Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mary and the 144000

Bosco Peters has continued his posts on the creed here. This comment of mine may be too large, so I have posted it here as well. It may appear on his - but I cannot tell. I began with my brief understanding of Mary:
Mary represents our yes to God that Christ might be born in us. Her perpetual virginity is reflected in the image of the 144000. I was always bothered by the Mary issue until I began to appreciate the role I need to assume when reading the Song – Who is this coming up from the desert, leaning on her beloved? It is Mary, it is the Church, it is me.
Who can untangle these images?
Bosco then asks if there is a tradition connecting the virginity of Mary to the 144000 virgins in the book of Revelation. This is my response.
I have not done a close reading of Revelation though I did read many books on it in ancient days - from medieval art with comic dragons to Bauckham's little monograph on the theology. The pericope of the 144000 is treated here as a rejection of Roman prowess. This might be extended to a rejection of all domineering use of sexuality (including the record of Sodom).
The companions of the Lambkin are the only ones who can learn the new song. This is such an important phrase in the psalms - beginning with the first of the pillars that support the tent, Psalm 33 and to the last, 144:9. Each of these poems precedes an acrostic. the first and last of these with the last and first in Books 1 and 5 form a grand chiasm that supports the whole Psalter as tent poles support a tent, or pillars a temple. (See Psalm 15:1 for my intent - הוה who will guest in your tent?) 
If we cannot learn the new song, how can we be part of the new creation? How can we be redeemed? This is a tough image if one interprets it with exclusion in mind.  It is even worse if one interprets it as abstinence - though that image is not completely off the table. 
So as far as tradition is concerned, I am not aware of the linkage between Mary and the 144000 though the connection could be made in Revelation, but it is a part of my own thinking. The new song is able to be learned - perhaps this restores virginity in that there is a complete healing of all the shame that can be raised by the very intimate and vulnerable reality of sex. 
The 144000 are 'the redeemed' so in that sense they represent the church and therefore include us who seek (and find). If they are the church they are the place where God's word, his seed, finds a home, and where virginal conception, birth and growth in the Spirit therefore take place. The holiness of the temple, or tent, our body, individual or corporate is maintained by the same word. 
It is in this sense, which I hope I have expressed in the chink of this digital wall, that Mary and the 144000 are connected. Again our response is a yes in imitation of hers: be it unto me according to thy word.
(And like Romeo and Juliet, it is a love story with identity strained by familial relations - the world of the beast vs the redemption).

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Key verses - Psalm 147

Do numbers work with texts? I persevere (for a while).

When you have a theory and a poem does not conform to the theory, it sometimes means you need to find some words to add to the poem to support the theory. I am suspicious of this number thing. But the results are close (not as hard or as much fun as the music).

I looked at Labuschange's Psalm 147. I looked because his total words did not add to the number I have in my text (141 including both Hallelu Yah's). He has 140 (20 x 7) to fit his theory. But he added 3 words from the Septuagint to verse 8 (borrowing a colon from the middle of Psalm 104.14) and subtracted 4 for the Hallelu Yah's to get 140. (But he objected to a word count of 70 in Psalm 3!)

There are patterns here but finding them may result in projecting the pattern the theory seems to require onto the text rather than reading the pattern that is there. Sorry for these notes - I don't think this is fruitful - or if it is, it is also distracting.

What is the key verse for 147 - in my opinion? Is it the strength of a rider's legs? (Which is at the numerical centre - sort of). But in the Septuagint, Psalm 147 is two psalms (so the numbering can catch up) and the central verse is the last verse of the first psalm of the pair. So do we pick and choose whether to use the Septuagint or not?

The element that stands out for me in this psalm (Hebrew 147) is that it is the first time that רצה (favour) is used as a recurring word in any psalm. (I have a theory that if framing is significant, and if the Psalter is coherent, then in the gallery, a new frame will stand out.) So these middle verses do stand out - but not because of counting, a process that would useless and distracting in a performance. To get the sense, we need both verses:

Psalm 147:10-11
לֹא בִגְבוּרַת הַסּוּס יֶחְפָּץ
לֹא בְשׁוֹקֵי הָאִישׁ יִרְצֶה
10
not in the valour of the horse will he delight
not in the legs of the rider will he find favour
רוֹצֶה יְהוָה אֶת יְרֵאָיו
אֶת הַמְיַחֲלִים לְחַסְדּוֹ
11
יהוה favours those who fear him
those who hope for his loving-kindness
It is, I admit, rather striking that these are numerically the middle two words of the poem - almost a joke, the horse and rider bit. But it will help me remember that this is Psalm 147 (Hebrew numbering).  Now look also at the first occurrence of רצה in the Psalter. It is in the part of Psalm 40 that mostly repeats in Psalm 70 (but רצה does not occur in Psalm 70). Psalm 40 is crucial (in the Septuagint version - but that is of little consequence) in the epistle to the Hebrews. Here we see how the Psalms anticipate and teach the reality of the perseverance of Christ.




Key verses - Psalm 4 - and the process of inspiration

Labuschange and I are bound to disagree on this one. My recurrence table shows that verse 3 is without recurrence. That makes it stand out.
Children, each of you,
how long will you humiliate my glory?
your love empty? 
your seeking a lie?
Selah
Labuschange has verse 5 as would be expected since he is doing mid-point verses. (There is no atenach in this verse - curious. I am using the Me'ir Halevi (Max) Letteris edition of the te'amim.)
Shudder and do not sin
promise in your heart
where you lie down and be mute
Selah
The numerological approach could be a strategy for locking in the copying process.

Similar to verse 3, no word is repeated from verse 8 in the rest of the poem.
You have given gladness in my heart
more than when their grain
and their new wine multiplied
Imagine this: 
  1. Poet reads Torah, or an early prophet 
  2. inspired to write psalm, composes or copies key text(s) on the gift(s) received
  3. sketches the keywords, 
  4. writes poem around the key verses using keywords and parallelism to lock in the vertical grammar, 
  5. holds the word(s) revealed (in this case verses 3, 8), 
  6. sketches the music, 
  7. and then locates the centre of the poem and locks in the content by imposing word counts.
Redaction process to come ... Courage, friends - and count the words in the whole book...
Word and gloss * first usage12345678910VsRoot
* בקראי when I call
2קרא
* צדקי my righteousness
2צדק
* ושׁמע and hear
2שׁמע
סלה Selah
3סלה
כי --
4כי
יהוה יהוה
4יהוה
יהוה יהוה
4יהוה
* ישׁמע will hear
4שׁמע
* בקראי when I call
4קרא
* אמרו promise
5אמר
* משׁכבכם you lie down
5שׁכב
סלה Selah
5סלה
* זבחו offer
6זבח
* זבחי offerings of
6זבח
* צדק righteousness
6צדק
* ובטחו and trust
6בטח
יהוה יהוה
6יהוה
* אמרים say
7אמר
יהוה יהוה
7יהוה
* אשׁכבה I will lie down
9שׁכב
כי for
9כי
יהוה יהוה
9יהוה
* לבטח to trust
9בטח

Monday, July 29, 2013

Key verses - Psalm 3

Y'all know that I have studied the psalms a little. I don't do it for magic. I was once asked if I thought the patterns I was finding were there by magic. Simple answer is no. Don't need magic. (Faith is not magic but rather a simple expression of both knowledge and not-knowledge.) If there is structure in a poem, then it must have been possible and meaningful for the human poet to have put it there. It must be possible for the poet to have conceived the poem. At least that is the assumption I impose. True, I do my colour coding by gematria, the sum of the letters of a Hebrew word. But that's for fun and for convenience. (And like the tables I can produce at will, it is automated.) It allows me to display the tables to assist someone in reading the columns. There is no meaning to it.

But do I even present meaning? No. Meaning implies that I have an answer and I am not into answers in the ways I used to be (or so they thought when I was half my current age or less). Probably, if I were honest with the attitude I projected at that time, I was into hope and fear more than answers. What hope did I think I had? (Except, of course, to fulfill my responsibilities as best I could.)

Anyway, I present poetry to let it speak for itself. I search for a way to present it that is as clear as I can manage. I see another site by Casper Labuschagne, a person who may be as passionate about the psalms as I am. And he has answers concerning structure that are calculated from word counts. If the word counts are too rigid, then my conclusion would be that they are forced because normal human beings could not have done the job of creating them - and we would be in the presence of magic. Such magic might force us to believe in a way that we should not.

When I have done my human eyeful, and earful thinking, then I will look at his analysis (for it is the site of a scholar) and see if his results concur with mine. (There's sticking your neck out. Incidentally, we already disagree on Psalm 85. Of course it has a centre, but it also has progression, and the progression seems to me to demand more attention than the centre.)

So what about Psalm 3?  There is a central verse. In the first strategy for memorization, I was looking at first verses or words following the inscription (if present). For this key-verse strategy, I chose a verse that is surrounded by audible word repetition, if it is there in the poem.

For Psalm 3 it is verse 6:
I lie down and I sleep
I awake
for יהוה supports me

such a simple verse (and I consider that the recurrence of awake in Psalm 139 has significance - for the meaning suggested by analogy is the awakening from death to resurrection).

Anyway - there's your memory verse for Psalm 3. Easy-peasy as they say. Here's the recurrence table. I excluded several words for simplicity (and so leave verses 4, 5 and 6 without recurrence). The four words in sequence that surround verse 6 are reasonably obvious.
Word and gloss * first usage12345VsRoot
* רבו multiplied
2רבב
* קמים arise
2קום
* ישׁועתה salvation
3ישׁע
* באלהים in God
3אלוה
* מרבבות the multiplicity
7רבב
* עם people
7עם
* קומה arise
8קום
* הושׁיעני save me
8ישׁע
* אלהי my God
8אלוה
* הישׁועה is the salvation
9ישׁע
* עמך your people
9עם
(And Casper Labuschagne agrees about the mid-point but I find it painful to see all those numbers as if they constrained the poet. There must be a better way to present this schema.)

I could be, answers apart, quite interested in Casper's idea - because it locates the atnach firmly in the poet's time and thus ties directly into the music as deciphered by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura. Unfortunately, I need better evidence than that.

So what happens if we count the words before and after the atnach, the midpoint of the verse harmonically; the subdominant, the place of rest. I have marked them all below.

מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד֑
בְּבָרְחוֹ מִפְּנֵי אַבְשָׁלוֹם בְּנוֹ
1A psalm of David,
when he ran away from the face of Absalom his son
יְהוָה מָה רַבּוּ צָרָי֑
רַבִּים קָמִים עָלָי
2יהוה, how multiplied my straits!
Many arise over me
רַבִּים אֹמְרִים לְנַפְשִׁי
אֵין יְשׁוּעָתָה לּוֹ בֵאלֹהִים
סֶלָה
3Many say of me
There is no salvation for him in God
Selah

וְאַתָּה יְהוָה מָגֵן בַּעֲדִי֑
כְּבוֹדִי וּמֵרִים רֹאשִׁי
4But you, יהוה, a shield about me
my glory, and lifting high my head
קוֹלִי אֶל יְהוָה אֶקְרָא֑
וַיַּעֲנֵנִי מֵהַר קָדְשׁוֹ
סֶלָה
5My voice, to יהוה I call
and he answers me
from his holy hill
Selah
אֲנִי שָׁכַבְתִּי וָאִישָׁנָה
֑הֱקִיצוֹתִי
כִּי יְהוָה יִסְמְכֵנִי
6I lie down and I sleep
I awake
for יהוה supports me

לֹא אִירָא מֵרִבְבוֹת עָם֑
אֲשֶׁר סָבִיב שָׁתוּ עָלָי
7I will not fear the multiplicity of people
that surround set over me
קוּמָה יְהוָה
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי אֱלֹהַי
֑כִּי הִכִּיתָ אֶת כָּל אֹיְבַי לֶחִי
שִׁנֵּי רְשָׁעִים שִׁבַּרְתָּ
8Arise יהוה
save me my God
for you strike all my enemies on the cheek
the teeth of the wicked you break
֑לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה
עַל עַמְּךָ בִרְכָתֶךָ
סֶּלָה
9Of יהוה is the salvation
On your people your blessing
Selah
Hebrew words: 70. Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 39%. Average keywords per verse: 3.

Ignoring Selah, the count of words preceding / following the atenach is as follows: 2/4 4/3 7/0 4/3 4/3 4/3 4/4 10/3 2/3. Total excluding verse 1 39/22. I must admit I do not find this significant. I would rather listen to Purcell in Latin - in spite of the poor rendering of the Hebrew. Note also - I arrange the poem in 3 strophes, 2-3, 4-6, 7-9. My reasoning is from the recurrence table. In a sense, in the final stanza, the poet is responding to the first half of the poem. I could be convinced otherwise but not by word-counts. I will hold my breath for one or two more tests - but really, I think the numbers are a considerable distraction from the poetry. Not every poem is a haiku.

What do people want re Church

There are a lot of posts related to the World Youth Day, and even a CBC article on the news about RC and 'Evangelical'. Here is a comment I left on Bosco Peters' Liturgy blog - a great blog. I think the comment got lost in the ether so I repeat it here.

It is interesting that a question in my own mind is related to 'what do I see / desire in the "church"?'  This is a very difficult question and one that almost should not be asked - or should be unasked once asked. For who can judge the quality of the bride? She is by definition without spot or wrinkle.  Who can even allow my question with its gender-specific image?

Yet I must answer. Some list rules for behaviour and commend them - but rules do not make the grade. Some consider the community - and certainly this is comforting (sometimes). Some consider the form of worship - and with great skill. But one thing is needful...

The pious image of Mary at the feet of Jesus is too misleading - I need something beyond piety - a real transformative experience - out of sin, stupidity, or whatever else one can imagine - and into these gifts of community, liturgy, worship, learning etc.  I need to consider that others also carry heavy baggage with them into presence - they can put the baggage aside... I recently read a book by one who is old on his youth. Who helped this man relieve himself of the burden accumulated and carried through the collapse of Empire...?

There it is - we are alone with our burdens - and we are together. Community may be experienced everywhere - but Christ names the need as does Rashi - forgiveness - a new creation. I think the name must be named - but in naming it, we must not assume we have control of it.

In my notes for Psalm 48 (the city) which follows the bride (45), the destruction of war (46), the ascension (47) - all these more tightly related than one word will allow, I wrote this:
On the surface, we must be engaged in faithfulness to what we are called to. Under the surface, we are the kings of Psalm 2, with empty muttering, yet disturbed in our engagement, one by one, in the holy city. The provocation is inevitable and unavoidable. It is painful like birth, or, appropriately as a consecrated offering, like death, our death (T. S. Eliot, Journey of the Magi). But having been born, (the closing bracket for this major cell of the Psalter will be seen in Psalm 87) we also are in Zion, and observers of her towers and ramparts, so that we may recount them to a generation to come. We are in all roles in this redeemed creation. Rashi, as usual, has an important insight. Why is the city the joy of the whole earth? Because of the north side where the sin offerings and guilt offerings are slaughtered. The sinner ‘receives expiation and he departs from there happy. Thus by virtue of the sacrifices, happiness comes into the world.’ Rashi is rightly seeing what is there, of course.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Today's Psalm 85

It's pretty hard to beat today's psalm for beauty. For the sake of example, I have removed several recurring words. The result shows a different poetic strategy to the circular patterns observable in other psalms. Here we have a progressive and climax seeking pattern. It may even be reinforced by some of the words I removed. But what is left shows a progression of recurrence (and there are clearly some circles as well evident from the table). The focus keeps moving forward as the poem is written from land, to people, to salvation, to kindness, to peace, to truth, to righteousness.  Verse 11 is hard to forget.
חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ
צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ
....Kindness and truth have met together
righteousness and peace have kissed each other

Selected recurring words
Word and gloss * first usage123456789VsRoot
ארצך with your land
2ארץ
שׁבת you turned
2שׁוב
עמך your people
3עם
השׁיבות you have turned
4שׁוב
שׁובנו turn us
5שׁוב
ישׁענו our salvation
5ישׁע
עמנו with us
5עם
תשׁוב you turn
7שׁוב
ועמך so your people
7עם
חסדך your kindness
8חסד
וישׁעך and your salvation
8ישׁע
תתן give
8נתן
שׁלום peace
9שׁלם
עמו his people
9עם
ישׁובו let them turn
9שׁוב
ישׁעו his salvation
10ישׁע
בארצנו in our land
10ארץ
חסד kindness
11חסד
ואמת and truth
11אמת
צדק righteousness
11צדק
ושׁלום and peace
11שׁלם
אמת truth
12אמת
מארץ from earth
12ארץ
וצדק and righteousness
12צדק
יתן gives
13נתן
וארצנו and our land
13ארץ
תתן gives
13נתן
צדק righteousness
14צדק

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Help - I need somebody - help! not just anybody

Help - a plea for some more input on the music - The not just anybody means someone who is a musician, knows about cantillation practice, maybe a theologian too...

A draft of an article for an online journal is here - it is on the music implicit in the te'amim. What do you think? It is not due for a while yet (2Q2014) - but what could I do to add to it?  David Mitchell's article cited within is already excellent - but you know - you write an article and it gets seen and then forgotten.  At least this paper advertises his article if nothing else.

The journal is for religion, media, and digital culture. I have already submitted a draft for 1Q2014 of my first article on the text of the psalms and presenting the same from a database. (Draft text is available if you would like to read and critique it. Be part of the peer review team. Please leave a comment that I can send a link to if interested.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Key verses - poetry that will not submit to a simple rule

I am not surprised that circles aren't everything. Sometimes it is just a unique word, a word that seems out of place in the psalm that makes it stick in the memory. I am going to do Psalm 2 right away (no, I am not in a hurry) because the second psalm belongs with the first as a unit introducing the Psalter as a whole. I am not the first to suggest this.

What stands out for me in Psalm 2? Two verses 4 and 9 have words that do not repeat in the poem. They are mocking and destructive verses - about scorn and smashed pots. The only other use of smashed in the Psalter is the smashed babies of Psalm 137. Memorable because it is not nice. I never said these poems were nice.

Verses 6 and 7 are the centre-piece of this psalm, however, not the verses with no recurrence. And there are circles. (My translation is fun - so the individual glosses are a bit odd). But it is questionable to me whether the circles are significant.

Nonetheless, if you gaze on these poems, if you look and draw, you will be drawn by your looking into the gaze of the psalms.

Now that was a deliberate pair of circles with you in the middle.

The significant memorable aspect of this poem for me (besides everything concerning this king in Zion) is the verb offered as libation, some translate 'set', some have translated 'anoint' as we saw in Robert Lowth's lecture. But I was provocative.

And of course we could have an argument over several verses here - especially verse 11.
לָמָּה רָגְשׁוּ גוֹיִם
וּלְאֻמִּים יֶהְגּוּ רִיק
1Why such a throng of nations?
and tribes in empty muttering?
יִתְיַצְּבוּ מַלְכֵי אֶרֶץ
וְרוֹזְנִים נוֹסְדוּ יָחַד
עַל יְהוָה וְעַל מְשִׁיחוֹ
2They station themselves, these sovereigns of earth
these rule-makers reasoning as one
over יהוה and over his anointed
נְנַתְּקָה אֶת מוֹסְרוֹתֵימוֹ
וְנַשְׁלִיכָה מִמֶּנּוּ עֲבֹתֵימוֹ
3Let us snap their bonds
and kiss good-bye to their cords

יוֹשֵׁב בַּשָּׁמַיִם יִשְׂחָק
אֲדֹנָי יִלְעַג לָמוֹ
4The one sitting in the heavens, he laughs
My Lord derides them
אָז יְדַבֵּר אֵלֵימוֹ בְאַפֹּו
וּבַחֲרוֹנוֹ יְבַהֲלֵמוֹ
5Then he will speak to them in his anger
and in his burning vex them
וַאֲנִי נָסַכְתִּי מַלְכִּי
עַל צִיּוֹן הַר קָדְשִׁי
6I myself have offered as libation my own king
on Zion, my holy hill

אֲסַפְּרָה אֶל חֹק יְהוָה
אָמַר אֵלַי בְּנִי אַתָּה
אֲנִי הַיּוֹם יְלִדְתִּיךָ
7I will recount the decree of יהוה
He promised to me, you are my son
I myself this day gave birth to you
שְׁאַל מִמֶּנִּי וְאֶתְּנָה גוֹיִם נַחֲלָתֶךָ
וַאֲחֻזָּתְךָ אַפְסֵי אָרֶץ
8Ask me and I give the nations as your legacy
and as yours to hold, the ends of the earth
תְּרֹעֵם בְּשֵׁבֶט בַּרְזֶל
כִּכְלִי יוֹצֵר תְּנַפְּצֵם
9you will injure them with an iron sceptre
like fashioned pots, you will smash them

וְעַתָּה מְלָכִים הַשְׂכִּילוּ
הִוָּסְרוּ שֹׁפְטֵי אָרֶץ
10So now, you sovereigns, let there be insight
be warned you who judge on earth
עִבְדוּ אֶת יְהוָה בְּיִרְאָה
וְגִילוּ בִּרְעָדָה
11serve יהוה in fear
and rejoice in trembling
נַשְּׁקוּ בַר פֶּן יֶאֱנַף
וְתֹאבְדוּ דֶרֶךְ
כִּי יִבְעַר כִּמְעַט אַפּוֹ
אַשְׁרֵי כָּל חוֹסֵי בוֹ
12Kiss, each of you - pure lest he be angry
and you perish in the way
for he kindles as a hint of his anger
Happy! all who take refuge in him
Hebrew words: 92. Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 29%. Average keywords per verse: 2.3.
Selected recurring words - showing the four that are used in reverse order.

Word and gloss * first usage123456VsRoot
* מלכי these sovereigns of
2מלך
* ארץ earth
2ארץ
* מוסרותימו their bonds
3יסר
* ממנו bye to
3מן
* באפו in his anger
5אף
* ואני myself
6אני
* מלכי my own king
6מלך
* אני myself
7אני
* ממני me
8מן
* ארץ the earth
8ארץ
* מלכים you sovereigns
10מלך
* הוסרו be warned
10יסר
* ארץ earth
10ארץ
* אפו his anger
12אף

Key verses - central verses in Psalms

Having truncated my earlier series on memorization, do I dare begin another?  If I did, I think it must be one that takes its time.  All too often from 2010 to 2013 I have been in a hurry.  So no hurry.  But must begin at the beginning again and continue through to the end.

Look at the recurring words for Psalm 1 leaving out the negative particle and the relative pronoun.
Word and gloss * first usage12345678VsRoot
* רשׁעים the wicked
1רשׁע
* ובדרך and in the way of
1דרך
* חטאים sinners
1חטא
* ובמושׁב and in the seat of
1ישׁב
* ישׁב sit
1ישׁב
* אם contrast
2אם
* בתורת in the instruction of
2תורה
* ובתורתו and in his instruction
2תורה
* כן so
4כן
* הרשׁעים the-many wicked
4רשׁע
* אם contrast
4אם
* כן so
5כן
* רשׁעים the wicked
5רשׁע
* וחטאים nor sinners
5חטא
* צדיקים the-many righteous
5צדיק
* דרך the way of
6דרך
* צדיקים those righteous
6צדיק
* ודרך but the way of
6דרך
* רשׁעים those wicked
6רשׁע
Can you see which verse is missing? If you drop the repeated seat, instructionso and the righteous, can you see the arrow-head shape that identifies where there would be concentric circles in the text if you joined the recurring words to each other with a pencil?

I had always thought that this psalm is about the two ways and about wickedness and righteousness. In fact, it isn't. Verse three is missing from the table and is surrounded by four concentric circles. Verse three is the tree metaphor, a metaphor that reaches back to Genesis and forward to Revelation, not to mention Jeremiah 17:8.

וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ
שָׁתוּל עַל פַּלְגֵי מָיִם
אֲשֶׁר פִּרְיוֹ יִתֵּן בְּעִתּוֹ
וְעָלֵהוּ לֹא יִבּוֹל
וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה יַצְלִיחַ
3such a one will be like a tree
transplanted by streams of water
that gives its fruit in its time
and its leaf does not wither
and in all that it does, it thrives
What do you think? Is this the real centre? It is not the distinction between two ways, the wicked and the righteous, a moral issue, but rather the tree that transforms the wicked and translates these enemies into a new realm of the righteous. Notice too that the wicked occur twice as often in Psalm 1 as the righteous. Must be of importance ...  

Transformation is the good. The transformed see the knowledge of good and evil (This is, by the way, Psalm 34's subject matter. You don't believe me? - just count the good and the evil in Psalm 34. Like two interlocking hands, the good cannot be separated from the evil without destruction of both). 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Beginning with Psalm 1

I worked seven years to be able to read and understand the article on Psalm 1 by C. L. Seow in Volume 132, No 2 of the Journal of Biblical Literature. What a delight this morning to begin to read such a lovely piece of work.  Its title is: An Exquisitely Poetic Introduction to the Psalter. At nearly 20 pages, I have much more pleasure to come. For SBL members, it is online here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A little Lowth on the subject of Hebrew poetry.

The origin and first use of poetical language are undoubtedly to be traced into the vehement affections of the mind. For what is meant by that singular frenzy of poets, which the Greeks, ascribing to divine inspiration, distinguished by the appellation of enthusiasm, but a style and expression directly prompted by nature itself, and exhibiting the true and express image of a mind violently agitated? When, as it were, the secret avenues, the interior recesses of the soul are thrown open; when the inmost conceptions are displayed, rushing together in one turbid stream, without order or connection. Hence sudden exclamations, frequent interrogations, apostrophes even to inanimate objects: for to those, who are violently agitated themselves, the universal nature of things seems under a necessity of being affected with similar emotions. 
From lecture 4 of Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, Robert Lowth. I think he would consider me mad for not being mad.

And here is the famous bit from lecture 18, wherein he 'explains' by a myriad of examples the synonymous and the antithetical parallelism and his third classification, synthetic or constructive parallelism:
The variety in the form of this synthetic parallelism is very great, and the degrees of resemblance almost infinite: so that sometimes the scheme of the parallelism is very subtile and obscure, and must be developed by art and ability in distinguishing the different members of the sentences, and in distributing the points, rather than by depending upon the obvious construction. How much this principle pervades the Hebrew poetry, and how difficult of explication it is, may in some degree be illustrated by one example. This appears to consist of a single line, if the sentiment only be considered: "I also have anointed my king on Sion, the mountain of my sanctity." But the general form and nature of the Psalm requires that it should be divided into two parts or versicles : as if it were, "I also have anointed my king ; I have anointed him in Sion, the mountain of my sanctity." Which indeed the Masoretes seem to have perceived in this as well as in other places....
He makes this comment because of the placement of the atenach: וַ֭אֲנִי נָסַ֣כְתִּי מַלְכִּ֑י

It would appear then that he regards every verse as containing a parallel. I would not have considered this verse of Psalm 2 as being in a form of parallelism. Clearly too, he regards the accents as not having anything to do with chironomy or music.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Psalm 88 - jammed in a pit - entombed

I have been looking at a close reading and interpretation of Psalm 88 by Anthony Pyles of McMaster on academia. I always wonder if the approach using keywords - words in the psalm that repeat, i.e. they have the same Hebrew letters or stem - is a helpful approach. Of course I think it is, but there's nothing like a few tests against the opinions of others, especially others who write with accuracy.

He takes this approach
It is my contention that the greatest potential for interpreting any given psalm is thus found in three distinct approaches. First, a given psalm must be taken seriously in its integrity as a text and in its art as a poem. Second, a psalm must be considered in relation to other psalms of similar form, structure, and theme. Third, a psalm must be considered in relation to its placement in the canonical Psalter.

Interpreting is something I have done very little of. I have rather presented the data, leaving most interpretation to the reader, and encouraging critique of my translation since a translation often imposes interpretation in any case.  Two of his three approaches I have some sympathy with.

The integrity of the poem itself is something I assume. Can one 'assume' integrity when a poem has been transmitted over 2500 years? Only if one can see and perhaps verify a control for transmission as one would in a copy process with a computer - things like word count, internal signature, and so on. If the alien could listen to Bach, would it know that this was music? If we can hear a poet's stamp, would we recognize it? Integrity as text and in its art as poem is a tall order.

Other psalms of similar form? By this he gives a nod to form criticism. I am not so sure about the identification of specific forms. So many psalms have been termed lament, or complaint, or royal, or wisdom, that the form as category has become overused.  "Psalm 88 is different from many other individual complaints." Hmm, he uses that term complaint - I see that I do too - I wonder though if I should. I guess complaint and lament are both fine as long as one makes one's complaint or lament to the Most High where it can be dealt with. Pyles points out that Psalm 88 does not mention enemies or sin, but only falls into the category of disorientation (p. 21). He's right about the missing enemies and sin. Disorientation seems an odd moniker to me.

As for Psalm 88 in its context in the Psalter, correctly again he links this individual lament to Psalm 89. The two psalms share more than 40% of their words. The position of each of the psalms in the Psalter is deliberate, though each has its own reasons for its place. Psalms 88 and 89 close the two books of corporate lament. Note how a singular and plural combination of laments also opens these books (Psalms 42-44).

More to my interest is Anthony Pyles' subdivision of the poem itself. This is one where I have not decided the optimum division. My tables in Seeing the Psalter show verses 1-10 and 9-19 as possible dividing markers. It is odd to overlap sections. Verses 1-8 have only two recurring words, pit and inflicted (See the recurrence tables below). Verses 1-10a are bounded by two words, the tetragrammeton and day. Verse 19 picks up several words from verse 9. Verses 10b to 12 are a series of rhetorical questions and taken by themselves, they have no recurrence. This marks them as significant within the thought of the poet. As Pyles notes, Selah is not a boundary marker in the poem, though it can be thought of as a pause marker. In verses 14-19, in spite of the preceding rhetorical questions, the prayer of the green olive shoot continues.  Perhaps the clue to the 'meaning' of the psalm is that word in the inscription מָחֲלַת that I glossed as illness. Pyles gives no translation of this word. Psalm 88 also is labeled as a song - and the music needs to be heard. Perhaps there will be a hint of the sectional boundaries in the music, the subject of a second post... (to be continued).

88 - in a pit, entombed

שִׁיר
מִזְמוֹר לִבְנֵי קֹרַח
לַמְנַצֵּחַ עַל מָחֲלַת לְעַנּוֹת
מַשְׂכִּיל לְהֵימָן הָאֶזְרָחִי
1A song
a psalm of the children of Korah
For the leader in illness to jam
an insight of Heyman the Ezrahite
יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יְשׁוּעָתִי
יוֹם צָעַקְתִּי בַלַּיְלָה נֶגְדֶּךָ
2יְהוָה the God of my salvation
day and night I cry out before you
תָּבוֹא לְפָנֶיךָ תְּפִלָּתִי
הַטֵּה אָזְנְךָ לְרִנָּתִי
3let my prayer come to your presence
bend your ear to my shout

כִּי שָׂבְעָה בְרָעוֹת נַפְשִׁי
וְחַיַּי לִשְׁאוֹל הִגִּיעוּ
4for my being is sated with evil
and my life has touched the grave
נֶחְשַׁבְתִּי עִם יוֹרְדֵי בוֹר
הָיִיתִי כְּגֶבֶר אֵין אֱיָל
5I am reckoned with those going down into a pit
I have become as a valiant one without potency

בַּמֵּתִים חָפְשִׁי
כְּמוֹ חֲלָלִים שֹׁכְבֵי קֶבֶר
אֲשֶׁר לֹא זְכַרְתָּם עוֹד
וְהֵמָּה מִיָּדְךָ נִגְזָרוּ
6among the dead free
as the profaned lying in a tomb
whom you remember no longer
and they are parted from your hand
שַׁתַּנִי בְּבוֹר תַּחְתִּיּוֹת
בְּמַחֲשַׁכִּים בִּמְצֹלוֹת
7you have set me in a low pit
in darknesses in depths
עָלַי סָמְכָה חֲמָתֶךָ
וְכָל מִשְׁבָּרֶיךָ עִנִּיתָ
סֶּלָה
8on me your heat leans
and you have inflicted all your breakers
Selah

הִרְחַקְתָּ מְיֻדָּעַי מִמֶּנִּי
שַׁתַּנִי תוֹעֵבוֹת לָמוֹ
כָּלֻא וְלֹא אֵצֵא
9you have distanced from me those I knew
you have set me as an abomination to them
I am restrained and do not come out
עֵינִי דָאֲבָה מִנִּי עֹנִי
קְרָאתִיךָ יְהוָה בְּכָל יוֹם
שִׁטַּחְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ כַפָּי
10my eye droops from poverty
I call you יְהוָה every day
I unfold my palms to you
הֲלַמֵּתִים תַּעֲשֶׂה פֶּלֶא
אִם רְפָאִים יָקוּמוּ
יוֹדוּךָ
סֶּלָה
11for the dead will you do wonders?
if the shades rise up
will they give you thanks?
Selah

הַיְסֻפַּר בַּקֶּבֶר חַסְדֶּךָ
אֱמוּנָתְךָ בָּאֲבַדּוֹן
12will they recount in the tomb your kindness?
your faithfulness among the perished?
הֲיִוָּדַע בַּחֹשֶׁךְ פִּלְאֶךָ
וְצִדְקָתְךָ בְּאֶרֶץ נְשִׁיָּה
13will your wonders be known in the darkness?
and your righteousness in the land of oblivion?

וַאֲנִי אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה שִׁוַּעְתִּי
וּבַבֹּקֶר תְּפִלָּתִי תְקַדְּמֶךָּ
14but I, I to you יְהוָה cry
and in the morning my prayer will confront you
לָמָה יְהוָה תִּזְנַח נַפְשִׁי
תַּסְתִּיר פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי
15why יְהוָה do you reject my being?
hide your face from me?

עָנִי אֲנִי
וְגֹוֵעַ מִנֹּעַר
נָשָׂאתִי אֵמֶיךָ
אָפוּנָה
16jammed I am
and expiring from my youth
I bear up your horrors
I am numb
עָלַי עָבְרוּ חֲרוֹנֶיךָ
בִּעוּתֶיךָ צִמְּתוּתֻנִי
17over me your burnings pass through
your alarms annihilate me

סַבּוּנִי כַמַּיִם כָּל הַיּוֹם
הִקִּיפוּ עָלַי יָחַד
18they surround me like waters all the day long
they encompass me as one
הִרְחַקְתָּ מִמֶּנִּי אֹהֵב וָרֵעַ
מְיֻדָּעַי מַחְשָׁךְ
19you have distanced from me lover and friend
those I know from darkness
Hebrew words: 142. Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 37%. Average keywords per verse: 2.8.
Selected recurring words
Word and gloss * first usage12345678910123456789VsRoot
לענות to jam
1ענה
יהוה יהוה
2יהוה
יום day
2יום
לפניך to your presence
3פנה
תפלתי my prayer
3פלל
נפשׁי my being
4נפשׁ
* בור a pit
5בור
במתים among the dead
6מות
* קבר a tomb
6קבר
לא no
6לא
שׁתני you have set me
7שׁית
* בבור in a pit
7בור
במחשׁכים in darknesses
7חשׁך
וכל and all
8כל
ענית you have inflicted
8ענה
סלה Selah
8סלה
הרחקת you have distanced
9רחק
מידעי those I knew
9ידע
ממני from me
9מן
שׁתני you have set me
9שׁית
ולא and not
9לא
מני from
10מן
יהוה יהוה
10יהוה
בכל every
10כל
יום day
10יום
הלמתים for the dead
11מות
פלא wonders
11פלא
סלה Selah
11סלה
* בקבר in the tomb
12קבר
היודע will be known
13ידע
בחשׁך in the darkness
13חשׁך
פלאך your wonders
13פלא
ואני but I
14אני
יהוה יהוה
14יהוה
תפלתי my prayer
14פלל
יהוה יהוה
15יהוה
נפשׁי my being
15נפשׁ
פניך your face
15פנה
ממני from me
15מן
עני jammed
16ענה
אני I am
16אני
כל all
18כל
היום the day long
18יום
הרחקת you have distanced
19רחק
ממני from me
19מן
מידעי those I know
19ידע
מחשׁך from darkness
19חשׁך

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Memorizing the Psalms - 14 (137-145, 146-150)

In this series, I am considering strategies for memorizing all the psalms of the Hebrew Psalter.

עַל נַהֲרוֹת בָּבֶל137:1By the rivers of Babel
אוֹדְךָ בְכָל לִבִּי138:1I will give you thanks with all my heart
מִזְמוֹר יְהוָה חֲקַרְתַּנִי 139:1יהוה you have examined me
חַלְּצֵנִי יְהוָה מֵאָדָם רָע140:2Rescue me יהוה from human evil
יְהוָה קְרָאתִיךָ141:1יהוה I call to you
קוֹלִי אֶל יְהוָה אֶזְעָק142:2My voice to יהוה I will appeal
יְהוָה שְׁמַע תְּפִלָּתִי143:1יהוה hear my prayer
בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה צוּרִי144:1Blessed is יהוה my rock
אֲרוֹמִמְךָ אֱלוֹהַי הַמֶּלֶךְ145:1I will exalt you my God the king
  • Psalm 137 closes the lament bracket with three voices of remembering. Lament has been with us since the early Korah Psalms 42-44.
  • Psalm 138 begins a series of Davidic Psalms expressing confidence, יהוה will complete his work for my sake.
  • Psalm 139 shows the intimate completion of this work, but trouble is still evident to the psalmist.
  • The violence of Psalm 140 is no surprise and reflects the language of early Psalms 7-11.
  • Psalm 141 closes the themes of traps and of the tongue that appear many times in Book 1.
  • Psalm 142 David’s final maskil closes a frame of appeal that was opened in Psalm 107 at the beginning of Book 5.
  • Psalm 143 looks for an end to enemies through God’s loving-kindness and recognizes that no one is justified in God’s sight.
  • Psalm 144 is the last of the Davidic personal cluster and closes with the plea, set me free and the prayer for bounty.
  • Psalm 145 is the final acrostic of praise with a heavy concentration of K sounds from the repetition of all and the second person singular pronoun. It closes with a doxology, allowing us to imagine the following five poems as a coda of praise for the whole Psalter.
The final Hallel sequence began the series here. Consider how we might move to the next strategy. This is suggested in the question: what is(are) the central verse(s) of each psalm?

הַלְלוּ יָהּ הַלְלִי נַפְשִׁי אֶת יְהוָה146:1Hallelu Yah Praise יהוה O my being
הַלְלוּ יָהּ כִּי טוֹב זַמְּרָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ147:1Hallelu Yah for it is good to sing a psalm to our God
הַלְלוּ יָהּ הַלְלוּ אֶת יְהוָה מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם  148:1Hallelu Yah Praise יהוה from the heavens
הַלְלוּ יָהּ שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה שִׁיר חָדָשׁ149:1Hallelu Yah Sing to יהוה a new song
הַלְלוּ יָהּ הַלְלוּ אֵל בְּקָדְשׁוֹ150:1Hallelu Yah Praise God in his holiness

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Memorizing the Psalms - 13 (120-136 Ascent and Arrival))

In this series, I am considering strategies for memorizing all the psalms of the Hebrew Psalter. Ask yourself also - what is(are) the central verse(s) of each psalm?
אֶל יְהוָה בַּצָּרָתָה לִּי120:1To יהוה when I am trouble bound
אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי אֶל הֶהָרִים121:1I will lift up my eyes to the hills
שָׂמַחְתִּי בְּאֹמְרִים לִי122:1I was glad when they said to me
אֵלֶיךָ נָשָׂאתִי אֶת עֵינַי123:1To you I lift up my eyes
לוּלֵי יְהוָה שֶׁהָיָה לָנוּ יֹאמַר124:1Unless יהוה had been for us
הַבֹּטְחִים בַּיהוָה כְּהַר צִיּוֹן125:1Those trusting in יהוה are like mount Zion
בְּשׁוּב יְהוָה אֶת שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן126:1When יהוה turned the captivity of Zion
אִם יְהוָה לֹא יִבְנֶה בַיִת127:1If יהוה does not build a house
אַשְׁרֵי כָּל יְרֵא יְהוָה128:1Happy all who fear יהוה 
רַבַּת צְרָרוּנִי מִנְּעוּרַי יֹאמַר129:1Exceedingly they troubled me from my youth
מִמַּעֲמַקִּים קְרָאתִיךָ יְהוָה130:1From the valleys I call to you יהוה 
 יְהוָה לֹא גָבַהּ לִבִּי131:1Of David יהוה my heart is not haughty
זְכוֹר יְהוָה לְדָוִד אֵת כָּל עֻנּוֹתוֹ132:1יהוה Remember David and all his afflictions
 הִנֵּה מַה טּוֹב וּמַה נָּעִים133:1Here! How fine and how pleasant
הִנֵּה בָּרְכוּ אֶת יְהוָה כָּל עַבְדֵי יְהוָה134:1Here! bless יהוה all servants of יהוה 
הַלְלוּ יָהּ הַלְלוּ אֶת שֵׁם יְהוָה135:1Hallelu Yah Praise the name of יהוה 
הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי טוֹב136:1Give thanks to יהוה because it is good

The fifth book of the Psalter contains an additional sequence of Psalms called the Psalms of Ascent, Psalms 120-134. The last two above, 135 and 136, share a large number of words and are of nearly identical length.
  • Psalm 120, the first of the 15 Songs of Ascents, begins with darkness and charade.
  • Psalm 121 promises a God who does not snooze and who keeps Israel.
  • Psalm 122 is the prayer for Jerusalem.
  • Psalm 123 is about contempt.
  • Psalm 124 is a recognition of dependence on .יהוה
  • Psalm 125 is an image of security symbolized by the mountains around Jerusalem.
  • Psalm 126 is a joyful hope expecting trouble and release.
  • Psalm 127 is the middle song, inscribed of Solomon, a second recognition of dependence and a celebration of children.
  • Psalm 128 continues the blessing of the family.
  • Psalm 129 is a second request to Israel to confess the memory of exceeding trouble. It ends with a non-blessing.
  • Psalm 130 includes watching for the morning and the need for ransom from iniquities.
  • Psalm 131 notes the value of being mute, as the nursing child on its mother’s back.
  • Psalm 132 is the bringing of the ark to the temple, with the priests clothed with righteousness.
  • Psalm 133 celebrates the unity of kin, with images of the oil and the dew descending.
  • With Psalm 134, the blessing in the courts, we complete the Songs of Ascent, and then we begin to close the brackets that were opened in earlier Psalms.
  • Psalm 135 is the culmination of the prior 15 psalms where the worshipers now stand in the courts of the house of God.
  • Psalm 136 the fourth psalm with this invitation, identifies the formative event of the Sea of Reeds and the decisive parting as the new frame. This closes the Creation-Redemption themes in the Psalter.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Restored to Life - or the Cancer story

I met a man in Britain whose father had a PSA (prostate specific antigen) reading of 4960 - yes that is in the thousands. My own was about 30 when my cancer (Gleason scale 10 - the max) was diagnosed. This man's father still had his PSA reduced to below 1 by hormone therapy giving him relief from the cancer that had spread to all his bones except those below the knee.  My own cancer seems not to have metastasized anywhere.

Some of you will have followed my prior posts related to cancer. It is perhaps too early - it may take another 5 years - to say that I am cancer-free. But my readings have plummeted as the graph shows. Look at them. They are less than 0.01 - that's 6 orders of magnitude less than my friend's father, 4 orders less than my own highest measurement, and an order of magnitude less than what the readings were when I began my visits to the radiation treatment centre.

I will visit my Urologist today without any medicine in my hands. My decision is to not continue with any treatment. I expect he will agree. My oncologist and other consultants have already confirmed that this is a reasonable decision. So today I will begin the process of recovering from the hormone therapy, a process that takes about 6 to 7 months.

Memorizing the Psalms - 12 (113-119)

In this series, I am considering strategies for memorizing all the psalms of the Hebrew Psalter. Ask yourself also - what is(are) the central verse(s) of each psalm? This section picks up after the first acrostic of Book 5 and leads to the second, the great adoration of Psalm 119.
הַלְלוּ יָהּ הַלְלוּ עַבְדֵי יְהוָה113:1Hallelu Yah Praise servants of יהוה 
בְּצֵאת יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרָיִם114:1When Israel exited from Egypt
לֹא לָנוּ יְהוָה לֹא לָנוּ115:1Not to us יהוה not to us
אָהַבְתִּי116:1I love
הַלְלוּ אֶת יְהוָה כָּל גּוֹיִם117:1Praise יהוה all nations
הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי טוֹב118:1Give thanks to יהוה for it is good
אַשְׁרֵי תְמִימֵי דָרֶךְ119:1All joy for those who are the complete of the way

Psalm 118 raises the question of psalms connected by a first line. This is the third of four psalms to begin הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי טוֹב. Note the phrase in Psalms 106:1, 107:1, 118:1,29, and 136:1. Another group that comes to mind are those beginning with In you I take refuge or some very similar phrase, Psalms 7, 11, 16, 31, 71. Refuge is a major theme in the Psalms, one often obscured in translation by the careless use of synonyms, e.g. the Coverdale Psalm 46, Deus noster refugium et virtus which glosses refuge as hope: God is our hope and strength. (I don't admire or advocate rigidity in translation, but concordance on major themes is important.)
  • In Psalm 113, the weak are raised from the dust to live with the princes.
  • In Psalm 114, Israel exits from Egypt, sea withdraws and lambkin like hillocks skip.
  • Psalm 115 is a psalm of universal trust and blessing.
  • Psalm 116 is the completion of the vows. The elect calls in the name of יהוה who rescues from death.
  • Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm, of universal praise and commendation of יהוה.
  • Psalm 118 includes the circumcision, the stone that the builders rejected, and is the origin of the Benedictus. In the story of the Psalter, this poem might be seen as the birth of the adoration that will be so evident in the psalm to follow. Psalms 118 and 136 frame the great acrostic and the 15 Psalms of Ascent including the arrival at the courts in Psalm 135. Psalms 137 to 149 then successively close the frames for the whole Psalter.
  • Psalm 119 feels like the high point of the Psalter. Frames used for the first time occur even this late in the book. The verb for longing (יאב) is used only in Psalm 119:131. One might understand this as representing the primal human need.