Naughty Bits in the Bible

by on February 2, 2010 at 6:22 am in History, Music | Permalink

From a review of The Uncensored Bible:

In court we swear to tell the truth with a hand placed on the Bible. But in the book itself, Jacob, nearing death in Egypt, asks Joseph to swear an oath not to bury him there by “put[ting] your hand under my thigh” (Gen. 47:29). Earlier in Genesis, Jacob wrestles with God, who touches “the hollow of his [Jacob's] thigh” (32:25). “Thigh” happens to be a biblical euphemism for male genitalia; it’s from Jacob’s “thigh” or “loins” that his numerous offspring sprang.

This was new to me:

The practice of swearing an oath while touching one’s or someone else’s testicles was common in the ancient Near East (Abraham also orders a servant to do just that in Genesis 24:2). Its linguistic memory survives in our word “testify”–testis being the Latin both for “witness” and the male generative gland.

I will never be able to listen to George Clinton and Parliament's funkadelic classic, "I just want to testify, what your love has done for me," in the same way again.  The album title is interesting in this context also.   

SkitzoLeezra February 2, 2010 at 12:30 am

For sure! Many laughs in Bible study after learning that. NOW we understand why some young men constantly touch themselves without shame nor embarrassment. They are publicly testifying their vows. “I swear! I promise! My word is my bond! Look, you can touch my promise parts!”

Bryan February 2, 2010 at 1:09 am

I am not so sure about the testify/testicles etymological connection. A little bit of googling casts doubt on it. I seem to remember reading somewhere more definitive than what I can find via lazily googling that the supposed connection is highly questionable.

Chuggawugga February 2, 2010 at 2:30 am

The Latin “testis” does contribute to both English words “testicles” and “testify,” but no one really knows why.

As for Razib’s washing the feet comment, that sounds like whatever you read was an unsupported exegetical reading, because nothing I’ve seen would suggest that interpretation. The thigh-oath bit is interesting, but the earlier instance (with the wrestling) seems to be taken out of context: the verse right after it says, “the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint.” This happens to be a pretty big plot point in this part of the bible, it’s made pretty clear that the dude’s wrestling with a disjointed leg, not a (ouch) disjointed penis. But hey, what do I know? Sensationalism over scholarship!

MG February 2, 2010 at 8:31 am

franko, I doubt that any part of the KJV Bible went from Hebrew to Aramaic/Greek to Latin to English. The Old Testament would have been spoken and written in Hebrew and then translated from Hebrew (Masoretic texts) to English.

The KJV New Testament comes closest to what you describe, having been (probably) spoken in Aramaic, written in Greek, and then translated to Latin, and then translated to English. (A lot of modern translations translate from the Greek and cut out the Latin step).

Candadai Tirumalai February 2, 2010 at 9:24 am

I am no expert on the subject but I am
rather skeptical of the etymological
connections which are suggested. But I
do think both Testaments have their dark,
ambiguous, shadowy side. Understanding
that side in context without letting
it swamp everything else is a complex
matter.

JMS February 2, 2010 at 10:04 am

The KJV, as is common of most reformation texts, was transcribed from the Received Texts, a body of gospels written in Greek. There is dispute over the dating, and very few argue that they are apostlistic. The Old Testament was translated with the help of rabbinical scholars.

The newer translations, such as the NRSV, NIV and the like are produced from a wide range of sources, but preference is given to texts that are closer in time and in number of translations. They also go outside the canonical texts in order to determine the usage patterns and meanings in the texts they are translating. That last fact is where a good deal of conservative attacks on the reliability if more recent translations begin.

JMS

Joe G February 2, 2010 at 10:07 am

This was a fun discussion. Reading the comments was like a steady rebuke of his points.I enjoyed it. I don’t have anything to add except it’s all based on the sayings of a mythological book, anyway. Myth is still fun to discuss.

English Teacher February 2, 2010 at 10:24 am

“shakespearean english is not the same as modern”

Oh Lord … we really aren’t doing our job, are we?

John February 2, 2010 at 11:01 am

Not an urban legend. To be precise, the urban legend part is the minor part that the derivation of testify is related to the swearing on the testes. But the two words are related and the swearing on the testes did happen in the near East.

A good reference:

http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-swe1.htm

Laserlight February 2, 2010 at 11:45 am

I hadn’t heard this but I have heard the “feet” euphemism. I haven’t seen documentation myself but I’ve seen it mentioned recently in a scholarly work.

As I recall, one of the first few chapters of Proverbs says “drink deep of your own well, and don’t consort with hookers”; obviously the first half of that phrase is also euphemism.

Chuggawugga February 2, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Citing the “translational phone game” is a pretty dumb thing to say, considering that most modern translations use the earliest available original texts, not “let’s replace all the thous in KJV.” English OTs use Hebrew texts, i.e. fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls (not the Septuagint).

Barkley Rosser February 2, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Regarding the languages in which the Old Testament is written, the Book of Daniel and
most of that of Ezekiel are in Aramaic, and were presumably originally spoken in Aramaic,
indicating their later authorship. The others are all in Hebrew and were probably spoken
in Hebrew originally.

Otherwise, the Bible is full of all kinds of porno dirt, although more so in the Old than
in the New Testament.

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CJ February 2, 2010 at 11:19 pm

We can always count on Alex to kink up the blog. Levity for those of use living in the often irrational bible-belt. Keep it up!

Jim February 3, 2010 at 3:47 pm

“To be precise, the urban legend part is the minor part that the derivation of testify is related to the swearing on the testes. But the two words are related and the swearing on the testes did happen in the near East.”

Why would a Latin etymology have anything to do with Near Eastern cultures? The Greeks and Romans despised those cultures and those peoples. A Near Eastern custom is hardly a basis for a Latin etymology unless it entered the language fairly late, and eeven then it is very unlikely. Neither the Greeks or the Italians have ever developed much regard for that end of the Mediterranean.

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