible a long time ago, but this alteration of the text occurred in my lifetime. As I noted earlier, this change in the words and meaning of the Bible is more recent than the introduction of the Happy Meal.

The New American Standard Bible is a popular English translation, a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. It was completed in 1971 and then revised and updated in 1995. I want to highlight one major change in one passage of the NASB — a case in which the 1995 update alters — and is intended to reverse –  the text of the 1971 NASB.

Those dates are important in understanding the reason for this change.

The text in question is from the book of Exodus, chapter 21. This section of the chapter — Exodus 21:12-27 — outlines various laws regarding deadly violence.

“Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death,” verse 12 says. That’s pretty clear — if you strike a person and kill them, you get the death penalty. That’s the baseline for the rest of the laws that follow. For instance, what if you strike a person and they’re injured, but not killed? Verses 18-19 address that:

When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery.

OK, so those are the rules for hitting people — but what if you hit a slave? Do the same rules about hitting people apply to hitting slaves?* Verses 20-21 and 26-27 have got that covered. Basically, they say that if an owner kills a slave, “the owner shall be punished.” If the slave survives, but loses an eye or a tooth, then the slave goes free.

The punishments for violence against slaves were different from the punishments for violence against free persons because slaves were regarded as a separate category. There was one set of rules regarding violence against “a person” and another set of rules regarding violence against a slave.

That brings us to the text I want to highlight here as another example of politicized distortion via translation: Exodus 21:22-25.

Here is how Exodus 21:22-25 read in the New American Standard Bible’s 1977 revision of its 1971 original translation:

And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is not further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

You can see how this fits in the context of the chapter. Here is another category of victim for which another set of punishments for violence is given. If a pregnant woman gets struck “so that she has a miscarriage,” but is not herself injured, then the man who struck her must pay a fine. But if the woman herself is injured, then the same rules and punishments for striking any other (non-slave) person apply — “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc.”

But here’s the same passage in 1995 in the updated current version of the NASB:

If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

“So that she has a miscarriage” has been replaced with “so that she gives birth prematurely.”

That’s new. That’s not at all how this passage was translated for centuries. Consider, for example, the Wycliffe Bible from 1382:

If men chide, and a man smiteth a woman with child, and soothly he maketh the child dead-born, but the woman liveth over that smiting, he shall be subject to the harm (he shall be subject to a fine), as much as the woman’s husband asketh (for), and as the judges deem (appropriate).

Or the King James Version from 1611:

If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

The KJV’s “her fruit depart” is a literal, but ambiguous rendition of the original Hebrew. If we ignore the context of the surrounding verses, then we could interpret that as meaning either what the 1977 NASB or what the 1995 NASB says. It could mean “she has a miscarriage” or it might mean “she gives birth prematurely.” Right?

Well, not quite.

It turns out that English-speaking Christians aren’t the very first people ever to read the book of Exodus. The Jews got there way, way before we did. It seems Jews actually wrote the thing. Plus they’re pretty good at reading Hebrew.

So Wycliffe and the majority of English translators who followed him all read this verse the way that it had been read for centuries before there ever existed such a thing as the English language into which it could be translated. (Plenty of examples of this at the bottom of this post, where — following Ross’ example in the comment that sparked this post, I’ve copied his list and added a few more.) They translated it to mean what it had long been understood to mean, and in the only way that it makes sense to translate it in the context of the rest of this chapter.

The New American Standard Bible translated this passage that same way up until 1977. But something changed between 1977 and 1995 — something that had nothing to do with scholarship, language, accuracy, fidelity or readability.

American politics had changed between 1977 and 1995. It had polarized and radicalized millions of American Protestants, rallying them around a single issue and thus, as intended, rallying them behind a single political party.

In 1977, the sort of American Protestants who purchased most Bibles couldn’t be summed up in a single word. But by 1995, they could be: “abortion.”

And for anti-abortion American evangelicals, Exodus 21:12-27 was unacceptable. It suggested that striking and killing an unborn fetus was in a separate category from striking and killing a “person.” Strike and kill a free person, you get the death penalty. Strike and kill an unborn fetus, you get a fine.

And so in 1995, like those earlier translators who invented and inserted “Junias,” the translators of the NASB reshaped this passage. “She has a miscarriage, yet there is not further injury” would, in consideration of the changes in American politics since 1977, henceforth be transformed into “she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury.”

Politics — specifically, the political desire to control women — shaped the translation of that text. The translators changed the words of the Bible to make it seem like it supported their political agenda. They changed the words of the Bible so that others reading it would not be able to see that its actual words challenged and contradicted their political agenda.

This is something that happens sometimes.

The 1971 NASB stuck with the traditional English translation of Exodus 21:22. Here — picking up from Ross’ comment — are many other similar examples:

Wycliffe Bible (1382): “If men chide, and a man smiteth a woman with child, and soothly he maketh the child dead-born, but the woman liveth over that smiting, he shall be subject to the harm (he shall be subject to a fine), as much as the woman’s husband asketh (for), and as the judges deem (appropriate).”

Douay-Rheims (1899): “If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman’s husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award.”

Bible in Basic English (1949): “If men, while fighting, do damage to a woman with child, causing the loss of the child, but no other evil comes to her, the man will have to make payment up to the amount fixed by her husband, in agreement with the decision of the judges.”

Revised Standard Version (1952): “When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.”

The Jerusalem Bible (1966): “If, when men come to blows, they hurt a woman who is pregnant and she suffers a miscarriage, though she does not die of it, the man responsible must pay the compensation demanded of him by the woman’s master; he shall hand it over, after arbitration.”

New Life Version (1969): “If men fight with each other and hit a woman who is going to have a child so that she loses her baby but no other hurt comes to her, he must pay whatever the woman’s husband says he must, as agreed upon by the judges.”

The Living Bible (1971): “If two men are fighting, and in the process hurt a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage, but she lives, then the man who injured her shall be fined whatever amount the woman’s husband shall demand, and as the judges approve.”

New English Bible (1971): “When, in the course of a brawl, a man knocks against a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but suffers no further hurt, then the offender must pay whatever fine the woman’s husband demands for assessment.”

Amplified Bible (1987): “If men contend with each other, and a pregnant woman [interfering] is hurt so that she has a miscarriage, yet no further damage follows, [the one who hurt her] shall surely be punished with a fine [paid] to the woman’s husband, as much as the judges determine.”

New Revised Standard Version (1989): “When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.”

Good News Translation (1992): “If some men are fighting and hurt a pregnant woman so that she loses her child, but she is not injured in any other way, the one who hurt her is to be fined whatever amount the woman’s husband demands, subject to the approval of the judges.”

Contemporary English Version (1995): “Suppose a pregnant woman suffers a miscarriage as the result of an injury caused by someone who is fighting. If she isn’t badly hurt, the one who injured her must pay whatever fine her husband demands and the judges approve.”

Complete Jewish Bible (1998): “If people are fighting with each other and happen to hurt a pregnant woman so badly that her unborn child dies, then, even if no other harm follows, he must be fined. He must pay the amount set by the woman’s husband and confirmed by judges.”

The Message (2002): “When there’s a fight and in the fight a pregnant woman is hit so that she miscarries but is not otherwise hurt, the one responsible has to pay whatever the husband demands in compensation.”

Common English Bible (2011): “When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but no other injury occurs, then the guilty party will be fined what the woman’s husband demands, as negotiated with the judges.”

Numerous other translations followed the vague literalism of the King James Version (1611). Variations of “her fruit depart from her” can be found in:

Darby Translation (1890): “… so that she be delivered, and no mischief happen”

Young’s Literal Translation (1898): “… and her children have come out, and there is no mischief”

American Standard Version (1929): “… so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow”

English Standard Version (1971): “… so that her children come out, but there is no harm”

21st Century King James Version (1994): “… so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no misfortune follow”

New Century Version (2005): “… causing the baby to come out”

The 1995 New American Standard Bible was not the first translation to change a miscarriage with no harm to the woman into a premature birth with no harm to the baby. The New International Version did so back in 1978, albeit with a footnote allowing for the option of the more traditional translation. Here are several other translations following that new approach.

Note that all of these translations were produced post-Happy Meal.

New King James Version (1982): “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.”

GOD’S WORD Translation (1995): “This is what you must do whenever men fight and injure a pregnant woman so that she gives birth prematurely. If there are no other injuries, the offender must pay whatever fine the court allows the woman’s husband to demand.”

World English Bible/Hebrew Names Version (1997): “If men fight and hurt a pregnant woman so that she gives birth prematurely, and yet no harm follows, he shall be surely fined as much as the woman’s husband demands and the judges allow.”

New International Reader’s Version (1998): “Suppose some men are fighting and one of them hits a pregnant woman. And suppose she has her baby early but is not badly hurt. Then the man who hurt her must pay a fine. He must pay what the woman’s husband asks for and the court allows.”

Easy-to-Read Version (2006): “Two men might be fighting and hurt a pregnant woman. This might make the woman give birth to her baby before its time. If the woman was not hurt badly, [a] the man who hurt her must pay a fine. The woman’s husband will decide how much the man must pay. The judges will help the man decide how much the fine will be. But if the woman was hurt badly, then the man who hurt her must be punished. The punishment must fit the crime. You must trade one life for another life. You must trade an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot.” (Footnote [a]: Exodus 21:22 hurt badly Or ‘killed.’)

New Living Translation (2007): “Now suppose two men are fighting, and in the process they accidentally strike a pregnant woman so she gives birth prematurely. [a] If no further injury results, the man who struck the woman must pay the amount of compensation the woman’s husband demands and the judges approve.” (Footnote [a]: Exodus 21:22 Or so she has a miscarriage; Hebrew reads so her children come out.)

Holman Christian Standard Bible (2009): “When men get in a fight and hit a pregnant woman so that her children are born prematurely [a] but there is no injury, the one who hit her must be fined as the woman’s husband demands from him, and he must pay according to judicial assessment.” (Footnote [a]: Either a live birth or a miscarriage)

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* Yes, slavery. This passage is appalling: “If the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment, for the slave is the owner’s property.” That’s the sort of thing that would give me a crisis of faith if I were attached to the biblicistic fundamentalism that surrounded me as I grew up, in which the Bible is viewed as the inerrant, infallible, uniform, authoritative and unquestionable Word of God.

If that’s what you believe about the Bible, then doesn’t this passage mean that you ought to approve of slavery? Of course it does — because that’s precisely why this form of inerrant, infallible, etc. biblicism was invented here in America. It arose in defense of slavery — slavery of an even more appalling and more brutal sort than that which this biblical passage describes. So, yes, a biblicistic, proof-texting approach to scripture designed in defense of slavery does, in fact, compel those who accept it to defend slavery.

But those defenders of slavery weren’t the only ones reading the Bible. Nor are those who learned to read the Bible from those defenders of slavery the only ones reading it now.  “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God …”

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    This is an important post.  I have nothing to add except, perhaps, metal fists.  m/ m/

  • Anonymous

    It turns out that English-speaking Christians aren’t the very first people ever to read the book of Exodus. The Jews got there way, way before we did. It seems Jews actually wrote the thing. Plus they’re pretty good at reading Hebrew.

    When I took a class on medical ethics at my synagogue, Exodus 21:22-25 was the first passage that we studied.

  • Anonymous

    I’m still fond of my Everett Fox translation. The relevant phrase is ‘abort-forth’.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    You know, that bit about purposely changing the Bible to fit a political agenda?

    “[18] I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of
    this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues
    described in this book,”

    Rev. 22:18. (RSV)

    When I first read those in my youth, I was terrified of even annotating my Bible because of that.

    Would that the translators with agendas had a similar sense of awe about the words they were (mis)handling.

  • Ursula L

    It’s interesting that this is written to address the situation of a pregnant woman being harmed as a side-effect of two men fighting, but it doesn’t address a pregnant woman being directly targeted.  Did the ancient Hebrews live in such an innocent world that no one would deliberately hit a pregnant woman? 

    It also has a glaring gap in that it doesn’t cover the situation of a man harming his pregnant wife.  A dangerous omission, given that pregnancy often coincides with increased domestic violence.  

  • frazer

    Do you have a reference for your statement that the literalist approach to the Bible was developed to justify slavery? I’d like to learn more about that.

  • pharoute

    Since it’s very clear that it refers to men fighting and an incidentally causing the injury to the woman, this passage has nothing to do with abortion, so we’re all good then?

  • Anonymous

    The penalty for causing a miscarriage is significantly less than the penalty for causing injury to the woman.  If the fetus were considered to have the same right (to life) as the pregnant woman, the penalty for causing the death of the fetus would be the same as the penalty for causing the death of the pregnant woman  — and would be more severe than the penalty for causing injury to the woman.

  • Lori

    This is a red letter day, because I’m agreeing with aunursa about something other than Left Behind.

  • Tonio

    How many of those translations are Judaism-specific? I spotted only one that had “Jewish” in that name. I’m astounded by the number of translations, but then, I wasn’t aware until college that Catholics used a version other than the KJV or the RSV.

     

    pregnancy often coincides with increased domestic violence. 

    I’ve read that before, but I don’t know why that is the case. Do you have any theories as to why?

  • Anonymous

    It also has a glaring gap in that it doesn’t cover the situation of a man harming his pregnant wife.  A dangerous omission, given that pregnancy often coincides with increased domestic violence.

    Wouldn’t that situation be covered under verses 12-19?

  • Anonymous

    We probably agree on a lot more than we realize.

  • Anonymous

    Wow. Bookmarked. This is quite a useful post.

  • Anonymous

    I think all of the other translations are Christian.

    I wasn’t aware that Mormons use only the KJV.  (They don’t use the translation made by Joseph Smith because for many years, the copyright was held by a splinter group of Mormons now known as the Community of Christ.)

  • Chatterton

    Perhaps the author was thinking of a specific situation which had recently been dealt with? I mean, a pregnant woman miscarrying because she interfered in a fight between two men and was accidentally hurt is not exactly an everyday event compared to a pregnant woman being targeted… but it lays a principle for future variations on the theme.

  • Lori

     

    I’ve read that before, but I don’t know why that is the case. Do you have any theories as to why? 

    A lot has been written about this. Broadly speaking, pregnancy tends to exacerbate some kinds of familial tension, like financial concerns, and that increases the likelihood of abuse. Abusers also may be angry and/or jealous over the fact that the pregnancy reduces their partners’ focus on them, either because the pregnant woman is simply more focused on the pregnancy or because physical issues make her unable to focus as much on her partner.

  • Anonymous

    The Stone Edition of the Chumash (Hebrew Bible)

    If men shall fight and they collide with a pregnant woman and she miscarries, but there will be no fatality, he shall surely be punished as the husband of the woman shall cause to be assessed against him, and he shall pay it by orders of the judges. But if there shall be a fatality, then you shall award a life for a life; an eye for an eye…

  • Anonymous

    Notes on the Stone edition:

    Causing the death of a fetus is not a capital offense, but the person responsible must pay damages.  These damages are assessed by the court in response to a claim made by the father. Such monetary damages are computed in the following manner: The court evaluates the woman as if she were a slave with a market value. She would be worth more when she is pregnant, because a prospective buyer would receive not only her services, but also her newborn as a slave…

  • Lori

     

    We probably agree on a lot more than we realize.  

    Just not the majority of the things that I consider important.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I think it’s because men of that ilk tend to believe one (or more) of the following:

    1. His wife/girlfriend is “trapping” him into the relationship with a baby he doesn’t want; likely because
    i) he doesn’t want to be a father
    ii) he feels she’s manipulating him with the pregnancy
    iii) the baby will take her attention off him and give her a reason to want to protect someone besides just him.

    2. He is attracted to the mental construct of a woman who has never borne children, and her having a baby would break this. Optionally, he may be physically attracted to the body shape generally associated with women who aren’t pregnant and may believe that she would be unattractive during pregnancy and/or after it if her body fails to shed the weight gain associated with pregnancy.

    (When you read enough Ann Rule, you kinda pick this stuff up, sad to say)

  • Solomon Parker

    Re: Romans 16:7, you forgot one.  The New World Translation.  That’s right, the cult who claims that they are crafting their translation from the original manuscripts is actually doing the exact thing they claim they never do in producing the ‘most accurate translation of the scriptures.’

  • http://azspot.net naum

    On Exodus 21 and abortion, I clipped this passage from Orthodox Jewish scholar James Kugel (*How to Read the Bible*) to highlight the ambiguity in various translations and the view of “ancient” interpreters — and contrasted against conservative evangelical Wayne Grudem (author of Systematic Theology, an essential reference for many conservative Christian pastors — but the passages were in Grudem’s *Politics: According to the Bible* where Grudem cites Exodus 21 as an anti-abortion dictum).

    Is the Fetus a Human Being?
    http://azspot.net/post/13105132906/is-a-fetus-a-human-being

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Plenty of abusive men want their female partners to bear children. Abusive men often sabotage their female partners’ birth control.

    http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/02/18/what-abusers-and-pro-family-conservatives-have-in-common/ 

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Trigger warning – talking about domestic violence.

    Domestic violence against pregnant women is a horrible thing, not only because of the innate harm of the act, but because of the risks of miscarriage and other health effects to the mother and the fetus, and because of the increased vulnerability of the mother.

    That said:

    pregnancy often coincides with increased domestic violence. 

    [ citation needed ]

    This source says that pregnancy was the start of abuse for only 1 in 6 abused women. In other words, most abusive relationships were either abusive before a pregnancy, or after, but not because of. (conversely, becoming pregnant does not appear to “reform” abusers, and while it might temporarily inhibit physical abuse, the abusive behaviors and patterns do not appear to be otherwise abated)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=687121933 Carrie Looney

    Do they saboatge birth control because they want a baby, or because they want to prove their virility/control by making a woman pregnant?  Those two can be quite weirdly distinct.
    Which brings up another potential, highly hypocritical, and quite horrible motivation for physical abuse of a pregnant partner.

  • Hth

    The secondary translation doesn’t even make logical sense to me.  In the case of a woman who “bears early” but explicitly without further complications — i.e. gives premature birth to a healthy child and is herself healthy — why would damages be due at all?  But given that we’re not talking about an era with much neonatal care, it seems obvious that any birth that was noticeably early would *be* the birth of a dead or quickly-dying child.  In other words, I can’t see much daylight between prematurity and miscarriage in this context.  What could the verse possibly be talking about other than a pregnancy terminated by violent trauma, *regardless* of which of those translations you like? 

  • Lori

     

    This source says that pregnancy was the start of abuse for only 1 in 6 abused women. 

    Initial violence isn’t the only issue though. You also need to look at frequency and severity of violence. It’s more difficult to get good data on those issues.

    http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Pregnancy_and_Domestic_Violence__A_Review_of_the_Literature.pdf

  • Lori

    The secondary translation doesn’t even make logical sense to me.  In the case of a woman who “bears early” but explicitly without further
    complications — i.e. gives premature birth to a healthy child and is herself healthy — why would damages be due at all?   

    Damages would be due because the pregnant woman was injured, even if the injury wasn’t permanent. We still punish assault as a crime and a tort separate from murder and attempted murder, so the concept isn’t really all the complicated.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    It’s more difficult to get good data on those issues.

    Agreed, which is why I object to blanket generalizations.

    “Do they saboatge birth control because they want a baby, or because they want to prove their virility/control by making a woman pregnant?”
    It’s usually about having control over the other person, about being able to control their behavior.

  • Anonymous

     *dons Jeff Foxworthy Hat*

    If you’ve ever avoided quoting the Bible because you were afraid that you’d accidentally paraphrase and automatically go to Hell… you might be a Fundamentalist.

  • Dana

     In -our- society, pregnancy often coincides with increased domestic violence, because a pregnancy is often a severe liability. In ancient societies, pregnancies were the opposite of a liability, and children are perhaps the primary form of wealth. A husband would be very unlikely to want to damage an unborn child.

    Not that it’s impossible, I guess, but it makes sense that this would be one of the situations that would be easy to overlook.

  • Lunch Meat

    So, here’s something that just occurred to me: Ignoring for the moment the fact that the translation has changed*, the point pro-life people are trying to make by using this verse is that a fetus is worth just as much as a born person, right? The argument is two-fold: a) this scripture is about God dictating what various entities are worth, and if we want to be right and moral, we should agree with it, and b) the penalty for a fetus being killed is the same as that of a person. That’s the argument, right?

    Is everyone just ignoring the fact that God thinks a woman’s health, well-being, and time are worth whatever her husband thinks she is, no more, no less? Yeah, if she dies, she’s a person, but otherwise she doesn’t get a say in any of this. Her husband decides how much it matters if she gets hurt. Earlier in the chapter, we see that God doesn’t think slaves are real people, but this is the same verse, saying a woman is not as much of a person as a man. Are the pro-life people campaigning to change the law so that a man being assaulted is a different crime than a woman being assaulted, and there will be no set penalty for assaulting a woman, just whatever the man who owns her thinks is fair?

    *As a general rule, I’m wary of arguing about original translation or changing translation to try to prove that the scriptures, even though they were written in a different culture by different people in a different language, actually agree with me. Translations change because we learn more–the KJV isn’t right just because it’s earlier than other translations; it’s actually less accurate because it’s based on later texts. And lately the translation of verses like the “clobber texts” are changing to show that they’re about sexual predators, not queer people. Should we be arguing that “homosexual” is more accurate in those verses than “male prostitute”, because it’s earlier?

    I prefer to just admit that the Bible was written with a different set of values than we have today. I don’t think you can make a Biblical argument that fetuses are people, but I don’t think that necessarily means the writers thought that abortion was a good thing. And personally, I’m okay with that.

  • Readerjohn

    No particular surprise here. If I were to experience a crisis of faith, though, it would be over the thought that the “infallible original manuscripts” are unavailable to us, and all we have is translations that may be ideologically loaded.
    As a Christian who honors the Church’s tradition, I’m appalled at the Protestant translation of paradosis as “teaching” when the context is positive, “tradition” when the context is negative. The result is that I get reamed out by biblicists for following “traditions of men” that the Bible so “clearly” condemns.
    I could probably find other examples. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure that there was no penalty for a man harming his wife, even if it ended her pregnancy.  She and the fetus were both considered his property, so he could do whatever he wanted.  Men hitting women was seen as acceptable if done by a husband, and pretty much nothing more than a property dispute if a man hit some other man’s wife or unmarried daughter.

    That passage doesn’t address the sin of a man hitting a woman any more than it would address the sin of a man hitting his livestock or the livestock that belong to another man.

    I don’t think that time was just full of violent men who constantly hit their wives, and most of them didn’t.  But for those who did, it was seen as their right to.

    It’s also why direct commands are generally addressed to men and rarely to women.  It was just assumed that women would do whatever their husbands or fathers wanted so they didn’t need any divine commands.  And I’m not just talking about the “generic he” as a pronoun here.  The incest taboo rules tell men which women they can’t marry.  One of the commandments tells men not to covet their neighbor’s wife.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1198150213 Joe Murray

    The man in those times could do with his wife as he pleased.  She was his property.  There were no rights for women.  You will notice that even in this passage it is the husband who has been grieved, who cares about the woman who was struck and had the miscarriage…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    Is everyone just ignoring the fact that God thinks a woman’s health,
    well-being, and time are worth whatever her husband thinks she is, no
    more, no less? Yeah, if she dies, she’s a person, but otherwise she
    doesn’t get a say in any of this.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I took it as a given for this discussion that “what the Bible really means” is basically irrelevant, because (A) this is a legal bit, (B) the Bible is damn useless as a prescriptive legal text, and (C) examining the precise syntax and diction of a single line from the Bible to try and figure out What God Wants Us To Do about a modern medical issue that they didn’t even come close to understanding when the thing was written is quite possibly the worst way to read the Bible, and is in fact the primary problem with “Biblical literalism.”

    Frankly, for the purposes of this post’s main point, it wouldn’t matter if there were another line somewhere else in the Bible that was best translated as “Fetuses are people! They feel paaaaaaaaaain!” — because, like I said, “what the Bible really means” isn’t the important news. The important news is that groups with political agendas are directly responsible for changing translations to match those political agendas.

    In other words, knowing what the book says in this section isn’t edifying when it comes to the abortion debate, but knowing what certain people have done to this section is.

  • Ursula L

    While children were nominally a measure of wealth in ancient times, I’m not sure that, in practical situations, the reality would be much different then than it is now.

    A family with limited resources – only so much land for crops, a herd only so big – would have the same financial difficulties from the birth of many children that a family of limited means has today.  There would be years between the birth of a child and the time when a child could start helping in a meaningful way to contribute to the family economy, enough time that children=wealth wouldn’t be an absolute truth.  And sons were defiantly more economically beneficial than daughters, who would require the payment of dowries, and whose adult productive years would be in her husband’s household rather than her father’s and brothers’. 

  • http://twitter.com/shay_guy Shay Guy

    Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (2001)

    When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on reckoning.

    P’shat Commentary

    fight: The Hebrew verb implies the use of physical force.
    damage: The word translated as “damage” (ason) elsewhere always signifies a major calamity; therefore, the most likely issue here is whether or not death ensues. Rabbinic tradition understands this as referring to the woman. The ancient Greek translation of the Bible, the Septuagint, takes it as damage to the fetus.
    based on reckoning: The husband makes a claim based on some standard set by the court, perhaps the age of the fetus.

    Halakhah l’Ma·aseh

    a miscarriage results: Applying this text to all forms of miscarriage, Jewish law requires different forms of mourning for a fetus than for someone born alive. Full mourning rites are not appropriate for a fetal loss; but the CJLS, understanding the emotional and physical pain of a couple experiencing a miscarriage, has ruled that the community should offer them support through prayer and the mitzvah of visiting the sick (bikkur ḥolim).

    but no other damage: Because the Torah demands only a monetary payment for the fetus in contrast to “life for life” for the woman, the fetus is not considered to be a full-fledged human being, and abortion is not murder (M Oho. 7:6). It is, however, an injury to the woman; and as such, abortion is generally prohibited. It is allowed only to save the physical or mental health of the mother. Many authorities, including the CJLS, permit abortion to prevent maternal anguish over the prospect of giving birth to a child with severe defects. Abortion is not permitted as a retroactive form of birth control.

  • Ursula L

    Another thing worth remembering in the translation of this verse is that “premature birth” and “miscarriage” would pretty much be the same thing, in the context in which the rule was written.

    They had no neonatal intensive care. No safe C-sections.  No incubators.  No tube feeding.  No oxygen therapy.  None of the many things we use these days to turn “premature birth” into “healthy baby” rather than “dead fetus.”  

    When you combine the inability to provide life support to a premature child with an inability to accurately diagnose early pregnancy, you have a situation where “premature birth” becomes a vague concept.  Either a baby is born and survives, or it doesn’t.  But if you can’t set a date for the beginning of pregnancy, you can’t measure how far the pregnancy has progressed, and you can’t really say whether a birth is premature or not, unless it is premature enough that the baby is visibly underdeveloped and doesn’t live, in which case you have a variation of “miscarriage” or “stillbirth” rather than what we consider to be “premature birth.” 

    In our modern context, “premature birth” includes the hope of life and health, given suitable medical care.  In the ancient world, “premature birth” just meant “dead.”  

  • Nathaniel

    How very 1984 this all is. And Goddamn hilarious coming from “Bible Bible Believing Christians.”

    “Look, we know what God really meant, even if “his book” says the exact opposite. Lets help out the big guy, okay? Lesser people might get confused.”

    “Aye!” 

  • Tricksterson

    Watch out, it’s probably a trap.

  • Tricksterson

    Jeff Foxwortyhy doesn’t wear a hat.  Or perhaps you are referring to wearing the skull of Jeff Foxworthy as a hat?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    As Carrie Looney says, the use of pregnancy by an abusive husband/boyfriend could be a control tool as well. Abusers are extremely devious at tying their targets in knots by purposely moving the goalposts in any discussion or argument.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    The Community of Christ is more than a splinter, they’re formerly the Reorganized Church of LDS, which is IFAIK one of the larger groups of folks that call themselves Mormon — far larger than any of the polygamous branches which could rightly be called splinters. 

  • Anonymous

    “Broadly speaking, pregnancy tends to exacerbate some kinds of familial tension, like financial concerns, and that increases the likelihood of abuse. Abusers also may be angry and/or jealous over the fact that the pregnancy reduces their partners’ focus on them, either because the pregnant woman is simply more focused on the pregnancy or because physical issues make her unable to focus as much on her partner.”

    It’s possible that this simply isn’t an issue among Bronze Age nomads. Children are wealth, and in a tribal, polygamous society, a man doesn’t lose much in terms of sex, or attention, or service, simply because his wife is pregnant. Also, they’re probably living surrounded by family–he hits his pregnant wife, his grandfather yells “That girl’s carrying my great-grandson,” and slaps him upside the head.

    Maybe not. We have limited evidence in the Bible. But I’d be curious to know if similar societies today see a rise in partner abuse following pregnancy.

  • Anonymous

    Also, as regards dowry, please note that in the world of the Hebrew scriptures, they refer to bride price, not to property that a woman must bring with her. Undoubtedly she did bring some personal property, but the money, or goats, or what have you, goes from the groom to the bride’s father, to recompense him for the loss of labor that will now go to the husband’s family.

  • Aguilaoro88

    With all this in mind, what should we say is the best translation?

  • Aguilaoro88

    Actually, I cast my last comment into the void.  I have a much juicier reply to make.  Thinking that this was an unavoidable conclusion, I searched it and tried to see if anyone else thought the same way.  What I found, first result, was a rebuttal:

    http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5700 

    Can any reply be made to this?  I was all set to make ‘Go read Exodus 21:22′ my standard reply to any small child who gives me another Chick Tract, but then this popped up…

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Well, there’s what Ursula said. Anyone who claims that in the hebrew, “born prematurely” means “is endangered and needs special costly care, hence the fine, but with proper medical attention will likely make a full recovery” is being disingenous. The people who scribed the original text didn’t need to make a distinction between “born prematurely” and “miscarried” becuase when you’re a bronze age desert nomad *those are the same thing*.

    Also, the article you cite is a *very* clear example of starting with the answer you want (“No, it totes always meant premature birth of a healthy baby!”) and working backwards.

  • Paul D.

    To its credit, the new Common English Bible translates it as “miscarriage”.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X