Why would they care about that? Apparently some in the group are tired of seeing the bible refer to an animal as “it” instead of “he” or “she.” Yes. Really. These members of PETA are concerned that continued use of “it” in the bible means readers of the book never learn how beloved animals really are in God’s eyes. To their way of thinking, lacking this realization is the first step toward mistreatment of animals. Says Bruce Friedrich, PETA’s vice president for policy and a practicing Roman Catholic, according to the article:
“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.”
Friedrich, who is also a vegan and suggests the Bible promotes vegetarianism, puts a religious face on PETA’s ethical arguments.
“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.”
Is PETA that heavily religious? Depends on what news article you read, by the look of things. They didn’t thrill every Catholic with their naked angel advertising a few years ago, for example.
What interested me more was the interview with David Berger, dean of Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel graduate school of Jewish studies, who explained to CNN the nature of ancient Hebrew and its gendered nouns.
“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.”
Some translators down the line decided to make the pronouns more inclusive and non-gender specific, except in verses explicitly referring men or women. For verses about people, it’s going to matter what gender. For stories about animals, it’s hardly a key point in the tale therefore gender can be ignored. David Jeffrey, a professor of literature at Baylor University is quoted in the piece and thinks this kind of nitpicking about the language format pulls people away from the importance of what’s actually being said.
Caring about animal welfare is one thing. Caring about “it” in the bible is probably a waste of time but they’ve still taken their case to the NIV’s Committee of Bible Translation. Judging by examples provided at bible.researcher.com, they have a history of taking some artistic license to make the book more palatable to modern audiences, often making alterations to a point beyond the need to improve understanding of the text. Their gender neutral version was just their latest endeavor.
The gender-neutral alterations were done in accordance with gender-neutral language guidelines that were adopted by the NIV Committee on Bible Translation in 1992, and were highly objectionable to conservatives. A statement in the Preface that the translators believed “it was often appropriate to mute the patriarchalism of the culture of the biblical writers through gender-inclusive language when this could be done without compromising the message of the Spirit” (p. vii) was hard to reconcile with conservative views of the Bible’s verbal inspiration. The whole affair raised suspicions of liberal tendencies in the International Bible Society. Embarrassed and under heavy pressure from conservative groups, the IBS in 1997 announced that the “inclusive language” edition would not be published in America under the name, “New International Version,” and that it would in the future continue to publish the NIV of 1984 unchanged.
Again, does this kind of thing have to matter? Does it help a person understand the bible better, or does it make people care more about the spelling of words rather than the meanings behind them?