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A pair of Christmas booties. Using the word "booty" to mean "plunder" has become impractical, as other connotations have overtaken its original meaning, religious scholars say. (AP)

New Bible Updates Language; 'Booty' Falls By Wayside

Mar 2, 2011

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The Old Testament will have a new look in the next edition of the New American Bible, one of the most popular English-language Bibles. And it'll also have some big changes — in many cases, words like "booty" and "virgin" are removed in the new translation.

Scholars translating from ancient Hebrew and Greek for the new Bible decided that the meaning of those words had shifted in the 40 years since the Old Testament was last updated in the New American Bible.

Here are some of the swaps included in the new Bible:

  • "booty" is now "spoils of war" — for presumably obvious reasons.
  • "virgin" becomes "young woman" — especially where the original uses the Hebrew word "almah."
  • "holocaust" will become "burnt offerings" - scholars say that was closer to the original meaning, before "holocaust" came to be identified with the genocide of World War II.
  • "cereal"— now co-opted by General Mills and Post, becomes "grain."

Scholars sometimes clashed as they sought to refine the Bible's language. An article from the Catholic News Service quotes Kathleen Nash, a professor who translated the book of Joel:

There were disagreements, to be sure, such as over whether the pronoun "he" should be used in all references to God, she said. Another effort was made to substitute "it" for references to the church as "she."

"That didn't fly," Nash said.

And according to Reuters, one case where "almah" will now be rendered as "young woman" instead of "virgin" in the new Bible occurs in Isaiah 7:14, where the birth of Jesus Christ to a virgin mother is foretold.

"The bishops and the Bible are not signaling any sort of change in the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus. None whatsoever," Mary Sperry, who oversees Bible licensing for the bishops, told Reuters.

Before publication, the changes were approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The new volume, called the New American Bible Revised Edition, will come out in a variety of paper and digital formats, including as a cellphone app.

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