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Lost in Translation (a 'Bibliophile' Mystery)

Updated on September 3, 2016
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Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler with an interest in etymology.

The Bibliophile

Little do I know as I duck into the arched doorway of ‘The Bibliophile’ that we will be dealing with the strange case of a missing bone, a biblical puzzle and a murdered priest all in one night. The incessant drizzle dancing on the pavements and creating little ripples of reflection from the streetlights gives no indication of what was to come. My collar is turned up, but does nothing to stop the damp and cold as I hurry up the stone steps into our haven in Baker Street.

A wave of warmth welcomes me inside the cavernous entrance hall with a vaulted ceiling. The dimly lit interior made the portraits of the authors look menacing. I climb the stairs and feel Poe’s hooded eyes on my back all the way up.

It has been a month since my last trip. I couldn’t wait to catch up with my fellow booklovers. We usually met on Wednesdays to share a few drinks and admire any latest book acquisition. Part antiquarian booksellers and part library, The Bibliophile is a place that gives us a home for our shared collection. It was a private section hosting some of our more obscure and inherently more expensive treasures.

Cabinets and Cigar Smoke

The bookshelves are laden with heavy leather-bound specimens. The musty yet alluring smell of old books starts mingling with the smell of cigar smoke. If I am not mistaken it is likely to be a seven inch Romeo y Julieta, the favoured brand of James Livingstone. We constantly ribbed him (he is a Consultant Surgeon) on his unhealthy habit but he defends his stance saying that he limits his cigar smoking to only those days when we meet. We didn’t believe him.

I turn the corner to see James standing in his favourite spot, facing the misted window and holding a cigar casually in one hand while the other hand nestles in his pocket. He turns around and smiles through tendrils of smoke.

“Nasty drizzle, Martin. Come in and warm up. Shall I pour your usual?”

I nod and settle into the armchair across William Major who had no trouble filling and spilling out of his seat. He is what I would call comfortably corpulent. His heavy lidded eyes smile at me while his mouth hides behind luxurious undergrowth that he twirls when pensive. Years of working for the British Intelligence had given him a lot of reasons for moustache twirling.

“Penny for ‘em, Bill.” I smile.

“Hello, fella. Not going ask you how your masterpiece is coming along – I am sure your editor nags you often enough” He takes a deep sip from his customary cognac.

“Thanks. I am on my second draft and it’s all coming together. It should be done by summer. I will be taking that much needed holiday.” I gratefully take the glass of Scotch that James hands to me.

“Fancy a smoke?” James waves a cigar with a glint in his eyes.

“ I think I’ll take one but save it for when my book is finished.” I wasn’t going to refuse a classic Romeo y Julieta, a jewel in the Cabañas crown. I take a sip of peaty goodness as a low hum of the electric wheelchair announces the arrival of Moses, our caretaker and curator.


“Just took a call from Gerard. He is going to be delayed, apparently a nasty murder at West end” Moses says.

Gerard Buxby is a Superintendent of Police from Scotland Yard. It is rare that he misses our Wednesday soirees due to the call of duty. He usually delegates such responsibility down to the Detective teams for initial processing. Must be something or someone important.

Moses manoeuvres his wheelchair around between the armchairs. I notice he has his white gloves on and is carrying a Moroccan leather bound volume. He does procure items on our behalf and sometimes just buys on a whim based on what comes into the market. These little surprise acquisitions are often a delight to behold.

“What have you got there, Moses?” I point to the volume.

“A vintage bible” He gives me a pair of gloves to put on before handing over the book. “This is a 1628 King James version published by Bonham Norton and John Bill, printers to the King. “

I open the red leather cover and look at the engraved title page.

“It has held up nicely after all these years” James snuffs his cigar in the ashtray and moves behind me to look over my shoulder.

Bill twirls his moustache and his eyes narrow, deep in thought. “Do you know the term Bible originated from the ancient Phoenician port of Bublos?”

I turn a few pages over look at Genesis. “I remember reading that detail somewhere. Didn’t the Greeks import Egyptian papyrus from this port. I think the city was actually called ‘Gebal’. The Greeks soon started calling it Bublos after the main export and the name stuck. Soon any book constructed using papyrus carried the name Bublos or Biblio ”

“You truly are a font of useless knowledge, Martin. But I suppose, being a writer, you are used to storing millions of trivia in that head of yours” chuckles James.

Genesis 2:21-23

21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.

22 Then the rib which theLordGod had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

23 And Adam said:

“This is now bone of my bones

And flesh of my flesh;

She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

 The Fall of Man by Cornelis Van Haarlem (1592)
The Fall of Man by Cornelis Van Haarlem (1592)

Genesis 2:21-23

I am still engrossed in the delicate printing and the quality of the paper.

“Well it will be a shame not to know the meaning of the very name of our little operation. The Bibliophile is after all, Greek for a book lover”

Moses clears his throat.“ The oldest surviving original Jewish and Christian Bibles exist only as Greek Translation from the original Aramaic"

I flick through the pages and it neatly opens at Genesis 2:21. “I think someone must have been reading about the creation of Eve”

I look around the thoroughly masculine ‘old boy’ atmosphere. James and his cigar, Gerry with his cognac, Me with my whisky and Moses looking like a sage. James and Bill were happily married and this was their escape hatch. Gerry is a widower. Moses a confirmed bachelor. I am single and have just started seeing someone who works as a deputy editor at my publishers. I sighed.

“Curious thing” says James. “I am sure the original Hebrew scholars knew Men and Women have equal number of ribs. They must have seen skeletons. Yet why didnt they wonder about Eve being created from Adam’s rib?”

I run my fingers down the Genesis 2:21-23

21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.

22 Then the rib which theLordGod had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

23 And Adam said:

“This is now bone of my bones

And flesh of my flesh;

She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

Bill smirks. “I knew my wife has sometimes been a pain in my side”

There is a collective groan in the room.

“Talking about trivia, has any of you heard the theory about translation errors in the bible?” I say before Bill thinks of some more groan worthy one liners.

“I am sure you are going to tell us.”


Moses leans forward. “I think I remember reading this. There are a lot of theories around how Greek scholars interpreted Aramaic or Hebrew words. Sometimes they made approximations that weren’t always accurate. A set of scriptural texts that have been through Hebrew, Greek, Latin and subsequently English and other languages is bound to suffer in translation as each translator may make judgements on how the word should be interpreted.”

Bill sets his glass down and knits his fingers in front of his chest. They rise gently up and down with his breathing.” I suppose changing words may miss subtle nuances. Wasn’t there a lot of talk about the original fruit of sin in the Garden of Eden? Depending on whom you believe it could be an apple, a fig, a citron, a grape or even a banana! I think the original word indicates just a ‘fruit’.

Moses nods. “ For example in Luke 14:26 says ‘If anyman come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.’ This implies that we have to hate our parents. The actual Latin word used here is miseo that should mean ‘love less by comparision’ which completely changes the meaning”

“ I am glad your RE lessons and Sunday School has helped you all to know your holy book. My information, however, is about Adam’s rib” I hand the book over to Moses and stand up to stretch.

“What about it?” James asks as we hear footsteps and Gerard bursts in. He takes his mackintosh off, rubs his hands and goes ‘brrr’

The Missing Bone

“Sorry chaps. Nasty business. I need that drink” He walks towards us as James thrust a tumbler with a glinting golden liquid at him. “What were you saying Martin?”

“Oh I was talking about possible Biblical Translation errors”

His face changes, “Curious thing. I’ve just come from a church.”

“Is that were the crime scene was?”

Gerry nods, gulping down a slug.”But carry on Martin, your notion sounds interesting.”

Moses whirs his chair around and return the Bible to the cabinet and turn back to listen.

“James was just saying how men and women have the same number of ribs yet the Biblical impression is that God made Eve from Adam’s rib. So in reality we should be missing one shouldn’t we?”

They all nod in unison. Bill’s lips curl as if he just thought about something funny but he resists.

“Theoretically then it should be something Men are missing. Perhaps a missing bone in the male body that was mistranslated to a rib. The verse also says the flesh was closed after the bone was removed. So technically all men should have a scar reminiscent of that.”

James scratches his chin.” I am sure there is some metaphorical rendering. We shouldn’t take it literally!”

Walrus Baculum - Carved
Walrus Baculum - Carved

The Baculum

“Well these two did. Two scholars, Scott F. Gilbert, Professor of Biology at the Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania and Ziony Zevit, Professor of Biblical Literature from California have a different theory. This was published in American Journal of Genetics.

James, you can correct me if I am wrong but the only bone human males lack when compared to other mammals and primates is a bone called baculum, right?”

James slaps his forehead. “I think I know where they are going with this, the Baculum is also known as ‘os penis’ or penile bone. It is present in almost all mammals except human males.”

“And we all know there is a line under the human penis called raphe where flesh meets flesh as if it has been cut and put back together!”

Bill chuckles. “Haven't checked mine for a while. But wait till I tell my wife where they think she comes from!”

Gerry slaps his shoulder.”Let Martin talk”

“Well, the original Hebrew word that was translated as ‘rib’ is Tzela which can mean a rib but also means other things in ancient Hebrew. It was the same noun for a rib of a hill, the side chambers of a building or a supporting column /plank. The Greeks translated this to the word ‘pleura’ which meant side or ribs.

However as ancient Hebrew didn’t directly use the word penis as it was considered rude. They used euphemisms. It is likely the os penis or the ‘supporting beam or a plank’ became pleura and therefore a rib. So God may have made Eve by removing the bone from a man's organ.

It makes sense as the human penis completely relies on blood in the side chambers for an erection. And there may be a connotation that Eve was formed from the loins of Adam rather than his side. This also explains the linear ‘scar’ underneath the organ and the scrotum where the flesh was closed back!”

“Wow” says James “ Great theorising. I could take this to my anatomy lesson. It also explains why Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman,Because she was taken out of Man.”

“Radical thinking on the ancient scripture. It’s always good to have a fresh outlook!” Bill leans back in his armchair pensively.

“Talking of fresh outlook, I wish someone would give me one on this murder.” Gerry squints his deep blue eyes in thought or it could be the smoke from James' re-lit cigar.


A Murder in the Church

I walk across and refill my glass. “Tell us more. Moses said it happened in West End. A theatrical murder?”

Gerry sits down and steeples his fingers under his chin. “No. It was in a church”

“Who was killed?”

“The priest. He was found stabbed in the confessional. The night watchman raised the alarm and the paramedics and police arrived but it was too late. He was stabbed right through the spleen as he was sitting in there and had bled to death.”

James nods. “The spleen is on the left hypochondrium just under the rib cage. It haemorrhages very quickly if ruptured and a great loss of blood can occur.”

“I suppose with these days of forensics and security cameras it will be easy to nail the murderer.” Bill says.

"There are no security cameras in the church. Father Jones apparently said that the Lord watcheth all."

“Were there any clues?” I ask.

“Very little Martin. The watchman had tried to move him out of the box as he didn’t know what was wrong with the Priest. He tried to get him some air as he thought he was choking. That was when he found blood on his tunic and everywhere.By the time the paramedics arrived He looked dead. However, he had one last gasp left in him and whispered something before drawing his last breath. I suppose that could be a clue”

“What did he say?” Moses asks.

“That is the curious thing. The paramedic who was leaning over to administer CPR heard him say ‘someone…’ and then what sounded like ‘twenty seven’ it doesn’t make sense”

“Someone twenty seven?”

“Yes. I think the paramedic may have asked him who did this to you or something along those lines. It was all a bit of a melee”

I stand up and lean on the back of Gerry’s armchair. “Do you think he is trying to give a hint to who attacked him?”

“I don’t know.”

The Dying Words

James starts to pace with his hands in his pocket. “Is there a house number 27 on the street?”

“We checked. There is a little old lady who lives there with no relatives. No clear link to the crime”

“Did anyone else hear it?” I ask.

“Well there was a fortunate coincidence you see. The paramedic had his radio turned on as he leaned forward and apparently his partner in the ambulance was listening in and they were trialling some recording of emergency responses times and events. There is a recording of the scene. We all heard it.” He pulls his smartphone out and plays the little audio snippet.

It was eerie. We could hear a lot of clatter and static.

And then we hear some rustling and the voice of the paramedic

Can you hear me, Father Jones?”

Just a hiss and the deep sigh of respiration follows.

“Can you tell me who did this to you?”

Some more heavy breathing and a gurgling noise. “Someone….” It is a long drawn sibilant whisper followed by a pause… and then, “twenty seven”

We then hear a deep, deep sigh.

A shiver goes through me as I know I have heard the last breath of a dying man

Gerry clicks the audio off and chews his lips. “We are pursuing all lines of inquiry. But I suspect there may be many dead ends when it comes to Father Jones’ clue”

“Isn’t the confessional a confidential contact. Perhaps Father Jones didn’t want to breach the sanctity of this by not saying directly who killed him. May be he was giving a roundabout clue”

“Is there any 27 year old around?” James quips.

“Not really. The Father has no other family. The housekeeper had gone home for the night and she is in her sixties anyway. The security guard is in his fifties . He usually checks round the church and does a walk inside just to make sure everything is fine. But then there is a back door leading to the churchyard. He didn’t see anyone running off. We are trying to case the ground and look for footsteps or any clues. The rain has been incessant and we may not find much. But every little helps in these situations”

We hear the whir of the wheelchair as Moses reverses out back towards the book cabinet. He once again pulls the bible out and returns to us. He hands the bible to me.

“Do me a favour Martin. Would you check something for me?”

I look at him curiously. “Do you have a theory?”

“Maybe. What if the number was not twenty seven?”

Lost in Translation

Gerry snaps his head up. “Why what could you hear that we couldn’t?”

“I think a dying man’s speech pattern and the radio noise could make things a tad convoluted.”

“I concur. But we heard what he said.” James always touches that faint scar above his eyebrow when excited. We can always count on Moses to offer some new insight into a baffling problem.

Moses closes his eyes as if recalling the sounds. “Remember how we talked earlier about the meaning getting lost in translation?”


“We were all primed to hear what we wanted to hear as Gerry had already told us what was heard. If you break a word up at the wrong place or if you join two words and pause at the long time it could change the meaning. Much like translation errors in the Bible.”

I look around. Everyone is looking at on Moses as if urging him to move on with the answer.

“It is something Martin said earlier. What if the dying man was answering the question he was asked. But rather than give a straight answer what if he was giving us a hint”

Gerry snorts” Well, if he was it better be something we’ll all know.”

“What is the most likely reference a priest is likely to draw from?”

Slow realisation strikes me. I look at the bible Moses had thrust into my hand. “The Holy book!”

Moses grins. “Exactly.”

Bill moves his hands impatiently. “But how does someone twenty seven allude to the bible.”

I laugh out loud. “We’ve all been idiots. The number is not twenty seven, It is one twenty seven!”

I get blank looks.

“Moses is right. We hear what we wanted to hear rather than use our brains. The priest is likely to allude to the holy book more than any other resource as it is something he knows by heart. Go on tell them Moses, while I look it up”


Moses sits up straight and his deep baritone of a voice booms through the library.

Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain”

Gerry jumps up. “The watchman!”

I open the book at the right place and hold it high.“It is not someone 27- it is Psalm one two seven!

Gerry scramble to make a call on his phone.

“Well, well”. James claps Moses on his back. “You do know your bible, old chap”

We all make a silent applause as Moses tilts his head in a bow.

“With a name like mine, “he smiles sweetly, “It will be a crime not to!”

Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2012

Gilbert,Scott F.,Zevit, Ziony “Congenital human baculum deficiency: The generative bone of Genesis 2:21-23,” published in theAmerican Journal of Medical Genetics, Part A, Volume 101, Issue 3 , Pages 284 - 285,

Thank you!

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Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2012


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