March 23rd, 2011
05:35 PM ET
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is calling for a more animal-friendly update to the Bible.
The group is asking translators of the New International Version (NIV) to remove what it calls "speciesist" language and refer to animals as "he" or "she" instead of "it."
The NIV is a popular translation of the Christian Bible. An updated translation was released this month. The translators said 95% of the 1984 translation remains the same. But the committee of scholars made a move to be more gender-inclusive in their translation into English from the original Hebrew and Greek texts. According to the Committee on Bible Translation's website:
PETA is hoping the move toward greater gender inclusiveness will continue toward animals as well.
“When the Bible moves toward inclusively in one area ... it wasn’t much of a stretch to suggest they move toward inclusively in this area," Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vice president for policy, told CNN.
Friedrich, a practicing Roman Catholic, said, "Language matters. Calling an animal 'it' denies them something. They are beloved by God. They glorify God."
“God’s covenant is with humans and animals. God cares about animals," Friedrich said. "I would think that’s a rather unanimous opinion among biblical scholars today, where that might not have been the case 200 years ago.”
“What happens in slaughterhouses mocks God,” he said. People know intuitively that "animals are 'who' not 'what.' ... Acknowledging it would better align our practices with our beliefs.”
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."
Jeffery said he sympathizes and agrees with PETA's position that God calls for humans to care for animals, but he said, "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."
PETA's Friedrich said his group's position has been bolstered by the creation care movement, in which many evangelicals are becoming more conscience about the environment.
"The creation care movement is certainly helpful,” he said.
Whether their arguments will be enough to sway the translators is yet to be seen. Friedrich said he has yet to hear back from the Committee on Bible Translation.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.