Tuesday, March 29, 2011

PETA calls for a new translation of the Bible that doesn't use "it" to refer to an animal

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)'s vice president says:

"Language matters. Calling an animal 'it' denies them something . . . They are beloved by God. They glorify God."
Well, if you're going to make a proposal, it should be specific and practicable. That's a truism: a proposal is something that can actually be put into practice. Even if everyone agreed that "it" is not ideal, it's far from clear what could replace "it":
David Berger, the dean of Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel graduate school of Jewish studies, said making the shift in English PETA is requesting would be difficult given the nature of ancient Hebrew.

“In Hebrew all nouns are gender-specific. So the noun for chair is masculine and the noun for earth is feminine. There’s simply no such thing as a neutral noun," Berger told CNN. “It’s unusual to have a noun that would indicate the sex of the animal.”

“In Proverbs it says, 'Look at the ant oh lazy person. See its ways,' " Berger said, quoting the English transition from the book of Proverbs. "In Hebrew it’s 'see her ways.' That's because the word for ant in Hebrew happens to be female. It’s not intended to exclude male ants as far as I know. It’s just an accident the Hebrew word happens to be feminine.”

He said that verse and many others are not intended to single out one sex or the other of the animals.

"It’s a little bit misleading given the fact in English the gender of the pronoun means something. It refers to the masculinity of the person or the animal that’s being referred to. In Hebrew in most cases its just sort of an accident of the masculine or feminine of the pronoun to which it referred," Berger said.

David Lyle Jeffrey, a distinguished professor of literature and the humanities at Baylor University, teaches about ancient texts and the Bible's relationship to literature and the arts.

“I agree with their contention that God cares for all of creation," Jeffrey said. "It is true that we have a responsibility to reflect that affection.

"In gender-inclusive Bible translation the generic terms for humankind, let's say, are then replaced with an emphasis on he or she. Instead of the generic he, you say he and she. I don’t quite see how that would work with animals," Jeffery said.

"Do we need to know the gender of the lion Samson slew? What would it give us there?" he said. "You could try to specify that, but you would be doing so entirely inventively if you did. It's not in the original language. ... Nothing is made of it in the story." . . .

"When you get to the point when you say, 'Don’t say it, say he or she' when the text doesn’t, you’re both screwing up the text and missing the main point you addressed."
Aside from all that, I have another problem with PETA's campaign. I agree with the principle behind what PETA is saying, and I support the essential mission of PETA itself. But I often find the way they implement their mission to be highly unfortunate, and I don't see why they thought this was a good move.

Vegetarians, vegans, and animal-rights activists are already perceived as left-wing radicals who are out of sync with mainstream American culture. So, what does PETA choose as a target? The Bible! The folks at PETA might be vegetarians, but they have a cannibalistic tendency to feed off of the weaknesses of their own kind.


Grobstein said...

Doesn't the Bible describe / address non-gender-specified humans throughout the text? English doesn't really have an elegant way of doing that, either -- it's subject to the same problems that the experts flag for animals.

There's an interesting passage (chapter?) in Steve Wise's "Rattling the Cage" about the treatment of animals in the Hebrew Bible. He actually fingers the Bible as a major cause of the attitudes that lead to the treatment of animals as things (which seems somewhat implausible to me). But he's writing about content rather than language, as I recall. Google Books link.

John0 Juanderlust said...

I've been a non-carnivore all my life. I think PETA is mostly nuts. This issue is more of their performance theater of the absurd.
I support Ted Nugent; both the hunting lifestyle, and his conservation work. Just because I don't eat something doesn't make me left wing or concerned with what others ingest--as long as it isn't me or mine.
Thought I'd clear that up. You can't put everyone in a political box based on diet. Those people radical (PETA) are misanthropes, much like most groups who can't live and let live in a reasonable way.
I always wonder how they view the omnivores of the world, like bears, and the predators like lions and wolves.
Like the animals referenced in the Bible give a damn what they are called..