The Bacula Mystery II

Kage Baker actually read the Bible. Usually the King James Version – it was her favourite, because she liked the poetry of the translation.

However,  sometimes the beauty of the lines interfered with their meaning, in that the translations are not too precise. Perhaps the best known is “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” The word actually used (“chasaph”) apparently means something more like “poisoner”; specifically, a poisoner of wells – which in a desert land is pretty serious. Unfortunately, this translation has led lots of people, including that Bible’s eponymous patron, James the 1st and 6th, to persecute a lot of people for witchcraft and blame the Bible for the nasty habit.

Words matter.

Sometimes, though, the translations in the King James Version are just plain fascinating. Did you know weasels are treff? According to the KJV, they are. But some scholars think the word should have been translated as “moles” – and, when Kage researched it, she did find that there is only one weasel native to the area: the Least Weasel. It’s a miniscule beastie and she couldn’t believe the little thing was worth eating anyway – but she couldn’t imagine anyone needing to be forbidden to eat them. Still, it was her favourite of the dietary rules.

Do Not Eat Me - It's The Law

Of course, the Least Weasel also has a bacula – the  Mustelidae are not among those mammals who lack them, unlike human beings – which gives us a nice segue into our previous topic. Or into accidentally offending people with Bible translation oddities; which I do hope I am not doing. I don’t invent these things, I just report them …

Most of you, Dear Readers, are probably  familiar with the Bible story that Eve was created by the Lord God out of Adam’s rib. In fact, Christian scholars – who were deep into theology long before topics like medicine and anatomy – habitually believed that men did have one less rib than women; few of them ever had a clear look at the originals to count them, after all, and once they did, there some pretty fancy footwork to explain the anomaly.

In our high school biology classes, there hung a skeleton, for display purposes. It was vandalized on a regular basis with fancy lingerie, phoney cigars, cigarettes and doobies, fake fingernails, sunglasses. Our exemplary biology teacher, Sister Marsha, would ask at the beginning of each year if anyone could guess what gender the bones had been. It was then an annual event for some devout and/or dim student to raise her hand and respond that it was female, as it had the same number of ribs on each side. That gave the very logical Sister M. the chance to  get all that Adam’s-rib nonsense out of the way right at the beginning. I think she introduced several years’ worth of Catholic maidens to the idea of secular scepticism when she explained that the Bible was not an anatomy text … although not everyone believed her.

Those young ladies had real problems with the Krebs cycle and evolution later on.

If only Sister Marsha had seen this explanation:

It’s a translation problem again. The word used in the original is “tzela”. This can be translated as “rib” but doesn’t ordinarily mean a rib like the bones in your chest. It means a structural rib, an architectural rib, a supporting column … as I said, humans had undoubtedly noticed that most male animals had the things. (Especially if they were hunting Least Weasels with enough frequency to get them on the treff  list.) But humans don’t. The two ladies referenced in the link above think the original story of Adam’s rib may be been an origin myth designed to explain this lack in human males – certainly, the missing bacula would have had considerably more reproductive panache than a mere costal rib.

Whether or not this was intended to be serious or tongue in cheek, the words do mean what they say they mean – and what they don’t. This broadens the world. It widens our outlook! It might even explain a story that never made sense, one that has bothered theologians for 2,000 years. And I think it’s hilarious, besides.

I bet the Least Weasel is snickering, too.