Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seeing the Psalter - Psalm 1

Introducing the technique.
How do we read? How do we hear or see what we are reading? I will illustrate three techniques: RecurrenceParallelism, and Prosody. They help see what is in the text.

Recurrence is the use of repeated words in the text. Following the text of each psalm, there are tables showing the patterns of the words that repeat. The patterns focus the sections of the psalm and help identify the thought of the one who constructed the text.

Distinguish parallelism and recurrence from each other. Parallelism is the expression of the same (or an antithetical) thought in different words. Recurrence is the repetition of the same word in the poem. This distinction removes some subjectivity from initial structural considerations. We will usually agree when two words have the same root letters. We may not agree that two concepts having differing letters in the poem represent a similar or contrasting thought.

Prosody: Prosody is the art of displaying poetry. In the case of Hebrew poetry, a starting point is to see the lines of a poem in twos and threes.

Here is Psalm 1 verse 1. This small example illustrates all three techniques.

Note the three lines that modify the happy individual. They are all in parallel with each other with a cumulative effect. They are each organized around three main words. A recurring motif is the word “not”!

who does not walk in the advice of the wicked
and in the way of sinners does not stand
and in the seat of the scornful does not sit

Parallelism: notice how the parallel phrases vary in conceptual order dividing each line in two: in this case, a, the action, and b where. These parallels are in the form a-b, then b-a, b-a. These are an example of rhyming ideas created with different words, walk -- sit -- stand; and wicked -- sinners -- scornful, and advice -- way -- seat.

Prosody: notice in the Hebrew that there are (apart from relative pronoun and negative particle) literally three words in each of the three lines. It is clear in English also. In the Hebrew below, I have underlined the roots of these “main words”. The other letters in a typical Hebrew word are prepositions, pronouns, verb forms, and so on. If you don’t read Hebrew, just look for the moment.

אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים
וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד
וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב

Notice that as there are three main words in the English so there are three underlined parts in the Hebrew corresponding to the three main English words per line. The underlined parts are the 'roots' of the Hebrew words.

Recurrence: The bold words are those that recur, in this case the recurring no.

A second example: Here is a miniature table showing the last two verses of Psalm 1.
Word and gloss * first usage123VsRoot
* רשׁעים the wicked
5רשׁע
* צדיקים the-many righteous
5צדיק
* דרך the way of
6דרך
* צדיקים those righteous
6צדיק
* ודרך but the way of
6דרך
* רשׁעים those wicked
6רשׁע

The table shows the recurring words for verses 5 and 6. There are three of them: wicked -- righteous -- way. The numbered columns (1, 2, 3) represent the words in the sequence they occur in the poem, and the boxes in the grid show the pattern of their usage. The word itself and its gloss is in the left hand column. This column (*) also tells us if this is the first time the word has been used as a keyword in the Psalter. The verse numbers are in the second to last right hand column (Vs). The root of the word or where there is no root, the combination of prepositions and pronouns is in the right hand column (Root).

In this small table, we can see that wicked appears first and last in the table. An inner pair of words: righteous and way, recur in sequence. Wicked effectively 'frames' the two verses. A 'frame' is a word or set of words that recurs, effectively surrounding a text and highlighting it. It is similar to a picture frame in a gallery which sets off the picture for the viewer. This idea of framing is also expressed by other words in English: circling, enveloping, and including (via the Latin phrase inclusio).

Before continuing with the shapes to observe in the tables, first read and ponder Psalm 1. As you read, circle the words that recur.
Psalm 1 - The way of the wicked and the righteous
אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ
אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים
וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד
וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב
1Happy the person
who does not walk in the advice of the wicked
and in the way of sinners does not stand
and in the seat of the scornful does not sit
כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה חֶפְצוֹ
וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה
2In contrast: in the instruction of יְהוָה is his delight
and in his instruction he mutters day and night
וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ
שָׁתוּל עַל פַּלְגֵי מָיִם
אֲשֶׁר פִּרְיוֹ יִתֵּן בְּעִתּוֹ
וְעָלֵהוּ לֹא יִבּוֹל
וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה יַצְלִיחַ
3and that 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
לֹא כֵן הָרְשָׁעִים
כִּי אִם כַּמֹּץ
אֲשֶׁר תִּדְּפֶנּוּ רוּחַ
4Not so the-many wicked
in contrast: like chaff
that wind blows
עַל כֵּן לֹא יָקֻמוּ
רְשָׁעִים
בַּמִּשְׁפָּט
וְחַטָּאִים בַּעֲדַת צַדִּיקִים
5So it is that they will not arise
the wicked
in the judgment
nor sinners in the assembly of the-many righteous
כִּי יוֹדֵעַ יְהוָה
דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים
וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים תֹּאבֵד
6For יְהוָה knows
the way of those righteous
but the way of those wicked will perish
Selected recurring words in relative order
Word and gloss * first usage1234567891012VsRoot
* אשׁרי happy
1אשׁר
* אשׁר who
1אשׁר
* לא does not
1לא
* רשׁעים the wicked
1רשׁע
* ובדרך and in the way of
1דרך
* חטאים sinners
1חטא
* לא does not
1לא
* ובמושׁב and in the seat of
1ישׁב
* לא does not
1לא
* ישׁב sit
1ישׁב
כי in
2כי
* אם contrast
2אם
* בתורת in the instruction of
2תורה
* יהוה יהוה
2יהוה
* ובתורתו and in his instruction
2תורה
* אשׁר that
3אשׁר
* לא does not
3לא
* אשׁר that
3אשׁר
* לא not
4לא
* כן so
4כן
* הרשׁעים the-many wicked
4רשׁע
כי in
4כי
* אם contrast
4אם
* אשׁר that
4אשׁר
* כן so it is that
5כן
* לא they will not
5לא
* רשׁעים the wicked
5רשׁע
* וחטאים nor sinners
5חטא
* צדיקים the-many righteous
5צדיק
כי for
6כי
* יהוה יהוה
6יהוה
* דרך the way of
6דרך
* צדיקים those righteous
6צדיק
* ודרך but the way of
6דרך
* רשׁעים those wicked
6רשׁע
Here are some shapes and features to look for in these tables:

Check to see if all verses are present. A missing verse number shows that the words of the verse occur only once in the psalm. This may be a central message. In Psalm 1, there are no verses missing.

Check to see what the last recurring word in the passage is. This may form a focal point for the text. In Psalm 1, the final recurring word is righteous.

When you see a shape like an arrowhead, it indicates that a set of words is used in reverse order. If you drew circles or arcs joining these words to each other in the text, you would see they are concentric. If you look at what these circles surround, you may find a particular theme or focus of the psalm. In Psalm 1, wicked -- way -- sinners are such a group. Contrast the miniature table showing only verses 1, 5, 6 with the full table for Psalm 1). Note how they reappear at the end of the table in reverse order from the beginning. Almost every psalm has such a frame, often comprised of more than one word. Sometimes two consecutive psalms will have a single frame.

Word and gloss * first usage123VsRoot
* רשׁעים the wicked
1רשׁע
* ובדרך and in the way of
1דרך
* חטאים sinners
1חטא
* וחטאים nor sinners
5חטא
* ודרך but the way of
6דרך
* רשׁעים those wicked
6רשׁע

When you see a shape like parallel lines (like that -- not), this indicates that the recurring words occur in the same order. If you drew the circles, they would intersect. And you might find that the content is outlined with some emphasis by the feature. So in this case, the action of verse 3 is contrasted with the actions of verse 1. And the two words, that and not, surround the image of a fruitful tree.

When you see a vertical line of recurring words in the table, this indicates a word that recurs frequently. This may indicate a theme for the psalm or a word linking sections of the psalm. The example of no in Psalm 1 is typical. It will happen again in Psalm 15. A series of 18 such repetitions may be seen in Psalm 145. This is contrasted again by the that -- not of verses 4 and 5 which surround the scattering of the chaff by the wind.

Note: in order to keep the tables from getting too large, I have often but not always excluded the following words to reduce the volume of potentially non-significant structures. על(`l) preposition on, above, יהוה (yhvh), the tetragrammeton, אלוה ('lvh) God, usually plural, כי (ky) a very common conjunction meaning for or because, אל ('l) God or a negative (and many other possibilities but rare in the psalms), את ('t) the object marker, a word not usually translated. If any of these is significant in a poem, it will be noted. These 6 roots out of 1410 distinct combinations in the Psalter (<0.5%) account for more than 2,400 of the 19,584 words (>12.3%) of the Hebrew text.

Notes by verse
2in contrast, כִּי אִם (ky 'im) preserving the unique combination of כִּי אִם (see also Jeremiah 7, Deuteronomy 12, Esther 2.) Thanks for the suggestion from Boaz Shoshan, Ben Gurion University of the Negev to bring more contrast into my first rendering 'in this case'.
instruction, (תורה) Torah, or teaching, mentoring, but not Law in a legal sense
The tetragrammeton, (four letters יְהוָה YHVH, the Name revealed to Moses) is reproduced in Hebrew without transliteration. In your reading, substitute whatever name is in your tradition, such as Adonai, or Hashem (the Name), or LORD, or Yahweh as you desire.
mutter, הגה (hgh), reading to himself out loud, perhaps murmur or muse, meditate. Murmur המה (hmh) I have used later for its negative tone, so I cannot use it here.
3that one, emphasizing the singular without the personal pronoun
[Revelation 22:2]
4the-many, drawing attention to the singular-plural contrast in this psalm which sets the tone for the incorporation of the elect singular and plural
5so it is, therefore, but hear the similar sound of not so.
6the way, specific by implication with the aforementioned many wicked or righteous
Hebrew words: 67
English words: 136
Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 55%
Average keywords per verse: 6.2

Psalm 1
Translation and Notes last updated on 2011.11.14-12:08

Text added 2012.07.17 - illustrating the difficulties of doing this in English without an apparatus.

If you are reading and searching for frames in English, two things will become apparent.

Some words that recur in Hebrew will not show in English. In all these cases, for the verses that are included, the recurrence tables (based on Hebrew and showing English also) will show the pattern clearly.
a. Relative pronouns, who, that, are different in English but the same in Hebrew.
b. Homonyms in Hebrew will translate to different glosses in English. These may be significant in the Hebrew aural structure (assonance and word-play).
c. Synonyms in English may translate the same Hebrew word with different English glosses. I have minimized this in my own translations.
d. Different Hebrew verb forms may translate to different English glosses.

Some words will recur in English that do not recur in Hebrew. When working in English, check your reading of recurring words against the recurrence tables. Usually it will be clear why some words are or are not part of the internal structure of the poem.
a. In the example from Psalm 1 verses 5 and 6 above, those recurs in English because I have translated using that word to emphasize the plural form of the Hebrew for righteous and wicked in contrast to the singular in verse 1.
b. English helping verbs like do, have, make, that are part of the Hebrew verb are separate words in English.
c. To be or to become may be present or not in Hebrew but may be required in English.
d. Homonyms in English may arise from different Hebrew words, but this is rare.
e. Recurrence between psalms may require an echo that compromises similar sounding glosses in the current psalm.
f. Prepositions and conjunctions will vary in translation depending on context and verbs.
g. Prepositions and pronouns may show as separate words in English but are not separate in the Hebrew word.
h. Two words may be required in English to distinguish differing Hebrew words. For example, verb + preposition: bring up, bring down represent separate Hebrew verbs; or adjective + noun: burning anger, burning coals; or verb + noun: sing, sing a psalm. You can usually see this if you look left and count the words in the Hebrew.
i. Sometimes I have allowed similar sounding words (like righteous and righteousness) to stand separately.

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