Two recent court cases demanded the attention of Canadians. One of these took place right here in Winnipeg. The Labossiere trial involved a son who was found guilty of murdering not only his brother but also his parents.
In Kingston, Ontario, the “honour” killing of four women, among them three daughters of the murderers, horrified the country.
Canadians cannot watch court proceedings unless they are actually present in the courtroom. But daily media accounts kept us posted on testimony heard by the jury.
Testimony, meaning “witness” is one of several words related to testis, Latin for the male reproductive gland, the testicle. Testes is the plural form. Testiculi, a diminutive of testis, means ‘little witnesses.’
It is widely believed that as far back as Biblical times, witnesses swore to the truth of their testimony by laying a hand on their testicles.
Logical as that may sound, like many other popular word explanations, this one is false. Reputable scholars maintain the word witness here refers only to the virility of the testicles’ owner. That is, they bear witness to the source of life.
Testicles, as such, are not even openly acknowledged in older versions of the Bible. The Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy uses the euphemism, “stones:” “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the Congregation of the Lord” (Deut.23:1, King James Version, 1611).
The 1912 version of Luther’s 1534 Die Bibel, says,“No Verschnittene (eunuch) will be admitted to the community of the Lord.”
By the mid-20th century, more precise language takes over. Thus, the Lutheran New International Version (1996) says, “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the Assembly of God” (Deut. 23:1).
The 1966 Catholic Confraternity Version offers this same pronouncement this way: “No one whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off may be admitted into the community of the Lord” (Deut.23:2).
The Canadian Bible Society’s Good News Bible (1979) says, “No man who has been castrated or whose penis has been cut off may be included among the Lord’s people” (Deut.23:1).
Some scholars extend this thought suggesting the passage also means that only uncastrated animals may be sacrificed to the Lord.
Despite all this, there’s no Biblical reference to support the belief that testicles were ever involved in a witness’ testimony.
English vocabulary which refers to “witnessing,” arises from the idea that a witness (one who gives testimony) is an objective “third party.” That is, the testifier is not personally involved in whatever he attests to.
We see this “third party” connection when we realize that testicle, testament, attest, detest, contest and protest, all owe their origin to the root trei (three). Words like three, thrice, triple and tertiary, share that root.
This root is attributed to the Greek trias (three) but may in fact be from the Sanskrit tri (three).
Whatever trei’s source may be, in both recent murder trials, witnesses’ testimony had a significant bearing on the juries’ decisions.