Thursday, 23 March 2023

A question of translation

Micah was the lesson for evensong. I am hanging by a thread or two to the churches. My serious moment is every month or so, I read the lessons. The translation of this verse is varied. See this list of translations (mostly verging on explanation rather than translation).

Raw data: כִּימֵ֥י צֵאתְךָ֖ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם // אַרְאֶ֖נּוּ נִפְלָאֽוֹת

SimHebrew: cimi xatç marx mxriim, // aranu nplaot

What is/was intended by that word after the atnah? Is it aranu, imperfect with a third person singular suffix, I will show him? Or is it a misprint, and should it be an imperative hranu, with a first person plural suffix, after the form of the Psalms 85:8? הַרְאֵנוּ?

It's not much of a change. But it is quite often that a change of focus or point of view or speaker happens in the Hebrew - in all books - without warning. My feeling is that this is a text that should not be smoothed over as if the truth of the Bible has to be internally coherent. When we make a text conform to what we think it should be, we are simply imposing our own limited sense of reason on both our history and our theology. Not much of a good idea.

Friday, 17 March 2023

Suggested answers to the first note questions

Without being exhaustive, here are my suggestions for why psalms, and some psalms in particular, begin on a note other than the tonic.

This post continues the question I asked here in January.

What are possible explanations? How is it that the whole Psalter begins on 'f'? Why is 9 saying something about 8? or 22 about 21? And so on. What do you think?

Psalm First
1 f Psalms continues and comments on Torah and Prophets
2 g Psalm 2 continues Psalm 1
9 g Psalm 9-10 (acrostic) is a celebration of Psalm 8
22 g Psalm 22 outlines the cost of the monarch's role in Psalms 20-21
40 f Psalm 40 expresses the confidence that psalm 39 requests
48 f Psalms 47 and 48 share 25% of their words, most significant perhaps is the recurrence of Yahweh the great king and the kings of the earth.
60 g Psalms 59 and 60 share just under 25% of their words. Psalm 60 is repeated in part in Psalm 108, along with part of Psalm 57. Psalms 56 to 60 are a group of miktamim. Perhaps 60's start on the third note of the scale rather than the first is an indication of the end of this group.
66 g Psalms 65 and 66 share 30% of their words. The inclusio here is prayer.
70 f This analysis gives some room to interpret the psalms that repeat. Psalm 70 is a repeat of part of Palm 40. So it is a commentary, recalling the context of Book 1, on Psalm 69.
83 g The Most High in the context of speech in Psalm 82 and silence in Psalm 83.
88 f 87-89 form the hope of Israel contrasted with two great laments over its failures.
89 f
91 g 90 and 91 share 27% of their words - but there are adjacent pairs of psalms that share many words yet are not connected musically. Psalm 90 is a response to Psalm 89 and the laments in Books 2 and 3. Psalm 91 in turn is a response to Psalm 90, an answer to the prayer.
95 g The series 94-96 connects 92-93 to the final royal celebrations of 96-99.
96 B
102 g Is the prayer a response to the annihilation of Psalm 101?
108 g 107, 108 and 109 appear to be a unit - why?
109 g
111 f Psalms 111 and 112 (acrostics) celebrate psalm 110
112 f
113 f 113 continues the trio of 110-112. 
115 C Psalm 115 - non nobis domine is a counterfoil to psalm 114 - in exitu Israel
116 g 116 is unique in this series from 110 in its singular view. It is a solo song rather than a chorus hymn. 
122 f Among the Sons of Ascent (120-134) there is a very detailed structure. See Mitchell, The Psalms of Ascent. Brief summary here. Mitchell does not mention a non-tonic starting note. I suspect it would support his closely reasoned structures.
124 f
127 f
130 f
131 f
133 f
135 f
137 f 135 and 136 are very closely related as if each was commenting on the series from 120-134. How is it that 137 refers back to this whole series?
139 g Psalms 138 and 139 share 33% of their words. 139 elaborates on the last verse of 138.
147 f Psalms 146 to 50 are a single continuous praise -- so they are joined by the music.
148 f
149 f
150 f

Monday, 6 March 2023

Psalms -- examples of unnecessary objects in the text

 I came across this translation of the first verse.

O praise the Lord, laud ye the Name of the Lord * praise it, O ye servants of the Lord;

Besides being gross, it is simply wrong. A few verses later, political correctness aside, the pronoun him is attributed to Yahweh.

O praise the Lord, for the Lord is gracious * O sing praises unto his Name, for it is lovely.

This arises from people reading English and trying to be politically correct. But there is no need for the pronoun since the Hebrew has no object in this case anyway. 

I note that the KJV adds pronouns as objects when they are not in the text. Psalms 116 is another that stands out in my memory.

אָ֭הַבְתִּי כִּֽי־יִשְׁמַ֥ע ׀ יְהוָ֑ה

אֶת־ק֝וֹלִ֗י תַּחֲנוּנָֽי

This is tricky because the atnah produces a gap in the middle of the sentence -- for aural and dramatic interest in the poetry.

I love, for Yahweh heard,

the voice of my supplication.

The music works just fine with the gap.

The first example above (135:1) is equally easily rendered without the object. The second praise is simply a command to "the servants of the Lord".

Hallelu Yah. Praise the name of Yahweh.

Praise O servants of Yahweh,

Verse 3 also does not require the imagined object.

Hallelu Yah, for Yahweh is good.

Sing a psalm to his name for pleasure.

Is it only choristers who can understand that such service is pleasure -- and that pleasure is good.

Saturday, 4 March 2023

February Biblical Studies carnival 204

 Ben, The Amateur Exegete has posted carnival #204 here. There's lots to see and hear from the BS blog and pod world. 

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Chatgpt and analysis of letters

 Well, I had another 'conversation' with the bot. Wow! Some good advice! And nothing to critique. 

To my preface it responded:


Folly refers to the state of being foolish or lacking good sense, while prodigality refers to excessive or wasteful spending or extravagance. In this context, the prodigality of God refers to God's generosity and abundance, while folly might refer to our own foolishness in not recognizing or appreciating it.

Other keywords and stories that might be useful for communicating with younger generations include:

Evolution: the process of gradual development and change over time, which can be used to discuss concepts such as adaptation, diversity, and interconnectedness.

Sustainability: the ability to maintain or support something over the long term, which can be used to discuss issues such as climate change, resource depletion, and environmental stewardship.

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, which can be used to discuss the importance of compassion, kindness, and social justice.

Resilience: the ability to adapt and recover from difficult situations, which can be used to discuss the importance of perseverance, determination, and mental health.

Community: the sense of belonging and connection with others, which can be used to discuss the importance of relationships, diversity, and inclusivity.

Mythology: traditional stories and beliefs that often contain symbolic or allegorical meaning, which can be used to discuss concepts such as morality, spirituality, and cultural heritage.

Bob MacDonald:

Wow - nice start: thanks. Here's the rest of the preface leaving out the bits that caused a software glitch: 

I continued the preface:

Bot: Chesterton's quotes highlight the importance of broadening our perspective and recognizing the vastness of the unknown. The first quote emphasizes that religion is not just about organized faith, but about the entire universe we inhabit. The second quote suggests that a logical approach to understanding the world can only take us so far before we must confront the limitations of our knowledge.

The author's approach to writing letters to their grandchildren requires a web of interconnected ideas and metaphors, much like a spider's web. Each idea is a puzzle piece that must fit together with others to create a larger picture. However, the complexity of the task grows with each additional node in the web, as more keywords and synonyms must be considered. The author acknowledges that not all of these ideas are suitable for children and that some may only become clear later in life.

The preface concludes by suggesting that even though the unknowns of the world can make theology seem illogical, it remains an important part of our understanding of the universe. The author invokes the idea that God is a concept so fundamental that, if they did not exist, we would have to invent them to explain the mysteries of the world.

I fed the bot with my first letter - and it responded.



Your Parent

Bob MacDonald:

OK - thanks I will add a signature to each letter!

Bot: You're welcome! Adding a signature to each letter can add a personal touch and make it feel like a true correspondence between you and your children. Best of luck with your writing!

Then I fed it the second letter

Bot: The letter discusses the complexity of life and genetics. It introduces the idea of genes, DNA, and the role they play in determining the characteristics of all living things. The letter also mentions how all life forms on earth are interconnected and mutually dependent on one another. It further explains that while life is good, things can go wrong with mechanisms, which can result in genetic illnesses or infections like viruses. The letter ends with a brief discussion on microbial life and its vast numbers on earth.

I asked the obvious question: Do you think I am too much over the head of a 9 and 7 year old? How old would children have to be to get some of this?

Response: It really depends on the specific topic or concept you are referring to. As a language model, I don't have access to information about the specific level of knowledge or understanding of the children you are teaching. However, in general, it's important to consider the age-appropriateness of the material you are presenting to children.

As a guideline, children around 9-11 years old may have a better grasp of more complex concepts and abstract thinking, while children around 7-8 years old may have a more concrete understanding of the world around them. However, every child is different and their individual level of understanding may vary.

When teaching children, it's important to tailor your approach and language to their age and understanding. Using age-appropriate materials, visual aids, and simplifying complex ideas can help make the content more accessible and understandable for them. It's also helpful to gauge their comprehension through questions and discussions to ensure that they are following along and learning from the lesson.

Bob: I will rest - and see what this suggests to me for refining the book I have written. (See under the label For the children for early drafts of the letters.)

Monday, 27 February 2023

Finishing Amos

I had to finish the first book in this new pass at translating for the music. I changed 146 verses during this short project (102 of them not in Amos).

The opening verse interrupts with a single note a long low recitative on the tonic. The subdominant is approached through the dominant and the raised mediant. This creates a full close in the subdominant. (That's why this represents an emotional rest -- through the vibrations -- even though the modal tonic is a fourth below.)

Emotionally, the last chapter is a promise of change. The change begins in verse 11. So much destruction and so much promise and it seems the world has not changed a bit. What transformation in the prophet caused the last verses to be written? 

Saturday, 25 February 2023

Thoughts on Exodus 17

I looked this morning at Exodus 17 within the story: the beginning of the migrations (chapter 16) in the wilderness right after the great song of the sea (15). Chapter 17 is choc-a-bloc with imagery: the grumbling about water (Psalms 95), the rod of Moses, and the rock that Paul writes - 'is Christ' and the striking of the rock once. And here we have Caleb's son, Hur, assisting the priesthood (Aaron) and the law (Moses) in the battle that Joshua (Jesus) wages against Amalek (often identified with 'the flesh').

How does one begin to unravel such a tangle of potential 'interpretations'? Even if we take Amalek as a symbol, we run the risk of dehumanizing the people for the sake of the image. If we take Amalek as 'flesh' vs spirit, we risk losing the marvel of the life of flesh that we have, and the image of the Word becoming flesh, and the beauty of our genetic programming. I have just finished a long study of genetics by Siddhartha Mukherjee - the flesh is really astonishing as a piece of the created order - or should I say, the disorder of natural programming!

As a 'translator' I think through the music of the te'amim and stay close to the Hebrew word order - these are huge constraints. And I leave in the ambiguity of who is who in the sentence. But recognize the potential for what is hidden in the words, the sudden appearance of Amalek in this context underlines a continual struggle in the human spirit to know the power of being lifted up as Moses was by the faithfulness of his companion Aaron, and the strength of the faithful Caleb, companion of Joshua. 

So this chapter is the memorial, and it remains unclear who is the 'he' in verse 1 'and he said' within the immediate context.

Amos 17, 16 - the symbolism of Amalek
I am responding here to a comment from Claude Mariottini on this post.  My comment was probably not clear and so did not make it past the moderator. Claude writes: 

Your translation is good and reflects the Hebrew. However, the speaker (Moses) was speaking to Joshua. Your translation seems not to address Moses’ words to Joshua.

True, there is ambiguity in the text and I as translator refuse to remove it. I was reading a post from 2009 of my own. It expresses exactly why I refuse to take this degree of power over the text. 

"Difficult - but when you read this slowly - all sorts of decisions become apparent that have nothing to do with communicating in the present to a target audience. Important though that may be - it is not really in your power as translator to do the work that your reader must do. What is in your power as you develop it is to choose words that match in tone and form the language that your ancient poet used. Your primary job is to communicate with that ancient writer and only secondarily to form a sentence or poem for the modern reader."

Hmmm - really? I looked even further back to 2007 - when I was less than a year old in my Hebrew study.