Booty Recall: Bishops Drop Word from Bible

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' new translation of the Bible.

March 2, 2011, 11:46 AM

March 2, 2011 -- American Bishops have come out publicly against gratuitous booty.

To be more precise the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has ordered up a new translation of the Bible, one that -- among other changes -- replaces the word "booty" with "spoils."

But before anyone howls about censorship or the purity of the original text, church leaders are swift to point out that the latest translation aims to be more accurate, more contemporary and even more poetic. The newest edition of the New American Bible, the English-language Catholic Bible, comes out on Ash Wednesday, March 9.

"Our official line is that this is the Bible in high-def," Mary Elizabeth Sperry of the U.S. Conference told ABC News. "It's not a new Bible; it's not a new story. It's the same text you've known but hopefully you'll be able to see it in great detail."

Ergo, "booty" is out and "spoils" of war -- which is simultaneously truer to the original intent of the text and less likely to set off a round of giggles in Sunday school -- is in.

(When initially approached by this reporter, Sperry joked, "Is this a booty call? Because I'm not sure I can take those at work.")

Earlier this year, a Mark Twain scholar kicked up a storm of controversy when he oversaw the publication of a new version of "Huckleberry Finn" -- one that swaps the "N-word" which occurs 219 times throughout, for "slave."

But Bible scholars insist that their new translation is a completely different animal. Fifty scholars, linguistics experts, theologians and five bishops spent 17 years on the project. They extensively consulted original manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls and archaeology findings (or, if you will, booty) unearthed since research behind the current text, published in 1970.

"I actually think it's a good idea," Curt Niccum, an associate professor at Abilene Christian University who was not involved with the project, told ABC News.

"Similar examples would be the words 'gay' and 'grass' and 'getting stoned'," he said. "All of those ideas are in the Bible, but because our language changes, translations have to better convey the original intent. Avoiding snickers is part of that."

Other changes of note in the New American Bible -- which is the edition that U.S. Bishops use for prayer and study -- are of a more serious note. In Numbers 28:3, the word "holocaust" has been replaced by burnt offering." The previous text read: "This is the oblation which you will offer to the lord; two unblemished yearling lambs each day as the established holocaust."

"Holocaust" used to mean an offering made to God burned in its entirety, according to Sperry.

"Now it has come to mean only genocide," she said. "There is an extraordinarily negative context to it and there is an aversion to it. To get past that block in people's minds we use the word 'burnt offering' because it is a positive thing."

While traditionalists may not object to the scrubbing of "holocaust" or "booty," one change may ruffle a few faithful feathers. The 1970 version of Isaiah 7:14 says, "the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel."

But the text that will come out next week refers to "the young woman" instead of "virgin" because the original Hebrew word, almah, may, or may not, signify a virgin. Church leadership nonetheless hardly expects the fundamentals of its teachings to change.

"Translation should facilitate understanding," said Sperry, "not stand in its way. Getting closer to the original language is the goal of every translation."

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