So what am I doing? I am reading the Hebrew out loud to myself and with a friend every week or two. (He is fluent and we read the Greek translation as well. Europeans are a lot better at languages than North Americans.) My reading has improved with this exercise as has my word recognition. I am also deciding what is there in the text - working specifically on my rendition of the poetic structure at the word and prosodic phrase level. From this post this morning from Calvin, at the Floppy Hat, I see poetics is an in thing to do. Let me be very clear: reading the text is good - like a lot of things. It is its own witness of what is under study. It is a first hand witness. I have read a few dozen commentaries on the text of the Bible. I was always in too much of a hurry to get to 'meaning' and too desperate to be 'right'. Both of these are irrelevant beside this first witness. The translations we have, good though they may be, are a second hand witness. They are always steeped in decisions that are outside the immediate reference you or I may need. It's not that the words cannot be translated - but that there may be something personal for you or for me that the translation cannot give you. For instance the word 'keep' in Psalm 121. In your native tongue, you might skip over it. It's obvious what it means. Or the translator may have used creative synonyms and obscured the repetition. But when you are slowed down enough to hear the sound שׁמר (shamar) in its repeated variations, then you get it. Especially when the moon wakes you up in the middle of the night and smites you - and you smile.
I am also concentrating on the first time a word recurs in the psalter. This has repeatedly outlined the images in the psalms - even though I have touched only the frame unique to that poem. And even though I am working with clues from a routine I wrote to decipher the root given the consonantal word. The clues have been adequate to the task.
Why am I doing this? To prepare myself personally to listen at the psalms conference in Oxford in September. And purely for pleasure - and for learning the language better.
In Book 5 so far we have noted:
The opening psalm 107 is generic and describe's the work of יְהוָה throughout the world - all sorts and conditions of people.
Then 108 is a repeat with variation of parts of psalms 57 and 60. It reminds us of the miktamim and the tune Do not Destroy and the political context in which the elect live, the foxes circling about the beloved.
109 is a severe curse of one who must come to judgment. It seems to prepare 110 which has no new frames.
The acrostics with Hallelujah follow Psalms 111 and 112 - the poet Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke provides a lovely reading of these - her book is embedded here.
The following 5 psalms culminating with the shortest precede what almost seems to be the end of the psalter - the stone that the builders rejected and the great hymn to testimonies of יְהוָה
Psalm 113 - to live with the nobility
Psalm 114 - lambkin and little hills skipping
Psalm 115 - trust and blessing - trio #2
Psalm 116 - the completion of the vows
Psalm 117 - anticipating the great hallel
Psalm 118 - the circumcision
119 feels like the end of the psalter - the psalmist for all the humility expressed, also writes with words that are new frames even this late in the book the equivalent of "I observe the testimony"
The songs of ascent - we are on the fifth step. Where will these take us? 120 and 122 have no new frames.
Psalm 120 - A song of the steps
Psalm 121 - no snoozing
Psalm 123 - of contempt
Psalm 124 - unless ... then - we escape the snare