Double-Check Your Tattoo Kids

Here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice kids, don’t choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Also, if you get a permanent mark on your body in a different language, make sure it says what you think it says.

One of the funny little quirks about being very familiar with biblical languages is seeing tattoos that say funny things. The best example of this I’ve ever seen is this one:


Every once in a while I’ll get a young man or woman (usually close to 18-years old) who comes up to me and will ask “what does this say” and it’s something in Greek or Hebrew. The first thing I always say is “do your parents know you’re getting a tattoo?”

As long as their parents are okay with it, I always try to be sure the letters are accurate, and I also try to talk them out of it to be sure they really really want it.

And then there are tats like the one above… The computer age has been AMAZING for Biblical Studies, but it also puts tools in the hands of people who don’t know how to use them.

On the left is obviously a Greek text that someone found online and they copied-n-pasted it into their word processing program. Here’s the only problem, they did not have the same font! As a result, about half the characters ended up being gibberish like / [ or =. Those are not Greek characters!

The “old fashioned” way of writing Greek was to have a specific “Greek Font” where symbols like “/” or “(” are rewritten as specific accents and preaching marks. If you don’t have that exact font, then the word processor can’t translate the letters properly.

Today, as computers are ubiquitous around the world, what you do is load a Greek (or whatever language) keyboard and then make sure you have a Unicode font which is compatible with multiple languages.

For Greek, I recommend either SBL Greek font or Gentium Plus font.

Okay, so as I went though and tried to guess what the words were supposed to be in the image on the left, I began to write it in proper Greek (which I did on the right).

“For even if I go in among the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they urge me.”

Okay, now I know what it’s supposed to be. It’s from the Septuagint, that’s the Greek translation of the Old Testament usually abbreviated “LXX” or “sept.” In the LXX it is Psalm 22 (Psalm 23 in our English Bibles).

How sad is that?

This just illustrates the point that Google will never replace experts who actually study in specific fields (like, say a real life MD verses Web MD). I love the Internet, and there are more tools out there for us all to know more than we ever could… but if you’re getting a Bible tattoo, please ask a Biblical Scholar first… 😉

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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