Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Who is a king of the glory?

I am not paying too much attention to the conventions of language sometimes. Should מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד [melek ha-kabod] be translated 'a king of the glory' or 'the king of glory'? There may be a convention - but the process of the last four verses seems to ask the question without necessarily knowing the answer in advance. What a concept!

And this psalm does not stand alone. Psalm 25 - the acrostic - comments on Psalm 24 through the repetitive use of the word נָשָׂא [nasa] to lift up - among its many meanings. How does one tell what a verb means? Examine the objects that a poet uses with it? Of lift up in Psalm 24 we have:
אֲשֶׁר לֹא נָשָׂא לַשָּׁוְא נַפְשִׁי who has not lifted up to emptiness his life,
יִשָּׂא בְרָכָה he will take away a blessing
שְׂאוּ שְׁעָרִים רָאשֵׁיכֶם lift up gates your heads
וּשְׂאוּ פִּתְחֵי עוֹלָם be lifted up doors of eternity
and in Psalm 25 to open the poem
אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה נַפְשִׁי אֶשָּׂא I lift up my life to you
and, to close the circle, a prayer
וְשָׂא לְכָל חַטֹּאותָי lift up my sins

It is a remarkable set of differing objects.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Strong stuff

There's both strong and lovely food for thought in this morning's blogosphere - John Hobbins on literalism - on limitations to explanation, and Rachel Barenblatt on liturgy and ambiguity - an invitation to read with openness. Where in this commonality do I find the unity - the substance of the Shema? Not in polemics but in poetry. There are other poems - but that one from of old for me holds more than a full cup.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Psalms 20-21, 47, ++

With the recent celebration of ascension, my attention has been drawn to the king in the Psalms. Psalms 20-21 are described by Craigie as psalms of war - and so they may be. But what kind of war? And what is the role of the king? And how is the king related to God? Psalms 2 and 16 form the first basis of the role of the king in the Psalms - where would such a study take us?

I am not ready to go there, but after 10 months I can see a bit where I have been and how I have got here. Here is an outline of my method - the bootstrap of learning a new writing system and language concurrently.

First: don't worry about too many details; second: trust that you will be able to learn; third: there are mistakes - expect to correct them.

It is a multipass operation though I polished the first few psalms more than I perhaps should have to begin with. What was surprising was how easy Psalm 1 was - but how long it took: at least 6 weeks. The structure of verse 1 is beautiful - and it is missed by most translations - quite unnecessarily. I began with Fokkelman - a very hard book to read and not intended for beginners, but it introduced me to the idea of micro-structures and I remain keenly interested in structure. Structure has the capacity to resolve ambiguity and to enable communication. Pattern reveals and corroborates potential meaning.

If there is such a thing as the work of the Spirit and the Word of God, then it will be known in the pattern, not in a priori dictation of meaning. And the pattern will also be a fully human communication - a poet struggling to find words appropriate to his covenant dialogue.

I began also with Uriel Simon whose Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms showed me a completely different reading from the traditional piety of the Anglican Church. But I should note how much I love the Anglican liturgy and in spite of the limitations of 16th century piety, our traditional translations of the Psalms have not resulted in any loss of their power to heal and strengthen.

Having looked at these two books in part - for they are both still beyond my experience, I found I had four touch points in history for my start: my own time, the 16th century, the 11th century through Ibn Ezra via Simon, and the first century through the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews. So now I needed to see what the original poets' mind might be.

I have no doubt there were original poets and editors and that what we have is close to what they authored, performed, and had written. I find I can hold the multiple-author thought together with the five books being a second Torah revealed to David. My earth is flat and round at the same time. My only problem was to learn the language. Some of my previous posts show this process. [This reminds me that we need a study of LDAVID - is it better as 'to David' rather than 'of David'?]

I begin with the text - and largely leave it in its Masoretic form. I have a program that loads the database from extended html by word and phrase. I arrange the text into three groups: labels, being the verse numbers, input on the left, being the Hebrew, and output to the right, being a mechanical transliteration of the html into Latin characters. It is a very simple set of replace statements done in one pass - so it probably has some really oddball results - but it seems to compare reasonably well with other systems (so far). I then select the various classes of text and format them - Hebrew right justified reading to the left and transcription left justified reading to the right such as is used in the Mechon-Mamre site.

At this point I have a black and white boxed surface with pairs of columns roughly 5 to 6 verses deep. The challenge is to find the verbal structure. Sometimes I look in the Hebrew first but usually I translate a verse at a time using several tools: the Blue Letter Bible is very helpful - It has a reasonably full interlinear and I have to this point depended on it for most of my judgment of the verb conjugations. (But I have not followed its lead in translation since I think there are more assumptions being followed than are justified.) Sometimes since I know the King James version by heart in many places, it is difficult to escape from the 16th century tradition. But it is important to refuse the path of tradition since the mind of the ancient poet is not mine nor is it in full concord with the traditions of Christendom.

A second help is the site Scripture4all since its translation is word for word and therefore literal to the point of unreadability. Some words are very hard to find in the dictionary. Suppose in English you wanted to look up the word international, but the only place you could find it is under the 'root' ntn. Hey - it begins with I - why is it not under I? Dictionaries are a long story. I use two: the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon - marked with many yellow stickies so I can find the letter I am looking for, and a wonderful loan from my Hebrew teacher, Gidi Nahshon, of a Hebrew to Latin concordance. In the BDB it is hard to find the first letter of a word. In the Concordance, it is hard to find the first page of a letter because in this case, all the uses of a word are listed together. So for example: אוֹר - lux, lumen, splendor, nitor ... is followed by וְאוֹר - you can see that under the letter Aleph will include all words containing prefixes also. It gives a whole new meaning to 'begins with'.

Using the four tools then I proceed to find words for the poem. What I do is immediately part of a database, so I can get a query to show me what I have translated and to 'sort' it all - well - it's easy to say - roughly by English or Hebrew so I can see how arbitrary I am being with these silken gems of human understanding. I have an algorithm for root determination - but it is very difficult to pare the enclitics with rules.

After a rough cut translation, I have usually noticed many of the structural aspects of the Psalm and I colour them - I check these against any commentaries I can find. I have looked at several - none is sufficient by itself. Then I manipuate the diagram into an optimum form for showing the structural relations: get the columns to conform to the shell and centre(s) of the Psalm, colour and connect the dots; refine the words; split boxes where needed. Once in a more or less seeable form, I publish the database image as a jpg - it is one of several publishing options I could choose and it suits for now.

After several psalms, I often come across a comment that changes my mind or gets me to look at the whole from a different point of view. More recently some word studies have emerged. The most obvious is the usage of Elohim and related words against the usage of the tetragrammeton - clearly the Psalter has been edited into a sandwich structure. I am sure that other macro structures will emerge. And then there are notes from other on-line professors which challenge me to dig deeper and justify or abandon a particular phrase. I went round in circles on Psalm 2 as can be seen from these links which themselves will link to the other blogs.

May 20 Craigie on psalm 2
(references the latest diagram of the structure Psalm 2 )
Staring at Psalm 2,
May 17 Palindrome and alliteration in hebrew,
The son, The Son, field, purity

This is a brief record of the learning and bootstrap process to date. My current state is one of a - perhaps now almost 4 year old sounding out the letters. I have some word recognition happening and just tonight, I realized I could read Hebrew letters upside down - it is the first time I have noticed this. So to sum up in reverse order: mistakes are correctible; the brain works; and the details evolve.

Confortare et esto robustus - be strong and of a good courage. There is more promise in the land than one might think.

48 of 153 files done - approx 30%

Link -----Date ---------(word count)
Psalm --1 August 2006 (67)
Psalm --2 August 2006 (108)
Psalm --3 September 2006 (70)
Psalm --4 October 2006 (77)
Psalm --5 October 2006 (111)
Psalm --6 November 2006 (84)
Psalm --7 November 2006 (142)
Psalm --8 September 2006 (77)
Psalm --9 November 2006 (165)
Psalm -10 November 2006 (162)
Psalm -11 November 2006 (68)
Psalm -12 November 2006 (79)
Psalm -13 January 2007 (55)
Psalm -14 / -53 January 2007 (93)
Psalm -15 January 2007 (55)
Psalm -16 January 2007 (97)
Psalm -17 February 2007 (124)
Psalm -18 May 2007 (397)
Psalm -19 January 2007 (126)
Psalm -20 May 2007 (70)
Psalm -21 May 2007 (104)
Psalm -22 April 2007 (253)
Psalm -23 September 2006 (52)
Psalm -25 May 2007 (159)
Psalm -42 January 2007 (132)
Psalm -43 February 2007 (59)
Psalm -46 September 2006 (99)
Psalm -47 May 2007 (77)
Psalm -51 December 2006 (153)
Psalm -67 December 2006 (53)
Psalm -73 December 2006 (193)
Psalm -89 December 2006 (384)
Psalm -90 May 2007 (140)
Psalm -92 May 2007 (112)
Psalm 100 December 2006 (44)
Psalm 107 January 2007 (278)
Psalm 115 May 2007 (135)
Psalm 117 March 2007 (17)
Psalm 118 March 2007 (198)
Psalm 119-A-H March 2007 (233)
Psalm 121 May 2007 (56)
Psalm 124 May 2007 (57)
Psalm 134 April 2007 (25)
Psalm 138 September 2006 (75)
Psalm 145 September 2006 (161)
Psalm 146 May 2007 (85)
Psalm 150 December 2006 (37)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

New version of diagram

I have revamped my emerging diagram of the psalter. I have begun labelling the psalms that are drafted, and a few 'indicators' show from the database what percentage of each part I have 'drafted'. I will be adding alerts to some diagrams to show various things about similar words in the database etc - ideas?... And I have a new self-eating query that shows me where the word I am translating is used in all the other Psalms I have translated so far - a real aide-memoire. Unfortunately to use this tool, you need to know some SQL for the full power. Still - it is real power as I hope to demonstrate. It sure helps me to keep my place in this project.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Two or three

John Hobbins in his files section has a very helpful article on Hebrew Poetry which I am working through in the early mornings when I am fresh and can read again. One consequence of the structure described by his general rule on page 5 of the paper is the confirmation that 'two or three witnesses are required'. So I look for more than one keyword or grammatical or alliterative or semantic move to confirm the shape of the poem and therefore to show at least one aspect of the milk or meat that is in the structure. (Not to throw out the skin - full of vitamins itself, and poetry may not have an external skeleton.)

There are a few other key numbers related to our human capacity: 7 for complexity, 3 for depth of nesting, and of course the golden mean for proportion and beauty. 7 itself is a witness of 2 and 3 since it is 2**3 - 1 (that's 2 x 2 x 2 -1). It seems to be a common structure in our perception. Chris Heard is mapping a Biblical structure using a conceptual mapping tool (competitive with the tool I use - maybe).

With whatever tool - language, image, or software, we need to be aware of the limits to perception that our readers require. Perhaps the idea of '2 or 3 witnesses' is a gift to us for our mutual building up. Lists may be longer than 7 and nests deeper than 3 but our limitations will make such lists and circles difficult to fathom. So Romans with its 55 questions in 10 sections + is a difficult argument to process.

Craigie on Psalm 2:12

[Revised] Craigie translates נַשְּׁקוּ-בַר (nashiqu-bar) as 'kiss the son' interpreting the br as Aramaic, son. He also gives a variation from Holladay who translates as: 'you who forget the grave' using what looks to me like a substantial rework of the text נַשְּׁי-קבַר . Though grave has a potential parallel in 'perish', it seems like a replacement of the poetic line rather than a translation. My contention is simply that the phrase must refer to the anointed directly or indirectly in order to complete the 8th structural component in the envelope surrounding the installation of the king as shown in my new diagram.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Staring at psalm 2

There is no easy way to deal with Psalm 2 - and so for the moment, I am shelving it. [Much later, read Rashi and realize that purity is a great structural completion and even a Janus parallel.]

Structurally, the last three verses sum up the previous nine: The kings of the earth (1) are recalled in 10. The wrath and burning (5) are reflected in 12 in reverse order with a diminutive hint of humour recalling the laughter of verse 4. The anointed, the subject of 2, 6-9, the ruler of the kings of the earth, the one about whom is the substance of the enthronment psalm is not mentioned in the recap unless we recognize the son in verse 12.

I can't get any other hint as to what נַשְּׁקוּ-בַר means unless it refers back to this major section and subject of the poem. I have to stick with kiss the son for now since otherwise the poem is structurally incomplete. It cannot mean do homage to the LORD; but kiss the ground is possible if it is deemed an act of submission to the anointed.

To see a readable enlargement of the image illustrating these relations click here. I could improve my colouring. One day, I will learn that less is more, but my excuse is that this was one of the first I translated and coloured - and I was testing a product - and it goes beyond colour.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Palindrome and alliteration in Hebrew poetry

I suggested an idea about reversed structures in Hebrew poetry in my last post. The very next Psalm I am destined to translate contains just such a structure. Psalm 90:1 and 17 as pointed out by Magonet -A Rabbi Reads the Psalms. Adonay ma'on (aleph) and vihi no'am adonay (in the last verse) - note the palindrome! These writers were playful just as we are - except for us really serious people.

Is there a similar structure in Psalm 2 that would allow the horrible use of a borrowed tongue in verse 12? The rather ugly raw transcription follows - my colour-coding fails me at the moment.

Psalm 2
לָמָּה רָגְשׁוּ גוֹיִם
וּלְאֻמִּים יֶהְגּוּ-רִיק

2 YIthiaTSbU maLkeY-'eReTS
יִתְיַצְּבוּ מַלְכֵי-אֶרֶץ
וְרוֹזְנִים נוֹסְדוּ-יָחַד
.aL-YY V.aL-mSHiXO
עַל-יְהוָה וְעַל-מְשִׁיחוֹ

3 nnaTQAH 'eth-mOçROtheYmO
נְנַתְּקָה אֶת-מוֹסְרוֹתֵימוֹ
VnaSHLikAH mIMeNU .abotheYmO
וְנַשְׁלִיכָה מִמֶּנּוּ עֲבֹתֵימוֹ

יוֹשֵׁב בַּשָּׁמַיִם יִשְׂחָק
יְהוָה יִלְעַג-לָמוֹ

5 'AZ YDaBeR 'eLeYmO b'aPO
אָז יְדַבֵּר אֵלֵימוֹ בְאַפּוֹ
UbaXaROnO YbaHaLemO
וּבַחֲרוֹנוֹ יְבַהֲלֵמוֹ

6 Va'ani nAçakTi maLki
וַאֲנִי נָסַכְתִּי מַלְכִּי
עַל-צִיּוֹן הַר-קָדְשִׁי

7 'açaPRAH 'eL-XoQ YY
אֲסַפְּרָה אֶל-חֹק יְהוָה
'AmaR 'eLaY Bni 'aTAH
אָמַר אֵלַי בְּנִי אַתָּה
'ani HaYOm YLIDTikA
אֲנִי הַיּוֹם יְלִדְתִּיךָ

8 SH'aL mIMeNi
שְׁאַל מִמֶּנִּי
V'eTnAH gOYIm naXaLAthekA
וְאֶתְּנָה גוֹיִם נַחֲלָתֶךָ
Va'aXeZAthkA 'aphçeY-'AReTS
וַאֲחֻזָּתְךָ אַפְסֵי-אָרֶץ

9 TRo.em BSHebet
תְּרֹעֵם בְּשֵׁבֶט
BaRZeL kIkLi
בַּרְזֶל כִּכְלִי
יוֹצֵר תְּנַפְּצֵם

10 V.aTAH mLAkim
וְעַתָּה מְלָכִים
הַשְׂכִּילוּ הִוָּסְרוּ
SHophteY 'AReTS
שֹׁפְטֵי אָרֶץ

11 .IbDU 'eth-YY BiIR'AH
עִבְדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה בְּיִרְאָה
וְגִילוּ בִּרְעָדָה

12 naSHQU-baR Pen-Ye'enaph
נַשְּׁקוּ-בַר פֶּן-יֶאֱנַף
Vtho'bDU DeRek
וְתֹאבְדוּ דֶרֶךְ
ki-YIb.aR 'aPO
כִּי-יִבְעַר כִּמְעַט אַפּוֹ
'aSHReY kAL-XOçeY bO
אַשְׁרֵי כָּל-חוֹסֵי בוֹ

The son, the Son, the field, purity

update: 8 months later - see this (with some refinement of the rough suggestion in this post) as an example of possible resolving of unknowns with structure.
Psalm 2 has given rise to much discussion in the past weeks. See for instance here which links to John Hobbins who references Craigie's translation among others. I have a problem with the whole confusing sense. My brain makes short links among all these concepts - wondering if they are connected. Pure now seems out. Kiss purely? Kiss the bar=son? Kiss the field=ground=grovel? What ironic or sincere twist is appropriate?

Psalm 2 is one of two that govern our interpretation of the whole. The last verse forms an inclusio with the first verse of Psalm 1. The first editor of the 150 presumably is pre-Christendom. Is there a clue here?

Can we take the end of the poem from the beginning? Presumably the kings are being warned - seriously yet also with some mockery - as if to say - who do you think you are fighting against? Also the hint of anger at the end compared to the threat of confrontation at the beginning invite finding the hint to BR at the beginning of the Psalm...

The hint is in the installation of the king on the holy hill of Zion.
a Kings rising -
b God laughing -
c wrath -
d installation -
הַר-קָדְשִׁי HaR-QADSHi
[declaration of the king as son and invitation to rule] -
naSHQU-baR נַשְּׁקוּ-בַר
d' - [unknown translation of BR]
c' - wrath
b' - a little
a' - blessing

Can this structure be supported? Perhaps the poet wanted BR to rhyme with HR - it's all very alliterative.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Psalms 115, 124, 146

First cut of diagrams is now available for 115, 124, 146.

43 of 154 segments, 30% first draft, 4.3 per month average

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Rest of Psalm 16

There seems to be less disagreement in the commentaries for the rest of the psalm - except of course that Dahood has a third person singular pronoun instead of a first person pronoun for verse 7 (my heart, his heart), and verse 8 (his right hand instead of the usual my right hand). I guess one could ask who is on whose right hand? Well the obvious answer is that while in this life, the LORD is on the right hand, and in the eternal moment, we are on the right hand of majesty. I don't have access to the Ugaritic texts to see why Dahood chooses these pronouns - but מִימִינִי (verse 8) and בִּימִינְךָ (verse 11) have differing pronouns in the MT. So I won't divert myself from the more traditional parsing of all the other translations.

The next issue is - what is the import of the middle verses 5 and 6? Four images reinforce the Psalmist's confidence: portion and cup - belonging to the poet; the lot held by the LORD; the memory of pleasant places; and the beauty of the poet's heritage. Talk about a good thing.

The first image has an ambivalent word חֲבָלִים which I at first rendered as bindings - a word that could be both negative or positive. Yet I do not think the Poet necessarily holds up a 'fortunate' or 'providential' life - as if chance were the governing factor. The factor that governs is perhaps the agreement and consequent determination expressed in verse 8. Such an act of will, a miktam perhaps, confidence, commitment, trust, and counsel, learning, instruction in the night could be the heritage of the rich or the poor (if we must speak in worldly terms).

Here is the whole Psalm: - one day I will be able to do better with the etymological stuff - but translation and poetry - that is really difficult - too many conflicts both on the input side and the output side and a terrifying demand on one's memory.

1 Inscribed of David

Keep me, O God, for I trust you
2 I said to the LORD, you are my Lord
My good pales beside you.

3 Of the holy ones that are in the earth
Of them, and of my securities,
all my delight in them?
4 They will increase their hurts
hastening behind
I will not offer their drink offerings of blood
And I will not put their names on my lips.

5 The LORD is my inheritance and my cup
You maintain my stay.

6 Bindings have fallen to me in pleasures
Surely a beautiful inheritance to me
7 I will bless the LORD who advises me
Surely in the night, my centre instructs me.

8 I have agreed with the LORD
in front of me continually, even at my right hand.
I will not be moved.

9 So my heart joys
And my glory sings
Surely my flesh will live in security
10 For you will not abandon my life to the place of the dead
You will not allow one who trusts you to see a pit.

11 You will make known to me a path of Life, satisfaction of joys
In your presence pleasures at your right hand unending.

The Psalm begins where it started with words based on XSD (1,10). I replaced the translation of BTX (9) with security - playing on the modern idols of financial security (3) that I referred to in a prior post.

Psalm 16 - my goodness!

Protestants are always on about the non-relevance of our good before God. Is that what the bet verse is about? טוֹבָתִי בַּל עָלֶיךָ, tovati bal aleika, or in the vulgate: quoniam bonorum meorum non eges, translated as 'you don't need my goods'.

What good is this that is ours? It is, whatever we might think as pious and correct folks, nevertheless important to us. When my good is impacted, I respond, even with violence, whether of desire or of defense. It is good to me! It is not my righteousness - it might even be my unrighteousness, the old man, my second heart - as the sages say, the reason for the dagesh forte in heart. But this whole person is what God loves, so loves. And so do I. So tovati bal aleika is not a doctrinal statement of Lutheran protest against works-righteousness!

I passed over this phrase too quickly in my last post. My good - which is very important to me, is nonetheless, beside the good that God gives to me, not important - because God has given to me a good that is greater than my good, but he has made it truly mine - and that alone is trouble since I must in due course submit that gift also to God!

So how to put this across in three words (or 6) in English!

I suppose it is just as pious to declare God's good for me better than my idea of my good.

My good pales beside you.

This is I think, an answer to theodicy, with or without a doctrine of the age to come. We really have choice and we really must discover the chosen.

The tone of the Psalm is not then so much about a deliverance from a past or present crisis (Craigie) as about the deliverance in hope from the crisis of life in the flesh (Weiser sort of agrees with this in his long paragraphs). The rest of the poem must reflect this - let's wait and see if it does.

Psalm 16 verses 2-4

These are a conundrum. Who is speaking to whom? All I can do is to see if my own experience fits the dialogue in any way - does this make translation personal? Perhaps unavoidably. And maybe this is a good thing.

Problem 1: is it אמרת or אמרתי? You said (feminine or masculine) or I said?
Problem 2: is בַּל negative or positive?
Problem 3: are those foreign Gods - the holy ones and the majestic or the mighty?
Craigie says they are in parallel, but his translation is not parallel and there is a significant problem with the switch in pronomial subjects I, you, they.
You have said to the LORD, you are my master
to the holy ones ... they are my mighty ones
You can hear he has addressed one second person and the other indirectly, third person - not a parallel (and not the kind of 'person switch' which the Psalms are fond of). Of course they are not the same - yes I trust God, but don't lose my pension. I trust God, but I need the consumer society.

If this is a reasonable analogue then I need to recognize in the poem both the covenant dialogue and the rationalizations for behaviour. If I skip ahead to the central instruction:

אַף לֵילוֹת יִסְּרוּנִי כִלְיוֹתָי

Surely in the night instructs me my centre - raw first cut avoiding reins, kidneys, and other euphemisms. What is it instructs you in the night? Take care through consecration - you shall be holy. And be still. This is one sign of our hope. Our psalmist is anointed. If I skip ahead, then in this one unit of poetry, I need to find where he is coming from that he can get to this security and have such security apply to the untimate end.

If we can't do this, it is not a poem. Since it is a poem, we must be able to do this. (Or fail).

Back to problem 2: it is a negative, but fortunately it is used 4 times in the poem - maybe it is a bit of irony, reversing its meaning by position. Hardly! (Is that a negative or a positive?) It is very helpful that it is repeated - could it be such an exclamation?

Will I trust in my (unspecified) pension? What! בַּל ! I don't know what will happen tomorrow - and certainly my pension doesn't either. But I know some things, says the Psalmist: my flesh will live in hope, my heart joy, and my glory rejoice, and I will continue as instructed in the night. Such is the nature of eternity.

So all three problems in the shopping bag, let's see if we can get them out.

I said to the LORD, you are my Lord
My good?
not beside you.
Of the holy ones that are in the earth
Of them, my securities, all my delight in them?
They will continue their mortality
hastening behind
I will not worship there
And I will forget their names.
The LORD is my inheritance and my cup
You maintain my stay.

OK OK - too fast and loose - but we are over the first hurdle. Did I stumble on it?

Sunday, May 13, 2007


J.M. Neale and R.F. Littledale have collected commentaries on the Psalms from primitive and mediaeval writers. Like Westcott on Hebrews (1889), the assumptions of Christendom are simply a given for Psalm 16. Every phrase, one at a time, is put into the mouth of Jesus - more than the writer to Hebrews even! It is simply assumed that this poem belongs to the Son in his manhood. It is a shock to move to Dahood and find that Psalm 16 as a "profession of faith was composed by a Caananite convert to Yahwism."

So how will Psalm 16 stand up and allow itself to be read in the 21st century - with new eyes? Or to be heard with new ears?

I begin with the inscription: מִכְתָּם לְדָוִד - miktam ldavid. There are three words suggested for the root MKTM: inscription related to KTB (to write), golden related to KTM gold and atonement related to Akkadian KTM to cover (not the Hebrew which almost sounds like English Cover KPhR). What kind of choice will we give to the poet or to ourselves or to our readers?

From gold, concerning atonement, through inscription, of David.

It has to be gold because it speaks (if silently) of ultimate satisfaction at God's right hand. Silent because such things cannot be spoken. Of atonement since it is about being at one, not being abandoned, not being subject to chance, not being without hope, yet it knows of such abandonment, chance, and despair.

But it is only one word. Some translations leave it as Michtam. Not very helpful. Craigie suggests reference to Jeremiah 2:22 translating - your iniquity is inscribed before me. Also noted are the other psalms with this title (56-60). I defer their discussion to a later unspecified date.

The next line: שָׁמְרֵנִי אֵל, כִּי-חָסִיתִי בָךְ. Shamreni el, ki xasiti bak

XSH - trust surely is the other side of XSD loving kindness - for I have trusted in you. Here are the words in that part of my BDB (without the vowels):

חסד verb - to be good, kind, noun loving kindness.
with yodh mater before the D, adj - kind, good,
with yodh mater before the D and a final H - stork - one who is kind and affectionate to her young and that same word can mean Yah is kind (name of the son of Zerubbabel),
and a rare usage: XSD as reproach (verb and noun) - but if you are reproached in covenant by God, it is an act of kindness after all for God is with you.

Then there is XSH - to seek refuge and nouns: XSH (only used as proper name), XSuT with mater, refuge, MXSH, refuge, shelter.

Maybe trust is a poor translation - too cerebral a concept in comparison with take refuge or shelter. Shelter implies safety and there is safety in loving kindness if the strength can be trusted. (Hah!)

So what about the verb ShMR? Seems more straightforward than XSD. If whoever has 'taken refuge' then that whoever should be praying to be guarded, kept, or preserved.

So not yet knowing where we will go next (except to the difficulties of verses 2-4), here is the first 'refined' translation: Keep me, O God, for I take refuge in you. But it feels too long so I revert to

Inscribed of David

Keep me, O God, for I trust you

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Blumenthal on theodicy

I am just rereading an essay I came across many years ago: David Blumenthal on theodicy.

One prays the liturgy of rage and protest vigorously and honestly. Then one tacks to a liturgy of joy and blessing. One turns yet again to a theology of courageous challenge. And then one tacks again to a theology of belonging and empowerment.

Answering the theodical question from the psalms - liturgical acts with such tacking implied - now seems possible. So off to school to the library to recover from three weeks without books on my desk. First job - make Psalm 16 stand up and speak.

That groanings blogger has commented on this discussion :) - this is a test of tracking.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Theodicy and delight - some reflections

From my list of psalm snippets in my first post on theodicy and faith, I derive the following characteristics of the LORD, God of the Psalmists.

Capable both of delight and of not taking delight. Psalm 147 is the most obvious - the LORD does not delight in the strength of your legs as if you were a horse, but does delight in those that fear him and in his people.

Psalm --5 also expresses what God does not take delight in. In Psalm -16, we find a confidence and hope even for 'the flesh' of the poet. This should warn us against too quick a conclusion on some things when we have said to God (Elohim even in this early psalm), 'I trust you'.

Psalm -51 , among the most famous, the classic of Ash Wednesday, the triumph of Allegri, again stresses both what God delights in and what is not God's delight - note again it is the delight of Elohim (no YHWH in this psalm).

Psalm 115 (and 135) says simply that God does what pleases him!

If we are displeased - nonetheless, God does (according to the psalms) what God pleases. Is God then good? That is not definable. What we read in the Psalms is that the psalmist expresses trust in God. It seems an act of will rather than anything else. It seems to have been rewarded and if not, there is always the lament such as Psalm -89.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

God's Delight

Here is a list of psalms which mention delight - some of them I have not yet translated. I was curious to see if one could approach the issue of theodicy that Rachel Barenblat and Chris Heard both raised for me yesterday by a side-door - what is it which delights or does not delight God? The word is חָפֵץ or XPTS.

(sorry about the Hebrew numbering - and the verse numbers are not guaranteed correct since I set them by a late addition to my algorithm for creating my lexicon, but there is still a challenge for me to learn the recognition and order of letters - so I let them stand in my query results.)

The first query looked for nodes surrounding ones that contained the letters XPTS in the right order (no unicode in our database yet). I kept results where God is the one to whom the delight is attributed.

Psalm --5 ה not a God who takes pleasure חָפֵץ in wickedness - of what God does not delight in
Psalm -16 ד all my delight חֶפְצִי in them - (? - who) delights in the holy of the earth
Psalm -18 כ for he delighted in me - the LORD's delight in David
Psalm -22 ט for he delights in him - scoffers on the LORD's delight
Psalm -35 כז my delight, my righteousness, ...
and the LORD delights in the peace of his servant
Psalm -37 כג and in his way, he [the LORD] delighted יֶחְפָּץ
Psalm -51 ח So truth you take pleasure חָפַצְתָּ in the inward parts
Psalm -51 יח for you will not delight לֹא-תַחְפֹּץ in sacrifice and I would do it
Psalm -51 כא Then you will delight תַּחְפֹּץ in a sacrifice of the righteous
Psalm 115 ג but our God in the heavens, all that he delighted in he did
Psalm 135 ו whatever he pleased, he did (=115)
Psalm 147 י He does not take delight in the strength of a horse

Perhaps I should add ratzon (will, pleasure, favour, etc) also: - it has taken me time to check my Hebrew search strategies, for the word occurs with parts of the root missing and other words fit my strategies. It is hard to know if I have hit them all and I had a few false positives like variations on to run יְרֻצוּן which has the same letters plus or minus a mater or a suffix.

The second query looked for nodes surrounding ones that contained the letters RTSN or RTSH in the right order. I kept the results where God is the implied subject or judge.

Psalm -30 ו life, his favour
Psalm -30 ח LORD, in your favour, stands my mountain strong
Psalm -40 ט I come to do your will
Psalm -40 יד be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me
Psalm -44 ד for you favoured them
Psalm -51 כ Do good in your acceptance of Zion
Psalm -68 יז which God desired to dwell in - different word חָמַד אֱלֹהִים
Psalm -69 יד O LORD in an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your mercy
Psalm -85 ב You have been favorable, O LORD
Psalm -89 יח and in your acceptance will be lifted up
Psalm 106 ד Remember me, O LORD, when you favour your people
Psalm 119-K-S קח The offerings of my mouth, accept, O LORD
Psalm 143 י Teach me to do your will
Psalm 145 טז Perfect (for the acrostic), you open your hand, satisfing all that is, acceptance
Psalm 147 יא The LORD takes pleasure in those that fear him
Psalm 149 ד The LORD takes pleasure in his people

The subject of 'who God is in God's self' compared with 'the way that the Poets of the Psalms wrote or recited about God' is a difficult starting point but I have to take it as given that we work from the ancient record of experience and see where it leads.

So, here are the two (twin?) issues

  1. of faith ( 'engagement' as a deliberate act of will)
  2. or of evil (how is it that God who is good allows the evil we see?)
Will it help to approach them from the point of view of the attributions of delight and will (favour, acceptance) as listed above?

That's enough of a stimulus to thought for the moment and enough for a single blog post. I realize that there are lots of questions begged - not the least of which is the scandal of particularity, but let the stars burst where the original inconsistency of expansion manifests itself.

The Psalms and Theodicy

Rachel Barenblat and Chris Heard both posted today issues related to theodicy and random acts of violence, and the problems inherent in faith and trust as if they were measurable.

Chris asks why a “sovereign” God does not always get what God wants. And he suggests the solution of kenosis (Philippians 2)- self-emptying as if God hides part of self from self. My comment was not well-enough formed to get through the ether, so I will try and reconstruct the thought here. Moses in the later chapters of Deuteronomy (29:28/9) writes of Hidden things: These belong to God but the revealed things belong to us and our children for ever - come hell and high water. (He didn't say that last bit). Is this hidden aspect the other side of God's voluntary kenosis? Science notes that some things are not measurable concurrently - you can have momentum and position but you cannot be sure of both concurrently. We always disturb what we measure. As with science, so theology must recognize some of its inherent limitations. We think we could understand but our fullness is not even available to ourselves. (Cleanse me from my secret faults) (Psalm 19). And as for flat tires as acts of God - Psalm 148 allows for a certain fixity to reality and its rules without which we would have nothing rather than the hidden and the revealed.

Rachel quotes the Gemara: what does thought help to happen, and when does thought actually project an energy that prevents something from happening? Chazal say, that's a function of yirat shamayim [fear/awe of heaven/God]

The Sages do not mean, if I can dare to say such a thing, that your fear or faith or trust was somehow insufficient to enable the desired outcome. They refer, I expect, to that continuous voluntary engagement with the Most High which oscillates among presence, forgetfulness, joy, error, and hope. Why would it not be so? It is 'prayer without ceasing', to use the terms of the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles, Paul of Tarsus. You do not get your own way or what you deserved or what you wanted, but as with the Levites, you get God as your land. Who else do I have in heaven or on earth? (Psalm 73) What other hope is feasible for the twin problems of theodicy and faith?

There is much more - but it is beyond me to write about it at the moment. Thanks to the others for the stimulus.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

SBL Link re Hebrew pointing

Best summary yet - and helps support my ignoring the cellophane implied by Lambdin's book (good though it is).

Psalm 2

I can't see how trackback works yet - but this post and the related discussion on Psalm 2 are too important not to note. The discussion by Chris Heard and Tyler Williams underscores how human learning can happen now in ways we could not have imagined 10 years ago.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


I cannot give you the full flavour of the diagramming and data based tool I am using - but here is a thumbnail of Psalm 22. The image is ordinary and somewhat colorless compared to many of the others - not that the psalm is unimportant. Seeing the structure is one key to understanding. How will we see structure on such a small surface for a large poem?

I just discovered that I had already translated Psalms 117 and 118 - and here comes 115 too which has more to its repetition than first meets the eye. They roll off the machine and I am scarcely aware of them - and I still can't speak this language! But piano, piano - like Bach's 6th suite in the background, I will remember - the endless has an end in me.

Psalm 18 - security and deliverance

Psalm 18 as I noted yesterday, is large. I have split it in 6 columns and identified sections (the theophany, and a short section which may turn out to be the central meditation) and a few words that repeat at least 3 times: הִצִּיל, ntsl, deliver, מְפַלְטִי palat, secure, צוּרִי, tsur, rock,תָּמִים, tamim, complete.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Psalm 18 and 25 first drafts

Two more psalms take their stand in a preliminary form. Psalm 25 is well analysed by Magonet and I have used some of his pointers to sketch a few colours. Psalm 18 is large and complex. It seems to have a theme of completeness in it.

The Spirit speaking through this writer speaks to me of the cost of loving enemies - not just battle-lines drawn up for destructive vengeance. The enemies were too strong for David - the reference to the Nations feigning obedience then quaking out of their fortresses is perplexing but almost reminds me of the astonishment of Isaiah 52 - who will believe our report? There is also a full-scale theophany in vs 8-16. What role does this play? What is the extraordinary space (20) into which the Psalmist is drawn? No colours yet - they will take time and I am looking for new ways of using them - full colour is a bit much to see.

Let the stew boil. I am not in a hurry to repeat the detailed logies of past ages - but the personal aspects of the poem especially as a certain first century Jews might have read it are intriguing.


I wonder whether it is time to put my cards on the table. What is my agenda? What is my motive after 60 years of bodily existence, for this exercise of learning an ancient tongue and putting the words of the Psalms into various pictures and forms of words.

I am over my head, but the Spirit gives me oxygen. There are those whose mother tongue is also English and who have spent a lifetime (some shorter some longer) with Hebrew and its cognate languages. I have spent a year to date after a long slow start of 30+ years perhaps knowing from a distance a word or two. I am very happy to have web-encountered a few of these scholars. I have had a few words with some scholars in the flesh: notably Peter Craigie (long before I was ready to tackle Hebrew) and John Sandys-Wynch and good advice from Bruce Gardner who suggested I ask God for help! So, God, having been engaged to my fleshly engine, and God, knowing well how to teach, God and I continue.

As if Hebrew were a tongue that I was not in a hurry to learn, as if I were a child with the brain of a child, I absorb in visual and aural terms in an almost unconscious manner, using both my own automated transcription (very primitive) and the Hebrew characters themselves. I am taking classes with the local Synagogue, Congregation Emmanu-El in Victoria. I use both online and offline tools generally every day, mostly BlueLetter Bible, Scripture4all, and Mechon-Mamre. The hardest thing to do is to see, hear, and read. Word recognition - I can read my own writing (!) but I cannot instantly recognize Hebrew words. I suspect this is due to the time required to grow brain connections between eye and mouth.

I use a new web-based tool which has been developed over the past 5 years by my own company. I could have used more standard tools but not with such power, flexibility, or beneficial effects to the testing process. But that is not my motivation - I am not in sales.

My 'Why' is highlighted by a post on John Hobbin's site in praise of the translations of David Curzon. I think I want to answer the questions begged by his article on translation.

I did a little search for this unknown person and found more fun and games - perhaps we will meet unknowingly on the streets of NY this summer. DC, where are you? Or should I say, where are you coming from? Physicist, diplomat, poet, theologian - a combination worth meeting. I am glad he is not 'of the cloth'. Better we should learn from everyone.

What questions does he beg:
He writes: Like all other literary classics, the Psalms are always in need of re-translation in order to have them in language, and with an interpretive emphasis, that is both accurate and contemporary. ... My aim is to produce translations usable by contemporary believers and non-believers as structures of meditation.
Bravo for the attempt to have poetry that unbelievers will buy and read! I must find more of these examples. My agenda is to undermine the commonplace piety of the 16th century and sentimental 20th century translations we have been subjected to in the Church. I don't know anywhere else that the Psalms are used (except of course the Synagogue - but they read without translation and there I see the LORD inhabiting the praises of his people.) So I am writing for those who are called or call themselves believers. I had better be careful in my criticism - some of these believers, even those one might mistakenly class as simple, mask a considerable Reality. What joy to discover such.

I have no quarrel with them. It is good, isn't it that I have a quarrel with some? (There must be divisions among you). I have a quarrel with some ancient assumptions of Christendom that no longer hold: hierarchy, trust in human forms, piety without engagement, false perfections including inerrancy in any form, and of course my own impatience and potential belligerence. There is a true perfection and exaltation - constantly in the hope of the Psalmist - is it here that Jesus found some of his aphorisms about being lifted up or the nature of the complete or the reality of loving enemies?

And again Curzon writes: The feelings expressed at the beginning of Psalm 13 are infantile. The demands which follow are adolescent. The pivotal recognition is that of a realistic experienced adult. The conclusion is natural wisdom.
What! infantile! and recovery to 'Natural' wisdom! What happened to me when I translated Psalm 13? Interesting - I never explicitly wrote about it. It fell in with all those that were in the 'relations with my enemies' genre for me. I certainly understand this - waiting. But the cry - how long - is very specific. The Psalmist cannot live without the presence of God and in some bodily sense of that presence. His hope is in the loving-kindness which has been experienced not just as if by some abstraction called 'belief' (but do see the dialogue between hashem and Elohim in Psalms 14 and 53). To an unbeliever, the Psalmist is deceived by subjectivity. To the Psalmist, the poem is covenant dialogue and God is 'on the hook' to the experience of the loveliness of the knowledge of God. The Psalmist is complaining to the right party! It is not infantile - any more than is Moses when he defends Israel from God's anger asking - what would the Egyptians say? (If we have no enemies, how can we learn how to love them?)

And Curzon writes (twice): God does not answer, and the answer does not depend on belief even though the poem could not have been formed without a culture based on belief in a God who does respond. ... God does not answer supplications in any psalm; the answer to all questions and demands is in the form of a revelation within the psalmist.
Subjectively we are trapped. But God answers. The Psalter has a multiplicity of meanings for me. Utimately God answers with the resurrection. You will not leave your holy one to see corruption. In the meanwhile, we have our full humanity to deal with in our response to the covenant. So I agree in part. God's answer cannot be so 'earth-shattering' as to violate the implied laws of Psalm 148:6 (hurrah for Physics - supported by the Psalms!) Also in the meanwhile, we have the book in which the writers of the NT learned how the Son communicated with the Father and how the life of Jesus recapitulated or was informed by the life of the Psalmist(s) in covenant. I am stretching to express something here - help me out.
And finally Curzon writes and may well achieve: I have in my translations used a strong-stress metric, with as much alliteration and assonance and as little Latinate vocabulary as seemed compatible with contemporary diction and accuracy.
I will admire this when I have time. What a great idea. Here I think he will share with me the desire that we should enter with good intent into this fundamental human endeavour - communicating through the ether across time and space with each other and with --- something more than a Grecian Urn, or the distant maker of a Big Bang without atmosphere. Perhaps string theory with all its unknown dimensions supports the ether after all.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Genesis 1:1-8

Someone over at a groaning site has posted a translation of Genesis 1:1-8. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The brutish and the dull

There seems to be a pair of words used in parallel: the brutish man: אִישׁ בַּעַר and the dullard: וּכְסִיל (Psalm 92, 94, 49, and the latter frequently in Proverbs).

Today I begin Psalm 92 - knowing my own limitations but foolishly venturing into the unknown territory of some sites. I hope I can see the difference between 'publishing in the morning the loving kindness of the LORD' and forcing a cultural opinion about belief on others. I forgot for a moment how each Psalm opens up a new reality to me as I translate. On we go!

Psalm 145 Revisited

Still not at the poetic stage, but I had occasion these past two weeks to reread Magonet on the Psalms (A Rabbi Reads the Psalms, Jonathan Magonet SCM Press 2004). So I am beginning to diagram his structures for the Psalms he covers: 145, 92, 23, 25, 19, 22, 51, 118, 115, 121, 124, 134, 146, 90, 73, all of which are in depth. He has fun with Psalm 145, showing a considerable tension between the theology of the chosen and the theology of universality. The Psalmist's universality is shown in the frequency with which he uses the word all. (Blue foreground colour in the diagram.)

Note also I have managed the acrostic with a bit of shifting (clearly seen in the mismatched colours) and a few xtreme spellings and slang: such as xtreme for Het and teous ... righteous for Tsade and killer Glory (not so far from the mark!). Note also the red coloring for the works and deeds referred to. As someone said (must find the quote - Calvin I think) the whole gospel is in the psalter.

If we include the missing Nun from Amos 5:2, the centre of the Psalm is slightly shifted. Where is the centre? Is it the revealing to the children of dust the might and glory, honour of his reign, for all ages, your rule for all; Age to Age? I think the two verse centre is better than the KLM-MLK pun that Magonet suggests (though this works as the stimulus for the acrostic). King/Age are both keywords spanning beginning middle and end of the Psalm.

Other features to note are pronoun usage (I, they, you) and the eventual universality of blessing - if Adonai is blessed by all flesh, there is no two-tiered salvation structure.

Shortlisted but not a winner

In the competition for space in the art forms for Synod, my Portrait of the Psalter was shortlisted, but unfortunately is not a winner.