20 August 2014

No Wives, Only Slaves: On the Necessity of Retranslating the Bible

a guest post by David Tuchman

OMGWTFBIBLE is a new translation of the entire Hebrew Bible as a comedy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take my translation very seriously. Beyond all the jokes, in retranslating Genesis, I’ve discovered two trends that reveal the approach to women and property taken in the culture surrounding the text that are not apparent in existing translations.
One of the earliest decisions I made when writing the OMGWTFBIBLE was to maintain an almost megalomaniacal consistency. If a word was translated a particular way, I stuck with that translating, regardless of context or traditional approaches. This led to some striking discoveries in Genesis, particularly regarding the words usually translated as “wife” and “servant.” I discovered that, depending on how the book is translated, nobody gets married in Genesis. And everyone owns slaves. And it’s not a coincidence those two words are so controversial.
Traditionally, Genesis is filled with marriages and wives. Adam makes Eve the first wife, Abraham takes a wife and then a concubine, and, after a veil-assisted switcheroo, Jacob ends up with more wives than he can handle. But none of those men necessarily have wives. In Hebrew, the word for “wife”—אשה [isha]—is identical to the word for “woman.” And at no point in Genesis does anything described explicitly as a wedding take place.Nearly every time a man and woman get together, the phrase used is ויקח אשה  [vayikach isha]—“and he took a woman”—forceful language that at one point, in Genesis 34 (Episode 16), is assumed to connote rape. It seems clear to me that women in Genesis are treated merely as property traded by the men who own them. In fact, the word usually translated as “husband”—באל [ba’al]—can actually mean “owner.”




There’s no dearth of owners in Genesis either. Every single one of the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—is a slaveowner. Once again, this is a case of selective translation. In most translations, we’ll read of these men’s many servants. But like women, servant is translated from a word that has more than one meaning. עבד [eved] also means “slave.” This word is evoked every Passover, in the traditional reading of the Haggadah, when Jews sing עבדים היינו [avadim hayeenu]—“we were slaves”—during the ritual Passover meal. I translate it only as slave to ensure it’s clear that these men owned slaves. Abraham and Isaac not only owned slaves but received them as payment.
Throughout Genesis, women are repeatedly treated as property as slaveowning is casually mentioned as attributes of the book’s heroes. Theses two strands meet in Genesis 24 (Episode 9), when Abraham sends a slave to search for a woman for his son Isaac. When the slave, who remains unnamed throughout the episode, finds a suitable woman, he spends most of his energy trying to convince Rebecca’s father and brother to give her to Isaac as his woman. Asking her consent in the matter seems merely an afterthought, which speaks to the status of women in this world. Usually, this character is referred to as a “servant,” but as a slave, his story becomes much more interesting. As a man in bondage, what are his feelings about acquiring yet another piece of property for his master’s son? The answers are nowhere in the text but the question is nevertheless compelling.




At the moment, I’m nearly finished with my translation of Exodus, which, like Genesis, is full of surprises. To me, these shifts in understanding emphasize the need to retranslate the Bible. We must criticize at every turn. We can’t merely accept that traditional historical readings are correct. It’s crucial to our engagement with the world that we question everything we are told.


If you are in New York City, you can catch a live recording of OMGWTFBIBLE at 8PM on August 25th at the Beauty Bar on 14th street. More details here

If not, David is in the middle of an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money to take his podcast on the road. If you donate enough, I'm sure he'll come to your city. Check out his video below. 



15 August 2014

EJ&T: Numbers 6 - The Law of the Nazarite

In the Every Jot and Tittle project, I am listing all of the Bible's commandments from Genesis to Revelation, in accordance with Jesus's words in Matthew 5:18-19. I have no idea how many commandments I'll find, but Jewish tradition claims there are 613. See here for a list of those that I've found so far.

  1. The Law of the Nazarite
  2. A man or woman who becomes a Nazarite must not drink alcoholic beverages of any kind. Don't drink grape juice or eat any part of a grape or raisin, seeds or skins.
    And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord: He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk. Numbers 6:1-4
    Don't cut you hair.
    All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. Numbers 6:5
    Stay away from dead bodies, including dead family members.
    All the days that he separateth himself unto the Lord he shall come at no dead body. He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head. Numbers 6:7-8
    Once you become a Nazarite, you are holy to God. So if you happen to get near a dead body after becoming a Nazarite, you must shave your head seven days later.
    All the days of his separation he is holy unto the Lord. And if any man die very suddenly by him, and he hath defiled the head of his consecration; then he shall shave his head in the day of his cleansing, on the seventh day shall he shave it. Numbers 6:9
    On the eighth day after getting near a dead body, bring two doves or young pigeons to a priest. The priest will kill them for God; one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering. After these sacrifices, your head will become holy once again.
    And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, and make an atonement for him, for that he sinned by the dead, and shall hallow his head that same day. Numbers 6:10-11
    After the priest kills the birds, consecrate yourself to the Lord again as a Nazarite. Then kill a young lamb as a trespass offering. Any time you served as a Nazarite before the dead body episode doesn't count. The clock starts after you kill the lamb.
    And he shall consecrate unto the Lord the days of his separation, and shall bring a lamb of the first year for a trespass offering: but the days that were before shall be lost, because his separation was defiled. Numbers 6:12
    When you decide to retire, bring three animals to the priest to be killed for God: an unblemished, first year lamb for a burnt offering; an unblemished, first year, female lamb for a sin offering; and and unblemished ram for a peace offering. Include a basket of unleavened bread, a few cakes mingled with oil, some unleavened bread wafers anointed with oil, a meat offering, and a drink offering.
    And this is the law of the Nazarite, when the days of his separation are fulfilled: he shall be brought unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: And he shall offer his offering unto the Lord, one he lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin offering, and one ram without blemish for peace offerings, And a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, and their meat offering, and their drink offerings. And the priest shall bring them before the Lord, and shall offer his sin offering, and his burnt offering: And he shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the Lord, with the basket of unleavened bread: the priest shall offer also his meat offering, and his drink offering. Numbers 6:13-17
    Then shave your head and burn your hair as a peace offering.
    And the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings. Numbers 6:18
    Your retirement ceremony ends with the priest handing you the sodden shoulder of a ram, an unleavened cake, and an unleavened water. Then the priest will wave them in the air before the Lord. This is holy for the priest and fun for God.
    And the priest shall take the sodden shoulder of the ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them upon the hands of the Nazarite, after the hair of his separation is shaven: And the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord: this is holy for the priest, with the wave breast and heave shoulder. Numbers 6:19-20a
    After you retire, you may drink wine once again.
    And after that the Nazarite may drink wine. This is the law of the Nazarite who hath vowed, and of his offering unto the Lord for his separation, beside that that his hand shall get: according to the vow which he vowed, so he must do after the law of his separation. Numbers 6:20b-21

14 August 2014

EJ&T: Numbers 4-5: Holy things, oozing discharges, church donations, and the law of jealousies

In the Every Jot and Tittle project, I am listing all of the Bible's commandments from Genesis to Revelation, in accordance with Jesus's words in Matthew 5:18-19. I have no idea how many commandments I'll find, but Jewish tradition claims there are 613. See here for a list of those that I've found so far.

  1. Don't touch or look at any holy things. (Or God will kill you.)
  2. They shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. Numbers 4:15

    They shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die. Numbers 4:20

  3. Don't allow anyone who has touched a dead body, or who has a skin disease, or an oozing discharge to live anywhere near you.
  4. Put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead: Both male and female shall ye put out, without the camp shall ye put them; that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell. Numbers 5:2-3

  5. All holy donations belong to the priest.
  6. Every offering of all the holy things of the children of Israel, which they bring unto the priest, shall be his. And every man's hallowed things shall be his: whatsoever any man giveth the priest, it shall be his. Numbers 5:9-10

  7. The Law of Jealousies: What a man must do when the spirit of jealousy comes upon him.
  8. If a man suspects his wife of being unfaithful, he reports it to the priest.
    And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man's wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him, And a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner; And the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled: or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled: Then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance. Numbers 5:11-15
    The priest then makes her drink some "bitter water."
    And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord: And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water: And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord, and uncover the woman's head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse: Numbers 5:16-18
    If she is guilty, the water makes her thigh rot and her belly swell.
    And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse: But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband: Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The Lord make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the Lord doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell; And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen. And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water: And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter. Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman's hand, and shall wave the offering before the Lord, and offer it upon the altar: And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water. And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people. Numbers 5:19-27
    If the woman is innocent, no harm done -- she is free and will "conceive seed." In any case, "the man shall be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity."
    And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed. This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled; Or when the spirit of jealousy cometh upon him, and he be jealous over his wife, and shall set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall execute upon her all this law. Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.Numbers 5:28-31

13 August 2014

EJ&T: Numbers 3: God changes his mind about firstborn sons

In the Every Jot and Tittle project, I am listing all of the Bible's commandments from Genesis to Revelation, in accordance with Jesus's words in Matthew 5:18-19. I have no idea how many commandments I'll find, but Jewish tradition claims there are 613. See here for a list of those that I've found so far.

  1. Only the descendants of Aaron shall be priests.
  2. Thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest's office. Numbers 3:10a
    Aaron and his sons, keeping the charge of the sanctuary for the charge of the children of Israel. Numbers 3:38a

  3. Kill anyone who tries to become a priest who is not a descendant of Aaron.
  4. The stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death. Number 3:10b, Numbers 3:38b

  5. Firstborn sons (both man and beast) are no longer God's. He replaced them with Levites.
  6. God originally bought every Israelite firstborn son and animal by killing every firstborn Egyptian son and animal during the Exodus. (See Commandment #22) Now he changes his mind, substituting the Levites for Israelite firstborn sons.
    And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine; Because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am the LORD. Numbers 3:12-13

    And thou shalt take the Levites for me (I am the LORD) instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel; and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstlings among the cattle of the children of Israel. Numbers 3:41

    And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for an offering unto the Lord. Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine. And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt cleanse them, and offer them for an offering. For they are wholly given unto me from among the children of Israel; instead of such as open every womb, even instead of the firstborn of all the children of Israel, have I taken them unto me. For all the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself. And I have taken the Levites for all the firstborn of the children of Israel. And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an atonement for the children of Israel: that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary. Numbers 8:13-19

12 August 2014

EJ&T: Leviticus 27: The value of human life, animals, and real estate

In the Every Jot and Tittle project, I am listing all of the Bible's commandments from Genesis to Revelation, in accordance with Jesus's words in Matthew 5:18-19. I have no idea how many commandments I'll find, but Jewish tradition claims there are 613. See here for a list of those that I've found so far.

  1. Put a dollar value on human life according to the following table.
  2. The Value of Human Life
    Age Sex In Shekels of Silver In 2014 US Dollars
    less than one month
    (Newborn babies and fetuses)
    male 0 0
    female 0 0
    one month to 5 years male 5 $36.40
    female 3 $21.84
    5 to 20 years male 20 $145.60
    female 10 $72.80
    20 to 60 years male 50 $364.00
    female 30 $218.40
    over 60 years male 15 $109.20
    female 10 $72.80
    Thy estimation shall be of the male from twenty years old even unto sixty years old, even thy estimation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary. And if it be a female, then thy estimation shall be thirty shekels. And if it be from five years old even unto twenty years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male twenty shekels, and for the female ten shekels. And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver. And if it be from sixty years old and above; if it be a male, then thy estimation shall be fifteen shekels, and for the female ten shekels.Leviticus 27:3-7

  3. Determine the value of consecrated animals according to the following rules.
  4. These rules are a bit complicated, so I'll just let God explain the details to you.

    And if it be a beast, whereof men bring an offering unto the LORD, all that any man giveth of such unto the LORD shall be holy. He shall not alter it, nor change it, a good for a bad, or a bad for a good: and if he shall at all change beast for beast, then it and the exchange thereof shall be holy. And if it be any unclean beast, of which they do not offer a sacrifice unto the LORD, then he shall present the beast before the priest: And the priest shall value it, whether it be good or bad: as thou valuest it, who art the priest, so shall it be. But if he will at all redeem it, then he shall add a fifth part thereof unto thy estimation. Leviticus 27:9-13

    Only the firstling of the beasts, which should be the LORD's firstling, no man shall sanctify it; whether it be ox, or sheep: it is the LORD's.And if it be of an unclean beast, then he shall redeem it according to thine estimation, and shall add a fifth part of it thereto: or if it be not redeemed, then it shall be sold according to thy estimation. Leviticus 27:26-27

  5. Value consecrated houses according to the following rules.
  6. And when a man shall sanctify his house to be holy unto the LORD, then the priest shall estimate it, whether it be good or bad: as the priest shall estimate it, so shall it stand. And if he that sanctified it will redeem his house, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of thy estimation unto it, and it shall be his. Leviticus 27:14-15

  7. Value consecrated fields according to the following rules.
  8. A homer of barley is worth 50 shekels of silver to God, and 20 gerah's is equal to a shekel. (That's good to know.)

    And if a man shall sanctify unto the LORD some part of a field of his possession, then thy estimation shall be according to the seed thereof: an homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver. If he sanctify his field from the year of jubile, according to thy estimation it shall stand. But if he sanctify his field after the jubile, then the priest shall reckon unto him the money according to the years that remain, even unto the year of the jubile, and it shall be abated from thy estimation. And if he that sanctified the field will in any wise redeem it, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of thy estimation unto it, and it shall be assured to him. And if he will not redeem the field, or if he have sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed any more. But the field, when it goeth out in the jubile, shall be holy unto the LORD, as a field devoted; the possession thereof shall be the priest's. And if a man sanctify unto the LORD a field which he hath bought, which is not of the fields of his possession; hen the priest shall reckon unto him the worth of thy estimation, even unto the year of the jubile: and he shall give thine estimation in that day, as a holy thing unto the LORD. In the year of the jubile the field shall return unto him of whom it was bought, even to him to whom the possession of the land did belong. And all thy estimations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs shall be the shekel. Leviticus 27:16-25

  9. Whatever is dedicated to God, human or animal, must be killed.
  10. Notwithstanding no devoted thing, that a man shall devote unto the LORD of all that he hath, both of man and beast, and of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed: every devoted thing is most holy unto the LORD. None devoted, which shall be devoted of men, shall be redeemed; but shall surely be put to death. Leviticus 27:28-29

  11. Give God 10% of everything you have. You can buy your 10% back by paying 20%.
  12. And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD's: it is holy unto the LORD. And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof. And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof. And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD. He shall not search whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and the change thereof shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed. Leviticus 27:30-33