A Smoking Brazier in Gen 15:17

Once every three years, on the second Sunday of Lent in  Year C of the lectionary cycle, the story of Abraham’s covenant with the Lord is retold from Genesis 15. In the context of this important biblical story, we find one of the most hilarious translation problems in the New American Bible.  God speaks to Abraham and the patriarch prepares a covenant ceremony by slicing animals in two and separating the pieces. Verse 17 tells us that “When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking brazier and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces” (NAB).

While most lectors are highly educated and pronounce words correctly, many of them stumble on the word, “brazier.” The definition of a “brazier”  from Wiktionary: “An upright standing or hanging metal bowl used for holding burning coal for a source of light or heat.” The word in question should be pronounced with a “zh” sound in the middle and the accent on the first syllable. Unfortunately, many lectors are unfamiliar with the word and have pronounced it without the “zh” sound and with the accent on the second syllable, so it sounds like another word, perhaps more familiar: brassiere, which is pronounced with a regular “z” sound and the accent on the second syllable rather than the first. But I’ll let you look up the definition for that word on your own.

The point is that using a relatively rare word, which may be easily mis-pronounced as word that is inappropriate for liturgy, is not a good translation idea for liturgical texts. The NAB revisers should follow the more mundane translations of other versions: “fire pot” (NRSV, ESV) or “furnace” (JPS, KJV). I suppose though, the word makes for a good chuckle in the pew every now and again–at least once every three years. So, if you happen to be a lector on the Second Sunday of Lent, beware.


2 thoughts on “A Smoking Brazier in Gen 15:17

  1. Bob

    I’m lectoring this weekend and saw the “smoking fire pot” translation while I was practicing. I will never forget hearing the “smoking brassiere” pronunciation at 8:00 Mass many years ago!

  2. Kevin

    So I’m not the only one who has heard that! Not surprising, really. What was surprising, the one time I heard it, was absolutely no audible reaction from anyone in the congregation, not even (as I expected would happen) the stifled giggling of sophomoric juveniles.

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