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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The New Math: The NIV and Sarah's Three Measures of Flour

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"And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth."                   --Genesis 18:6 KJV

Okay, so the inquiring reader may want to know just how much is "three measures." How about turning to that bastion of contemporary scholarship, the 1978 NIV?

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. "Quick," he said, "get three seahs[a] of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread."
 [a] That is, probably about 20 quarts (about 22 litres)           --NIV78

Dear me. Like the ill-fated Mars Mission of 1999, which overshot its goal, the CBT suffered from an inability to correctly convert to metric. Twenty quarts is in fact less than 19 litres. Kind of embarrassing for something billed as "The First Truly International English Version." Ah well, this one certainly didn't get past the revision of 1984, surely.

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. "Quick," he said, "get three seahs[a] of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread."
[a] That is, probably about 20 quarts (about 22 litres)              --NIV84

Dear, dear me. The CBT's scholarship isn't looking so scholarly here, is it.  Well, the TNIV was the epitome of scholarly scholarship, correcting all the gross outdated language of that childish project, the NIV. It reads:

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. "Quick," he said, "get three seahs[a] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread."
[a] That is, probably about 36 pounds or about 16 kilograms  --TNIV04

Oh. A measure, then, is now twelve pounds, rather than thirteen and a third cups (the way modern people actually measure flour). So we have now moved from ill-fated scholarship to pedantry. Are we really expected to believe that Sarah used up most of a 50-pound bag of flour just to slap together a meal for her husband and his three visitors? Come on! If they aren't even sure of the amount, why guess such a large number?

Well, the TNIV was a source of embarrassment alright, but its faults, thank heaven, have now been rectified once and for all in the NNIV of 2011. Right?

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs[a] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”
[a] That is, probably about 36 pounds or about 16 kilograms --NIV2011

EDITED ON MARCH 27-28, 2012
Okay, so the CBT don't turn out to be quite so stupid after all, but scholarly. VERY scholarly. What they were using here were DRY quarts. A 'dry quart' is one thirty-second of a bushel, or 67.2 cubic inches. In other words, more than a litre, rather than less. Cripe! Someone reading the NIV because the KJV was too hard to understand is not going to know that flour is OF COURSE always measured in 'dry' rather than 'liquid' quarts. Especially since anyone who ever measures out four cups of flour for a recipe uses a 'liquid' cup measure to do so. Furthermore, anyone turning to the more detailed notes under the "Table of Weights and Measures" in the back of the 1985 NIV Study Bible will be told that a dry quart and a liquid quart are, respectively, LESS and MORE than a litre.

If late 20th-century recipe books that actually called for a quart of flour didn't use dry quarts, and if the NIV editors couldn't even keep straight which was which, why ever would the New International Version use them?

END EDITS.

On a related note, there is one other place in the Scriptures where "three measures" is mentioned:

Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.                          --Matthew 13:33 KJV

Well, we already know what "3 measures" were in 1978 over in Genesis. What were they in 1973 in Matthew?

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough.” [a] Greek three satas (about a bushel)

Okay, I guess this is another measurement entirely; a bushel is 37 quarts [32 DRY quarts--ed.] or 35 litres. But where's the metric? Oh, it must not have come along until 1978:

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough.” [a] Greek three satas (probably about 1/2 bushel or 22 litres)                                              ---NIV78,84

Good Grief! We've cut our bushel in half! Not quite in half, though, as 22 litres is  62 per cent of 35. More like two-thirds of a bushel, but who's keeping track?  Sigh. Let's see what improvements came along in 2001:

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough.” [a]Or about 27 kilograms --TNIV, NNIV

Okay, so now everything is in weight rather than volume (did the CBT really commission somebody to go weigh a litre of hand-ground flour for this project?), with a litre of flour weighing 1227 grams.

Back to Genesis:
16 kilograms = 22 litres. That's 1375 grams per litre, pretty close when you're rounding off. But since when did half a bushel, or even 62% of a bushel of flour, weigh sixty pounds? By my calculations a whole bushel of flour (as if anyone ever measures it in bushels) should come up to only about 25 kg or 55 pounds.  Oh, I know. It all depends on whether Sarah measured it before sifting, or after! Maybe she measured it all in heaping teaspoons, and added some "for good measure."

Actually, all this misses the point of converting significant figures. Trying to specify, down to the litre or pound, how much flour was involved is taking literal translation to its extreme--something proponents of the NIV said we should never, ever try at home. The point is that Sarah prepared a huge amount of bread for Abraham's guests, and that it's possible to leaven a huge amount of flour just by putting a little active yeast in it to grow. But by trying to prove how scholarly they were, the CBT ended up with dunce caps on their heads.

More information on this subject is available in a subsequent post.

UPDATE JULY 2014
In this post I pointed out that the NIV's translation of kikkaroth (KJV cakes) conveys the wrong image to today's young person. Going back over this post, I see the same thing--except here the Hebrew word is 'ugowt. That's a plural word, so it should convey more the image of a huge stack of pancakes than a few loaves of bread.
When an English speaker makes pancakes or tortillas, he would never say that he is "baking bread," yet that is how the NIV has conveyed Sarah's action to the English reader.

1 comment:

  1. So, after reading all that, I still don't know how much 3 measures is in today's system of measures. What is the bottom line? How many pounds, ounces, grams, kilograms, whatever is 3 measures, or don't we really know and are just guessing?

    ReplyDelete

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