In Leviticus 5:7 "tor-im" is translated as "turtledove". And in Leviticus 12:8 "tor-im" is translated as "turtle". It seems confusing for translators to translate a word one way, and then translate it differently a few chapters later. And they do not seem to be consistent. And 5:7 and 12:7 read very similar, which makes it harder to understand why they would translate it two different ways. Surely it is referring to the same animal. And other parts of the bible, tor-im is translated as "turtledoves". Which really confuses me. Using the word "turtle" to mean "turtledove" also seems like it is Old English usage.

King James Bible, Leviticus 5:7

And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the LORD; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering.

King James Bible, Leviticus 12:8

And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.

2 Answers 2


Entry 2 for "Turtle" via Dictionary.com:

noun, Archaic.
1. a turtledove.

before 1000; Middle English, Old English < Latin turtur (imitative)

Expanded word origin of "turtle" via Dictionary.com:

"turtledove," Old English turtle, dissimilation of Latin turtur "turtledove," a reduplicated form imitative of the bird's call. Graceful, harmonious and affectionate to its mate, hence a term of endearment in Middle English. Turtledove is attested from c.1300.

From the Morrish Bible Dictionary:

Where the word 'turtle' occurs in the A.V. [KJV] the 'turtle-dove' is always to be understood.

From Easton's Bible Dictionary:

Turtle, Turtle-Dove
The Latin name of this bird, Turtur, Is derived from its note, and is a repetition of the Hebrew name Tor.

From Smith's Bible Dictionary:

Turtle, Turtle-Dove
Turtur auritus (Heb. tor). The name is phonetic, evidently derived from the plaintive cooing of the bird.

From Fausset's Bible Dictionary:

Turtle (Dove)
tor; Latin, tur-tur , from imitation of its cooing note.

So yes, "turtle" was used for the bird also known as a "turtledove" in the 1600s. The two words were used interchangeably at the time for the same bird. This was the case even before the King James Version, as can be seen in the examples below (note that several of the older Bible versions have chapter but no verse numbers).

Leviticus 12:6-8

King James Version, 1611
(KJV)Leviticus 12:6-8

Geneva Bible, 1587
(Geneva)Leviticus 12:6-8

Bishop's Bible, 1568
(Bishop's)Leviticus 12:6-8

Taverner's Bible, 1551
(Taverner's)Leviticus 12:6-8

Matthew Bible (2nd edition), 1549
(Matthew_2nd_edition)Leviticus 12:6-8

Great Bible, 1541
(Great)Leviticus 12:6-8

Matthew Bible, 1537
(Matthew)Leviticus 12:6-8

Coverdale Bible, 1535
(Coverdale)Leviticus 12:6-8

Notice that the Coverdale Bible does use "turtill doue" (turtle dove) in what would later be verse 6 and verse 8, whereas all the later versions just use turtle in verse 8. The two terms were used interchangeably.

A modern-day equivalent would perhaps be the terms "firefly" and "lightning bug." They are two terms that are used interchangeably for the same insect, which is in fact a beetle. The names "firefly" and "lightning bug" are derived from the way the insect is able to "fly around and light itself up like a flash of fire," or that it is a "bug that is able to give a flash of light like lightning." While the two terms are used interchangeably today, it is possible that they would not be used interchangeably 400 years from now.

Additionally, according to Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster, "turtle" as in "tortoise" was not really used until shortly after the King James Version was published.

Word origin of "turtle" as in "tortoise" via Dictionary.com:

1625-35; alteration (influenced by turtle2 [turtledove]) of French tortue < Medieval Latin tortūca tortoise

Expanded word origin of "turtle" as in "tortoise" via Dictionary.com:

reptile, c.1600, "marine tortoise," from French tortue "turtle, tortoise," of unknown origin. The English word is perhaps a sailors' mauling of the French one, influenced by the similar sounding turtle (n.2). Later extended to land tortoises; sea-turtle is attested from 1610s.

Word origin of "turtle" as in "tortoise" via Merriam-Webster:

modification of French tortue, from Late Latin (bestia) tartarucha, feminine of tartaruchus of Tartarus, from Greek tartarouchos, from Tartaros Tartarus; from Mithraic and early Christian association of the turtle with infernal forces

First Known Use: 1612

  • Ok but this does not really explain why they would change the word Turtledove to Turtle just 7 chapters apart. It is virtually the same passage. I am confused. I guess I am looking for understanding. Is this common to do a work such as this and change up words like that, especially when at the time, Turtle could also mean "a reptile with a hard shell"? Wouldn't it make more sense just to stay consistent to avoid confusion? Isn't that the main reason the Bible was translated? I am trying to understand the reasoning as to why someone would translate that word different 7 passages later. Sep 22, 2016 at 2:07
  • Am I wrong in understanding that "turtle" (to mean turtledove) was not really used the time the KJV was written? It was the early modern English era. It seemed like that word was mainly used that way in Old English up to around 1470 close to the end of middle English. I am also having trouble finding the word used that way in literature of that period. I do not want to say why I this bothers me so much, but I am trying to come up with evidence that Turtle was indeed used that way in that time period of the KJV bible. Sep 22, 2016 at 2:15
  • @chrislucas - I have posted an edit to address your concerns.
    – user6503
    Sep 22, 2016 at 17:25
  • Ok, after seeing those pictures from old bibles, I can understand why the KJV translators may have just basically copied from the Geneva Bible. And I understand the term "firefly" and "ligntning bug" being interchangeable. But I am still trying to figure out a reason for what seems to be an inconsistent translation from 5:7 to 12:8 I personally see nothing in Hebrew that would suddenly make me think I should call the same thing 7 chapters later a "turtle". Why not consistently use the same word "Turtledoves"? Sep 23, 2016 at 2:00
  • @chrislucas - You said in a previous comment, "I do not want to say why this bothers me so much...." Perhaps if you would give the reason why this bothers you so much after all then I or someone else would be able to help you more. Because all I can really say to you are things like: 'snake' & 'serpent' mean exactly the same thing in English, so translating nachash as 'snake' sometimes instead of 'serpent' doesn't make the translator wrong, which is what the NASB does in Amos 5:19 vs 9:3 and the HCSB in Gen 49:17 vs 3:1, 2, 4, 13, 14 (just to give a few examples).
    – user6503
    Sep 23, 2016 at 2:42

This change is a Mandela Effect. There's no way the KJV ever previously said that we should sacrifice reptiles.


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