Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What have I done to the psalms?

In these past 8 weeks I have concentrated on reading out loud in Hebrew. If you have tried with a typical TNK you know how hard it is. The letters are difficult to decipher especially gimel and nun where the print is just too small and the little notch at the base of gimel is invisible. You look at the average TNK for the psalms, and the words are completely mystifying as to the rationale for their placement on the page.

If you read as I have from the four column parallel Hebrew-RSV - NETS - LXX, your eye is constantly jumping from line to line with the conflicting psalm and verse numbers. That's just how it is. The online tools are helpful but they just don't give me what I want to see as well as hear. Mechon-Mamre makes no attempt to show recurrence or to highlight the parallels. There is nowhere that allows the prosodic foot to be seen.  Mosts texts are too concerned about the price of paper to allow visual clues of this nature. We have blocks of text that reveal their riches slowly.

This is what I have done - besides reading, I have laid out the Hebrew and the English side by side so that I can see, feel and hear the parallels and the recurrence and the insistent imperatives in these 150 chapters. And I am beginning to see, feel and hear them. George Herbert's Easter Wings are a good example of prosody gone wild. Maybe there is some of this in the psalms too and we haven't seen it yet.

I continue to work over the presentation and to read carefully and sometimes not so carefully the words and phrases. As I do - sight recognition is improving. Vocabulary retention is improving. I see words that I don't get or that I have translated without reference to possible allusion and I look them up and if necessary fix them in my source and repair them in the post. These posts are perhaps going to be revised and extended over the next year as I evolve the algorithm for finding roots and as I discover things that might be said of these poems along the way. I am now 4 years old in this ancient tongue. I have still a child's perception. But perhaps it can help others learn also how the texts are put together and therefore how the poet thought when they were first performed.

Mostly the Hebrew lines are short - 2, 3, 4 or 5 words. Sometimes I have allowed 1 word on a line to show a parallel later. Where there are 5 or more, it is likely because I have something to fix or that I could not break the English to agree with the Hebrew. I have not intentionally put English words on a line where they do not correspond to the Hebrew, though I might have had to compromise this in an acrostic.

This set of posts is therefore quite foreign to the blog environment, where things are over and done with in a wisp of time. As of this bloggy moment, I have reformatted at least once sometimes twice the emerging forms that I started with, I have reread to Psalm 30, I continue to add musical selections, and I revise and correct whatever else I notice. If there is music or colour in the text, the odds are I have revisited it. I hope it is as much joy to others as it has been to me even this far. Full list of posts here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Music music music

I am annotating my recent spate of posts with music and colour - What a fabulous performance of Psalm 110 - Handel's Dixit Dominus I found.

You need to go and listen - and while you are listening, read the posts and help me correct my prosody and interpretations - where are you my readers?

Note - if the psalm has colours in it - then it is likely I have reviewed it closely and corrected the mistakes I find. In any case, take care.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Starting again

My reading improved during this exercise over the past 7 weeks summarized here - so I am starting again. I have repaired over 100 posts today conforming the style to what I ended with except for the first few psalms. In spite of the necessity for repairs, I don't think I need to start a new blog somewhere else under an assumed name.

I am beginning to wonder if I have enough saturation level to get a handle on what the writer of the epistle of the Hebrews was doing when he used the psalms. Notice the different framing of that question. I'm not actually as much interested in the cultic aspects of Hebrews as I am in the dialogue - the way in which a child is to learn not only from the tradition but from the source - like Samuel.  We talk a lot about the cult - it is the foreground. But I think we miss the point since we have the answer.

This class of error is more than a blunder. It's a downer.

Anyway - I will sleep on it. But I have begun a conversation here with Brian Small who was at the Hebrews conference also.

Friday, August 27, 2010

One last summary from the second half of Book 5

Here is a brief summary of the remainder of Book 4 - from Psalms 125 to 150.
  • from 125 - 134 we complete the Songs of Ascent - and then we begin to close the brackets that were opened in earlier Psalms.
  • So 135 is the culmination of the prior 15 psalms where the worshipers now stand in the courts of the house of God. 
  • 136 identifies the formative event of the Sea of Reeds and the decisive parting is the new frame. This closes the Creation-Redemption themes in the Psalter. 
  • 137 closes the lament bracket begun by the early Korah psalms 42-44. 
  • 138 begins a series of Davidic Psalms expressing confidence - יְהוָה will complete his work for my sake. 
  • 139 shows the intimate completion of this work - but trouble is still evident to the psalmist. 
  • The violence of 140 is no surprise and reflects the language of early psalms 7-11. 
  • 141 closes the theme of the tongue that appears many times in Book 1. 
  • 142, David's final Maskil also closes a frame opened in Psalm 107 at the beginning of Book 5. 
  • 143 looks for an end to enemies through God's loving kindness and recognizes that no one is justified in God's sight
  • 144 is the last of the Davidic personal cluster and closes with the plea - set me free and the prayer for bounty
  • 145 is the final acrostic of praise which leads into the final Hallels
  • 149 part of the great Hallel closes the frame begun in psalm 2. I am struck by the realization that the חֲסִידִים appear to be the creation of the Psalter. I find myself wondering if this term is a coinage. If so I would be able to coin the English term 'mercied' for translation. 
This brief summary shows how Psalm 119 with its affirmative on the testimony is really the culmination of the Psalter. The rest is a consequence - worship and the closing of all the themes opened up in earlier psalms.

Along the way of the past 7 weeks, I have noticed several furrowed fields - much like those I ran over on my first marathon as a 12 year-old in the hills and fields north of my old school. I think that period c 1957 was the first time I ever noticed a plowed field. It was very hard to run through. Its tussocks were large for small feet - yet I recall the richness of the soil and places of wetness to be avoided - an image imprinted on my memory.

The theme of harvest and its necessary preparation is also in the Psalter. Curious then that my root derivation algorithm (rightly so) does not distinguish arm זְרוֹעַ from seed זרע. Their common sound would easily be heard in the poem. Also related to this theme of harvest would be the plow - the severe difficulty of being prepared for praise. So that when we get there, we do not say - take me away and put me in the lowest place - for the wrong reasons. Similarly an algorithm dependent on consonants alone as mine is will not distinguish the many meanings of חרש, plow, craft, or silence. Are we not crafted in silence as our soil is turned? Recall Psalm 28 (do not be silent) and 129 (the plowing). Harvest is not an obvious theme at the word level. I see it in 'the increase of the earth' in Psalm 67 and 85 and in the metaphor of plowing as well as in the work of the arm and the seed. The graph of words related to harvest is not particularly revealing but the theme seems to me to be there throughout. Psalm 89 focusing on the seed of Israel mixes the harvest and royal themes. The fruit of the harvest is the loving-kindness, confidence, and encouragement of those חֲסִידִים.

There are many other themes I noted on the way through the paths of this marathon and there are many touches in the psalms that I noted in my second pass and did not note here. Perhaps I will consolidate them some day.

One question to leave open. Shame is a theme as is the issue of enemy, trouble, and distress. Does the psalter avoid the objectification of the enemy? We frequently see phrases like this: Let them be ashamed and confounded who seek my hurt. What is the good of shame and distress for another? I think that overall, there is a recognition of the complicity of the individual addressing God in the troubles. The psalmist notes (after due reflection) that being afflicted was a good experience though miserable at the time. So it is possible that the prayer with respect to enemies could be translated into transformation of the enemy rather than vengeance. That would make praying  the psalms a practice of critical value in our times.

Are the fields still white and ready for harvest? If so perhaps this is a way to send labourers into them.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Things I am now getting around to reading

Doug has an article here  expressing a new way of seeing Torah - worth consideration. Here is the JTS commentary this week - a nice understanding of tensions between religion and scholarship.

Psalm 148

Psalm 148
Translation and Notes last updated on 2011.09.22-03:15

The third of the final Hallels - the praise of all creation

הַלְלוּ יָהּ
הַלְלוּ אֶת יְהוָה מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם
הַלְלוּהוּ בַּמְּרוֹמִים
1Hallelu Yah
Praise יְהוָה from the heavens
Praise him in the heights
הַלְלוּהוּ כָל מַלְאָכָיו
הַלְלוּהוּ כָּל צְבָאָו
2Praise him all his angels
Praise him all his hosts
הַלְלוּהוּ שֶׁמֶשׁ וְיָרֵחַ
הַלְלוּהוּ כָּל כּוֹכְבֵי אוֹר
3Praise him sun and moon
Praise him all stars of light
הַלְלוּהוּ שְׁמֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם
וְהַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל הַשָּׁמָיִם
4Praise him the heaven of heavens
and the waters which are above the heavens

יְהַלְלוּ אֶת שֵׁם יְהוָה
כִּי הוּא צִוָּה וְנִבְרָאוּ
5Let them praise the name of יְהוָה
for he gave the commission and they were created
וַיַּעֲמִידֵם לָעַד לְעוֹלָם
חָק נָתַן וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר
6and he makes them stand now and forever
he gave a decree and it will not pass away

הַלְלוּ אֶת יְהוָה מִן הָאָרֶץ
תַּנִּינִים וְכָל תְּהֹמוֹת
7Praise יְהוָה from the earth
dragons and all abysses
אֵשׁ וּבָרָד שֶׁלֶג וְקִיטוֹר
רוּחַ סְעָרָה עֹשָׂה דְבָרוֹ
8Fire and hail snow and vapour
tempestuous wind doing its thing
הֶהָרִים וְכָל גְּבָעוֹת
עֵץ פְּרִי וְכָל אֲרָזִים
9Mountains and all hillocks
fruit trees and all cedars

הַחַיָּה וְכָל בְּהֵמָה
רֶמֶשׂ וְצִפּוֹר כָּנָף
10the animal and all cattle
creepy-crawly and winged bird
מַלְכֵי אֶרֶץ וְכָל לְאֻמִּים
שָׂרִים וְכָל שֹׁפְטֵי אָרֶץ
11sovereigns of the earth and all tribes
nobility and all who make earthly judgements
בַּחוּרִים וְגַם בְּתוּלוֹת
זְקֵנִים עִם נְעָרִים
12youths in their prime and also maidens
the aged with youngsters

יְהַלְלוּ אֶת שֵׁם יְהוָה
כִּי נִשְׂגָּב שְׁמוֹ לְבַדּוֹ
הוֹדוֹ עַל אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם
13let them praise the name of יְהוָה
for a retreat is his name, his alone,
his splendour over earth and heaven
וַיָּרֶם קֶרֶן לְעַמּוֹ
תְּהִלָּה לְכָל חֲסִידָיו
לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
עַם קְרֹבוֹ
הַלְלוּ יָהּ
14and he will exalt the horn of his people
a praise of all those of his mercy
of the children of Israel
a people near him
Hallelu Yah

1[Mark 11:10]

Hebrew words: 111 Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 49% Average keywords per verse: 3.9

Selected recurring words in relative order
Word and gloss * first usage12345678VsRoot
הללו Hallelu
1הלל
יה Yah
1יה
הללו praise
1הלל
השׁמים the heavens
1שׁמים
הללוהו praise him
1הלל
במרומים in the heights
1רום
הללוהו praise him
2הלל
כל all
2כל
הללוהו praise him
2הלל
כל all
2כל
הללוהו praise him
3הלל
הללוהו praise him
3הלל
כל all
3כל
הללוהו praise him
4הלל
שׁמי the heaven of
4שׁמים
השׁמים heavens
4שׁמים
השׁמים the heavens
4שׁמים
יהללו let them praise
5הלל
שׁם the name of
5שׁם
הללו praise
7הלל
הארץ the earth
7ארץ
וכל and all
7כל
וכל and all
9כל
וכל and all
9כל
וכל and all
10כל
ארץ the earth
11ארץ
וכל and all
11כל
וכל and all
11כל
ארץ the earth
11ארץ
עם with
12עם
יהללו let them praise
13הלל
שׁם the name of
13שׁם
שׁמו his name
13שׁם
ארץ earth
13ארץ
ושׁמים and heaven
13שׁמים
וירם and he will exalt
14רום
לעמו of his people
14עם
תהלה a praise
14הלל
לכל of all
14כל
עם a people
14עם
הללו Hallelu
14הלל
יה Yah
14יה
Four verses invite praise from all the created order echoing the poems to creation (103, 104) at the end of Book 4. Verses 5 and 6 give the reason: the commandment, the given commission, from יהוה and his ongoing underlying support through his decree. Verses 7 to 12 then detail in two sections the praise of all parts of the earth and all its creatures. Verse 13, repeating verse 5 gives the special local earthbound reason, that the name of יהוה is a retreat. The repetition of the verse gives a natural subdivision of the poem, 1 to 4, 5 to 14. The pivotal role of Israel is marked in verse 14.

Note that the words of verse 8 do not recur in the rest of the poem. Natural disasters are given a central position in the second half of the poem.

Every created thing and being is to praise. Every created being has a retreat.

This poem is primal: the fight or flight impulse in every created thing from dragon to creepy crawly and the merciful nature of יהוה illustrated to humanity through his dealings with Israel.

The bootstrap for sentience is not known to humanity, but the fight or flight instinct has been noted by us. Had I ever thought that even the spider gets its refuge in יהוה? I did not use the word soul in this translation, but one could write about the soul of the beast, for the gift to the animals is clear to anyone who looks closely at the marvel of their actions and brains.

Even the dragon and the abyss are invited to praise. These words draw in all the potential confusion and fear in the magnificence of creation. The abyss is a treasury (33:7) and a metaphor for the judgment (36:7). Psalm 42:8 identifies abyss as the depth of the call from the human in exile to God. Psalm 71:20 knows hope even in these depths. The water from the rock is like an abyss (78:15). The earth is clothed with the abyss (104:6). The people are led through it (106:9) and the mariners are terrified of it on the sea (107:26). It is part of God’s delight (135:6). This is the creation that we find ourselves in: the unfathomable, time, gravity, and the inscrutable human heart, animal consciousness and the power of the natural order. This is the abyss along with its fearsome creatures. The place of the dragon is where we were crushed (44:20), but its heads are broken (74:13), and over it we will trample (91:13). Leviathan splintered (74:14) is God’s companion in laughter (104:26). Rahab, the defiant (40:5) is remembered in the city of God (87:4) and was pierced through (89:11). She becomes the metaphor for our boldness (90:10 and 138:3). Here we might invoke Christopher Smart again, for the devils themselves are at peace. The psalms weave creation, redemption, and deliverance into poetry reflecting these primal and critical themes from the Torah and the Prophets. See also Rendtorff (2005 p. 418 ff).


On not quite being finished

One cannot finish without tidying up. And I had left a mess in a few places. I think I have now replaced all the posts that were hard to read because of font sizes. I also removed the funky borders and I found some psalms where I had completely missed the prosodic lines. One was Psalm 38, always a psalm that is instructive to read.

I have left lots of problems with concordance across psalms. I think the creative synonyms of the King James version are a bad idea because they often obscure what I think is deliberate poetic framing, but total concordance would be equally bad. In one poem, large - like the epic Job, or small like a psalm, I think it is important to preserve concordance as much as possible, but in multiple poems, I have been less rigid (out of necessity). So across some poems, I will have missed concordance, but equally I will, if I catch it, try to avoid a rare English word if it will set up a false allusion to another poem.

One has to ask, of course, what is a final copy? Maybe this is a collection of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, and Eliot - and one would expect differences in their word choices and language.  But one would equally expect deliberate allusion especially from later poets. So the argument for discordance on the grounds of dialect will not stand without nuance. And what about for the epic? If it was composed over 5 centuries, should the final work be considered coherent? If I can read it as coherent, am I just imposing my own will on the text (in my ignorance of all that the scholars say about it)? Perhaps. Consider this:
Over the years L. has retained a consistent view of the development of the book: first, a legend from the trans-Jordan that found a home in Israel perhaps as early as the 10-9th centuries B.C.E. (pp. 177-78) into which, in the postexilic period, the Satan was inserted (p. 69); second, the speeches, which constitute the core of the book, can reasonably be dated to the first half of the 5th century B.C.E.; about a generation later (p. 73), in the second half of that century, the Elihu speeches were added and then, by the 3rd century B.C.E. at the latest, the wisdom poem in chapter 28 (p. 80)
From Claude E. Cox on Jean Lévêque, Job ou le drame de la foi: Essais (LD 216; Paris: Cerf 2007).

In this business of communicating with an ancient poet and redactor I will never be finished.
In this business of being with the hope of all the earth, I also hope I will never finish.
But there are times when finishing is much more like a circle than a straight line.
Round and round I go till I jump out of the words and formatting and say - it is sufficient.

The courts of the Lord

I was wondering about courts. Sometimes individual words reveal a coherence in a book. I am not so sure here - Psalm 84 is the only one to have courts recur as a frame. And Book 5 does not predominate as one might expect with the movement to the sanctuary that is evident in the psalms of ascent. (Book 4 has more- but there's no guarantee they are all courts - some might be grass!)

What use are these patterns? Are they deliberate or accidental?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Psalm 137 - Babel, expose


Babel, expose in which remembering is expressed from many voices

עַל נַהֲרוֹת בָּבֶל שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ
גַּם בָּכִינוּ בְּזָכְרֵנוּ אֶת צִיּוֹן
1By the rivers of Babel - there we sat
yea we wept when we remembered Zion
עַל עֲרָבִים בְּתוֹכָהּ
תָּלִינוּ כִּנֹּרוֹתֵינוּ
2on willows in the midst of her
we hung our harps
כִּי שָׁם שְׁאֵלוּנוּ שׁוֹבֵינוּ דִּבְרֵי שִׁיר
וְתוֹלָלֵינוּ שִׂמְחָה
שִׁירוּ לָנוּ מִשִּׁיר צִיּוֹן
3for there our captors asked us the words of a song
and our tormentors mirth
Sing to us a song of Zion
אֵיךְ נָשִׁיר אֶת שִׁיר יְהוָה
עַל אַדְמַת נֵכָר
4how will we sing such a song of יְהוָה
on alien ground?

אִם אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם
תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי
5If I forget you Jerusalem
let my right hand forget
תִּדְבַּק לְשׁוֹנִי לְחִכִּי
אִם לֹא אֶזְכְּרֵכִי
אִם לֹא אַעֲלֶה אֶת יְרוּשָׁלִַם
עַל רֹאשׁ שִׂמְחָתִי
6let my tongue cleave to my palate
if I do not remember you
if I do not offer you up Jerusalem
over my ultimate mirth

זְכֹר יְהוָה לִבְנֵי אֱדוֹם
אֵת יוֹם יְרוּשָׁלִָם
הָאֹמְרִים
עָרוּ
עָרוּ עַד הַיְסוֹד בָּהּ
7Remember יְהוָה of the children of Edom
in the day of Jerusalem
those saying
Expose
expose her to the foundations
בַּת בָּבֶל הַשְּׁדוּדָה
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיְשַׁלֶּם לָךְ
אֶת גְּמוּלֵךְ שֶׁגָּמַלְתְּ לָנוּ
8Devastating daughter of Babel
happy the one who makes peace with you
even rewards you as you rewarded us
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיֹּאחֵז וְנִפֵּץ
אֶת עֹלָלַיִךְ אֶל הַסָּלַע
9happy the one who grasps and smashes
your babies on the cliff
Hebrew words: 84. Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 55%. Average keywords per verse: 5.1.

6ultimate, ראשׁ (r'sh), or head, top, beginning, chief, ultimate etc. Note the Aramaic form of the second person singular suffix for remember.
8the one who, interpreting the relative use of the letter shin, also in v9.
rewards גמל (gml) in the sense of payback. See also Psalm 131 where the root indicates a nursing child on the mother's back.

Selected recurring words in relative order
Word and gloss * first usage1234567891012345VsRoot
* בבל Babel
1בבל
שׁם there
1שׁם
בזכרנו in remembering
1זכר
ציון Zion
1ציון
שׁם there
3שׁם
שׁיר a song
3שׁיר
שׂמחה mirth
3שׂמח
שׁירו sing
3שׁיר
לנו to us
3לנו
משׁיר a song of
3שׁיר
ציון Zion
3ציון
נשׁיר will we sing
4שׁיר
שׁיר a song of
4שׁיר
יהוה יהוה
4יהוה
אם if
5אם
אשׁכחך I forget you
5שׁכח
ירושׁלם Jerusalem
5ירושׁלם
תשׁכח let forget
5שׁכח
אם if
6אם
לא not
6לא
אזכרכי I do remember you
6זכר
אם if
6אם
לא not
6לא
ירושׁלם Jerusalem
6ירושׁלם
שׂמחתי my mirth
6שׂמח
זכר remember
7זכר
יהוה יהוה
7יהוה
ירושׁלם Jerusalem
7ירושׁלם
* ערו expose
7ערה
* ערו expose
7ערה
* בבל Babel
8בבל
אשׁרי happy
8אשׁר
גמולך rewards you
8גמל
שׁגמלת as you rewarded
8גמל
לנו us
8לנו
אשׁרי happy
9אשׁר
Verses 1 to 4 are first person plural. Verse 2 sets the scene. No word of verse 2 is repeated in the rest of the poem. This first part is about song.

Verses 5 and 6 are first person singular. They are about Jerusalem, the place that is remembered when the people are in Babel.

Verses 7 to 9 are prayer and address concerning the persecutors, Edom and Babel, who itself is directly addressed in the third person singular. Recall the only other use of smash in the Psalter is in Psalm 2, in which the anointed is reminded that he will like fashioned pots, smash them.

The three sections are held together by remember with support in the second section by a repeated forget. This reading was pointed out by Magonet in his lecture at Oxford 2010. His advice for the reading of the psalms is a good part of the reason for my study, analysis, and writing on the psalms.

Psalm 137 reminds us of the exile. This is the last direct mention of the exile, closing the bracket opened in Psalms 42-44.

If one has not experienced exile, one cannot appreciate the shame, the memory, the loss of identity, home, place, and dislocation of community. While exile may be deserved or not, there are captors instrumental within it that need correction.


To have noted that quotation from Charles Williams is a curious accident. Indeed the foundations of Jerusalem are exposed. We hear no more of exile after this. We had heard nothing of it prior to Book 2. The exile is not the saving event. While we may learn from our affliction, even affliction for our own sin, salvation is effected differently and is remembered. So Passover, so the Eucharist. But God makes his presence known both in rebuke and in mercy - and both are good. As the psalmist said - of affliction Psalm 119:71, 75, and of mercy Psalm 63:3.  And I did not hesitate to translate the loving-kindness in Psalm 23 as rebuke.

This video is well sung - very deep and does not mince any words. It is in Hebrew with subtitles.

The psalter as a gallery

The Psalter - an outline of the floor plan
The entry and exit are marked. When you leave be sure to praise the proprietor. There is no entry fee but there is considerable cost to the viewing experience. You are free to spend as long as you wish - any time of day or night. Nights are particularly beautiful. You will notice couches, divans, and various resting places as you gaze on the beauty of holiness. Choose your starting place from July-August 2010 on the right. Or click the image to go to a list of all the pass 3 translations - the ones with music also marked with a *. (For pass 1 to which this image could also be directed go here.)

George Herbert - The Pulley

Against Psalm 131, as if anticipating the frame of Psalm 132, Neale cites George Herbert's The Pulley in its entirety

When God at first made man, 
Having a glasse of blessings standing by; 
Let us (said he) poure on him all we can: 
Let the worlds riches, which dispersed lie, 
Contract into a span. 

So strength first made a way; 
Then beautie flow’d, then wisdome, honour, pleasure: 
When almost all was out, God made a stay, 
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure 
Rest in the bottome lay. 

For if I should (said he) 
Bestow this jewell also on my creature, 
He would adore my gifts in stead of me, 
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature: 
So both should losers be. 

Yet let him keep the rest, 
But keep them with repining restlesnesse: 
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least, 
If goodnesse leade him not, yet wearinesse 
May tosse him to my breast.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Theology and Religious Studies and other items under BS

BS is the library catalogue id for Biblical Studies - it has nothing to do with the bulls and goats of Psalm 50.
Is the God-given “good” meant for everybody, or is it only for a few? And how is your answer logically coherent to the faith you claim?
So asks Brooke Lester on the comment thread here.

What a great question! For me this question identifies the most basic faith - is where we find ourselves a part of good? The question emerges every time the word good or better occurs in a religious document. Better is worse than good by the way - it is the enemy of the good, as the French say. I have recently decided to avoid the word better in translation. The good is sufficient as is the evil to the day.

So why do I study? It's all about the good for me and for others. For everybody? That needs some nuance. There is no 'everybody'. There is one other body at a time. For the few? Where is the sufficiency that the few might find it? Never far away as T.S. Eliot noted in his Journey of the Magi. Available in the place where we are no longer at ease.

Is this answer coherent with the faith I claim?  Ha! why should the answer cohere? Why should it not be good to be 'no longer at ease'? Is this question implying that God must cohere to my ideas? Also what is my faith that I claim? That the good that is shown to me is sufficient. But what if it is not shown? Then complain. I can't put it in a single word apart from that good that I know through the death of Jesus and the Anointing and Anointed of the chiastic TNKNT, the one Spirit that informs my good through the circumcision that is in Christ Jesus.  I can only invite to the good - through the madness of tasting and seeing to which the slightly mad David invites us poor folk in Psalm 34.

Is that in-coherent or co-inherent?  The New Jerusalem turned upside down reveals the marvel of her garments of precious stones. (from a vague memory of Charles Williams, Shadows of Ecstasy. Faber Edition, p26)

The actual quote - vague memory right on but context right off. "She was a magnificent creature, tall and rather large and dark, and she carried them off magnificently. In fact, she was a creation in terms of jewellery, the New Jerusalem turned upside down so that the foundations showed"

Summary - midway through book 4

We are or I am on the last lap of this marathon - nearly into the stadium (empty). I don't have another diagram yet, but there are some changes in the framing and styles in Book 5. Longer phrases are repeated, and there are trios of exhortations that are inclusive of Israel and all who fear יְהוָה

So what am I doing? I am reading the Hebrew out loud to myself and with a friend every week or two. (He is fluent and we read the Greek translation as well. Europeans are a lot better at languages than North Americans.) My reading has improved with this exercise as has my word recognition. I am also deciding what is there in the text - working specifically on my rendition of the poetic structure at the word and prosodic phrase level. From this post this morning from Calvin, at the Floppy Hat, I see poetics is an in thing to do. Let me be very clear: reading the text is good - like a lot of things. It is its own witness of what is under study. It is a first hand witness. I have read a few dozen commentaries on the text of the Bible. I was always in too much of a hurry to get to 'meaning' and too desperate to be 'right'. Both of these are irrelevant beside this first witness. The translations we have, good though they may be, are a second hand witness. They are always steeped in decisions that are outside the immediate reference you or I may need. It's not that the words cannot be translated - but that there may be something personal for you or for me that the translation cannot give you. For instance the word 'keep' in Psalm 121. In your native tongue, you might skip over it. It's obvious what it means. Or the translator may have used creative synonyms and obscured the repetition. But when you are slowed down enough to hear the sound שׁמר (shamar) in its repeated variations, then you get it. Especially when the moon wakes you up in the middle of the night and smites you - and you smile.

I am also concentrating on the first time a word recurs in the psalter. This has repeatedly outlined the images in the psalms - even though I have touched only the frame unique to that poem.  And even though I am working with clues from a routine I wrote to decipher the root given the consonantal word. The clues have been adequate to the task.

Why am I doing this? To prepare myself personally to listen at the psalms conference in Oxford in September. And purely for pleasure - and for learning the language better.

In Book 5 so far we have noted:

The opening psalm 107 is generic and describe's the work of יְהוָה  throughout the world - all sorts and conditions of people.
Then 108 is a repeat with variation of parts of psalms 57 and 60. It reminds us of the miktamim and the tune Do not Destroy and the political context in which the elect live, the foxes circling about the beloved.

109 is a severe curse of one who must come to judgment.  It seems to prepare 110 which has no new frames.
The acrostics with Hallelujah follow Psalms 111 and 112 - the poet Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke provides a lovely reading of these - her book is embedded here.

The following 5 psalms culminating with the shortest precede what almost seems to be the end of the psalter - the stone that the builders rejected and the great hymn to testimonies of יְהוָה
Psalm 113 - to live with the nobility
Psalm 114 - lambkin and little hills skipping
Psalm 115 - trust and blessing - trio #2
Psalm 116 - the completion of the vows
Psalm 117 - anticipating the great hallel

Psalm 118 - the circumcision

119 feels like the end of the psalter - the psalmist for all the humility expressed, also writes with words that are new frames even this late in the book the equivalent of "I observe the testimony"

The songs of ascent - we are on the fifth step. Where will these take us? 120 and 122 have no new frames.
Psalm 120 - A song of the steps
Psalm 121 - no snoozing
Psalm 122
Psalm 123 - of contempt
Psalm 124 - unless ... then - we escape the snare

Friday, August 20, 2010

Psalm 110

Psalm 110

in which the king as priest drinks from the torrent in the way

לְדָוִד מִזְמוֹר
נְאֻם יְהוָה לַאדֹנִי

שֵׁב לִימִינִי
עַד אָשִׁית אֹיְבֶיךָ הֲדֹם לְרַגְלֶיךָ
1Of David, a psalm
a proclamation of יְהוָה to my Lord

Sit at my right hand
till I make your enemies your footstool
מַטֵּה עֻזְּךָ יִשְׁלַח יְהוָה מִצִּיּוֹן
רְדֵה בְּקֶרֶב אֹיְבֶיךָ
2יְהוָה will send the rod of your strength out of Zion
rule within and among your enemies
עַמְּךָ נְדָבֹת בְּיוֹם חֵילֶךָ
בְּהַדְרֵי קֹדֶשׁ מֵרֶחֶם מִשְׁחָר
לְךָ טַל יַלְדֻתֶיךָ
3your people are willing in the day of your weal
in the honour of holiness from the womb of the dawn
to you the dew of your childhood

נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה וְלֹא יִנָּחֵם
אַתָּה כֹהֵן לְעוֹלָם
עַל דִּבְרָתִי מַלְכִּי צֶדֶק
4יְהוָה has sworn and without a sigh
you are a priest forever
by the word of Melchizedek
אֲדֹנָי עַל יְמִינְךָ
מָחַץ בְּיוֹם אַפּוֹ מְלָכִים
5my Lord is at your right hand
he will wound kings in the day of his anger

יָדִין בַּגּוֹיִם
מָלֵא גְוִיּוֹת
מָחַץ רֹאשׁ עַל אֶרֶץ רַבָּה
6he will advocate among the nations
a fullness of bodies
he will wound greatly a head on earth
מִנַּחַל בַּדֶּרֶךְ יִשְׁתֶּה
עַל כֵּן יָרִים רֹאשׁ
7he will imbibe from the torrent in the way
therefore he will lift a head high
Notes by verse

1[Matthew 22:44, Acts 2:34-35, Hebrews 1:13, 10:12-13, 1 Peter 3:22]
3weal, חיל (xyl), or wealth or force, both of which I have used in other verses. The חיל of Egypt is destroyed in the sea. The parallels expressing womb and youth suggests a birthing image. The archaic weal (e.g. as in common weal) can be used to mean both wealth and hurt as in the birth process.
4[Hebrews 5:6, 7:17, 21]
Translation and Notes last updated on 2011.08.31.11.16
Hebrew words: 65 English words: 143

Keywords in relative order
Word and gloss * first usage1234567VsStem
לאדני to my Lord
1אדני
לימיני at my right hand
1ימן
איביך your enemies
1איב
איביך your enemies
2איב
ביום in the day of
3יום
מלכי Melchi-
4מלך
אדני my Lord
5אדני
ימינך your right hand
5ימן
מחץ he will wound
5מחץ
ביום in the day of
5יום
מלכים kings
5מלך
מחץ he will wound
6מחץ
ראשׁ a head
6ראשׁ
ראשׁ a head
7ראשׁ

There is a superb Korean recording of the Handel Dixit Dominus - but it is too slow to load. The other performances that I 'saw' were too out of tune to begin to 'listen to'. Here is the same choir doing De torrente in via bibet, propterea exaltabit caput and the Gloria. It is superb.
The distribution of the rarer frames in other psalms is like this:
This psalm is pivotal to the understanding of the Anointed (remember the oil of Psalm 109 and anticipate the dew of Psalm 133). נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה וְלֹא יִנָּחֵם - Hashem has sworn and 'will not repent'. Imagine reading this and hearing (the ear being open you would not have to try to 'figure it out') what would satisfy the desire for good that is in the root and branch of creation. The satisfaction (of God) would be that there was one who loved as he loved, one who loves as he loves, one who gives self to that love in the magnificence of the covenant love that is from the beginning. The earthling seeing this anointed one would confirm that it was (we may say) satisfactory. The act of seeing gives life and healing and allows the giving of self to the same covenant love that is from the beginning.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summary of Book 4

Here are the new frames by psalm for Book 4. No doubt that Moses is the envelope - but what is in the package? I can't say that I have an answer. Most of these psalms have no handle - like an author or the like whereby one might put them into a 'package'.

A prayer and answer
90 - of transient growth and limited years
91 - answer to Psalm 90 - delivery from plague

92 - about flourishing. A statement of security -
I have been anointed with luxuriant oil
93 - the floods against majesty clothed. This short psalm intimates that the deck is stacked against יְהוָה

the torrents have lifted up יְהוָה
the torrents have lifted up their voice
the torrents will lift up their waves

94 - how long vengeance - will God consider? correction / cut off - this denies that there could be any contradiction in God

Is the throne of ruin in league with you?
framing toil on a statute?

95 - the teaching psalm used in Hebrews - no new frames

יְהוָה rules
96 - the first of the royal group - no new frames
97 - from within the presence - fire
98 - on the harp
99 - - the last of the royal group - no new frames
I suspect the above 4 psalms have a structure 'together'. There are several repeated phrases in the four.

100 - instruction to all to worship
101 - destruction

My eyes are on the faithful of earth
to live with me
walking in a way of completeness
Such a one will minister to me

The next five psalms are a long recapitulation of need and history of promise and failure to respond
102 - prayer - of withered herbage - Hebrews applies words to the son that are applied to יְהוָה in this psalm.
103 - nurturing compassion - as benefits the grasses' flush
104 - a recapitulation of creatures from the upper rooms
105 - of Abraham and portents - borders
106 - The reed sea, Moses in the breach - extermination, plague, and idols

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book 3 - where are we

Well I've nearly been defeated by technology. Psalm 89 disappeared twice from the blogger editor. I think I must find a better editor  - the problem is they are the only ones who have any handle on right-to-left and left-to-right mixed processing.

Anyway - since our last summary, we have 'done' 11 psalms - three of them had no new frames. And they didn't seem to be recapitulation. Poems are like that - they are what they are at the time you read or sing them.

Again I continue to see apt new frames - never used before - for the subject of each psalm. I am wondering if there is a concentration of the word Adonai - Lord in recent psalms. There is an increase in usage and a decrease to come.
The use of  אדן by book - green where it recurs, red - individual count
A quick summary of the last poems of the children of Korah:
Psalm 79 - the pouring out, Jerusalem a heap of ruins - This one hits hard like Psalm 44 and the Lamentations
Psalm 80 - the rooted vine in tears - Here was where I got tangled in bloated html - and the syndicator would not post the psalm. Nearly discombobulated I was. I even published this one twice. You reader are very important - you keep me honest. I review my work and will continue to do so.
Psalm 81 - recapitulating a determined hope
Psalm 82 - judge in favour of the weak
Psalm 83 - no no no - not silence
Psalm 84 - the courts of יְהוָה
Psalm 85 - truth springs from the earth - so no magic numerology like chiastic accidental patterns please. And if you do this, listen to the check in your spirit that says: no, no, no this is not proof - this is embarrassing. - Now here's a thought - No God, no sin - but also no human, no God? No - even the stones are sufficient but the proof is in the beauty of observation that is accurate and stands the test of scrutiny.
The use of  ארץ by book - green where it recurs, red - individual count
Psalm 86 - but you - to be magnified in Psalm 89. Is it possible for the human to overcome diminishing resources? This prayer of David - the last of the ones in Books 2 and 3 - is very beautiful.
Psalm 87 - who was born here?
Psalm 88 - jammed in a pit - entombed, a dance
Psalm 89 - of faithfulness sworn - creation and covenant not profaned - I wonder too if there is some irony in some of the verses in this psalm. 
How will his children break my law
or fail to remain in my judgment?
How will they profane my statutes
or fail to keep my commandments?
I will attend to their transgression with the scepter
and with stripes their guilt!
but my loving kindness will not be frustrated in him
and will not be proven false in my faithfulness

Psalm 89 is said to sum up the failure of the monarchy. It lists with the corporate laments and the Maskilim - the great chunk of these final poems of Book 2 is still merging together in my mind. The nested divisions by attribution are only a partial help in resolving the coherence into a few words.
The use of אתה by book - green where it recurs, red - individual count
Perhaps Books 4 and 5 will provide some help - to which we now proceed.

Do Books 1-3 tend to emphasize the individual more than the congregation? One more graph:
The use of  אני by book - green where it recurs, red - individual count

Friday, August 13, 2010

Psalms that repeat

If recurrence is significant then we must consider why there are certain psalms that repeat - especially as we are in a section of psalms related to geography and tribe. And one of these repeats. There is a preliminary structural model here - it is not successful in revealing pattern but it does show that the large repetitions: 14 - 53 and 60 - 108 are spaced like four part walls in the gallery. I wonder if they surround any set of things that could be perceived with some helpful coherence.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Christian Carnival 340

Now there's a carnival that just keeps on going. Thanks to Henry for his mention of this marathon on the psalms. Christians - please ask some tough questions. And read with joy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The middle of Book 3 - a brief retrospect

We are almost to the middle of book 3 - perhaps past it since psalm 78 is so big. I have been concentrating on the frames in each psalm - repeated words that outline the theme or surround the core of each poem. In particular I have been identifying the frames that are first used in each psalm. It seems we are then in the middle of a substantial art gallery.  So far in the last 5 or 6 weeks, we have seen in sequence:
  • the entrance: psalms 1 and 2 - 
  • a set of psalms of David - from 3 to 41 (only psalm 10 has no attribution but it is a continuation of the acrostic of psalm 9). Attributed to David are two psalms of special names: maskil  - of insight, and miktam - inscribed (roughly).
  • at the beginning of Book 2, we found a change in attribution (Korah) and a change in the divine name which will last to psalm 86 just before the end of Book 3.
  • In the middle of Book 2 after a series by Korah (really including psalm 43 also) we pass the first of Asaph, a foretaste of what is to come in Book 3.
  • But first there is a second set of psalms attributed to David. Five of these are miktamim, three of these and a fourth are headed with 'Do not destroy'. They are essential - not to be thrown out.
  • These in turn surround a section of three unattributed harvest psalms 65, 66, 67. These, besides psalms 1 and 2, are the first group of unattributed psalms. There will be several more in books 4 and 5.
  • Following the David group, Book 3 begins with Asaph and ends with Korah. Books 2 and 3 have a familiar sandwich pattern  Korah - Asaph - David - harvest - David - Asaph - Korah.
  • Book 3 will end with two maskilim one of Hayman and one of Ethan
  • Book 4 begins with Moses - but we get ahead of ourselves
  • Book 5 ends with David
  • and all books end with praise. Psalm 149 closes what psalms 1 and 2 began. See also this image. Easier to see than to describe.
As we read, I am concentrating on the repeated roots that are new in each psalm. These I count as frames though they may frame the whole psalm or only a part of it. Click on psalm summary for the other summaries.

So far in book 3, we have summarized each psalm using words that are new keywords in that psalm
73 - how is the heart touched
74 - foolish, the burning of the assemblies
75 - the horn
76 - wearing the residue of human heat
77 - remembering the wonderful deeds - introduces psalm 78
78 - signs commanded, guiding a provocative people - anticipates psalms 105 and 106

I won't anticipate more of where we are going, because, though I have been there, I am seeing new things in every psalm because of this concentration on which recurring words are new. There's a monster diagram of these linked from the page defining the frames - under WIP above. This process is scheduled to be completed before the middle of September. It is I admit, a bit of a marathon.

The study of the psalms is very rewarding. I have found myself confronted by many if not most. Now it is joy to read them for a third time in Hebrew - it is still slow work even after 4 years of study, so don't be discouraged. Look up every word - who cares if it takes time. This is the dialogue between Father and Son - we eavesdrop and learn. The anointing drips from these words onto us - a precious oil. (Psalm 133). Soon I will see the dew of Herman and the mountains of Zion. (September in Oxford for a conference on the Psalms - then to Israel for 3 weeks.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Summary to psalm 72

Psalm by psalm I am now trying to characterize each psalm by its new frames in the title of the post - so you can see the summary at a glance on the right panel of archive links.

61- my vow
62- of lies and vanity - and silence
63- a psalm of joy (finally)
64- three bull's eyes and a miss (shooting arrows)
65- provision for the ends of the earth
66- testing and prayer
67- the produce of the earth
68- captivity captive - riding the storm
69- sinking in overflowing floods in depth ...
70- hurry
71- the declarations of youth and age
72- Sun moon and Sheba complete Book 2

A set of Davidic poems are in this section of the gallery - and they are noted as complete with Psalm 72 - where by implication Solomon is included in the Davidic group.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A reminder of the peculiar poetry of Christ


Some nice smelling lavender with backlight from our clerestory windows, and some more flanked by roses and hydrangea.

Now this is cool

Two-letter lookup - may prove quite useful - and resolves some of those tricky lost letter thingys

HT Henry

Friday, August 6, 2010

Summary by frame to psalm 60

We have seen the envelopes - here is a short summary so far. First we can go beyond the initial structure I posed earlier. The psalter is formed in several concentric groupings.
  1. the outer frame of psalms 1, 2, 149
  2. the inner frame of the personal Davidic psalms
  3. the inner frame of the acrostics in books 1 and 5 only
  4. the use of divine names - the existence of the Elohist psalter
  5. the inner frame of Korah
  6. the inner frame of Asaph
  7. the central Davidic core of books 2 and 3 - Solomon's pair of psalms
  8. (Moses also figures in the text of book 4 - but has only one psalm attributed to him)
  9. the Davidic envelope in book 5 and scattered parts of the Songs of ascent with Solomon at its centre
  10. the similar structure of the five books - all ending with praise.
I am not the first to point these out but they are confirmed so far in my sequential reading. I can imagine the collections taking shape in multiple locations and then perhaps at the return from exile, a few cooperative priests together merge them. What strikes me is the switch from David to Korah/Asaph and back again with the odd outliers in what may well be strategic positions - e.g. 75 as the final of the Do Not Destroy series or 142 as the last Maskil etc.

Of the last psalms since Psalm 50, what can be said
51 - the clear concentric circle of new frames blot out - purify - wash places this poem in its usual context as the ultimate in penitential writing. David the anointed provides the example of exactly what a marriage should not be (in contrast to the hopeful and celebratory Psalm 45)
52 - we are back in David's world and his condemnation of the deceitful tongue is a sharp reminder of Psalm 12
53 - this Elohist repeat of Psalm 14 reminds us that all is not well on the earth. It is named as a Maskil though its double is not.
54-55 are on the inner battle. We have a strong tendency to objectify the enemy. I hope I do not read too much into the divine solution - the destruction of the enemy begins with the destruction of our sin
Psalm 56-60 - five troubling even bloodthirsty psalms follow this note on the inner battle! They end with the clear statement of who is in charge. Why are these miktamim together? Why is Psalm 16 also a miktam?

A clarifying image

Here's a rework and correction of the earlier image. David's border colour is red, Asaph in book 2-3 only green, Korah blue - book 2 and 3 only, I had slipped from one Moses to two and two Solomon to one - easy slip to make.

David is the only attribution to appear in all books. Maskilim have a double border, miktamim a quad border

Can you write a maskil or a miktam?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Neale - the four volume summary of reception history of the psalms

This is a marvelous summary of the psalter over 17 centuries - I copy these links here for convenience. A list of digitized works including his hymn collections is here


A commentary on the Psalms: from primitive and mediaeval writers; and from the various office-books and hymns of the Roman, Mazarabic, Ambrosian, Gallican, Greek, Coptic, Armenian, and Syrian rites (Volume 1) - Neale, J. M. (John Mason), 1818-1866
Vol. 1. Psalm I to Psalm XXXVIII.- Vol. 2. Psalm XXXIX. to Psalm LXXX.- Vol. 3. Psalm LXXXI. to Psalm CXVIII.- Vol. 4. Psalm CXIX. to Psalm CL, with index of Scripture references


A commentary on the Psalms: from primitive and mediaeval writers; and from the various office-books and hymns of the Roman, Mazarabic, Ambrosian, Gallican, Greek, Coptic, Armenian, and Syrian rites (Volume 2) - Neale, J. M. (John Mason), 1818-1866
Vol. 1. Psalm I to Psalm XXXVIII.- Vol. 2. Psalm XXXIX. to Psalm LXXX.- Vol. 3. Psalm LXXXI. to Psalm CXVIII.- Vol. 4. Psalm CXIX. to Psalm CL, with index of Scripture references


A commentary on the Psalms: from primitive and mediaeval writers; and from the various office-books and hymns of the Roman, Mazarabic, Ambrosian, Gallican, Greek, Coptic, Armenian, and Syrian rites (Volume 3) - Neale, J. M. (John Mason), 1818-1866
Vol. 1. Psalm I to Psalm XXXVIII.- Vol. 2. Psalm XXXIX. to Psalm LXXX.- Vol. 3. Psalm LXXXI. to Psalm CXVIII.- Vol. 4. Psalm CXIX. to Psalm CL, with index of Scripture references


A commentary on the Psalms: from primitive and mediaeval writers; and from the various office-books and hymns of the Roman, Mazarabic, Ambrosian, Gallican, Greek, Coptic, Armenian, and Syrian rites (Volume 4) - Neale, J. M. (John Mason), 1818-1866
Vol. 1. Psalm I to Psalm XXXVIII.- Vol. 2. Psalm XXXIX. to Psalm LXXX.- Vol. 3. Psalm LXXXI. to Psalm CXVIII.- Vol. 4. Psalm CXIX. to Psalm CL, with index of Scripture references

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Blogging

Do you only blog because you're right and you can put to right the rest of the world?

I'm sure you wouldn't put it quite that way.

For what it's worth, I blog to learn. Just like I listen to others - but I don't necessarily believe everything I read - and I am open to the fact that in my stretches to learn, my detail work will have errors. Not that being error free is anything (even the Bible knows that being error free is a red herring.)

I do have something that may find a way under the thick skins, stiff necks and hard hearts of others too. You never know.