Saturday, September 25, 2010

Psalm 145 - the missing nun

No this is not Midsomer Murders. Way back in 2006 I did a diagram on this psalm that supplied the missing nun according to Rabbinic tradition - it is Amos 5:2 and it reads this way in the Hebrew
נָֽפְלָה לֹֽא־תֹוסִיף קוּם
 בְּתוּלַת יִשְׂרָאֵל
 נִטְּשָׁה עַל־אַדְמָתָהּ
אֵין מְקִימָֽהּ
in Hebrew word order - line by line
fallen no more to rise
is the virgin Israel
cast off on her own ground
there is no one to raise her up

Why such a tradition? It is more than a nun verse. It fits a tragic situation and it fits the thought of psalm 145 in a way that anticipates two words in the next verse
סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה לְכָל-הַנֹּפְלִים
וְזוֹקֵף לְכָל-הַכְּפוּפִים
14svomék yy lkal-hànoplym
vzvoqéph lkal-hàkpvupym
Sustains יְהוָה all the fallen
and he raises up all the distressed
It also easily fits the Nun in Hebrew and in English
No more to rise, fallen is the virgin Israel
cast off on her own ground, there is no one to raise her up
Notice also the poetic recurrence of rise/raise (קום) in the Amos verse.

There are 8 acrostics in the psalter. They are placed only in Books 1 and 5, forming a frame for the whole Psalter.  Several of the acrostics are incomplete. As explained here by Ronald Benun, the acrostics are incomplete except for psalms 111, 112, and 119. So it must be that the king of psalm 110 that is praised in the two following Hallels and the one who observes the testimony as celebrated in psalm 119 are complete. All others are in a struggle to be complete. Should psalm 145 have a missing letter or should it be complete? And if it is to be complete, what would the nature of the missing verse have to be to convince us that it belonged?

The above paper does not deal with Psalm 145 so it cannot enter into the discussion of completeness according to his method - a very complex method. If one was to read the people like Fokkelman whom I read in the early days before I could count syllables, then the missing verse would have to fit the poetic line at a syllable and word count. (Dr. C.J. Labuschagne has a remarkable detailed numeric reconstruction here.) To take a simple example, if one was adding a missing line to an English acrostic in iambic pentameter, one would expect the missing line to have 10 syllables. One would likely also expect that it would have some relation to the text and probably not a negative one in this psalm of praise.  It would be appropriate if the last book of the psalms had 4 perfect acrostics to balance the four imperfect ones in book 1.  It might suggest that the psalter is a road to perfection.

I would also expect some word patterns and content that fit and that was not just a copy of another verse beginning with nun. Well - all these questions and the verse has been around for a long time - but with MS support from the Septuagint and a few very late Hebrew manuscripts - but not the Masoretic text. And now it is also found in one of the Hebrew scrolls in Qumran (only 1 out of 37 - but maybe psalm 145 is only in one of the scrolls because they are all in fragments. A scroll is determined as distinct by different writing / medium and date. None of the psalms scrolls is complete.) The verse is in the RSV and the Septuagint - the Greek translation of the psalms from the second or third century BCE. So it has even been available by back-translation from the Greek.
נאמן יְהוָה בדבריו וחסיד בכול מעשיו
Transcribed - n)mn יְהוָה bdbryv vxsyd bkvl m`syv
I am really bad at how to put dots and stuff in the text - but maybe this is how it would sound
ne-eman adonai bedvarav vachasid bekol me-asav
In English this is
faithful is יְהוָה in his words and merciful in all his deeds
It is my impression that in this Davidic psalm in the Yahwist not the Elohist part of the Psalter, that the name of God should match what the LXX seems to imply: that the tetragrammeton was used here, not Elohim. There are a few notes on the web and the note we were given in the conference session has the following: נאמן אלוהים בדבריו וחסיד בכול מעשיו but no decision has been yet made for the Oxford Hebrew Bible. I am glad to see that Dr. C.J. Labuschagne also chose the name rather than the word for God.

As a note on signing and controlling translations - perhaps all acrostics should be marked with their letters so that the verses do not get lost. Just think if the Greeks had done a little letter-play the way the Countes of Pembroke did in the 16th century.


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