Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Long-winded former prophet - 1 Samuel 21

Whatever other meanderings are in this post, be sure to read the music here. This is a very amusing chapter containing David's hobnob with the priest Ahimelek over bread, girls, and Goliath's sword. Et qui rit des curés d'Oc.  Let no one laugh (too much) at the priests of Oc (Languedoc - no it's not in the hill country of Israel - but the wine is good).

1 Samuel 21:10 has a recitation of 39 beats in length concerning the sword of Goliath. I am glad to say that my programming passed the test and counted them correctly over the maximum bar length of 24 that I allow. You might need more than one breath to sing it.

This chapter also provides inscriptions for a couple of Psalms: Psalm 52 concerning Doeg and Ahimelech, and Psalm 34 concerning David and his feigned madness before the king of Gath (Akish or Abimelech). This incident also concerns David getting bread from the priest. See also Mark 2:25 and parallels - only Mark raises the question as to what the name of the priest was, Ahimelech or Abiathar. But given the subterfuge of David - saying he has secret orders from 'the king' and his lads are stashed away wherever, we might want to read the Jesus story with a little more humour as well.

The psalms are far apart in the Psalter. Psalm 34 is one of the four acrostics in Book 1. Psalm 52 is the second of the Davidic collection in Book 2, and not one that is very famous - in contrast to Psalm 51. Who bothers to remember Doeg, the snitch? Yet here he is remembered in a psalm as that 'champion of villainy'. The phrase is from the Jerusalem Bible following the Greek. I took a different route and tried to make sense of the Hebrew. Doeg is for me 'a reproof of God all the day long'. I.e. he is deaf to the Anointed, and continuous reproof makes no headway in him - yet David rebukes him hoping for a miracle, that enemies might be transformed into allies. Doeg is an Edomite. It was tribal warfare in those days as it is today. I am sure that assigning roles, whether of loyalty or betrayal, to friend and foe is as complex then as it is now.

As it happens, I wasn't even going to consider the opening verses of this chapter, confused as they are with differing numbering systems even in Hebrew versions. The Leningrad codex begins with verse 1 as the last statement of the prior section: וַיָּ֖קָם וַיֵּלַ֑ךְ וִיהוֹנָתָ֖ן בָּ֥א הָעִֽיר  And he (David) rose up and left, while Jonathan went to the city. Current Hebrew Bibles begin verse 1 as וַיָּבֹ֤א דָוִד֙ נֹ֔בֶה אֶל־אֲחִימֶ֖לֶךְ הַכֹּהֵ֑ן And David went towards Nob to Ahimelech the priest ...

The story is unexpectedly full of deceit, fear, weakness, and subtlety on the part of David, running for his life into the arms of his enemies, completely alone - in the solitude of solitude, without his lads, his army, his infrastructure (the city), even if it was limited to playing the harp for a mentally disturbed king, and so he too feigns madness and escapes.

There is a new musical pattern in the text. It is the presence of two consecutive ornaments: qadma followed immediately by zaqef qatan. It is too subtle at the moment for me to work out a reliable search to see if this is a rare combination or not. I.e. my data is not quite in the right shape to search for musical patterns... In this case the patterns form a frame for the whole chapter - almost as if the king of Gath was mimicking the melody of king David heading towards Nob. I suspect no one would interpret such a little thing. But maybe both of them are somewhat at sea in these episodes. Also there is a strange bar where David is making up his story for the priest - and the chant is a boring single note - 10 syllables with no ornamentation.  This is quite rare - and fits the sense that David is making up his answer to the priest's question on the fly.

There are a couple of subtleties in both transcription and musical phrasing that I don't want to look at in detail in the program I have written. It has been weeks and I wonder why the output is exactly what it is - but it may be sequence of the coding of the data - and in any case the final result is under the control of the musician. The program can only produce a draft. If the original manuscripts are consulted (e.g. at the Aleppo codex online) there will be a lot of possible manual adjustment of the music.

And another thing I noticed, the repetition of a phrase I thought was more rare - ki im, as in Psalm 1. (כִּי אִם)

If you are interested - read the story - and imagine this outlaw, the famous king David before his fame. Laugh? Not sure about that.

Here's an experiment - embedding the pdf in the web page. Or use the link above to my shared documents.

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