Not long ago, I reviewed Tom Cutler’s book Slap and Tickle. Translation, as we well know by now, appears everywhere, including in relation to sex.
As Cutler points out, the bible has many sexual prohibitions and other discussions with sexual words. However, the “English translators of the Bible were a bit squeamish about some things”, as Cutler writes. In a section in Genesis, the original text said, “If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my penis, and deal kindly and truly with me”, but the English translators replaced “penis” with “thigh”.
Cutler writes, the “ideal then being that if you were making a solemn oath your testicles would be in jeopardy if you bore witness. When your lawyer next uses the words ‘testament’, and ‘testify’, remember that he or she is using words with the same root as, ‘testicle’.” (all quotes from p. 32)
What Cutler is getting at here is that translators have a lot of power and can substantially change our ideas about a text (and laws), as well as make us forget etymology and connections between words.
Next time you think about or get near testicles or thighs, think about translation. Or, on second thought, maybe not…
Pre-Shabbat Jewish Literary Links
3 hours ago