Have you ever wondered if there is a connection between the words “testicles” and “testify”? No? Then you will live longer because you haven’t seen this linguistic fight raging on the internet between lay people and academics alike; not only whether there is an etymological link between the two words, but if that supposed linkage extends to legal practice.
With variations, the story holds that Roman soldiers and/or citizens would swear civic oaths while holding their own manhood, or the manhood of the person they were swearing the oath to. The idea being that the testes were a witness to virility, and/or the general idea, if I’m lying, you can cut these off! (we leave it to you to use Google effectively and lose yourself in the penile debate). But why in the world is A Game for Good Christians writing about this? If you take the Google challenge offered above you’ll notice that quite a few of the relevant sites refer to or quote the passage on this card.
In Genesis 24:2-9, Abraham orders his most trusted servant to find a wife for his son Isaac; however, Abraham wanted this unnamed servant to “swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites” (vs. 3). To swear this oath, Abraham told his servant to “put your hand under my thigh” (vs. 2). Joseph repeats a similar ceremony in Genesis 47:28-31. So is there a connection at all between these Biblical events and our modern day, English words?
While there is linguistic Latin tie between “testes” and “testify— as testis means “witness”— neither are Hebrew words used in the text. Thus it is interesting the number of people who cite the Biblical story as proof of the convention. We wonder if the argument is that the practice continued until the Romans gained control of Judea, saw the actions of their enslaved people, and said, “oh, yeah. Grabbing the other guy’s balls! They must be serious! Let’s do that!” This says nothing of the fact that the historical debate rages on as to whether or not this was indeed a Roman custom. However, regardless of the Roman context this is exactly what is happening in the Bible.
Many translations render the English as “put his hand under the thigh.” The Hebrew root for the word “thigh” is yarek, which can be translated as the upper portion of the thigh, but use your imagination: picture someone facing a male, placing his hand under the inner portion of his upper thigh. Where would his hand be?
The word also referring to genitals in passages like Genesis 46:26 and Exodus 1:5, though it is sanitized by translations that focus on presenting a simplified meaning of the passage over the literal Hebrew. Many insert the phrase “the descendants” or “the direct descendants” to identify the offspring of the patriarchs mentioned, truncating the text. Non-fancy versions like the KJV preserve the literal Hebrew:
All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins (yarek), besides Jacob's sons' wives, all the souls were threescore and six (Genesis 46:26, KJV)
And all the souls that came out of the loins (yarek), of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already (Exodus 1:5, KJV)
Perhaps it’s time to find an old new statement for court room proceedings:
Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing by the truth?
Grab my crotch and hope to die, I do!
But what do we know? We made this game and you probably think we’re going to Hell.
You were so misunderstood . . .