Sunday, April 15, 2007

Don Imus, Hosea, and whores

As most of you know, if you have been following U.S. national news, anyway, radio talkshow host Don Imus recently got himself in bigger trouble than he has in the past with his on-air language when he used racist, demeaning, stereotyping words for the Rutgers University women's basketball team. He called them "nappy-headed hos." I've been so sheltered from some kinds of language that I had no idea what these words meant when I first read that news. I googled on "hos" but it took quite awhile before I found a website that explained that "hos" was dialect for "whores." The reaction from the public was understandably one of being incensed at such insensitive, inappropriate language, especially for a team of athletes who had such a good season, and have risen above racial stereotypes to prove that the "content of our character is truly more important than the color of our skin."

Those athletes were not "hos." But even if they were, God would love them. There are a fair number of whores mentioned in the Bible. And some of them even got to be part of the bloodline of Jesus who was called the Messiah, King of the Jews.

Hosea must have gotten the shock of his life when his God, who asks people to live holy lives, told him to marry a whore. Here's how the NIV expressed it:

When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.” (Hosea 1:2)
That's better translation than that found in some other versions, but its English is still not as smooth nor as clear as it could be. Few of us would normally speak or write about "taking to yourself a wife". No one would ever speak about taking to yourself "children of unfaithfulness," "children of harlotry (RSV, NASB), or "children of whoredom" (NRSV, ESV), let alone the most literal translation, "children of of harlotries," whatever any of these wordings might mean. And when you think about it, "the land is guilty ... in departing from the LORD" sounds strange in English since land is inanimate and incapable of departing from the Lord.

Fortunately, this is one verse where the TNIV extensively revised the NIV. The result is a translation which communicates the meaning of the original Hebrew more clearly in English:

When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.”
There are many other passages where the TNIV improves on an already good translation, the NIV. We who blog here want to continue to point out such improvements.


Kevin said...

I do see the connection between Don Imus and Hosea, however slight. The TNIV does try to bring more accuracy to Hosea 1:2. I've always wondered about that verse. It does makes more sense.

Sometimes, we, like Don Imus, can say things out of emotions without thinking it through. It always gets us in trouble. I just posted an entry today on something related to racism and had a tough time writing it.

Wayne Leman said...

Kevin, thanks for your comment. First, there really is not much connection between what Don Imus said and Hosea 1:2. I used the Imus thing as an attention getter, something recent in the news, from which I could bridge to what I really wanted to blog about.

Second, I earlier read your post on the racism in the church curriculum. I felt you blogged well on the matter, graciously, yet without sweeping the matter under the rug, where it doesn't belong.

May God give us all the wisdom to write the truth lovingly ("in love"!). I do not find it easy sometimes. Sometimes I'm not even sure what the truth is on some issues, but God seems to understand when we stumble around some and need his help.

Peter Kirk said...

Indeed the TNIV version of Hosea 1:2 is a stylistic improvement. I'm not so sure that it is an exegetical improvement. Surely the "children of of harlotries" are not Hosea's own children by his wife, for if so he would father them rather than "take" them. No, the point must be that this woman already had children as a result of her promiscuous living, and that Hosea is to take these fatherless children and be a father to them, fulfilling the divine mission of Psalm 68:5-6.

Yes, the children born to Gomer in verses 3, 6 and 8 were probably Hosea's (although I don't think this is actually specified, and 3:1 for example suggests that Gomer continued to be unfaithful to Hosea). But the clear implication of the Hebrew of verse 2 is that Gomer already had children when Hosea married her.

Gary Zimmerli said...

I'm still trying to figure out "nappy-headed".

R. Mansfield said...

"nappy headed" is specifically what made the comment racist.

Peter Kirk said...

Jeremy Pierce has a helpful explanation of what is going on with what Don Imus (not to be confused with Dominus "Lord") said, especially useful for those of us who don't understand American slang.