Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Potty Talk with Elijah

Yesterday my eight-year-old had to read 1 Kings 18:17-39, in which Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a to a contest to see whose God will respond. Our piano teacher, over at the time, said, "Oh, that's my favorite story, especially the part where Elijah asks the prophets if their god can't answer because he's going to the bathroom."

I remember my dad telling me that as well, and how disappointed I was when I read the story and found that those weren't the exact words. Or are they? The version that Jack was reading, the New American Bible, Revised Edition, has 1 Kings 18:27 as, "When it was noon, Elijah taunted them: 'Call louder, for he is a god; he may be busy doing his business, or may be on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.'" Now, "doing his business" is as good a phrase as any for using the bathroom, in my mind, but what did other translations say? We pulled out the Bible translations we have around the house to check out Elijah's trash talk.

New American Bible: " Call louder, for he is a god and may be meditating, or may have retired, or may be on a journey."

Revised Standard Edition: "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened."

New Jerusalem Bible: "'Call louder,' he said 'for he is a god: he is preoccupied or he is busy, or he has gone on a journey; perhaps he is asleep and will wake up.'"

King James Version: "Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked."

These all seem like pretty weak tea: "meditating", "musing", "preoccupied", "pursuing". For comparison, I pulled out our Latin Bible and looked up Liber Tertius Regum, XVIII, 27:

"Clamate voce majore; deus enim est, et forsitan loquitur, aut in diversorio est, aut in itinere, aut certe dormit, ut excitetur."

Now, I'm no Latin scholar, but going solely according to cognates, it looks like Elijah is saying that Baal is diverted. Not exactly potty talk.

But what's the Greek? Courtesy of

2532καιAnd1096εγένετοit became3314μεσημβρίαmidday,2532καιand3456εμυκτήρισεν[4sneered at1473αυτούς5them*Ηλίας1Elijah3588ο2the*Θεσβίτης3Tishbite],2532καιand2036είπενhe said,1941επικαλείσθεCall1722ενwith5456φωνή[2voice3173μεγάλη1a great]!3379μήποτεperhaps96.2αδολεσχία[3in 5meditation5100τις4some1510.2.3εστιν1he is1473αυτώ2himself],2532καιand260άμαat the same time3379μήποτεperhaps5537χρηματίζει[2executing business1473αυτός1he is],2228ηor3379
μήποτεperhaps2518καθεύδειhe sleeps2532καιand1817εξαναστήσεταιshall rise up.

Well, okay, but still not enlightening.

But the original language holds some clues. Here's a fascinating article about the Hebrew phrase Elijah uses at this point to mock the prophetskî śîah wēkí śîg lô. The word śîah and śîg, used together, can be linked to phrases in other Semitic languages that deal with excretion or defecation. So, the scholars have spoken: Elijah, not exactly known for being dainty, is telling the prophets that Baal can't answer because he's off taking a crap.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Hoggatt, from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago


Brandon said...

Not a Latin scholar, either, but I think I would translate "in diversorio" as 'at a bar'. (A diversiorium is an inn, which is how the Douay-Rheims translates it, so I'm thining pub/tavern/bar.) A stronger kind of mockery than most of the English translations, but if that article is right, maybe not strong enough!

mrsdarwin said...

"If I had ever learnt (Latin),I should have been a great proficient." -- Lady Catherine de Hodge

Rob said...

One of my all time favorite Bible passages, which I will be teaching happily in a few weeks. Elijah as sarcastic stage magician!

I think Jerome was definitely going for "travelodge" there, pairing up diversorium with iter in the next phrase. I strongly insist on the scatalogical interpretation, however.

Agnes said...

This is very interesting because I've never heard the interpretation that Elijah means Baal has gone to the bathroom, not even in my childhood. I, too, checked 5 available translations in Hungarian (both Catholic and Protestant ones) amd guess what: one says "at an inn", two says "went aside", one, "went out", and one says "doing his business", but the Hungarian expression used is an often used euphemism for defecation - now that I think of it. How funny to know the connotation might be intentional!