Hebrew "gullilum" - "dungy idols"-New World Translation

This criticism has been presented to us by a reader of the site. That the NWT has taken "liberties" or "inserting words with no justification". An example given was the NWT translating the Hebrew "gullilum" as "dungy idols" rather than as simply as "idols" as do other standard English translations.

Herewith is the reply, slightly edited and enlarged for this page, that was given.

Answer: The word rendered "dungy idols" in the NWT is the Hebrew "gullulim". It first occurs at Lev.26:30. Ezekiel uses it 38 times beginning at 6:4.

Rotherham's Emphasised Bible has a footnote to this word at Lev.26:30:

"Lit.:"rounded or rolled things." Precise meaning uncertain: "piled -up heap of logs"-Davies H[ebrew] L[exicon].; logs, blocks; shapeless things, doll images" E.W[ald].;"dungy things"-Oxford] G[esenius].

The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon says under this word: "only pl.idols(=logs,blocks, shapeless things Ges Baud; [H] Ew[ald] doll-images; dungy things..."-

The Companion Bible also in it's margin says at Lev 26:30:

"idols= logs of wood. Heb. gillulim, trunks, blocks, used in derision for idols. Also derived from galal = dung, or detestable thing. First occurence; frequently in Ezekiel."-emphasis mine

So at Lev.26:30 the word "gullulim" is rendered "idols"  NIV, RSV, NAB, REB, JB etc; "fetishes" Moffatt;  S.T. Byington;  "carrion idols"  F.Fenton  and  "dungy idols"  NWT.

Throughout Ezekiel the NWT  renders  "gullulim<  as "dungy idols" which you say is "taking liberties."  But the footnote in Darby's translation  at Ez.6:4 should alert  the reader of the above Bible translations/lexical authorities herein quoted. Darby writes "A term of contempt, used 38 times in Ezekiel. See Lev.26:30; Deut.29.17." At a footnote to the word "gullulim" which he renders "idols" at the latter passage he informs us  "Or "dung-gods,' expressive of contempt."-emphasis mine.
In support of this meaning please see Peakes Commentary on the Bible, p.573,col.b which says in discussing Ezekiel's use of this word;

"The word rendered idols is the Heb. gullulim, a contemptuous term which the prophet employs frequently. His frequent repetition of it accentuates his disdain and abhorrence." -emphasis mine.

In addition to this we can read:

"The English word ["idol"], which has a prejorative meaning, reflects several different Hebrew words. Some of these are neutral terms describing the manufacture, e.g. pasil or pesil,"(carved) image," and masseka, "(cast) image." For these the perjorative "idol" is not always appropriate: "image" or "statue" is sometimes better. Other Hebrew words for statues of deities are intentionally contemptuous and therefore are aproppriately translated "idols," e.g., 'elilim, "powerless ones," gilulim, "pellets of dung," and shiqqutsim, "shameful things."- Harper's Bible Dictionary(1985 edition.p.416,417)-emphasis mine.

Walter C. Kaiser,Jr has written:

"Furthermore, the spectacle of the idols erected to Baal and Astoreth will need to be destroyed once and for all. The word used for the "idols,"(Heb.gullilim), is the worst word imaginable in Hebrew. Ezekiel used this word thirty-nine times as he drew a parallel between human excrement and the form of the idol images. It is the most contemptuous term possible in the Hebrew language. So much for the biblical writer's estimate of what the idols were all about!" -The New Interpreter's Bible,Vol 1,p.1181.


"The word gullilum, which occurs 3 times in this text, represents Ezekiels favourite expression for "images." Although he did not coin the term, the fact that 39 of the 45 occurences in the OT are in the book indicates it's usefulness for his purposes. The word appears to be an artificial construction derived from the verb galal "to roll" but the vocalized after the pattern of siqqusim. The adoption of the word as a designation for 'idol' may have been prompted by the natural pellet-like shape of sheep feces,or less likely,the cylindrical shape of human excrement. The name has nothing to do with the shape of the idols, but it expresses Ezekiel's/Yhwh's disposition toward them. Modern sensitivities prevent translator's from rendering this expression as Ezekiel intended it to be heard, but had he been preaching today he would probably have identified these idols with a four-letter word for excrement. A more caustic comment on idolatry can scarcely be imagined."-Brock. World Commentary Series, Ezekiel Vol 1.-italics ours

In conclusion then: Although there is nothing wrong with translating "gullilum"  as simply "idols" as has the NIV, RSV etc. the NWT, with support from both lexicons, commentaries and translations, has chosen to bring out the "contemptuousness" use of the word, especially by Ezekiel which the simple translation "idols" does not "accentuate his[Ezekiels] disdain and abhorrence" something Ezekiel's audience would certainly have understood!

Another word that occurs in the Hebrew is  "atsab" and this, like the NIV and RSV, has been translated "idol" in the NWT. This word basically means "image" i.e. an "idolatrous image" hence an "idol." This all shows then that the NWTTC were certainly not taking "liberties,"  but were being careful to bring out the full semantics of the word "gullulim. For this we should be thankful, for by using the NWT we are alerted to the different words the Bible writers employed in describing the "idols" of the nations and with which the nation of Israel often took up. Such nuances/details are often lost in less literal and/or less careful translations.

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