27 Comments

  1. I see the “sacrilege” tag but, for what it is worth, as a scholar of ancient Judaism and a member of the (Christian) clergy, I find that right thar funny.

  2. Yes, I think that the Happy Birthday song is only there so that we know this individual is washing his hands. I guess he’s using holy water for this purpose and that’s the point of the sacrilege tag. I got a chuckle out of it.

  3. As an aside, if you are using the Happy Birthday song for timing , you are supposed to sing it twice. But as for the joke, I don’t know if it is just an anachronistic thing or if that is supposed to be a specific person, or if that is supposed to be holy water…

  4. Wow, I would never have gotten this one–might have gotten the handwashing part, but not that it’s Pilate.

    Guessing this one won’t age well.

  5. Ohhhhhhh……

    Haven’t read my bible lately I guess.

    Matthew 27:24 – “When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing ,but that instead a riot was breaking out, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd.’ Happy Birthday to you…Happy Birthday to you,’ he said.

    OK, it actually says, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” “You bear the responsibility.”

  6. Etymonline.com in their entry for wash (v.) says: “To wash (one’s) hands of something is 1550s, from Pilate in Matthew xxvii.24.”

  7. re: 1550s
    That raises a number of issues in my mind — ok, very technically, it might be the first recorded instance of that phrase in English that they know of, but it seems to me that the first English Bible would be the dam for a whole raft of expressions and phrases, being one of the few published works that existed at that time, it’ll automatically sweep up a whole bunch of phrases, whether or not they were new at that time, only newly recorded in a published work. In any even, more troubling is that I can’t find a particular English Bible from 1550(s): there was one in 1560, and being it was a committee translation, maybe Mathew was available in the 1550s while they were working on it, but, there were a whole bunch of English translations before this one (1535, 1526, 1300s, 11th century…), so unless all these translations used a significantly different phrase to describe Pilate’s actions, I can’t see this citation being much good….

  8. Tyndale, 1526: “When Pilate sawe that he prevayled nothinge but that moare busines was made he toke water and wasshed his hondes before the people sayinge: I am innocent of the bloud of this iuste person and that ye shall se.”

    Geneva Bible, 1560: “When Pilate saw that he availed nothing, but that more tumult was made, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just man: look you to it.”

    (The Geneva quote is from the 1599 version; I’m assuming it is substantially unchanged from 1560.)

    So, Etymonline.com: I just pushed your reference by 30 years, and I could probably push it a few centuries more with just a casual search!

  9. Wycliff, 1382, 1395: “And Pilate seeing that he profited nothing, but that more [a] noise was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the people, and said, I am guiltless of the blood of this rightful man; busy you [+saying, I am innocent, or guiltless, of the blood of this just man; see ye]. ”

    Bam, a century and a half earlier!

  10. West Saxon Gospels, 1175 (Oldest surviving English translations): “Ða ge-seah pilatus þæt hyt naht ne fremede ac ge-wurðe mare ge-hlud. þa ge-nam he water & weosc hys hande be-foran þam folke. & cwæð. Un-scyldig ich eom fram þisen rihtwisan blode. ge ge-seoð.”

    So, a bit challenging, but the phrase in question shines through, pretty much unchanged: ge-nam he water & weosc hys hande be-foran þam folke.

    So, with a half hours Duck Duck Googling, I managed to push back the citation by 3 and 3/4 centuries, Etymonline.com! Yar boo [opposite of blows]!

  11. And as I take my victory lap, it occurs to me that I misread the Etymonline.com citation, that they mean that the phrase to wash one’s hands of something first occurred in the 1550s from a source they’re not mentioning, but it’s not the Bible, because the Bible doesn’t say that Pilates washed his hands of the crowd; they mention the Bible as what the new phrase refers to

    A well, another half hour unproductively wasted with nothing to show for it but egg on my face…

  12. larK we appreciate the show! your afterthought is probably right about what their citation date is intended as. I don’t think I any longer have access to OED-Historical but maybe there is a CIDUer who could check what they have for the phrase.

    Meanwhile, is “egg on [one’s] face” about sloppy eating habits, or …?

  13. Ah, I see a typo might mislead you to my mood: I meant “Ah, well, another half hour…”, not “A well, another half hour”

  14. The Shorter OED app on my phone, says much the same as Etymology Online – no date, but “orig. with allusion to Matthew 27:24”.

  15. Church services have always included readings from the Gospels and the Epistles, so Christians have gotten their Bible stories that way.

    At least until most people didn’t know Latin any more and Roman Catholic services continued in Latin.

  16. @larK, here is what the OED has (stopping after the first two examples):

    Phrase, to wash one’s hands of: to disown responsibility for; to refuse to have any further connection with.
    So in French and other modern languages; originally an allusion to Pilate’s washing his hands (Matthew xxvii. 24).
    ?1554 Lady J. Grey Epist. sig. Bvij I wil wash my hands giltles thereof.
    1570 G. Buchanan Chamæleon in Vernac. Writings (1892) 53 Pilat wesching his handis of ye deid of Chryst.

  17. I kinda enjoyed the various translations. The earliest one was a hoot. I had no idea how to pronounce those letters. 🙂

  18. Pilate washing his hands is in the Gospel of Matthew in the original Greek. So there’s a First Century citation.

  19. Until the Reformation it was sacrilege to print the Bible other than in Latin. There were attempts at an English bible but until King James decided that there should be a bible in English it was not allowed and could get one into a lot of trouble. This was generally true that bibles were not allowed to be translated into the vernacular of a country or area.

  20. Sacrilege? or ensuring that people would get the message only as filtered by the priests, bishops and pope?

    Remember, the Bible wasn’t written in Latin. It was translated into simple readable Latin (the Vulgate) so that ordinary people could read it, at a time and place where Latin was people’s native language.

  21. In England, from what I was told and later readings, they did not want the people to read the Bible and interpret it for themselves. It was not until King James I decided to have it translated into English that it was allowed as same in Britain.

    I suppose my problem based on Mark in Boston comments is first relying on what my mother taught me about the King James bible and also having interest in British history over the rest of European/Asian history.

    My apologies.

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